Feeding the mind

21 November 2018 | North West England

Squash Liverpool - Clare Owens and Becky Vipond

The brilliant arts and health initiative making nutrition fun in Liverpool.

Best friends Becky Vipond and Clare Owens are the driving force behind Squash, a brilliant arts and health initiative that promotes creative health education through workshops, courses, events and training in Liverpool.

They - and a team of cooks, artists, horticulturists, writers and entrepreneurs - are bringing nutrition in some of the most challenged areas of Liverpool and the North West, running gardening and cooking workshops to empower people to look after themselves and their families through food.

The centre also has business courses specifically aimed at women looking to start up food cottage businesses, inviting local entrepreneurs to share their expertise and advice.

Squash has been running since 2007 exploring new ways for the city to flourish; creating special celebratory events and through their four-season Food for Real Arts Festival. But they only really came to the attention of the wider community when they moved into their pioneering, eco-friendly, community-led food space on Windsor Street this May.

With the new premises they were also able to open a café offering wholesome and seasonal vegan and vegetarian food at a very low cost and a shop where locals can buy healthy vegetarian food at a reasonable cost.

Becky and Clare got together with one mission in mind: to use food as a tool of social inclusion, health and wellbeing.

“We started off very small, 17 years ago,” explains Becky. “I was a youth community worker and Clare worked doing events and arts in the community. But we had a vision. One day someone came and asked us to write a project for his youth group to explore the benefits of healthy eating. We presented the project and delivered it on top of our days jobs and it kind of snowballed from there. We are both so passionate about good food.”

Both women have brought up their families in the area, and know the challenges the community face. “In our area there are the highest levels of child poverty in Liverpool, which is inexcusable,” said Becky. We see ourselves very much a community hub where we can help teach people how to shop best for their families and how to cook.”

They could not do it without their team of up to 40 volunteers.

“We value our volunteers so much who work so hard to grow and cook food and who help make Squash great! We are all very proud of seeing our neighbourhood thrive. It is fantastic to give back to our community.”

It’s been a real journey for the Squash team as tragically, the original new centre burned down in a case of arson three years ago, 6 weeks before it was due to be opened - but thanks to a successful crowdfunder and local support they managed to raise the funds to rebuild.

The new building is stunning, an ethical and ecological masterpiece. The roof is made of recycled steel from Wales, the foundation is made of recycled glass, insulation is made from recycled newspaper. Much of the electricity is generated through using solar panels on the roof and the whole timber-frame is clad in Scottish larch.

Not only that, but their new home, Squash, was planned and designed by 30 local residents working with brilliant architect Marianne Heaslip form architect firm Urbed. As well as their community business hub, food shop, cafe and catering service there are two food growing gardens. The community kitchen offers volunteer, apprentice and job opportunities for local people and the “action” space is host to diverse activities including creative art workshops and cook/chef-run cultural food events.

They even go into local schools, and the three primary schools on their road are regular visitors to the centre.

Squash’s current campaign called “Soup it Forward” sees locals offering to pay for those struggling to have a free bowl of soup at the cafe. More than £500 bowls worth of soup have been donated so far.

“We are deeply rooted in our neighbourhood,” smiles Becky. “We have created a space for people to get involved in making a real change for the betterment of their community. My favourite part of the day is putting out the tables and chairs first thing, and saying “good morning” to everyone passing by. And when they say “good morning” back, it really makes my day.”

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