Over the ten years of Local Greens doing business, the electric van has become a bit of lore and legend in the arch. It was the original delivery method, using clean energy before the Toyota Prius or Teslas made it all so trendy and cool. While it was our little engine that could (not always handle the hills), it had its pros and cons and funny recollections from the staff who drove it until its ultimate demise.
The Local Greens delivery team puts in top-notch effort to navigate the traffic and ever-changing road situations each week. When the van was in its prime, it was somewhat of a local celebrity, with people seeing its petite frame with our logo across silently zipping around side streets. Magically, the team used to be able to make all deliveries in the one van, thanks to great planning and its refrigeration unit. With its small stature, the van could easily be parked inside our arch when not in use. This made for a tricky dance some weeks, as the van needed to be plugged in to charge and the arch is also used for storage and gets piled to the roof with veg when the farm deliveries come in. Wednesday and Thursdays used to see a mountain of veg shifting around to get everything out to move the van and make space for packing, then moving the van out into the alleyway, then moving all the veg back in. The things we did to make it all come together.
Electric vehicles have come a long way since our little van and it was undeniably underpowered to take on the hills of South London. Team member and former electric van driver, George, recalls the weekly struggles with Gypsy Hill. “At this point, I’m not sure if it really happened or if it’s become a myth, but I was driving the van up Gypsy Hill, and I looked out to the pavement, and there was a granny with her Zimmer frame going faster uphill,” George laughs as he recalls. There were even moments where it was so laden down with veg, that he had to ask his copilots to get out and walk up the hill to make the van lighter.
Running on electricity was a great boon to reducing emissions, and with its narrow profile, the van could race around tight residential roads. Our drivers had to stick to side streets and off main routes, as the van topped out at about 20 mph, and we all know how courteous London drivers can be when following a slow-moving vehicle. Jack has been a long-time delivery team member, and used to drive out with his dad to make deliveries. There was a moment when the van’s greatest flaw became its saving grace: “My dad was driving the van down one of the tight residential roads, and this guy opened his car door right in front of us and we drove into it. We all got out and he was shouting, saying we were going too fast, like 40 mph, and my dad kept saying the van can’t go that fast, but he wouldn’t believe it. Finally, we let the guy get into the van and try to floor it to see for himself. He couldn’t get it to go over 20 mph. We were all laughing.”
Though the van was loved, it was plagued with breakdowns and eventually became unreliable. As a business, Local Greens also outgrew its capacity, and now uses two Zip vans to get veg to collection points each week. We are discussing with other providers using newer, full-sized electric vans to get our driving carbon footprint back down and also see how the technology has evolved. The electric van certainly filled its purpose at the time and turned heads a bit around Herne Hill and beyond when out and about. Our team member, Laurie, recalls seeing the van with the Local Greens logo around Dulwich and thinking, that would be a nice job. I’d like to do that. “The van really stuck in my head,” she says, “I thought exactly that, and now I’m working here.”
The original van was towed away years ago, after a long, useful life, and now lives with one of our operations team members, Antoinette. It’s become one of her husband’s on-the-go projects, as he attempts to convert it into an electric pick-up truck. “It’s in two pieces at the moment,” she shares, “but we’re hoping to eventually give it a modern look with updated components that will allow for longer run times between charges, and a wider range of utilitarian tasks.“ Perhaps the next Elon Musk is tinkering away on our beloved little van. In the not-too-distant future, the van may ride again in this new form, spreading its charm and hopefully using more horsepower, on a street near you.