Sustainable Merton's Community Champions Live Up To Their Name

Caring for local people as well as the planet at a time of crisis

Outside Merton's Community Fridge

Merton's Community Fridge (Rachael Edwards with Sebastian Rojas, Community Champion and Pauline Lightfoot, Volunteer)

Sustainable Merton’s Community Champions are a group of 73 local residents passionate about improving the environment, encouraging sustainable behaviour change, and addressing issues around waste, air quality, energy, and food.


Despite many planned activities being cancelled as a result of Covid-19, 20 Community Champions have contributed over 250 hours since lockdown began.


Their efforts have been focused on projects and activities that address both social and environmental goals during this time of crisis. Here is a snapshot of what they’ve been up to:


Merton's Community FridgeThe Community Champions have played a key role in helping us to open and run Merton’s Community Fridge, a long-term sustainability initiative which helps residents during this time of food crisis and stops good food from going to waste.


This has involved fundraising, spreading the word about the service we are offering so that more residents can access fresh, surplus food; handing out food parcels; and collecting and redistributing surplus food from local supermarkets, with the help of the Dons Local Action Group, as part of the FareShare Go initiative.


Thanks to the time they have generously given to help the Merton community, over 1,735kg of food has been distributed (saving 5,550 Kg of CO2) and provided food assistance to almost 50 families since the start of the pandemic.


As the first of its kind in the borough, Merton’s Community Fridge has also inspired the creation of Merton’s Community Fridge Network: a network of organisations working together to tackle the Covid-19 food crisis, coordinated by Merton Council in partnership with Merton College and Sustainable Merton.


To continue to inspire and engage residents and businesses in local environmental issues whilst in lockdown, the Community Champions have taken part in our Weekly Web Chats series to share their stories, experiences and knowledge of a wide range of sustainability topics.


This includes reducing plastic waste, Merton Council’s Climate Action Plan, switching to reusable nappies and plastic-free period products, the carbon footprint of working from home, and a discussion around climate justice and the global pandemic. These virtual video chats, which have been running weekly on Zoom for 3 months, have provided a much needed space for our community to connect, chat and keep the important conversation around sustainability going.


Many of Community Champions are regular volunteers at Phipps Bridge Community Garden; Sustainable Merton’s flagship community gardening project, and in recent months, several others have joined this wonderful local food growing initiative, in accordance with government guidelines.


On April 22, the 50th anniversary of World Earth Day, the team of volunteers came together to celebrate and, of course, tend to their flourishing crops of potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, celeriac, and soon-to-be carrots and strawberries.

Spending time outdoors has become more important than ever for health and well being, and many people have found gardening and food growing, either at home or at an allotment, a great way to keep active and stay connected with people and nature.


In the eight months that she has been a Community Champion, Blanca Pena-Mendez has been very involved, lending her professional Communications, Marketing and Branding skills to Merton’s Community Fridge.


She has remained active in her community during the Covid-19 crisis, giving her time to collect fresh, surplus food from local supermarkets and delivering this to the Dons Local Action Group for emergency distribution to residents.


In April, as part of the Two Point Six Challenge; a national campaign run by the organisers of the London Marathon to raise vital funds for the UK’s charities, Blanca took on the challenge of meditating for an impressive 2 hours and 6 minutes, helping Sustainable Merton raise over £600 to tackle food poverty and food waste in Merton, issues that Blanca is particularly passionate about.


Phipps Bridge community gardenAnd she hasn’t stopped there! Blanca has found the time to regularly visit Phipps Bridge Community Garden to lend a helping hand during the busy summer season (see right). As well as learning some handy gardening skills and adding new recipes to her “cooking repertoire” using the fresh produce she has helped harvest, Blanca has also experienced and strongly recommends the positive effect of community gardening on both physical and mental health.


Sustainable Merton Community Champion Blanca Pena-Mendez said: “I became a Community Champion because I wanted to do something meaningful for the local community and meet other like-minded people. I have to say that my experience has overcome by far my expectations, mainly because of the depth and relevance of the projects I have been involved in. Along the way, I’ve met some amazing people who really care for their community as well as having expanded my knowledge and experience around sustainability.”


Dan PescodSustainable Merton Community Champion Dan Pescod (right) added: “There is no need for me to explain the real hardship, fear and suffering that the Covid-19 crisis has brought, and I would not wish to make light of that. However, any crisis brings at least some good things along with the bad.


“For me, being able to walk the three miles to Phipps Bridge Community Garden almost pollution-free, and to hear the birds singing, unimpeded by the constant roar of planes from Heathrow, are a real pleasure. The many acts of everyday kindness that you cannot help witnessing, and the enhanced interest neighbours are taking in one another, are also major “silver linings” to this viral cloud.”


Community Champions Project Manager Rachael Edwards at Sustainable Merton commented: “I am so thankful for the time and effort that our Community Champions have contributed to Merton’s Community Fridge and other projects during this time of crisis. They have truly demonstrated the meaning of “Community”.


“A key aim of our Community Champions initiative is to build social capital and connect communities through environmental action and we have been delighted to hear from our Champions that being involved has given them a sense of belonging and empowerment in their neighbourhoods.”


July 7, 2020