Charlie Gray, Seed Sovereignty Programme Coordinator for Northern England, gives a whistle-stop tour of some of the most exciting seed happenings across the region.

The Lancaster Seed Library

Initiated by Transition City Lancaster and Incredible Edible Lancaster, the Lancaster Seed Library started in 2015 with the aim of bringing back the lost skill of seed saving. The library aims to re-skill local growers in how to save seeds whilst developing a living bank of locally adapted seed.

The project is based on the principles of Permaculture, which involves holistic systems thinking. One of Permaculture’s principles is to get the biggest possible outcome with the smallest input, so the project tries to be as low maintenance as possible.

For anyone looking at creating a Seed Library of their own, Anna Clayton from Lancaster Seed Library talks through the two main elements – seed library cabinets for exchange, and living labs.

The Seed Library Cabinets

“During non-Covid time, two cabinets are located in Lancaster’s Central Library. These are open to everybody to swap, take and grow seed. One cabinet is for incoming / donated seeds and the other is for outgoing seeds that people can take. Both are organised alphabetically and two log books capture the details of people that borrow or donate the seeds. The system is very low-maintenance, relies on trust and is open to everyone.

Seeds are also exchanged during a seed swap at Lancaster’s Annual Potato Day which takes place on the last Saturday in January. (In 2021 Lancaster’s Potato Day will take place outside on the 30th January from 9am – 3pm at Lancaster’s charter market).

This system has been working fairly well for the last five years. The flow of seeds has been steady and people leave notes of information and gratitude. Keeping the cabinets in the central part of the library has increased the flow of seeds and a notice board has been put up to post things related to seeds and community growing. The cabinets have also toured, visiting local seasonal food markets and Lancaster’s Annual Potato Day in order to facilitate seed swaps and stimulate conversations about seed saving. As this is a living library, with a high turnover of seeds, there is no need for fridges to support the long-term storage of seed.

During the Covid-19 lockdown seeds were also distributed by post and via a series of ‘sow and sew’ libraries that were set up around Lancaster during 2020.”

Links with other Projects to create a Living Lab

The Seed library has built raised beds at Claver Hill Community Food project to function like a living lab. Plants are grown, mixed and matched, and seeds are saved to supply the seed cabinets. For the past four years, the Lancaster Seed Library has been growing and saving seeds from a range of crops that include quinoa, bean and pea varieties, giant sunflowers, rainbow maize and beetroot. It has also built links with several seed libraries around the world and has exchanged seeds with seed savers in Greece, Bolivia, Palestine, Spain and the not so far flung city of Bradford.

Through collaboration with the UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme, the Lancaster Seed Library will be participating in a community seed trial in 2021.

How to get involved

Attend our annual seed swap

Lancaster Seed Library runs a seed swap every year on the last Saturday of January- as part of Lancaster’s Potato Day. This year we will be running a seed swap outside on the 30th January 9:00 – 15:00 at Lancaster Charter Market in Dalton Square, Lancaster. This will run alongside a stall selling (at cost price) 28 varieties of organic seed potato.

Borrow and swap seeds through our little libraries

If you are involved in a community garden, an allotment or you have a garden, start saving and sharing seed! Just visit the cabinets in Lancaster’s Central Library or one of Lancaster’s Sew and Sow Libraries and borrow some seeds. Grow them and bring some saved seeds back!

Seed saving skill shares

We will be running two online seed saving skill shares on wednesday 3rd and 10th February from 19:00 – 21:00 Email if interested in joining.


Help maintain the library’s cabinets, keep the sow and sew libraries stocked, support our community seed trial or adopt a bed for seed saving at Claver Hill. Contact Anna Clayton for more information.

Join our community online: Join the project’s Facebook Group for seed saving tips, updates and info about events.

Watch this gorgeous video to hear Anna and Dennis in their own words on why they save seed as part of Lancaster Seed Library.


Seeds of Hope in Bradford

The team at Horton Community Farm Co-op launch their Seeds of Hope campaign as the Seed Library in Bradford takes flight.

Horton Community Farm work with people of all backgrounds across Bradford. They have connected with City of Sanctuary and work closely with asylum seekers and refugees from across the globe, who bring with them their rich and diverse food cultures – a love of okra, knowledge of broad beans and grafting – alongside joys and sorrows, songs and story.  For some asylum seekers coming from cities, Horton Community Farm is one of the first places they have a chance to connect with growing.

“The idea of Seeds of Hope is to start sharing open-pollinated, locally adapted seeds with local people from diverse backgrounds. We would especially like to encourage those who may not have sown any seeds before, or who may not have grown in this country before.”

The Seeds of Hope idea is simple; to celebrate seeds and people in all their diversity and ensure the two are re-connected in the Northern, Post-Industrial city of Bradford. The hope is to start a process similar to the rematriation that Rowen White – a Seedkeeper from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne and an activist for Indigenous seed sovereignty –  has set out. That is, the idea of returning seeds to indigenous peoples and the land on which they grew.

For Horton Community Farm and the Seeds of Hope project, part of this process is returning seeds to the hands of people whose ancestors grew them. The seed system in Bradford, like our food system, is built on a complex colonial history and so the seeds sown have their origins from across the globe. The Seeds of Hope team want participants to pause and reflect on those journeys and origins of seed to honour all seed savers who created the basis for the living food system.


“Each person who sows a seed is engaging in an act of hope, an act of retracing as well as extending those connections out into the future. Our wish and hope with these seeds is that people will sow them in whatever scrap of land they have, a pot on a windowsill, a planter or a small strip somewhere, and ideally harvest some and then also let some go to seed and collect them for sowing again next year.”


As part of the Seeds of Hope membership campaign to launch the Seed Library in Bradford, members can purchase “solidarity membership” –  which means buying one for someone else as well as yourself. This approach is designed to build the seed sharing community and membership fees are going towards some beautiful artwork for bespoke Seeds of Hope seed packets, designed by Nick Loaring, the mastermind behind The Print Project based in Shipley and will help towards running costs.


“We invite people to grow and save seed for our seed library which we launch today alongside these packets. We are grateful to all the seed keepers of the world, for the seeds we have today to sow and to all those who’ve shared seeds, plants, knowledge and skills with us over many years. We launch Seeds of Hope membership in honour of Ana Karina Jimenez Villarreal.  Ana was part of Horton Community Farm – she’s the reason we chose to work with the Print Project and lots of other things besides, so please read this dedication to Ana on our page.”


For those interested in getting involved in Bradford and Yorkshire seed and food growing networks, Seeds of Hope have used their time in lockdown to focus on sharing seeds with families with children through the project Growing Together Bradford, and with asylum seekers and refugees through BIASAN Yorkshire. Follow the links to find out more about these fantastic regional projects.



We Meet Those Plant People in West Yorkshire

Pippa and Andrew Chapman run a plant nursery as part of their horticultural services and are adapting plants to their damp north-facing slope in West Yorkshire for their own consumption. Here Pippa, half of the Master Horticulturist couple that run Those Plant People, shares some thoughts on seed saving.

“Now more than ever, improving our personal food resilience is vital. Each year I pull out my home saved seeds and wonder at the choice available to me, for free. It takes a bit of planning to ensure I have enough of each plant, and have selected open pollinated varieties, but the satisfaction from saving your own seed is more than worth it.

“We now breed our own varieties too, selecting for flavor, disease resistance and storage qualities. There are so many online resources to help you with gaining seed saving skills. Even if you can’t save many yourself, seed swaps are invaluable for increasing the range of crops you can grow from home saved seeds.”

This year I have found many seed companies have sold out very early or are overwhelmed by orders and have closed their online shops. This has made me even more grateful for the efforts I made last year to save seed and means I have plenty for myself and to swap and share with others who are also struggling to get hold of seed.

My advice would be start small, give it a try and before you know it you will be sharing and swapping with others, and who knows, maybe even setting up your own seed swapping group.”

In this short video Pippa explains what they’ve been doing to develop a bean landrace for their site as well as some other super-useful seed storing tips: