I’m Sarah Bentley, founder and project director at Made In Hackney, a vegan community cookery school and charity which I founded in 2012 and have the pleasure of co-running with an incredible team of women.
Our mission is to help people grow, cook and eat more plants to improve people’s health and address health inequalities, and to inspire diet change towards a more planet friendly diet whilst providing a space and opportunities for the community to come together and learn about different cultural food in a joyful and supportive setting. We’re currently running a meal delivery service direct to people’s door currently affected by the covid19 crisis. Since March we have provided over 45,000 meals.
I’m a mother to Rowan age 6. Aunty to my niece Gigi. Prior to Made In Hackney I was a journalist for fifteen years – starting this career as a music and culture journalist for titles like The Face, ID, Sleazenation, The Fader, Music Week and black music titles such as Touch, Blues & Soul & Straight No Chaser. My specialism was reggae and dancehall music culture and I spent a lot of time going back and forth to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Cuba – documenting the music scenes there. I made radio documentaries for the BBC World Service and later in my career I was deputy editor at ARISE magazine, a glossy lifestyle title focused on contemporary African and the African diaspora culture. I grew despondent with media and started volunteering at community gardens growing food and fell in love with urban food growing and started teaching organic food growing with special needs children and growing zero food mile salad for a local independent box scheme called Growing Communities.
My current role at Made In Hackney is varied and feeds into lots of elements of our work. I do our comms and marketing, support with fundraising, partnerships, special courses and classes, co-programme our masterclass cookery class programme, support with our community meal service, coordinate events – both community events and fundraising events and I’m leading on a new venture – a new online cookery platform.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No – as you can probably tell.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
As a white, cis-gendered, hetero women the challenges I’ve faced in my working career are nothing compared to thousands of other women endure. However of course there’s still been many challenges. In my journalism career I met a lot of male editors with enormous egos on power trips. One would send out a naming and shaming email to all his contributors every Friday telling people off and bigging people up that were in his good books. I remember him threatening to stop giving me work when I asked for more expenses to be paid when I was asked to travel to Scotland to review a gig. Another editor told me off for not seeming “available enough to him” and added, “I don’t feel like I’m the centre of your universe. Editors like to feel they’re the centre of their journalists universe.” Yes, he really said that. In the charity sector the main challenge is constantly chasing funding and the weird paradigm that you’re competing against lots of other incredible causes for the same pots of funding. You can collaborate and partner and support but they’ll always be great causes losing out on funding – usually projects most chronically underfunded are projects led by and supporting BAME communities. This needs to change.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I’d say Made In Hackney’s biggest achievement was the speed in which we pivoted from a community cookery school to an emergency meal delivery service during the height of the covid19 pandemic. The team worked tirelessly to pull this off and from idea to fundraising to launching the service took just 11 days. At the height of the meal service we were biking direct to people’s doors 500 meals a day in partnership with Angelina’s restaurant. In usual circumstances I’d say speed isn’t a good asset but in terms of mounting an emergency response it’s pretty critical. It’s been very new terrain for us and there’s been a lot of learning from other community meal and food services but we’re still very proud of what we’ve achieved, providing over 44,000 meals to date with the plan to continue this service for as long as the community needs. We’re also running online cook along classes with the hope to resume face to face classes in the Autumn.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
The power of the collective. The amazing teachers, team members, volunteers and class participants which often become volunteers and in some cases staff that have come together to make Made In Hackney what it is. We try to nurture a caring, family environment for employees at Made In Hackney and consequently people stay part of it for a long time. We all get the same pay – there’s no fancy jacked up founder’s salary or CEO – and we try to co-collaborate on important direction and vision. We try to keep to a non-hierarchical flat line management structure which I think people enjoy and creates a healthy working environment.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
Mentoring can be a transformational experience or a pointless exercise. It’s all about the matching, finding someone that understands your core values, your mission and what makes you tick. The Human Lending Library do incredible mentoring matching and paired me with Karen Lynch former CEO of Belua Water who I’ve had 2 sessions with. I’ve also had mentoring from Renee Elliott founder of Planet Organic. I find a lot of teachers, wisdom sharers and inspiration from women online and from my peers in the community food movement running other projects across London. Although I learn from this network of incredible women informally it is constant source of wisdom, knowledge, perspectives and visions. And my female friends who uplift me and inspire me to do better and strive for better and evolve each and every day.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
Ensure BIPOC women who experience intersectional prejudice are centred and genuinely embraced and fought for by the mainstream white feminism movement.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Don’t ever stop learning and listening. Don’t get complacent. Keep fighting.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Two big projects. The Made In Hackney team is in the early stages of researching a traineeship programme predominantly aimed as BIPOC women, but not exclusively, to provide a pathway into the charity sector or starting your own social enterprise or charity. Currently only 9% of paid employees of charities across the UK are from black and ethnic minority communities. The second project is the online cookery school which we’re currently in the early stages of developing. Watch this space.
To support Made In Hackneys community meal service you can make a donation at www.crowdfunder.co.uk/made-in-hackney-4
To book an online cookery class visit www.madeinhackney.org
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