forest green rovers

Feeding the community

This month, our columnist Maria Slough catches up with Forest Green Rovers about their incredible local initiatives

L ooking back at the last 12 months living within the clutches of a pandemic, we all became much more aware of our mental health; more aware of the fragility of human nature and many of us concentrated on our health and fitness. But how aware were we of those around us?

The number of homeless people in the UK surged; people became displaced due to domestic violence and some could no longer bide with relatives. As kids stayed home for weeks on end and news reports brought families living on the poverty line into our living rooms, I wondered if plant-based living could impact these tales of real-life hardship?

The man with the answers to this question is Henry Staelens, chief executive of the Forest Green Rovers (Forest Green Rovers, fgr.co.uk) Community Trust and his team based in Gloucestershire. \"Forest Green Rovers Football Club (featured in Vegan Life's March 2019 edition) is a community club,\"

Henry tells me, \"But the club and The Community Trust are two separate entities. Forest Green Rovers Community Trust was launched a little over two years ago. Every single EFL Club (there are 72 in total) have a Community Trust and, being new to the league, ours is more recent.

"We engage with members of the community of all ages, allowing the Trust a unique opportunity to help address local priorities and national issues working with schools, community organisations and sports clubs across Gloucestershire and beyond.

"The Trusts are eligible for restricted funding from league and  government grants, money that is allocated with directives on what to spend it on like feeding the community, tackling loneliness and vulnerable children.\"

Did you have to declare that you would be delivering vegan food?

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\"No. I think people know about our values. Every Community Trust is known for what they lead with. London based Trusts deal with gang violence for example. Our brand is all about sustainability. We go into schools and we teach about recycling, green energy, wind turbines and the environment and plant-based living is a key part of that - the kind of stuff that kids need to be getting into. We also deliver maths and English, football and physical education, so it is quite involved.\"

This incredible incentive was born in the stands at Forest Green Rovers. \"We have always fed the local community through the club. That is where it began as people transitioned and grew with us on our vegan journey led by Dale Vince, owner of Ecotricity and Forest Green Rovers chairman. Any under 11's come to our matches for free and this facilitates their introduction to vegan food.

That might be chips and curry sauce in the stands or soy sage rolls and while it was impossible to measure the number of people that Forest Green Rovers were feeding and the impact it was having, it laid the foundation for the Community Trust work.\"

Henry has been CEO for a little over two years and has led an incredible team to where they are now. In the summer of 2020 they delivered over 200 meals to the community around Nailsworth using the Forest Green Rovers academy scholars to help deliver the food. In the autumn half term they did the same again. A typical package from the Forest Green Rovers Community

\"We have always fed the local community through the club. That is where it began as people transitioned and grew with us on our vegan journey led by Dale Vince, owner of Ecotricity and FGR chairman\"

Trust might be made up of a vegan lasagna and superfood salad, soap from Faith In Nature (faithinnature.co.uk) and a smoothie drink from Innocent (innocentdrinks.co.uk). The Trust works with their sponsors to provide healthy vegan food, vitamin-based drinks and vegan products.

Over Christmas last year, the Trust gifted free products from one of their key sponsors, QUORN™ to the Stroud based social enterprise, Long Table, started in 2018 by Tom Herbert and Will Mansell. A staggering 510 Christmas meals using recipes created by FGR chef, Jade Crawford, were put into 'Freezers of Love'.

These freezers were placed around the county and the meals were pay-asyou- feel, but many of them were given for free.

\"Our capacity in our kitchen is limited over the Christmas season,\" Henry explains, \"But we wanted to find a way to make a positive impact on the lives of those in need by providing the recipes and the products and putting our PR machine behind it. Through our sister organisation, Devil's Kitchen, we also delivered vegan products to Cheltenham Open Door to help feed more than 100 homeless people over Christmas.\"

The Trust works across several areas; inclusion and community cohesion, health and wellbeing, education, environment and sustainability and sport and recreation.

Fit2Last was one of their first projects and is a programme unique to the Forest Green Rovers Trust. \"This teaches school kids how to cook healthy vegan meals. They come into the club for an afternoon with Jade and the community team and learn to cook a healthy curry or a lasagne.

"The kids relate to Jade who is a great role model, and they invite their parents in to eat the food that they have made.\"

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Another is The Trust's Ambassador Programme, the first of its kind and currently active in over 60 schools in the district with 92 active Ambassadors for the Trust.

\"Ambassadors get free tickets to football matches; they meet the players and act as little marketers for the vegan lifestyle. They write reports on their experiences at matches to share with their classmates and learn how to be an advocate, standing up for something they believe in.\"

Cam Hoffman is 13-years-old and has been an ambassador for a couple of years, he says: \"Being an ambassador means everything. It introduced me to vegan food and my family incorporates this into our weekly meal plans now and we all spend a Saturday afternoon together watching the football as a family. My favourite thing is being able to promote the club and give the international fans a feeling of what it's like to be at the ground through my vlog, which my friends think is really cool!\"

Looking ahead as 2021 rolls out, the Forest Green Rovers Community Trust plans to ramp up all their community projects and treble their deliverability over the next few years, so that three times more people will benefit.

\"We need to look after those on our doorstep first.\" Henry continues. \"We are not scared of going further afield but we want to focus on our doorstep and grow from there and we are working with partners to achieve this.

"The CANDRIAM kids fund set up with our main sponsor allows us to donate at least £10,000 per season to help disadvantaged children and young people in our area and avid eco-warrior Arsenal FC player, Héctor Bellerin, also supports our work.

"Héctor suggested we look at scaling up to roll out our vegan programmes in London schools by teaching other Community Trusts how to take them into inner city schools. But our work is not limited to school kids.\"

Tackling Loneliness Together is an EFL backed incentive, something that last year, living with COVID-19 really shone a light on.

\"This is a vital part of our work in the community and complements the work we do with education in vegan food and sustainability. For example, in April last year the Trust team phoned every single ticket season holder starting with the most vulnerable to chat to them and check in on them. It was so well received the response was quite overwhelming.

 

\"This is a vital part of our work in the community and complements the work we do with education in vegan food and sustainability \"

When we could go out and socially distance we delivered team shirts to the community as well, to make sure they felt seen and heard and included. This is what we stand for, it is why I took the role - I sold my company and I wanted to work on a project that had impact, and working with the Community Trust, we all really feel the positive impact our work is having.\"

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There is no doubt that tucked away in a green corner of South West England a plant revolution is growing within the community. As the Forest Green Rovers Community Trust work continues with compassion and kindness across all areas of the community while inspiring tomorrow's generation of trailblazers they are fasttracking many people to a plant-based, more sustainable way of life and helping to change lives.

Follow Maria's photography journey at mariasloughphotography.com and Instagram at @mariasloughphotography

 

VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.