Racial Justice in Food and Seed Sovereignty Organising

At the London Freedom Seed Bank we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests that have swept the globe in the wake of the state-sanctioned killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others. These are crucial times of protest and outrage, of education and learning about the systemic and structural racism* faced by the Black community across the globe and here in the UK which pervades every area of life. 

It is therefore crucial that we see our work in the context of the systems of racism which control and block access to food, resources and the land itself. In our own area of work, the structural racism of the industrial food system is clear: from the exploitation of un(der)paid, un(der)valued work of marginalised workers in the agricultural and food sector to the fact that people of colour are disproportionately at risk of household food insecurity which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 lockdown. Black people alone are almost 1.5 times more likely than other ethnic groups to suffer from food poverty.

It is on us all to dismantle systemic racism in the structures we work in as well as within ourselves, which allow these inequities to continue. For us organising in food and seed sovereignty, the principle of food justice should have a central place in our organising:

Food justice recognizes the influence of race and class on the production, distribution and consumption of food in the food system. It seeks to address the structural causes and disparities by drawing from established social and environmental theoretical frameworks to effect policy change and practical solutions (Deirdre Woods)

As well as the disparities in distribution and access to food and crops, access to land for people of colour is further restricted due to the UK’s long history of colonialism which concentrated land ownership in the hands of a very small number of wealthy and white landowners, making access to land for food growing inaccessible to people of colour in particular. 

In the UK many groups and networks are challenging these realities. Reparative justice approaches to food and seed sovereignty centre racial justice and work to disrupt the exploitative mindset of domination of the current food system under which marginalised communities and the Earth are made to suffer and bear the consequences of large-scale consumption and destructive industry. Land In Our Names is one example for an organisation that centres reparative land justice for marginalised communities and which promotes growing and agricultural practices that sustain life and honour the living Earth. 

We strongly feel that racial justice must be more than an add-on to our work and must be centred in organising around food sovereignty and seed saving. This is a conversation that we need to have at the London Freedom Seed Bank as well. As Sam Siva from Land In Our Names (LION) eloquently states:  

“We need you to recognise how our struggles are tied together, our liberation is bound together, and that dismantling racism is not just the work of Black people or something that is only remembered when one of our deaths is recorded and broadcast. It is work that we are doing everyday and it is work that we all need to do if we want real change.

Below are just some resources that we have found useful on racial justice in the context of food and seed sovereignty:

        The Landworkers Alliance is hosting a webinar on Race and Farming in the UK on Wednesday 8th July, click here to register!

 

Read:

       Building an Anti-Racist Food Movement: Reflections from Land in Our Names by Sam Siva

       Invisible Women: Hunger, Poverty, Racism and Gender in the UK by Deirdre Woods

 

Listen / Watch

       The Seeds of Our Ancestors: A Day at Soul Fire Farm, Chelsea Steinauer-Scudder

       Food Justice Requires Land Justice: A Conversation with Savi Horne

       Farming While Black: Uprooting Racism, Seeding Sovereignty by Leah Penniman

TedX Talk: Ron Finley – A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

 

Redistribute:

Land In Our Names is a UK food and land justice organisation for people of colour.

       UBELE is a social enterprise supporting African diaspora social action and community projects. A particular focus at the moment is research into the disproportionate impact COVID has had on BAME people.

       Black Rootz  is a black-led multigenerational project at Wolves Lane in north London where the older generation share their growing knowledge and support young people.

        The African Caribbean Food Heritage Network is a new social enterprise working towards Black food sovereignty and uplifting African and Caribbean heritage foodways through advocacy, research and the provision of services including education, training and educational resources that build equity in the food system.

       Black Lives Matter UK are working to dismantle the structures that disproportionately harm black people in the UK through advocating for change in legislation, distributing educational resources and healing practices, calling for justice for those killed by the British police, providing emergency relief for those facing the worst of the pandemic and more.

Black Land and Spatial Justice Fundraiser : This fund has been developed to redistribute resources, including finance and knowledge on land and food justice and to strengthen collective organising to redefine people’s relationships to land and space. 

Explore:

       21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, daily prompts to deepen your understanding of & ability to confront racism in the food system.

If you want to strengthen your understanding of racism and racial justice, consider starting a “White Affinity Group” or “White Caucus”. These are spaces in which white allies can explore their experiences and privileges of whiteness without burdening people of colour with the responsibility and the labour of educating you/us (which remains a big problem in anti-racist organising and has been called out by many anti-racist organisers). This is not meant to be a space without accountability to black people, rather it is a self-aware attempt of doing the emotional work of anti-racism and engaging in the rich material on anti-racism out there so that people of colour won’t have to continuously live through and speak about their experiences of racialisation and racism again and again – there is plenty of material out there! Read more about this idea here, here and here

* when we speak about structural and systemic racism we mean the privileging of whiteness across our different systems of governance, our state and economic structures, policies, organisations.

Responding to these tricky times

By all accounts, it is primed to be a huge year for home-grown veg in the UK. Seed producers and seed banks alike have been overwhelmed with demand as many Brits set up shop on balconies and gardens, facing up to the reality of a long summer of likely lockdown.

The LFSB also experienced a surge in interest. In London, there is a strong privilege dimension to those who have access to their own outdoor space, in gardens, allotments, or balconies. The closure of community growing spaces (which are only now slowly opening their doors again) has had a significant impact on the host of people who rely on these spaces for social connection, access to the natural world and respite. An emphasis in our response to the pandemic and corresponding lockdown was to prioritise providing seed to organisations catering for lonely, vulnerable or food insecure people.

Here are some examples of projects we supported:

1.     Growing for our Communities, Incredible Edible Lambeth

Growing for our Communities builds off a fresh community spirit which has emerged in light of the pandemic, as individuals and communities step up to support each other. The project encourages people who have space, capacity and skills to grow food for their neighbours over the coming summer and autumn months. At the beginning of April, we provided 175 packets of seed to the scheme, that’s 7 different vegetable varieties supplied to 25 households, alongside trays and compost.

Photo: Janie Bickersteth

2. Companion planters, Garden of Earthly Delights, Hackney

Connection to the natural world and natural processes can have huge benefits for emotional and mental wellbeing. For those isolating, or spending lockdown in cramped indoor conditions, perhaps in solitude, it can be a really trying time with many struggling with their mental health and loneliness. Volunteers for the Garden of Earthly Delights built ‘companion planters’ with repurposed timber, filled with soil, a handmade card and a selection of 3 LFSB seeds and delivered them by bike to those who feel that they need something like this, in the hope that nurturing life can provide some sense of calm for those without access to their own outdoor space.

Photos: Garden of Earthly Delights

3. Southwark community gardens

We donated a further 250 seed packets to the Walworth Community Garden Network which delivered these seeds to a range of community gardens across Southwark borough. 

Within a few weeks alone, and with substantial and efficient organising by Steering Group member Richard Galpin, we managed to distribute all our surplus seed stocks for this year.

This demand for seed was certainly not limited to Londonders, or to community seed banks. Sinéad Fortune, Programme Manager of the Seed Sovereignty Programme of the UK and Ireland, said some seed producers faced a 600% increase on demand for seed from last year. This interest is brilliant, and a great opportunity for organisations like ours to bring more people into an understanding of the importance of UK-produced open-pollinated seed in the context of food sovereignty. “It also raises concerns about supply,” says Sinéad, “For some companies, the surge of orders has significantly depleted their seed stock and it will take several years to build up again.”

Wayne Frankham of the Irish Seed Savers reports similar experiences. “Just as in the UK, many growers have had to radically adapt their production for changed demand -moving from market to box deliveries or contactless collection for produce or plants…What was known during winter planning totally changed and new seed demands saw a massive spike in orders from commercial, community, and domestic growers alike…The few seed producers and suppliers had to continue their producing activities, whilst processing a deluge of orders, with reduced staff.”

At the LFSB we’ve taken some time to reflect and now turn our focus to the longer term. Empty supermarket shelves and stretched food banks have put into sharp focus the fragility of the industrial food system. It cannot cope with external shocks to the system and often let’s the most vulnerable fall through the cracks. We believe seed sovereignty, seed saving and local food growing are crucial steps to building more resilient food systems where we can make sure no one goes hungry. Moving forward, we wonder how we can keep all these new growers on board, spread the skills of saving seed further and build our seed movement. We always welcome input and ideas so please get in touch.

“Now more than ever we need more people growing seed, saving seed, swapping seed, and selling seed,” says Sinéad, “If we want our future food system to be local, diverse, resilient, and agroecological, we must start with our seed!”

LONDON FREEDOM SEED BANK News

Dear friends,

Have you ever thought about creating your own community seed collection or do you worry that your saved seeds aren’t stored correctly? We’ve got just the event for you! Join us for ‘Caring for a Community Seed Collection’ on Sunday 17th November at Walworth Garden. We have teamed up with Community Seed Banks Academy and Vital Seeds to cover the basics of good practice in drying, cleaning and storage of seed. There will be hands-on experience of cleaning, sorting, packing, and labelling as we process the London Freedom Seed Bank 2019 harvest, in preparation for distribution through community events. You are also welcome to bring your own seed for cleaning through our seed cleaning machine! Booking required, limited places: here

Before that, we’re co-hosting Seeds Stories and Symbionts with the Roving Microscope and Connected Seeds Library on 27th October. Part of Spitalfields City Farm’s wildlife appreciation day, we will explore the human and more-than-human stories that are carried by our seeds, taking a closer look at their shapes and textures and meeting some of the microscopic communities that inhabit them. Bring some seeds or seed stories along. Tickets here.

Field-drying seed at Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, Oregon

Field-drying seed at Shoulder to Shoulder Farm, Oregon. Photo: Richard Galpin

It’s been a busy few months for us. Back in August LFSB’s Richard Galpin caught up with Frank Morton in Oregon, USA, the legendary seed farmer and experimental plant breeder. “I turned up unannounced to Frank’s farm towards the end of the working day and found Frank enjoying the hazy sunshine amongst the flowering lettuce heads at the edge of his four acre plot,” Richard says, “Frank was gracious enough to show me around the farm. It was incredible to see the 150 seed crops he’s growing this year alone, and pick up some tips for field-drying seed crops, and see the way he harvested and cleaned seed, including the awesome Winnow Wizard a seed cleaning machine designed by Mark Luterra, one of the farm hands.

Most exciting of all, I got the answer to the question I went there to find out: What were the parents of the Mayan Jaguar lettuce? (One of Frank’s farm-bred lettuces which is itself, one of the parents of my London-bred Bloody Marvel lettuce). The answer was Crisp Mint crossed with  Forellenschluse’ (meaning speckled like a trout’s back) AKA ‘Flashy Trout Back’. No surprise that the red flecked heritage variety Flashy Trout Back was somewhere there in the mix.”

Richard and Frank

Richard and Frank

At the start of September, we helped launch the Wellcome Collection’s new permanent gallery, Being Human. For the next 10 years, London Freedom Seed Bank seeds (Latte Calaloo, Fiesta Corn and Bloody Marvel Lettuce) will be on display. The work of the seed savers within our network is celebrated as a hopeful response to environmental breakdown. It is so encouraging to see large, mainstream organisations like the Wellcome Trust recognise the important work seed savers do. Read more about the exhibit here.

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We’ve been busy too with a late summer/ early Autumn full of workshops, talks and activism. It seems like there’s a real appetite for fully closing the loop to community self sufficiency and sourcing organic, open-pollinated seed. On a larger scale, increasing work with the UK food sovereignty movement and Extinction Rebellion, highlight the important contributions seed savers make to fighting biodiversity collapse, increasing resilience to climate breakdown and building a more just, healthy food system. More on this soon!

Finally, if you haven’t already, it’s time to get cracking with your seed collecting. In-breeders like tomatoes, french beans, lettuce and peas are a good place to start. Julie Riehl guides you through it here.

Get in touch if you have any seed to donate to the bank! We’d love to hear from you.

 

Charlotte, Richard, Julie and Helene

London Freedom Seed Bank Team

Lead image: CC: Wellcome Collection 

Autumn Seed Saving Tips – Where to begin

Since we’re now deep in Autumn, it’s definitely time to save your seeds! If you’ve been planning to save seeds since the spring- congrats, but If you are wondering what you can do now, not to worry, you can still save seeds and carry a bit of your garden for next year’s crops.

The easier plants to save seeds from are in-breeders: they won’t cross with other varieties from the same species and so what you save, is what will grow the next year: tomatoes, french beans, lettuce and peas.

For peas and french beans, simply let a few pods from your favorite and healthiest plants dry directly on the plant, until brown, and crunchy to the touch. Then, on a sunny day and when the pods aren’t damp, pick them, shell the seeds and store the seeds in a good container (old jars work wonders).

For tomatoes, pick a ripe beautiful tomato from your healthiest plant. Squeeze the juice, pulp and seeds in a glass jar. Add a bit of cold water, pierce a few holes in the lid and leave the jar closed on a countertop, out of direct sunlight, for up to two weeks. You want a layer of mould to develop on the top of the liquid. Once it’s ready (appropriately mouldy), rinse and clean the the seeds and let them dry on a paper towel for a day or so. Once they are dry, store them out of sunlight.

If you are growing a lettuce you love (that is not from the cabbage family like rocket, or japanese greens), then let one of your plant go to seed. Once the seed head is brown and dry, cut it and shake it into a paper bag on a dry day. The seeds will be mixed with chaff. You can reduce the amount of chaff by using a seed cleaner (we have one available at the Seed Bank!), or by pouring the seeds from one jar to another and gently blowing on the moving flow of seeds. The chaff is lighter and will fly away, so better do that outside. Store the seeds away from sunlight.

And for all your saved seeds, please be sure to label all your seed packets, and write at least the variety and the year harvested. We advise to keep track of a bit moreIf you have saved some seeds you’d like to share with the London Freedom seed bank, please get in touch!

Seeds & Being Human

In September, we joined a bunch of others at the launch of Being Human, the next permanent gallery at the Wellcome Collection. Divided into sections on genetics, minds and bodies, infection and environmental breakdown, the exhibition explores what it means to be human in the 21st century. It displays around 50 artworks and objects exploring our changing relationships to ourselves, each other and the world around us. 

In the section on environmental breakdown, lodged between some seed packets from the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and a banner from the Standing Rock, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, were some of our London Freedom Seed Bank seeds. 

Curator Clare Barlow said, “It’s hard to think of a bigger challenge to human health than environmental breakdown.  In ‘Being Human’, we wanted to present the scale of the problem and highlight some of the many ways that individuals and groups are responding to what is being lost.  We included seeds from London Freedom Seedbank alongside large-scale initiatives like Svalbard Global Seed Vault to make the point that all of us can think about our personal impact, and consider what we can do in the face of this global threat.”

It is refreshing to see a large institution like the Wellcome Trust take environmental breakdown seriously and present seed conservation, whether large-scale or smaller, as a serious and hopeful response.

We chose to exhibit three varieties which we felt together represented the London bank well and our diverse network of seed savers. They will be displayed at the Wellcome Collection for the next 10 years.

 

Calaloo Latte

Calaloo is from a group of plants called Amaranths, all of which have edible seeds and leaves. They have been cultivated in many parts of the world and have developed a huge variety of leaf colours, shapes and sizes. Amaranths go under many names including Calaloo, Laf Sag, Lalshank and Tangerio.

For leaf production, pick off shoots or young leaves as soon as they are large enough to handle. Young leaves can be eaten raw and larger leaves cooked. If growing for seed, then harvesting of leaves should be kept to a minimum to encourage good yields. The seeds are high in protein and gluten-free, which has led to Amaranths being known in the West as a ‘superfood’.

OrganicLea, a workers’ co-operative growing food in Chingford, donated Calaloo Latte to the Seed Bank. They acquired the variety from a Pakistani woman in Leyton.  

Fiesta corn

Fiesta corn (Zea mays everta) is a beautiful type of popping corn. Popping corn will ripen slightly quicker than sweetcorn, making it more suited to the London climate. can be milled into flour or used to make tasty popcorn. These seeds are the second London- saved generation, grown and saved by Julie Smith at Regent’s Park Allotment Garden.

It produces somewhat shorter plants than sweetcorn (up to 1.5m), with some variations in the colour of the stem and silk (everything from light green to purple stems and silks). The ears can grow fairly big and the plant produces cobs with mixed kernels of yellow, red, black, purple, pink, as well as marbled kernels. Some cobs came almost fully black.

Bloody Marvel Lettuce

Bred by Richard Galpin in Walworth, South London, it is inspired by research Bloody Cos variety, also known as Spotted Aleppo which originated in Syria in the 18th Century. The parent plants for Bloody Marvel were Marvel of Four Seasons and Majan Jaguar, selected through the 2017 Walworth Lettuce Trials for their suitability for London growing conditions. They were then manually cross-pollinated and the resulting cross selected for desirable characteristics – resilience, red flecks of colour, vigour and taste. This is only the third generation and so plants will vary considerably. 

 

The exhibition is now open to the public and well worth a visit. 

Two seed swapping opportunities this weekend

Are you keen to get your hands on some London-grown, organic vegetable and flower seeds for FREE? The London Freedom Seed Bank will be taking seeds from our collection, grown by our network members, to a couple of events this weekend. Come and get your hands on some interesting varieties and find out more about what we do:

Biggin Woods Allotment Seed Swap, Saturday 23rd February, 1-3pm

@ St. Oswald Green Lane, Norbury, London SW16 3SB

AND

OrganicLea Open Day (12-4pm) and Seed Swap (1.30-3pm), Sunday 24th February

@ OrganicLea, 115 Hawkwood Crescent, Chingford, E4 7UH

OrganicLea’s monthly Open Day features a whole host of activities including a family art & craft session, farm stall, locally-produced lunch, coffee and cake, and site tours. For more details:  https://www.organiclea.org.uk/2019/02/february-2019-open-day/

We hope to see you there!

 

Out and about in February

The London Freedom Seed Bank will be out and about in February. We will be taking our collection of locally-grown, organic seeds to three upcoming events taking place in London. Come and find out more about what we do and pick up some seeds to take home.

Incredible Edible Lambeth’s Seed Swap, Saturday 9th February, 12-3pm

@ the Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, SE1 7LB

The Seed Swap will be held in the main nave space of the museum. Please let front desk know that you are coming for the Seed Swap and entry is free. Bring seeds to share. Free seeds from Franchi Seeds will also be available.

 

Walworth Garden’s Seed Day, Sunday 17th February, 11am-4pm

@Walworth Garden, 206 Manor Place, SE17 3BN

A free day of training about why save seeds, how to save seeds, and a guide to successful seed sowing. Booking open to Lambeth and Southwark residents only: www.walworthgarden.org.uk 

 

Seed day poster

 

OrganicLea’s Open Day, Sunday 24th February, 12-4pm 

@ OrganicLea, London E4 7UH

The Seed Swap will be held at OrganicLea’s monthly Open Day. There will also be delicious lunch, cake and drinks available, plus kids activities, farm stall and site tours.

https://www.organiclea.org.uk/whats-on/open-days-at-hawkwood/ 

 

 

 

 

How to start seed saving workshop – 1st Sep

Come and learn about the basics of saving your own seed with Charlotte Dove from the London Freedom Seed Bank, on Saturday 1st September at The Albany in Deptford. 

Learn the basics of saving your own seed from common vegetables, herbs and flowers. Saving seed is a great way to become more self-sufficient, to save money and to grow healthier, more vigorous crops which are adapted to your local environment.

You will learn top tips for saving and storing your seeds correctly and have a go at some practical seed saving activities.

Seeds from the London Freedom Seed Bank, grown and saved in London, will also be available for you to take home for free.

TO BOOK TICKETS 

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/how-to-start-seed-saving-growing-saving-and-sharing-tickets-46356289911

Berlin’s pedal-powered seed bank

Reflections on the affinities between the SeedBike and the London Freedom Seed Bank

As urban seed savers, we are confronted with a very particular host of challenges. Our London gardens, balconies and allotments are not known for their abundance of space. The unique London microclimate and awkward clay soils, suffering under hundreds of years of construction and pollution has not led to a wealth of London veg varieties. Packed so tight with other growers, avoiding cross-pollination is tricky to say the least. Cross-pollination occurs when a plant pollinates a plant of another variety. This combines the genetic material of both plants and produces seeds with characteristics from both parent plants. These seeds are not true-to-type and so cannot be saved as such. Preventing this our little gardens is difficult stuff!

This has not stopped us though. The more you look for greenery, the more you realise that our city is bursting with potential in concrete nooks and crannies. Whether pots of herbs piled high on balconies or meticulously tended Estate communal veg patches, Londoners want to grow their own food. Increasingly, I am convinced, they want to close that loop completely and save their own seed too.

A few weeks back I met Hanna Burckhardt and Svenja Nette from the SaatgutRad, or SeedBike, in Berlin. Sat over packets of fresh seed in the office of the Prinzessinnengarten, the community garden where they are based, we realised that their SeedBike and our London Freedom Seed Bank (LFSB) were confronted with quite similar issues.

The SeedBike is a new project launched this spring. Observing and adapting the folding mechanism of sowing or tool boxes, the team built their own XL version which was mounted on a bike. The structure folds into a handy wooden box as it is cycled around the city.

Vik_SeedBike

(Illustration by Viktoria Spittler)

Travelling to allotments across the city, the SeedBike wants to facilitate both seed and knowledge sharing. Packed up in many small jars, they provide an expansive range of seeds as well as much information material on the importance of crop biodiversity and the practicalities of seed saving. One of their key struggles, the pair tell me, is the bulk of information they feel they need to provide.

Seed saving is not necessarily easy business, they argue, and it is not to be taken lightheartedly. When you choose to grow and save seed from a rare variety, you become a custodian of that genetic heritage. That is serious stuff. Particular varieties often require quite specialist care in order to ensure seeds are true-to-type. I enjoy this attention to detail and the seriousness with which the pair approach this work.

It has me thinking. Much of my own work in the food and seed movement over the passed few years has been around accessibility: how can we get more people with their hands in the soil? How can we make sure that everyone who eats food feels themselves to be part of a food movement for tastier, healthier, more socially and ecologically just food? How do we make these issues easier to engage with? I thought the more people involved, the better our chances.

For the most part, I still stand by these concerns. But I also think it is worth stressing that saving seed, particularly of rare varieties, is important and sometimes tricky work. It requires care. The question is: how do you balance valuing seed saving as specific, challenging work whilst also being accessible and encouraging more people to save seed?

The challenge is to not put people off. Novices, such as myself, should feel themselves motivated to really learn about these plants and learn how best to nurture them.

In terms of access to information, the SeedBike is working on creating an online database of advice and guidelines. With seed packets, growers are given a questionnaire to complete what went well, what was tricky and what tips they could pass on. This will at some stage be gathered into an interactive section of their website. Our own seed bank is increasingly collecting this kind of information also and some kind of easily-accessible online or physical collection of this information is certainly something we should think about.

For now the bike travels around the city to hold seed saving seminars in allotments but the team hope to expand their reach to schools and other food-growing spaces in future. Interestingly, and different to the LFSB, they are not targeting community gardens. Our logic is that we need only one community gardener to join our workshops, to get a whole garden saving seed. Knowledge is passed on. Their logic in focussing on allotments is that they are frequently ignored in much of the attention given to urban agriculture. Many allotment gardeners are of older generations with many years of food growing experience under their belts. These make ideal, knowledgeable candidates for saving seed.

The SeedBike has only its maiden journeys behind it so they cannot yet speak of that many experiences. With a busy summer ahead of them and big plans for the future though, I am excited for what stories they will tell the next time we meet. We are both necessarily small projects, our reach extends just to London and Berlin city boundaries, respectively. Because of our similar urban contexts and differences in experiences, I think there is real potential for fruitful skill-sharing between our networks and perhaps some future collaborations. At the very least, I will make sure to bring some LFSB seeds to our next meetup for an exchange.

By Helene Schulze, Co-director of the London Freedom Seed Bank

(Main image credit: saatgutrad.org)

Seeking designer for interactive seed bank

We are seeking an artist / designer / carpenter / maker to design and build an interactive seed bank as part of the Seeds for the Better World project in partnership with Global Generation.

The interactive seed bank will travel to community events, schools, and other organisations to educate and inspire people about seeds in an engaging, interactive and playful way.

The designer must be able to work collaboratively with the project partners (London Freedom Seed Bank and Global Generation) and the young people who are participating in the Seeds for a Better World Project.

For more info about the project, a full design brief, timeline, and budget, please download Interactive Seed Bank Brief.

Deadline for proposals is Monday 28th May at 9am.