My Bath: fair food proponent Lyn Barham

Lyn Barham specialised in career development. Since retiring she has focused her efforts on sustainable development and ‘fair food’. She is a Trustee of Transition Bath and is involved with Bath Organic Group. In 2023 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Career Development Institute.

I’ve lived in Bath since 2000. I now live south of the city centre, near the top of Bloomfield Road. It’s a modest, two-bedroom cottage built in 1876, where I’ve managed to enhance the energy efficiency and create a home that’s just right for me. Being near the hilltop, I have wonderful sunrise and sunset skies, and I’m out of the city centre air pollution.

Before retiring I specialised in career development work. At first my interest was in supporting young people in widening their horizons and gaining the confidence to pursue their ambitions. As time went by, I worked on career development for adults – including ‘women returners’, a status that is less prevalent now many women remain in the workforce. Later, some of my research addressed the increasingly complicated transitions into retirement that face older people these days.

A person’s activity in employment constitutes one of the biggest impacts they have on the planet – for good or ill. My particular interest was in shifting thinking away from a narrow conception of ‘green jobs’ and towards the notion that almost any job can be green if done in the right context: financial advisers helping people choose ethical investments; architects and sustainable building methods; automotive technologies for less polluting vehicles.

Fair food is a vast international issue and a really important local issue. Locally there should be a fair supply of affordable and healthy food for all. We need to address three issues: land access, so that crop growers have access to affordable land from which to earn a livelihood; training in growing skills through land-based apprenticeships; and routes to market through local cooperatives so that food can reach schools, hospitals and the families (all of us) that need it.

I spent a wonderful year in Italy. I gave up my former home in Bath to someone who had need of it for health reasons, so I had reasonable financial provision but no home. I had good friends in Padua University and in spring 2015 I joined them as a visiting scholar. I was able to afford an apartment right in the city centre where I could welcome friends and family to visit me. As well as the myriad pleasures of one of Italy’s most interesting historic small cities, I was a short train ride away from the Brenta valley in the Dolomites where you can walk through the hills on old tobacco smuggling trails and see remnants of World War II entrenchments, all in a stunning landscape.

I have been a vegetable grower all my life, starting alongside my grandad as a toddler. Quality and availability of food is so important, and local food is the core of what I engage with. Food is just one strand of local charity Transition Bath’s work: we’re concerned with energy generation and use, with traffic and pollution, and – through our EcoTogether programme – with helping people understand that they have individual power and it can be used for the planet.

I’m too busy. One day I’ll learn to say ‘no’. But actually my life is not that complicated, only overloaded. What drives me? We have a climate crisis right now, but my small grandson will probably be alive not only in 2050 where policy is focused, but beyond 2100. All our children and grandchildren need us to act. It’s time to follow Greta Thunberg’s advice and panic.

Back in the 1990s, I gained some millions of pounds of EU funding for innovative careers work with disadvantaged young people. For the launch event, I invited a distinguished professor who was to conduct an evaluation of the project. After listening to the outline and plans, he rubbed his hands with glee and announced, “I have now realised this is a subversive project”. Certainly it ran counter to the then government’s lack of support for unemployed young people, and it reinforced that as an individual I have the power to make a difference in the face of unhelpful public policy.

A quote that sums up my approach to life is from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”