It takes a pretty special person to be honored with the award—Freemen of London. After all, you can’t apply for it. You have to make significant impact in your field in order to be invited by the Court of Common Council to accept the freedom. Past recipients include Sir Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, Florence Nightingale, and J.K. Rowling just to name a few. Our guest for this episode is a unique individual who is responsible for regeneration of local allotments, a community orchard, and is heavily involved in the Campaign for Real Ale. Ian White is an unassuming man, but you don’t get to be awarded the highest honor the city of London can bestow unless you are special.
“We have architectural students coming on a regular basis to study this building style because of its simplicity—but also because of what it can empower people to do.”
The property Ian lives in is part of a Lewisham Council self-build scheme from the mid 80’s. It was designed to allow people with no carpentry skills whatsoever to build their own homes. The architect responsible for these do-it-yourself style homes (which took about two years to build with nothing but a drill and saw) is Walter Segal—a north London resident. Once a year, Ian and a few other houses in the area do an open house on a Sunday where the general public can come and explore the unique, self-styled homes.
Ian takes a particular interest in the Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA for short. He remembers being a young boy, passing these mysterious public houses he couldn’t look into. When he came of age he started going to pubs, but quickly found out he had more interest in the pubs with historical value over the nearest watering hole. When he moved to London he attended a beer festival and was signed up to be a CAMRA member. After working a number of festivals Ian became more involved, running a cider bar and then found a group that promotes cider specifically: Apple. He ended up becoming Apple’s regional coordinator.
He took on the allotment in around 1998 when they weren’t that popular. It was tough going at first, slugs seeming to enjoy living in abandoned lots.
“…wishing good health to trees in the dark depths of winter, basically we read a poem to the trees, anoint it with some cider, and hang some toast up in the branches for the birds—because the birds will eat the insects.”
Through managing some allotments, Ian came into taking over a cider press and making his own cider—now labeled One Tree Hill. Since Ian has to manage every apple, mill it, crush it, and make the cider from scratch he only makes about 30 gallons a year, not quite enough to start marketing to public houses. The apples he uses he collects from people’s backyards and other lots where they would be left to rot on the ground.
We venture to Ian’s allotment and see why he pushes gardening in these spaces as a way to bolster local communities. He runs an open day for the public where he shows people how to turn apples into apple juice—the children especially loving squashing the apples. He shares with us and the birds chirping on an excellent London day just how he came about becoming a Freemen of the City of London.