By Mandisa Tselane
In the derelict suburb of Lorentzville, in Johannesburg’s near-eastern suburbs, lies Victoria Yards, the heart of an innovative, creative and transformative community rebirth. In the two and half years since its inception, Victoria Yards has become the heart-centre of creativity, collaborative enterprises and inventive community-driven initiatives. One such initiative is Makers Valley, a concept borne out of wanting to create an enterprise through community collaboration and cooperation.
Makers Valley was birthed by two founding partners: Simon Sizwe Mayson and Siyabonga Stanly Ndlangamandla. It’s a collective of diverse creative businesses situated in the Joburg suburbs of Bez Valley, New Doornfontein, Troyeville, Bertrams and Lorentzville. Their vision is to enable the entrepreneurial activities of the growing number of ‘Makers’ in the Valley, thereby generating a local, sustainable creative economy. It encompasses cross-sectoral networking, partnerships, infrastructure development and helps in attracting financial investment.
The big story is how the Makers Valley collective was able to come together during the COVID-19 lockdown and assist their communities. Through feeding initiatives, vegetable growing, trading of resources and supporting local vendors, they were able not only to get through the lockdown but were also able to create new enterprise opportunities, paving the way for workable future community upliftment models.
During the second week of lockdown, one of the restaurants at Victoria Yards offered the use of their kitchen to cook meals for the community. It soon became clear that there was a much greater need than could be catered for by this one kitchen alone. The community at large needed to become involved.
The first step was to identify and equip community champions with community kitchen starter packs. Community champions were identified and supplied with a gas stove, gas and pots. That now meant that up to 100 meals were being distributed at various locations, taking the pressure off the Victoria Yards kitchen. Additionally, these Mamas (community champions) were now also able to start generating their income selling their food, as the soup kitchens only operated on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The rest of the week they were free to operate like businesses – a win, win.
Then there was the food parcel and PPE initiative supported by various commercial enterprises such as Nando’s and NGOs. The local spaza shops were used to distribute these as a means of supporting these local community businesses rather than the large chain stores.
The next imperative was to get the community to start growing their produce. The community kitchens had been relying on donations from individuals, private enterprise and NGOs. As the lockdown extended these donations became harder to come by.
The Makers Valley team knocked on the doors of over 2000 houses to identify households who were both willing and able to establish a vegetable garden on their properties. Individuals were selected to receive vegetable growing starter kits with the agreement being that 20% of what they produce goes to the collective feeding scheme, with the remainder being for their use. Once again, there’s a win, win. Ultimately, Makers Valley wants to develop this model and broaden its scope of products into a fully self-sustainable circular community eco-system.
Another innovation to emerge out of the lockdown was a Swop Shop. This is a collaboration with one of our entrepreneurs who runs a creative waste management organisation called LOCK (Love Our City Clean). Makers Valley partnered with them to create the Swop Shop in which community members could recycle items in return for points. These points were redeemable at local spaza shops and a food and grocery surplus shop next to the Swop Shop in Victoria Yards. This surplus store carried surplus produce from the community vegetable growers and surplus items from donors.
Being able to trade in points for needed grocery items, rather than receiving food parcels, creating a more dignified way for people to have their needs met. It’s working and the community is excited about it.
There are many more facets to the Makers Valley concept and many uplifting individual success stories to emerge out of the challenges overcome during the lockdown. What the Makers Valley story has illustrated, is that by coming together through cooperation, collaboration and shared resources, a community is better able to prosper and face challenges. Innovations take place and opportunities emerge, creating a whole far greater than the sum of the individual parts.