Environment Secretary Michael Gove praises Peterborough's eco-credentials on visit to community project

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Environment Secretary Michael Gove praised Peterborough's credentials as an Environment Capital on a visit to the city last week.

Mr Gove, one of the most high-profile Cabinet members in the Government, visited the WestRaven community café and garden as he came to support Peterborough parliamentary candidate Paul Bristow.

The café in Hampton Court, Westwood, and the nearby garden, are part of the Big Local project. The project is volunteer-led, with support from Cross Keys Homes, and works in partnership with a number of local organisations including PECT (Peterborough Environment City Trust), Peterborough City Council, HMP Peterborough and Froglife.

The project provides affordable, healthy food and a place to grow and learn to cook it. There are also a huge range of child and youth events and art, music and sports projects.

Mr Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, spoke to volunteers and representatives of Cross Keys and PECT at both locations before taking five minutes of questions from the Peterborough Telegraph, where he stated he was "incredibly impressed" by what he had seen.

Peterborough has the aspiration to be the UK's Environment Capital. Asked for his thoughts on that, and what makes Peterborough stand out, Mr Gove replied: "There are a number of environmental organisations that are already based in Peterborough that do amazing work - PECT, Buglife and others.

Michael Gove. Photo: Terry Harris

Michael Gove. Photo: Terry Harris

"And it's also the case that Paul has been a consistent champion for the environment, so I think Peterborough stands a very good chance of establishing itself as an environmental hub and a leading city when it comes to thinking about our future overall as a global leader on environmental issues.

"There are three things (that make Peterborough stand out). The first thing is you have a strong group of volunteers with a track record of commitment and delivery.

"The second thing is Peterborough is at a crossroads in England - it is close to places of scientific excellence, but also agricultural innovation.

"The third thing is there are strong local champions from Paul himself to others who have been involved like Carly in the voluntary sector who make sure that Peterborough's reputation only improves in the future."

Michael Gove and Paul Bristow. Photo: Terry Harris

Michael Gove and Paul Bristow. Photo: Terry Harris

Brexit, Mr Gove added, brings "huge opportunities" in the environment sector as higher standards can now be set.

Asked what changes farmers will see from Brexit, he replied: "I was talking to some farmers near here earlier this morning. One of the things they wanted to see is Brexit done quickly and a chance to move on because they believe once this deal is done, they will have an opportunity to sell not just into the European marketplace, but into other marketplaces as well.

"And also they want a new method of funding that rewards them for the environmental benefits they bring, as well as being able to sell the high quality food that is a hallmark of this part of the world."

The café and community garden were established after Westwood and Ravensthorpe were identified as one of four areas in the Eastern region in need of extra community investment. The area was awarded a £1 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund to help make improvements.

Michael Gove with Carly Leonard from PECT. Photo: Terry Harris

Michael Gove with Carly Leonard from PECT. Photo: Terry Harris

The café has a community fridge which can be used by all residents, and food is cooked from produce grown at the garden, which also welcomes schools, community groups and Froglife.

Speaking at the community garden, Adam Castleton, project manager for Big Local and Cross Keys Homes, said: "It was a waste land and we've turned it into a community garden. There's a cooking area and produce grows which is pesticide free. The local community have access to organic food served in the café from the garden.

"Everything is sustainable as we keep the seeds and grow them again. There's everything from parsnips, turnips, tomatoes and pumpkins.

"We're also building a sensory path towards the pond."

Carly Leonard, chief executive of PECT, said: "Mr Gove seemed genuinely interested in what was happening here in Peterborough. .It was good for him to see some of the environmental work in action. He did seem impressed.

"The WestRaven café and garden are great examples of volunteers and community groups working together for the greater good."