AVFC Allotment project

Project Name

Roots and Renewal Foundation

Organisation

Aston Villa Football Club

Aims

Following the launch of their training eatery, Restaurant VMF, in 2010, the Club took the decision in 2011 to enter into a joint venture with charity, St George’s Community Hub in Nechells. The aim was to develop an allotment project that could benefit young people within the local community and produce organically home grown ingredients for the Club’s kitchens.

This link has seen the allotment develop into an exciting joint venture involving young people and now managed in partnership with The Roots and Renewal Foundation Ltd., through Dr. Bob Tyler former CEO of St. George’s.

AVFC wanted to:

  • Increase the opportunity for locally sourced produce
  • Further reduced their carbon footprint.
  • Support local young people into education and employment.
  • Develop wider links with local suppliers.

Challenges

  • To engage local young people in a food growing enterprise.
  • To maintain the motivation of the volunteers.
  • To produce a wide range of high quality soft fruit and vegetables all the year round.
  • To seek other sources of funding to roll out the programme as a national pilot involving other football clubs.

Partners

  • The Roots and Renewal Foundation Ltd.
  • Birmingham City University

Project delivery

Although initially AVFC and St George’s started small with just two allotments, the project quickly developed.  Birmingham City University joined forces with Roots and Renewal, sending groups of volunteers to help with weeding and digging over the growing beds.  The University also provides specialist advice regarding water harvesting and irrigation.  The project now houses 232 deep beds (6500sqm – making it larger than a football pitch), uses harvested rainwater from the Holte End roof of Villa Park and has large composting bins. It also has an apiary supplying honey to the football club.

And it’s not just food that has grown. Since the project started, many young people have developed and benefited.

Demand for the produce remains high, not just from the Club’s own kitchens but also from local fruit and vegetable supplier, Interfruit, who buying produce from the plot to distribute to a host of top hotels and restaurants.  In 2013, they sponsored back the value of herbs received at their Aston distribution hub, worth around £2,000 to date and this investment has been put back into the project.

Meeting aims and overcoming challenges

Engagement of local young people and support for volunteers has grown through word of mouth and the implementation of a rewards system with AVFC (meals in VMF restaurant, tickets for matches, hot meals and refreshments out on the allotments).

Plans for the future include bringing more biodiversity to the allotment and installing a large cedar wood greenhouse to grow more produce.

As an added bonus to the project, the Club have developed a number of significant links with other local food suppliers, for example, Fishco, Meadow Dairies of Witton, Interfruit, Midland Foods and Premier Foods.

AVFC have also been advising other football clubs (and in particular one other Premier League Club) about planning and modelling their own allotment.

Learning points

Key to the success of the project has been:

  • Excellent relationship with delivery partners, Roots and Renewal and the ECO project of Birmingham City University.
  • Motivated volunteers both young and old to help tend the crops.

Results

  • AVFC became only the second carbon neutral stadium in England in 2013.
  • Over the past year alone, 80 local teenagers have been involved in the project and giving them a taste of employment and enterprise within the Club’s training eatery, Restaurant VMF.  Nine of these are now employed at Villa Park on match days, three have gone on to become peer mentors to the younger members and two have gone on to university.
  • Doubling of average covers in Restaurant VMF, averaging between 30-40 per evening to start and now regularly seeing 30 plus every evening or lunchtime.
  • Increased use of and support for Fairtrade or Rain Forest Alliance products in both the restaurant and throughout the stadium through purchasing, promotion and involvement in campaigns, such as Climate Week.
  • With the Club’s directive that, wherever possible, produce should be purchased from the five counties surrounding the West Midlands, there has been an increase in local suppliers.

Awards

AVFC netted a winner with Restaurant VMF their community training restaurant having just been rated as excellent by the Sustainable Restaurant Association and awarded Two Stars for its all-round efforts to offer a dining experience that doesn’t cost the earth, making it the first football club restaurant to win such an accolade.

The restaurant is currently ranked number three (out of 1,417 restaurants in Birmingham) on Tripadvisor and was number one for several weeks – an amazing achievement for any restaurant, let alone a training one!

SWM comment

We love the way that AVFC have embraced what was initially a small project and realised its potential to deliver much wider outcomes other than those purely for the Club’s benefit.

Contact

For more information email Peter Reed at Aston Villa Hospitality and Events or keep updated via the blog News from the Allotment.