They heard how the census was designed to provide an overview of the work of CSOs, with insights into the size, shape, and strategies of the sector. We discussed the findings, which showed that the sector is currently undervalued, under resourced and understaffed, despite the best efforts of the organisations themselves.

The census data and the delegates at our event both reinforced the fact that, despite a number of very real challenges, this sector brings together people who are truly passionate about what they do and who are strongly committed to delivering sustainable food and farming.

We organised the event to do two things. Firstly, to present the results of the census to all those organisations that had participated in summer 2016. And secondly, as the census revealed the importance of collaboration, we wanted to provide an opportunity for CSOs and funders to share information and network in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. That’s why we devoted a significant part of the afternoon to discussions around key topics that emerged from the research, and to sharing experiences between CSOs.

It was fantastic to see how everyone in the room, from funders to small local charities to large international CSOs, aspires to a sector that is more aligned and coherent, and has even greater impact. One of the key issues up for debate was how to achieve that.

For our discussions, delegates were split into four groups to talk about the need for:

      More effective collaborations;

      Strengthening the case for funding the sector; particularly the need for more core funding;

      Rewarding innovation when it is helpful; and sharing best practice;

      Boosting the profile of sustainable food and farming – both in public’s consciousness and amongst politicians – particularly in light of Brexit.

Of the 69 organisations that shared information about their projects during the census, seven showcased their work at the conference and answered questions from participants, as part of our ‘Inspiration Carousel’ (see featured photo). This provided a great opportunity for participants to get to their feet and interact, talk freely, share ideas and connect with others working equally passionately on similar issues.

What struck me, listening to people share their stories and strike new connections, was that people in the sector have a deep desire to collaborate, connect and share. Most importantly, those working in this vibrant sector are all working towards the same thing: a better food system for everyone.

The task now is to develop the right mechanisms and platforms for them to connect more; spark even more effective collaborations; raise more funding; create better innovation and overall raise the profile of this crucial sector. Will you join this exciting journey?

We are grateful to the Big Lottery Fund, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, JMG Foundation, The A Team Foundation, the Environmental Funders Network and Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, for their support throughout the project.