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Finding creativity and companionship in a community craft barn

October 19, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

Paula, from Londonderry in North Yorkshire,  has always loved art and craft, and over the years has attended her fair share of local workshops. However, the spaces she was crafting in were not always ideal, so  Paula decided to take matters into her own hands. By turning her own barn into a crafting space, her aim is to make crafting open to all who want to experience the creativity and companionship it can bring.

A smiling woman sat at a table behind her sowing machine.

Paula and her crafting kit

How did you get interested in art and craft?

I started to dabble in crafting as a child. From early Blue Peter days, using old cereal boxes and washed out yoghurt tubs, I moved on to teenage dressmaking and today’s quilting and kit making. I now have a fully developed crafting obsession. I just love making things myself and the sense of achievement I get from crafting is second to none.

What inspired the idea of the community craft barn and how did you turn the idea into a reality?

Over the last couple of years I have attended craft workshops local to my home. These tend to be in village halls, which are not always conducive to relaxed crafting. I have also taught crafts at some of these village hall sessions and had to remember to take along everything I needed, packing up the car with machines, ironing boards, refreshments and extension leads! It suddenly hit me just how ideal my own house could be for a crafting venue. A seldom used barn annexe with beams and space was crying out to be crafty and shared. Persuading my husband was another matter!

After a few interesting discussions and 50 litres of paint, the barn was ready! There was a wood burning stove but it hadn’t been lit for around seven years, so my husband and son had an eventful weekend on the roof securing the flue and stopping any leaks. Now it‘s as good as new. A large set of old shelves has been painted and now sports haberdashery and yarn, and an old school cupboard has been transformed with some chalky paint to store other crafty items.

A large barn converted into a space to carry out community craft activity.

What do you hope people will gain from the craft barn?

The barn is cosy and welcoming and I would love people to come along and feel they can have a go at any of the workshops, even if they have no experience at all. Crafting should be for anyone and everyone and has many benefits. Best of all is the social aspect of meeting others with a common love of craft, helping to make those first conversations easy and natural.

Crafting is often seen as old fashioned and an activity for older people – is this is still the case?

It’s true that this type of activity was more commonplace in the past: my great gran used to make ‘clippy’ rugs using old clothes donated by neighbours. They would pop in for a cup of tea, bring old materials and take it in turns to work on the rug until it was completed. It would be great to create that kind of caring and sharing atmosphere again. I hope people think they can come along and feel welcomed and supported in their efforts, no matter what their age, experience or skills. The benefits that you gain from crafting — meeting people with a shared interest who have a willingness to help others — is something we can all learn and benefit from, regardless of our age.

People sat a table cutting material to make into craft objects.

Why do you think crafting fell out of fashion and what can young people gain by getting involved?

Recently younger people have become more involved in crafting as a result of social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram. Seeing pictures of upcycled furniture and hand crafted interiors is something they can connect with. Protecting the environment by recycling and repurposing items has become more fashionable and inspired a new generation of crafters to get involved.

Making your own items cannot be underestimated in terms of the ‘feel good’ factor.  In today’s fast, busy, disposable, electronic world, taking the time out to create something for yourself, with your own hands, is a great antidote. Crafting keeps your mind alert and in the moment — a true mindfulness activity — and at the same time you might be creating an heirloom for future generations. Why buy everything online when you can create something special yourself? So what are you waiting for? Give it a go now —  make new friends whilst hand making something unique.

A handmade cuddly toy mouse dressed in a red polka dot dress.

Fun Crafty Fact…The third most popular “How to…” search on Google in 2014 was “How to Crochet”, beaten only by “How to Draw” (first) and “How to Kiss” (second) , although I’m not really sure if kissing could officially be considered a craft!

Paula runs Kit Bag Crafts, and will be running Christmas Craft workshops throughout November. These are Make & Take sessions and include: Advent Calendar, Tweed Robins, No Sew Wreath, Rudolph Slippers and some fireplace bunting.

If you’re interested please contact Paula on: or call Paula 07977 173329 for further details.

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Decorations, Spreading the word, The Heart of Art
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We are looking for PR and Communications volunteers

October 10, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

We are currently recruiting for volunteers to assist our London team on our UK-wide community campaign.

The Big Lunch is the UK’s annual get-together for neighbours. Started in 2009, it has grown year on year and last year 7.3 million people participated across the UK. We also support people to create positive change where they live through community led projects and initiatives with our Big Lunch Extras programme.

Volunteers will gain invaluable experience working on a UK wide community initiative. Specific responsibilities will include supporting our communications team in delivering content for our channels and helping our PR team to collect and maintain a database of case studies, images and contacts across the public sector and media. There will be opportunities to develop your research and writing skills and to publish on our channels. There will also be scope to focus on a specific project or piece of work should you develop a particular interest as the role progresses.

A young man and woman wearing Big Lunch t-shirts stand smiling in front of a street party scene

Based in our office in Trafalgar Square, the role will be flexible; however we are hoping to find individuals who can join us for two days a week, starting as soon as possible, for a period of three months (room to extend if desired). We are a small but friendly team and our remote working colleagues regularly drop in to the office.

Tasks of the role will include:

  • Researching and writing blog content
  • Supporting social media channels
  • Contacting and interviewing case studies
  • Build and maintain an image library
  • Provide administrative support and respond to public enquiries
  • Other tasks as they arise, to be agreed upon with your manager


We are looking for someone who:

  • Has an interest in a career in communications, PR, community work or the charity sector
  • Believes in The Big Lunch Programme as a community initiative
  • Has great organisational skills, with the ability to work independently
  • Is confident speaking to people on the phone and in person
  • Has excellent written and spoken English, with a flair for writing
  • Has excellent MS Office skills
  • Film production and editing skills would be an advantage, but not essential
  • Is reliable and efficient, proactive and enterprising


The Big Lunch Programme is led by the Eden Project and is funded by Big Lottery Fund.

The role is voluntary, but lunch and travel expenses will be paid. Please state when you are available to start in your application.

To apply, please send your CV and a covering letter outlining why you wish to apply for the role and how you meet the above criteria to Elyse Clarke at with ‘Volunteer Application’ in the subject line.

Closing date: 5pm 31 October 2016.

Interviews will be held in the week commencing 7 November 2016.

We regret that we will only be able to respond to shortlisted applicants. Please assume that if you have not heard from us within two weeks of your application that you have been unsuccessful at this time.

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10 ways to introduce art into your community

October 10, 2016
Author: admin

In celebration of our ‘Heart of Art’ month, our Community Network Developer Jeni has put together her top ten ways to get creative and brighten up your community. If you’d like further information about any of these, please get in touch!

Yarn bombing

Yarn bombers covertly brighten up their neighbourhoods overnight, turning drab, grey areas into public galleries of textile arts. Learning to knit is easier and more relaxing than you might think! It can also be a great way to meet people, through ‘Knit and Natter’ groups. Save money by unravelling old woolly jumpers or asking for clothes donations. There is no ‘right or wrong’ as long as you keep safe, stay within the law and ‘do no harm’.


Temporary community art installations

Take inspiration from Scarecrow Festivals, which are a great way to get residents to share materials and skills. Anyone can take part and the whole community can enjoy the displays, which often remain in place for a week. Share the idea over a cuppa and see what response you get. Once interest begins to grow, talk to a local councillor to get advice and support.

Semi-permanent transformations

You can create low-cost installations using mosaics. Broken crockery and mirrors are great upcycled materials and create stunning results. If you are planning something beyond your own doorstep, then permission or support from the local council and local residents could be essential.


Face painting

Always popular at community events, face painting is a great way to engage young people and create fun, temporary body art. If you’re not sure how to find a local artist, try contacting the local nursery, school or community centre, who should be able to offer recommendations. Or buy some face paints and small free-standing mirrors so children can create their own masterpiece!

Erica Simmons and mum Helen Simmons

Erica Simmons and mum Helen Simmon

Murals and graffiti

Become the next Banksy and make your street into a place where art can be enjoyed by everyone. Graffiti and wall art is becoming more and more common in rural communities, as well as in cities. Artwork doesn’t have to be permanent; some artists create works on large sheets of paper using water-based paints and paste the design onto a wall, where it is gradually degraded by the weather. Reverse graffiti is a growing trend, where the picture is created by removing the dirt from the surface of a wall, revealing the intended design. The effects can be stunning – and you can’t be told off for cleaning a wall!

Dirt is cleared from a wall to make the shape of trees growing in a field.

Reverse graffiti – photo: Paul Curtis

Moss graffiti

A greener way to brighten up the neighbourhood. There is a great guide to moss graffiti on the Instructables website. Attach your template to the wall and use paintbrushes to apply the ‘moss mixture’, made up of buttermilk, water and sugar.

moss-graffiti reading 'There's hope for the hopeless'.

Image Source:

Upcycle and recycle

You can use all kinds of items to decorate and animate your local area. Plant flowers in teapots, handbags, welly boots, bike baskets and old paint tins to add colour to your street.

Public action

Installations are a powerful and effective way to get a message across in the public arena. Art has the ability to reach people at deeper emotional levels, conveying what cannot be said with mere facts. For example, in Turkey, hundreds of people turned out to repaint the ‘rainbow’ steps, which were covered in grey by the local authority, after #resiststeps trended on Twitter.

Steps that are each painted a different colour of the rainbow.

#resiststeps – rainbow painted steps in Turkey, painted by Huseyin Cetinel, who used his own money and painted a number of stairs through the neighborhoods of Findikli and Cihangir in Istanbul. Photo: Quinn Comendant

Festival of Colours

Holi, the Hindu religious festival, has inspired many popular events in the UK. The Colour Run is a 5km run-jog-walk event that raises money for charitable causes, ending in a colour festival, with joyful explosions of coloured powder, to promote health and happiness.

Coloured powder in the air behind a person's silhouette.

What is it about multiple colours that makes us so happy?

Street décor

Decorating your street for special events like The Big Lunch can be dramatic, playful and fun to create. The Big Lunch favourite, bunting, can be made by people of all ages and abilities, and paper chains can be made easily from old magazines and leaflets. What a difference it makes!


“Art is good for our communities, and artistic collaboration is a bonding experience. We make art together, not just because of the changes it can bring to the world around us, but because of the way it changes us internally.”

Tatiana Makovkin, Creative Resistance

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Spreading the word, The Heart of Art
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How connected are our communities?

October 7, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

A man and woman smiling amongst a group of people

We’re working with some clever people at the Centre for Economics and Business Research on a study to help us get a deeper, more meaningful, understanding of how better connected communities can impact the lives of the people who live there.

Who better to tell us than our lovely Big Lunch and Big Lunch Extras crew! We are calling on you to lend a few minutes of your time to answer a few questions that will help us explore why people connecting with one another makes a real difference.

Once you’ve completed our survey, as our way of saying thanks, we’re offering you a chance to win a weekend break in Cornwall. You’ll experience the magic of the Eden Project with a two-day pass to explore, and dinner for two in the Mediterranean Biome. Accommodation and a contribution towards travel are included. For more information please refer to our terms and conditions: Connected Communities survey Terms and Conditions

Take part in the survey here.

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5 minutes with Dr Robert Bohan: an interview about his first love

October 5, 2016
Author: Siobhan File

Dr Robert Bohan is a scientist and an artist from Dublin. He’s lived and breathed art from a young age, but it wasn’t until he lost some of his vision and used art as his therapy that he realised how healing artistic expression can be. His work is admired by over 270,000 fans on social media. You can see his work on Twitter (@RobertBohan), Instagram (@thedoctorbob) and on his website:

You’ve been focusing on both natural science and art from a young age – what does this combination mean to you?

I’m told that I could draw before I could walk and my earliest memory is helping plant bulbs in our garden as a child. I grew up in the countryside where nature was very much a part of life and even today the trees and animals that were part of my childhood appear in my work. We exist as part of the ecosystem and it’s important for me to reflect that. I studied botany at university and got to specialise in woodland ecology when doing my PhD in the woods of Western Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. The natural world is a wonderful thing and inspires my art.

A pen and ink drawing about growth and renewal.

Verdant Altar is a pen and ink drawing on archival paper. It’s about growth and renewal. The picture is in a private Canadian collection.

Has your attitude or approach to art changed over the years?

As a child, I hated school and wasn’t all that keen on studying. The only way to motivate me was to promise art. It’s always been a part of my life. I had wanted to go to art school but things change and I ended up studying science. Even then I designed posters and studied scientific graphic techniques and botanical art. After finishing my PhD I went into IT and became fascinated by the developments in digital photography. I loved going on business trips, not only to meet people, but also to photograph new places. Photography is my way of documenting beautiful things, especially accidental beauty. I love that you don’t even need a camera anymore if you have a smart phone. My first love will always be art – it’s like breathing for me.  Nowadays I spend more time creating art than I ever have before.

You used art therapy after losing some of your vision – how did that work, and how did it improve your health?

I started art therapy about four years ago. I generally just draw or paint whatever comes into my head. I usually don’t know what is going to come out before the pen hits the page. Oftentimes I draw something, look at it, and realise I have no idea what I’ve drawn or what it means. I take the drawings to the session and discuss them with the therapist. This was quite frustrating at first as I had no idea what I was saying in the images whilst I could tell that the therapist could see what was going on. It was tough going at first. Gradually as I began to understand what I was drawing it became easier. Drawing reveals my subconscious thoughts which logic and ‘sense’ hide from me. I was very angry that I had lost some of my sight and the drawings helped reveal that and discussing them helped address that anger. When you go through a significant event in your life your mind protects you and helps you hold everything together.  Art therapy helped me tease apart how I felt about being blinded and also gave me the confidence to become an artist.

It seems you find that art connects you to nature, and vice versa, but do you find that art connects you with other people at all? How?

My art comes from my subconscious. It’s a place of strong emotion. As a result, it makes a very powerful impression on people. I started putting my work on social media a couple of years ago and the impact has been astonishing. People tell me that particular works have moved them or that they can really relate to a piece. I’ve been invited to show my work and it’s very interesting to hear how people respond to it in exhibitions. Their reactions are almost always about how the artwork makes them feel. Recently, at an exhibition, a woman was passing by, saw one of the pieces and because it spoke to her so loudly actually came in. She then sought me out to tell me how much it meant to her. That was very moving for me. It’s striking too that individual pieces have strong meanings for some of my collectors. I’ve had others come up to me to thank me for stuff I’ve done during the equal marriage referendum in Ireland. One watercolour I painted of a dove, which was about freedom and peace, seems to chime with an enormous number of people. I think that the way I draw and paint is accessible to everyone and whilst some big galleries and museums follow my work it actually has the most impact with ordinary people who can relate to the emotions depicted.

A watercolour painting of a bird on a white background.

This is a watercolour on archival paper painting. I had a feeling of peace and freedom and found myself sketching out this dove. I’m fascinated with birds and flight.

What have you noticed about art as a convener or conversation starter – either between observers or creators?

Before sharing my work with people I would have said it was a fairly esoteric topic for most people. I have always loved art and have a massive collection on art books but recognise my interest is not widely shared. That changed once people started to see the work. I actually get asked by people what I’ve done recently and they start telling me what they think. People are often very frank and tell me they don’t like something or that they do like something else. I love that they are honest with me and that they feel open to saying what they believe. It’s striking that several people can see the same image and each be adamant that their interpretation is the correct one.

Do you think that place-based art can give people a sense of belonging or local pride?

I think it’s when a community works together to create something that there’s a really powerful sense of pride. You see it sometimes in the West of Ireland where you go through a small village and every house is painted a different colour or where people get together to work on a common project. There’s a great example in Wexford call the Ross Tapestry. Humans are not machines, they are bodies of emotion shaped in different ways. If a common goal unites them then there’s a fascinating interplay of ideas and a truly diverse interpretation of experience. My work tends to examine experiences which are universal and as a result speak to everyone – local projects in drawing on a common experience can really create a distinct conversation within a neighbourhood.

A painting of a colourful face on a blue background.

I love early Irish poetry with its bucolic settings and celebration of wildlife. I wanted to capture the feel of these mystical works and their simple beauty and this face evolved in response to that.

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Embracing the heart of art

September 30, 2016
Author: Siobhan File

Through art, we can sing, speak and smile to each other’s souls — both one-to-one and on a large scale. Artists, through their creative expression, give us the opportunity to share culturally enriching experiences — and having that in common with our neighbours is one of the most powerful ways to connect with each other.

A group of adults make miniture gardens together.

Coming together over art

‘There is incredible power in the arts to inspire and influence’.

– Julie Taymor

Reclaiming the streets using a variety of artistic methods is not new; humans have been using their environment (and their bodies) as a canvas since the cave-dwellers. There are many community art forms, and being involved in a creative activity can be an enjoyable and very social experience.

A large mural of images covers a brick wall.

Art reclaiming an area in Tower Hamlets

Whether you’re a painter, a sewer, a film maker, a potter, a poet or a dancer—your art can change the look and feel of an area; from up-cycled bunting, to theatre nights, to colourful murals or giant paper pompoms! And raised beds full of sunflowers can brighten up any street.

Artists can showcase and share their skills and talents while others can learn new skills that may lead to further creative opportunities. Community art activities encourage collaboration and bring diverse groups together in engaging and fun ways. What’s more, these activities can help to build self-confidence and empathy among others.

A man sews in a bright yellow room.

Using our creativity is good for our communities and our health

Communities that use the arts to bring residents together can develop more effective social networks, building greater community cohesion and a sense of ‘belonging’. It can also give artists and residents a sense of ownership and pride in an area. Art can be used in many ways, from celebrations and innovations to protests — it has the power to connect and transform people and places.

Research also shows that participation in the arts can improve individual levels of health and wellbeing (physical and mental). It can help to reduce feelings of individual isolation and loneliness; art can also help to reduce stress. Art is a great tool to aid self-expression and the physicality of some art forms means participation can also improve personal fitness levels.

But most importantly, art is FUN!

And the Earth without Art is just ‘Eh’….

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Spreading the word, The Heart of Art
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How can beer save the world?

September 30, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

Our friends at Toast Ale know a thing or two about making beer, but it’s not your average pint… they share their thoughts with us for our final day celebrating the power of food.

A line of Toast Ale beer bottles.

Toast Ale are tackling food waste in an ingenious way – turning waste bread into beer. Photo credit: Tom Moggach.

We have become a nation of foodies. We enjoy some of the best restaurants in the world, we cook delicious meals at home with guidance from a plethora of best-selling cookbooks, TV chefs and even meal kits that portion our ingredients and guide us through beautiful recipes.

Yet over 1.1 million people rely on food banks. This is a shocking statistic, particularly in a food system designed to oversupply and therefore inevitably waste huge volumes of edible food at every stage.

Food waste

At the farm level, farmers are often left with no alternative but to leave crops to rot or to plough it back into the soil when supermarkets’ overly strict cosmetic standards cause it to be rejected. At the retail level, supermarkets overstock to present consumers with abundant choices that encourage people to buy more than they need. In restaurants, plate scrapings that may have once been fed to pigs now end up in landfill because we’re too ashamed to ask for a doggy bag. And in our homes, we waste food that has passed unnecessary best before dates even when it’s perfectly edible.

In addition to the social injustice of food waste, there are massive environmental impacts. Humanity’s biggest impact on the environment is through food production. It’s responsible for 80% of deforestation, 70% of freshwater consumption and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet one-third of all food produced is wasted. We are destroying the planet to produce food that no-one eats, whilst millions go hungry. Clearly our food system isn’t working.

Change is brewing

With increasing awareness of the problem – thanks partly to media exposure such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Waste and the Evening Standard’s recent #FoodForLondon campaign – comes a force for change.

A wave of charitable and entrepreneurial organisations are proving there is an alternative. From Winnow Solutions helping commercial kitchens to reduce waste, to Rubies in the Rubble and Snact using surplus produce to create new, delicious products, to pay as you feel shops and cafes like The Real Junk Food Project and Community Shop. There are also a number of redistribution organisations like Fareshare, City Harvest, and Plan Z Heroes collecting surplus food and FoodCyclePeople’s Kitchen and food banks ensuring it reaches the people who need it most.

Toast is part of this exciting new movement. We source bread from bakeries and sandwich makers that would otherwise go to waste and work with expert brewers to brew really good beer. All our profits go to the food waste charity Feedback.

A basket of wast bread.

Since launching in January 2016, Toast Ale have rescued 1.4 tonnes of bread. Photo credit: Tom Moggach.

Why bread?

We chose to tackle the UK’s most wasted household food item – we bin 24 million slices every day. Across the whole food chain, 44% of all bread produced is wasted. In fact, there is so much waste that even redistribution charities are unable to use it all. Supermarkets overproduce because people expect fully-stocked shelves. It’s a low-price loss-leader that entices shoppers through the door, so wastage is commercially more acceptable than selling out. As bread has a short shelf-life,

We chose to tackle the UK’s most wasted household food item – we bin 24 million slices every day. Across the whole food chain, 44% of all bread produced is wasted. In fact, there is so much waste that even redistribution charities are unable to use it all. Supermarkets overproduce because people expect fully-stocked shelves. It’s a low-price loss-leader that entices shoppers through the door, so wastage is commercially more acceptable than selling out. As bread has a short shelf-life, surplus is discarded at the end of the day. There are also the parts of the loaf that no one wants. What do you think happens to the heel end of loaves when pre-packaged sandwiches are made for retail shelves?

Why beer?

Primarily because we love beer, but it’s also a perfect fit with our mission. Beer is a long life product, preserving the calories in bread through the age old process of fermentation, and therefore won’t itself be wasted. It is consumed in high volumes so offers the opportunity to use meaningful quantities of surplus bread. There are also wider benefits. Upstream, we replace one third of the virgin grain that would have been grown specially to produce beer. Downstream, our spent grain goes to animal feed to reduce the need to grow grain just to feed animals (check out the Pig Idea for more on this).

Raising a Toast

We want to bring people together to spread awareness of food waste and celebrate the simplicity of the solution – that we just need to eat (or drink) the food we are producing. Beer is an excellent medium to spread that message and it certainly gets conversation flowing. People are initially surprised to hear our delicious beer is made with bread, then shocked to learn why, and finally empowered to know that they are doing their bit. It’s a simple message in a bottle.

Since we launched in January 2016, we’ve rescued 1.4 tonnes of bread and brewed 15,000 litres of beer. It’s fantastic but just a small bite out of a breadful problem. We knead beer-drinkers, homebrewers and craft breweries to join us to do more.

The Big Lunch was started by the Eden Project in the belief that we, as a society, are better equipped to tackle the challenges that we face when we face them together. We’ll raise a Toast to that.


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The Oxford Food Bank: Fighting food waste

September 29, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

We’ve all seen the statistics of how much food is wasted locally and globally each year, and our collective awareness of the scale of hunger in the UK is steadily growing. It’s not hard to make a link between these two issues, but the reality of finding a solution is much harder.

The logistics of collection, storage and distribution of surplus food to those in need requires a significant infrastructure, but as the Oxford Food Bank demonstrates, it is by no means impossible for communities to make it happen.

The Oxford Food Bank collects good quality fresh food from local supermarkets and wholesalers and delivers it for free to around 60 registered charities in the Oxford area. For every £1 they receive in donations they deliver £20 worth of fruit, vegetables, bread and dairy products. That’s currently around £1,000,000 worth of food a year.

The Food Bank launched officially in October 2009, set up as a response to the amount of food going to waste in the Oxford food chain. It now provides up to 5000 meals a week to people living in food poverty, helping to achieve their second aim of reducing hunger.

For more information on the Oxford Food Bank visit

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Spreading the word, The power of food

River Cottage beetroot and walnut hummus

September 29, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

This glorious purple concoction – a revelation for people who claim not to like beetroot, or walnuts come to that – comes to us from our friends at River Cottage, where it is a firm favourite. It is wonderful with crisp crudités, in a sandwich with goat’s cheese, or scooped up with flatbreads –  perfect for sharing.

Beetroot and walnut hummus with flatbread

Serve with some flatbreads for a tasty sharing dish


50g walnuts

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

25g stale bread with crusts removed

200g cooked beetroot (not pickled), cut into cubes

1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)

1 large garlic clove, crushed

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

A little olive or rapeseed oil (optional)

Put the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for 5–7 minutes, until fragrant. Leave to cool.

Warm a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and dry-fry them, shaking the pan almost constantly, until they start to darken and release their aroma – this should take less than a minute, so be careful not to burn them. Crush the seeds with a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder.

Break the bread into small chunks, put in a food processor or blender with the walnuts and blitz until fine. Add the beetroot, tahini, most of the garlic, a good pinch of the cumin, half the lemon juice, a little salt and a good grind of pepper, then blend to a thick paste.

Taste the mixture and adjust it by adding a little more cumin, garlic, lemon, salt and/or pepper, blending again until you are happy with it. Loosen with a dash of oil if you think it needs it. Refrigerate until required but bring back to room temperature to serve.

This recipe features in “River Cottage Every Day”, written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury, and available from

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Spreading the word, The power of food
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Tearable and shareable foccacia from River Cottage

September 29, 2016
Author: Elyse Clarke

This soft, tasty bread, with its light, oily, salty crust, is eminently tearable and shareable. Put a freshly baked focaccia on the table, plus maybe some dukka and a few sliced ripe tomatoes – and the scene is set for a very good evening. The River Cottage knows how to throw a good get-together!

Focaccia bread

Perfect for sharing – if you can resist eating it all yourself!


500g strong white flour

10g fine sea salt

5g dried or fast-action yeast

2 tablespoons rapeseed or olive oil

To finish:

Rapeseed or olive oil

Flaky sea salt

Leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped

Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix together. If you’re using ordinary dried yeast, dissolve it in 350ml warm water. If using fast-action yeast, add it straight to the flour. Add the yeast liquid or 350ml warm water to the flour and mix to a very rough, soft dough. Add the oil and squish it all in.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. With lightly floured hands, knead until it is smooth and silky – anything between 5 and 15 minutes. As it’s a very sticky dough, you’ll need to keep dusting your hands with flour; it will become less sticky as you knead.

Shape the dough into a round, put it in a lightly oiled bowl, then cover with lightly oiled cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise until it has doubled in size; this will take about an hour. Knock back the dough and, if you have time, leave it to rise again in the same way. Meanwhile, lightly oil a shallow baking tin, about 25 x 35cm.

Press the dough out into a rough rectangle on a floured surface, then lift into the baking tin and press right into the corners. Cover with oiled cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise for about half an hour.

Once risen, use your fingertips to poke rows of deep dimples across the surface. Trickle the top generously with oil, then sprinkle with salt and rosemary. Bake in the oven preheated to its highest setting (at least 230°C/Gas Mark 8) for 15–20 minutes, turning it down after 10 minutes if the focaccia is browning too fast. Serve just warm, or let it cool completely.


Focaccia is a bit of a blank slate: you can make it your own by adding all manner of different flavourings. Here are a few ideas:

  • Add some finely chopped rosemary and/or thyme, or dried chilli flakes to the flour at the start.
  • Knead some chopped black or green olives and/or sun-dried tomatoes into the dough after the first rising.
  • Push some thyme sprigs, sage leaves or strips of roasted pepper into the dough when you poke the dimples before baking.

This recipe features in “River Cottage Every Day”, written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury, and available from

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