Leeds Social Platform

This research project has pioneered the application of an innovative action-research tool – the social platform – in the field of urban agriculture.

Recently adopted within research funded by the European Union to enable academics and stakeholders to collaboratively attempt to shape the EU’s future research agenda, a social platform is best described as an ‘action-based focus group’ aimed at uncovering data and consolidating action.

Over a one year period the social platform tried to facilitate the creation of a learning environment for different stakeholders interested in collaboratively building capacities and designing policies to have impact on policy design and policy implementation. The platform has taken the shape of a series of activities that have built and consolidated a network of individuals.

A well-known weakness of academic research in general is the ability to translate knowledge in languages and tools that can be used by policy makers, civil servants and citizen’s organisations to produce social change. The social platform had the objective to precisely address these limits by:

  • Exploring and challenging the language barriers between academics, civil servants, policy makers, community groups and individuals in the Leeds city region.
  • Creating a learning environment co-led by the participants in which their roles in collective learning, generating empowerment and widening networks were made explicit. Knowledge transfer among participants (from community organisations, government institutions and grassroots groups) has been delivered by a specific mix of activities that created space for debate and mutual learning, which included excursions, seminars, demonstrations, large and small group discussions, and the co-production of
    1. a User Guide — “How to set up your UA project” and
    2. a Policy Brief and Implementation Guide for policy makers — “How to support socially and environmentally just UA projects in your city”.

Urban food justice: A social platform on urban agriculture in the Leeds city region (UFJ)
Developed around 8 different themes identified through both, the preliminary research and visits to agricultural projects, and the collaboration with Leeds stakeholders, UFJ has been run for a year.

Below is the programme:

Workshop Number and Date



Practical activities


Workshop 1
September 2012

Launch and Envisioning

Andre Viljoen
University of Brighton
Urban agriculture: an European perspective

Joanne Clough
LCC Parks and Countryside
Presenting “Feed Leeds”

  • Envisioning urban agriculture in Leeds
  • Orchard planting in Potternewton park
  • A tour of community gardens guided by Janet Zaddisa

A vision for UA in Leeds
 — Orchard planting
(Potternewton park)
Visit to community gardens in Chapeltown

Workshop 2
November 2012

Land access

Jenny Richardson
Leopold Street Project

Caroline Scott

Pete Tatham
Edible Enterprise Hub. A food project for Woodhouse/Hyde Park

Sonja Woodcock
Eat the Street. An Urban Agriculture Initiative for Armley


  • Mapping exercise: available land in Leeds (in collaboration with Leeds Met students)
  • Groups discussion on supporting policy making:
    1. Key people for implementing the Urban agriculture vision for Leeds (councillors, council officers, key stakeholders in local organisations, landowners, etc.)
    2. How do we approach them. Mapping of actions, opportunities and your commitment after the workshop.


List of public parks where people can create community gardens — A strategy for outreach

Land claims

Workshop 3 December 2012

Soil quality and rehabilitation

Stella Keenan
(Leeds City Council)
Soil contamination, The role and policy of Leeds City Council

Niels Corfield and Pete Tatham
(Edible Cities and Leeds Permaculture Network)
Bioremediation, mycoremediationand soil structure improvement. How plants and mushrooms can help improve the soil

Sara-Jane Mason (Royal Horticultural Society)
An overview of composting techniques and a practical workshop: let’s build a wormery

Andy Ross
(University of Leeds)
Biochar for fertility and greenhouse gasses reduction

David Hutchinson
(Yorkshire Charcoal)
Low scale biochar production: a demonstration

  • Demonstration: how to make DIY biochar
  • Contruction of wormeries to take home


Soil Quality Network

Workshop 4
February 2013

Food for free
Design solutions, educational potential and managing challenges of edible public space


Siham Bortcosh
(Writtle College/London)
Attitude of landscape manager to planting edible public space

Mina Said-Allsopp
(Nsitu, Urban forager in Leeds)
Urban foraging

Small group discussions around the following questions:

  1. Food for Free. Would you harvest/eat it? If and when?
  2. Where would you like to see it growing? (type of places, specific places, anywhere in town? In your neighbourhood?)
  3. What if it becomes very popular? A city of foragers? Ecological intensification or “tragedy of the commons”?
  4. Would you make it happen? What would you do?
  5. How would it change the local economy (shops, supermarkets selling veg)? Think about food, waste, prices, quantities, is there a way to link them?

Overview of approaches to free food and forage in Leeds
Dissemination of report on park managers approaches to free food

Workshop 5
April 2013

Gardening, health and wellbeing

Rethinking communities in the ‘gardens’

Roxana Summers,
(NHS Leeds, LCC Public Health)
Back to Front project

Ellen Robottom
Hyde Park Neighbourhood Food Growing Project. Reconnecting the community.

Rebecca Meers
(Leeds City Council, Parks and Countryside Events Bookings and Licensing team)

Practical workshop 1: Conviviality and social cohesion. Planning a gardening-related event

Practical workshop 2: Gardening as learning and a healing opportunity. A seasonal calendar

A seasonal calendar for gardening volunteering in Leeds
Interim Public Evaluation
April 2013

Asked the participants to feed back on three main points

  1. What other themes of Urban Agriculture and socio-environmental justice should the platform discuss?
  2. How could Leeds make some of these visions become real? What institutional or community support can be mobilised, and how? How to address policy making?
  3. How far do you think can Leeds go in the promotion of urban agriculture? Would you like to be involved in a pilot research group on agroecology?

Direction for policy impact

Workshop 6
June 2013

Agroecology and Urban Metabolism

Leeds Biochar Initiative

Les Firbank
(Biology, University of Leeds)
Ecosystem services and modelling public space productivity

Andy Ross
(Engineering, University of Leeds)
Agroecology research project: dissemination, education and field trials

Andy Cross,
(UK Biochar Centre, Edinburgh)
Biochar-soil interactions

Individuals enquired via 3 consultation forms on

  1. Educational needs
  2. Participation in knowledge exchange
  3. Design of an engagement strategy

Feed back on educational needs

Volunteering in skill sharing

Start up participatory data collection on soil quality

Workshop 7
July 2013

The economic viability of urban agriculture.

Gardening beyond voluntarism.

Successful projects that make urban food works

Helen Woodcock and Katie Brandon
(Kindling Trust and Manchester Veg People)
“Making sustainable food pay (Fairly)”

Discussing a Leeds’ Food Hub. Helen and Katie will guide discussion with local participants interested in setting up a “food hub” In Leeds

Start Food Hub group

August 2013

Food Hub follow up

Assess and map tasks and start group working

Workshop 8
September 2013

Sustainable food planning and a Leeds Food Strategy

Chiara Tornaghi
Food charters, food strategies and food policy councils: what are they and how they work

Andy Goldring
(Permaculture Association UK and Feed Leeds)
Feed Leeds and the Leeds Food Strategy

Small group discussions around the following themes

  1. Who you are, and what is your motivation to be here? Do you represent an organisation? Who else can you help bring into this group?
  2. Look at the list of aims provided in the examples. What do you think should be the key priorities for Leeds?
  3. Look at the old Food Strategy and the examples provided
    • What main aims would you like to add?
    • What resources do we have to achieve them, and who do you think should be involved in addressing these new aims?

Initial evaluation on existing (dismissed) food strategy and identification of key areas

October 2013

Food strategy follow up

Small group discussions

Further development of key priorities

Workshop 9
November 2013

Urban Food Justice concluding event and Feed Leeds AGM


Dissemination of outcomes (draft report for feed back), food strategy working group

Key features of the UFJ social platforms

  • More than 90 different participants (including members from 6 different Leeds City Council departments), most of which have engaged in several workshops (on average 30 – 40 participants per workshop)
  • 23 speakers (of which 5 academics and 3 council officers)
  • Co-launch of Feed Leeds
  • 1 tour of Leeds’ community gardens
  • 1 orchard planted (Potternewton Park)
  • 2 practical demonstrations
  • Co-launch of Leeds Biochar Initiative
  • Distribution of 30 biochar toolkits for collaborative data collection
  • Start up of Leeds Food Hub working group
  • Start up of Leeds Sustainable Food Strategy working group
  • 8 +4 (from workshop 5) thematic discussions in small groups
  • Drafted a Leeds volunteering exchange seasonal calendar
  • Produced downloadable podcasts and videos
  • Produced 27 downloadable Powerpoint Presentations
  • …and started a number of other medium and long term collaborations