The Big Idea: the power of small actions on a community

Posted: 20 Nov 2012

Incredible Edible is the brainchild of Pam Warhurst who cofounded the initiative in Todmorden in 2008. A team of volunteers turned plots of unused land into communal vegetable gardens, changing the narrative of food in their community. Now Incredible Edible is going worldwide, helping build resilient, kinder, more aware communities confident in their own ability to create a better world for future generations.

From Incredible Edible beginnings with herb gardens, they started to plant and grow vegetables and trees round town including working with public bodies to use their land – like the fire station, the local doctor's and in the car park at the railway station – or to work with them on their own ideas – like social landlord Pennine Housing. They've coined it 'propaganda gardening'. Every school in the town is now involved and so are local restaurants. 

Since Incredible Edible was launched, Todmorden has enjoyed a reduction in anti-social behaviour and criminal damage. The increase in volunteers around town simply makes anti-social behaviour harder to get away with; people do not vandalise food; and there is a much improved relationship between the public and the police because of the police’s involvement in this high-profile community project (the police station has its own incredible edible garden and it's a great conversation starter!) A further outcome is the police are now engaging with probation services to get young offenders involved in planting. 

 Cops with corn for news page
Incredible Edible promotes food-based learning for the community as a whole - and it hasn't stopped in Todmorden. There are Incredible Edible groups springing up in towns all over the UK; it has been tested in 37 towns across the country so far. It is also going worldwide, for example Incredible Edible groups have started in towns in New Zealand. It has also gone online via TED; if you want to get under the skin of how the project started, watch Pam's TED talk.

As Pam said this is more than just a food project but a way of changing an entire communities' behaviour; just using food as the means to do it: "Simply by using this language of food, we have opened up conversations, new ways of looking at space, new ways of working across our communities, new ways of bending existing investment. Believe me I have seen the power of small actions and it's awesome."

Pam is the new Chair for the local region, RSA Yorkshire and Humber, and through the learnings of Incredible Edible they will explore a behavioural change programme and how small changes can have a big impact.


The vision for a region: Incredible Yorkshire & Humberside

The RSA Yorkshire & Humberside region is exploring the approach of Living Incredibly; working with the overall mission of the RSA. The opportunity to live different, kinder lives in times of acute social, environmental and economic challenges should be everyone's right. Too often a scattergun approach (with the inherent loss of focus) or the employment of concepts and arguments that go over the heads of many people, result in a lack of traction with some of today's big issues, leading to the disengagement of many of our communities.

We need to be brave enough to adopt a simpler and far more engaging approach - for example the Incredible Edible approach.

There are many vehicles, and many Fellows with experience and passion to help make this happen:

  • Incredible communities living in edible landscapes created by themselves for everyone’s benefit, from the town centre to the edge of town, along the high street, and around public buildings.
  • Incredible centres of learning. Universities and high schools driving change in this Incredible region. Putting local food at the heart of their culture. Using everyone’s skills, from designers and planners to farmers and cooks. Combining skills to inspire their students and reconnect to the communities around them. 
  • Incredible business supporting what's already there and developing new enterprises.  Looking creatively at supply chains, production and land management. Revitalising our high street and local markets, through the power of demand created through the IE model.


The Yorkshire and Humberside region aims to use the expertise and creativity of local Fellows, focusing over the next two years on community cohesion, schools and new enterprises and jobs. The aim is to link up with existing projects and sustain existing networks in Sheffield, Leeds, Hull, Calderdale, Bradford and Wakefield.

For example:

  • in Hull - work developing prison programmes where growing, making and sharing food can be developed
  • in Sheffield - where links can be made with the social enterprise initiatives that are being driven through the Fellows’ network
  • in Leeds - working with food resourcing and issues on homelessness, and use of empty buildings (eg Leeds Empties and create)


If you would like to hear more about the Incredible Edible project and plans for the region, you can contact Pam Warhurst, or speak to Julia Davis, Programme manager at the RSA for the Yorkshire and Humberside region. There's such a buzz around this simple idea that we are working across the regional boundaries with the North West team to spread the idea. After all. Our motto is, if you eat, you're in.