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Lewisham businesses reopen: an interview with Chris Henry and Celia Bradley, directors of not-for-profit Lee Greens

We caught up with Chris Henry and Celia Bradley, directors of not-for-profit Lee Greens, to find out how they have adapted during the pandemic and their plans as things start to reopen.

The Lee Greens team standing by a colourful wall holding fresh produceLee Greens is a social enterprise providing seasonal organic fruit and veg to the Lewisham community. We’ve been in business for six years and now deliver around 300 bags full of fresh produce every week. Our core values are: to be community led, to support local trade, to provide fresh, seasonal, organic produce and to protect the environment. So we operate via ‘pick-up points’ in the local community - e.g. pubs, cafes and churches - where our members collect their bags. Not only does this reduce food miles, it also supports other local businesses.

How has Lewisham Council supported your journey?

We were delighted to win the Mayor of Lewisham's Business Award for Excellence in the Environmental category in 2017. We were primarily chosen because of our 'Pick-up point' veg bag collection. By not delivering to homes we reduce emissions; we buy from organic farmers and food miles are kept as low as possible. That same year we also received the Mayor's Award for Voluntary Contribution in recognition of the incredible work our volunteers do to support the local community.

How has the pandemic effected your business?

At the start of lockdown we faced a huge challenge as most of our wonderful pickup points had to close. But staff, volunteers and customers all stepped up to help out. We opened a mobile pickup point near Hilly Fields, set up a new headquarters in Leegate, and organised deliveries to self-isolating customers.

Despite the many changes and uncertainty, the team has worked tirelessly to supply fresh, local seasonal produce every week without fail. In September we were thrilled to start providing fresh fruit to customers alongside their vegetables. The first delivery included cantaloupe melons from Brockmans Farm near Canterbury. Who knew that melons could be grown so near to home?

Being a non-profit organisation we donate any surplus produce to local charities: it has been amazing to see our donations increase as the business has grown. At Christmas we were able to provide a bag of fresh Christmas veggies to about 130 families in need.

What adaptions have you had to make?

The farmers who supply us faced difficulties and this often meant last minute changes to our fruit and veg bags. The weekly newsletter has been great for keeping customers informed about the changes. We also practice social distancing and wear masks while we pack the bags.

What are you looking forward to as things start to reopen?

We can’t wait to get out and visit our pickup points in person, especially since new pickup points have opened in the past few months. We have more pick up points set to open in the coming weeks and we hope they continue to grow.

How can we find out more?

In 2020, we were formally accredited as a Better Food Trader: one of a small number of businesses across the UK seeking to turn the mainstream food system on its head and replace it with one that makes food work better, so it’s good for growers, easy on the planet and great for all our futures. You can find out more about the Better Food Trader ethos on their website.

You can find out more about joining Lee Greens on our website.

If you’d like to get involved as a volunteer, please email hello@leegreens.org

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