We’ve begun work on an audio book version of Pollinating Change!
It’s been several years since we published Pollinating Change – The Buzz Tour, and an audio book has been in mind for all that time but it’s finally begun. We’ll initially be releasing the chapters one at a time for you to listen to for free online and then you’ll be able to buy the whole book. We’ve recorded about a quarter of the 34 chapters so far and aim to start releasing them this winter.
In the south of Glasgow sits the grocery store and cafe Locavore which has been farming and supplying local produce for the last six years. I spoke to Kim from the social enterprise about the newly expanded shop and the range of goods they stock to keep packaging low whilst providing great environmentally responsible food and products.
Locavore organically grows much of its food at three sites, just 3 acres in total, within 10 miles of the city. They also run a scheme called Grow the Growers where they help growers gain experience and skills whilst supplying the shop. The founder Reuben started Locavore after working in community gardens around Glasgow and wanted to use a social enterprise to make a bigger difference for sustainable food.
We think at the root of all these big overwhelming global and local problems is the basic model of the big corporations who run the food system. They exist to extract as much money as possible from customers for the benefit of their shareholders. With supermarket chains in the UK holding 97% of the grocery market, it’s not much of a surprise that things are in such a dire state.
The shop stocks a great range of refillable goods including dry foods, spices, household cleaning products and even milk. At the cafe you can enjoy a seasonally grown organic menu with a good range of vegan dishes, salads, a stew, sandwiches and ploughmans. Locals can also enjoy the abundant vegbox scheme. With business in their new larger shop already three times what they expected it looks like the demand for more sustainable options in Glasgow is growing well. I also spotted some hemp tea on the shelves from our friends at Hempen 🙂
Locavore’s principles: Fairness, A healthy environment, Using money to do good, Honesty and Great food
Over the next year I’ll be visiting my amazing stockists around the country, to interview them about their businesses, from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands.
The first stop is Anything But Plastic, an online shop based in Glasgow, which as well as our Fit Pit deodorant also sells soap, laundry soap, toothbrushes, tooth tabs, floss, shampoo, makeup, containers, bags and cleaning products. In the beautiful setting of Glasgow’s Botanical Gardens I interviewed Jenny about her first and very successful year of Anything But Plastic.
ABP is here to help you cut down your plastic consumption. Plastic is the most pervasive man-made material ever, it doesn’t just go away when you throw it in the bin, it’s here to stay. So if you want to help contribute to a world with less plastic, you are in the right place!
My sister Suzanne and I approached a local hotel a few years ago to use their waste jam jars for our business and Jenny told me that she also now reuses hotel jam jars for products. “You guys definitely inspired me and I’m looking for more hotels to get them from too.” When collecting from the hotel Suzanne used to encourage them to stop using single use jars all together. Week after week they would see the jars pile up in the buckets and we would take them away. Until one week they said that they were sorry but they would be stopping using the little disposable jars and were switching to refillable pots on the table. Far from being disappointed we were delighted at the reduction in waste, so it was really exciting for me to hear that Jenny too was influencing her local hotels.
Anything But Plastic has seen a great interest from customers as well as the media and is part of a growing trend of plastic-free businesses. It gives me hope that we can look forward to disposable plastic becoming history.
Next to a canal in Manchester is a five story building, converted from a mill, where lots of different environmentally minded organisations live. It’s called Bridge 5 Mill, it”s run by MERCi and it’s a hive of possibilities. I’d like to share with you a little of the story of this building and a couple of the groups who use it, from hydrogen fuel to peace campaigns.
Back in 1995 two friends in their twenties dreamed of making a sustainability hub for Manchester. After 6 months of consultation, gathering a team, and years of searching they succeeded in finding a building and gaining funding, purchasing the building in 1999. The old mill was renovated using trainees and volunteers as part of courses using reclaimed and recycled materials and won an award for it’s energy efficiency. It now has offices, conference space and a garden. Tenants include the International Coalition to ban uranium weapons, Black Environment Network, as well as bee keeping cooperative soap makers Three Bees, and Planet Hydrogen. I interviewed Tom from Three Bees last year and a year on they are now planning to add soap making courses to their services.
With hydrogen we can store renewable energy by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen. When you want electricity they can recombine to form water again. Mike from Planet Hydrogen kindly demonstrated a hydrogen cell in action for me in a transparent container so we could watch the gases form.
Over the years spaces like MERCi provide so many positive groups with the basics they need to function. When a town has such a hub for a long time you can almost forget the importance of it. Once it’s built, everything slows down, it stops being so exciting, the four walls become a new norm. But most towns have no such space where groups can meet, grow and collaborate. It’s hard to imagine all the meetings, all the events, all the projects that have happened in that building so far. To speed up the social change we wish to see, one of the first things we need is to take care of the basics, to shelter these groups and give them a home. Long may MERCi continue to do so.
It’s comforting when things you love are stable, and in Stroud it was mostly the things that hadn’t changed which caused a contented smile on my lips.
The shop Made in Stroud is still thriving (but with a few more awards), still selling locally made goods and making positive influences everyday.
The Stroud Valley’s Project is still promoting conservation and offering educational courses. They recently ran a scything workshop after seeing it done wrong on Poldark! Scything is less damaging to the environment than mowing and also helps you to easily leave rare species. The day I visited they were about to run a bat ecology course and head out with bat detectors.
Those creating positive change in Stroud had a higher average age than people I met in other towns, and had been in the town for longer. As Julie, the fundraising manager for Stroud Valleys Project says, “Who would want to move once you’ve landed here?” The town has a more stable, developed feel to the community than other places I visit. In the Stroud Valley’s Project office they have a reciprocal arrangement for work or rent with the Car Club and Transition Stroud. Transition Stroud have been running open eco-home event and open garden tours with about 1000 house visits. A new addition by Transition Stroud at the back of a closed pub is a pop-up “rain garden” to make efficient use of rainwater runoff from roofs. So simple it makes you wonder why on earth we normally pipe it all down the drain.
Stroud Against the Cuts has had a great turnout at its events and Stroud Co has become a thriving hub for selling home grown food surplus.
It feels like there are lots of people steadily making improvements in Stroud and the cumulative effect of that over many years is to have made a very special place and a very special community.
Vanessa has some fascinating insights about bees. A natural beekeeper for many years, Vanessa focuses on the natural ecology and well being of the bees and encourages not just honeybees but many other species including solitary bees. She does not prevent her honeybees from swarming as she views it as an important part of their life cycle for maintaining their health. Instead she anticipates where bees may swarm to and provides lots of baited hives for them to move to.
When a swarm leaves a hive, interestingly they take almost no varroa mites with them. When bees are stressed by the use of chemicals, frequent hive opening or being fed sugar syrup instead of eating their own honey, they can become unhealthy and susceptible to disease. When they do get ill the hive can become dirty and attract varroa mites. Vanessa’s latest hive, a sun hive, is intended to mimic the natural preferred habitat for honeybees.
“Bees like to be up high,” Vanessa told me, “if you see a swarm naturally they’ll almost always be much higher up in a tree where it’s less damp, rather than on the ground for our convenience.” Then there is the shape – honeybees prefer round spaces and the queen will naturally gravitate towards the top of the hive, so the sun hive allows that to happen by not using a queen excluder.
“If you make a bee hotel with cardboard tubes for solitary bees, they like it to be somewhere fairly shaded and not too damp,” said Vanessa. “The thing to remember is that this is where eggs will be.”
Vanessa was dismayed that beekeeping clothing on the market is very expensive and made in sweatshops so she also now runs a business, Buzz, selling beekeeping supplies which she has carefully sourced herself.
Scotswood Natural Community Garden sits within one of the most deprived areas in Newcastle. They frequently suffer vandalism and theft yet for twenty years they have relentlessly worked to alter the course of peoples lives in Scotswood for the better. The vegetables get dug up, they replant them, the solar panel gets stolen, they lock things away out of hours, but all the time the garden grows, groups come, and lives are changed.
Walking around the two and a half acre site with permaculture gardens, a pond, bee hives, shelters and woodland it’s incredible to learn that originally it was a bare grass playing field. Over the decades the series of people involved with the land have created, enhanced and maintained a beautiful heart of energy for the community, despite all the flow of sadness around. Children, unemployed and refugees have all found another choice here, a flow going in a different direction that they have a chance to join.
It takes a lot of energy and strength to maintain a course against a bigger flow. The path that all those involved with at Scotswood have carved over the years is truly beautiful. Long may it flow.
Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle is about making a positive difference, to the environment and community. Based at The Eco Center in Hebburn they’ve been steadily working to make improvements for the future for over twenty years.
The Beacon is just one of the projects completed by Groundwork in Newcastle to provide a resource for the local community, to fulfill their ambitions.
The weather changed a few days before I got to Darlington, there’s a chill in the air that won’t go, so I know there’s not long on the walk left now. Clervaux Bakery and Cafe was a fantastic refuge from the feelings of autumn, with it’s sunny atrium. The social enterprise cafe has homemade food and a social conscience to warm your heart, providing work experience for vulnerable young adults.
The cafe is partnered with the wider work of The Clervaux Trust, with some of the profits going to support the trust. Clervaux Trust has a 100 acre farm which it uses to give young people land and craft experience, selling veges through a delivery box scheme and crafts at the Darlingtron cafe. When bees fly they have to rest and snack at flowers, which is why it’s so important to have a wide variety of flowers all over the countryside that flower at different times. My sincere thanks to this beautiful flower for its shelter and food 🙂
It appears that people in Sheffield know each other and I don’t just mean the odd neighbour. The impression I get is that all over the city there are people bumping into people they know. Sheffield has the honour of having one of the highest rates of graduates settling in the city after their studies, a low crime rate and has the most trees of any English city. If you picture Sheffield and an industrial wasteland, allow me to update you.
The centre of Sheffield has gleaming modern buildings next to historic beauty, fountain filled squares and tree lined public spaces. Don’t get me wrong, hundreds of old industrial buildings remain, some derelict, some reclaimed and thriving, but the Sheffield of 2014 is a varied patchwork of life. There are many hills in Sheffield and each area has a distinctive character which helps you to feel orientated. Many of the old miners houses have a shared yard which means you have to get to know your neighbour, and chats over the laundry lines are frequent.
Barney from Regather is one of the many students who decided to stay on after their studies. An experimental archeologist, he told me of the importance to show people the work that goes into making an object. One project he’s involved with is to make a bicycle from scratch all the way from the iron ore.
I’m convinced it changes your perspective. It gives you more of an appreciation and you are less likely to throw it away. When people see all the effort that goes into making it, it reconnects people with the making. We’re so used to just picking something up that’s pre-made.
Another graduate I met who’s stayed in town is Joe from the center and local produce store New Roots. Many students volunteer at the shop, hold meetings in the ‘Speakeasy’, practice music there or help with the vege box scheme. Now in the summer with the students on holiday they are seeking more helping hands so if you’re in the area check them out.
When asking ‘what should we visit in Nottingham?’ many people mentioned the Sumac center.
The center is a member of the Radical Routes cooperative network and has become an increasingly important part of the community. The events, activities and facilities provide the space for people to make positive changes. The popular Peoples Kitchen night was happening when we arrived. Volunteers cook up a feast and people can come and eat a delicious two course meal for just £3.50! The money raised is then donated to a good cause. This feast was in aid of the free English lessons that are offered to women at the Sumac Center.
We got chatting to a fantastic couple over dinner and the hours flew by, I can’t think of a better way to enhance your community and have a wonderful night. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who gave their time to the benefit of all.
Freeing ourselves to find a better future can have many different strands but access to housing and ethical work is a key component. Radical Routes is a network of primarily housing co-operatives all over the country that allow people to collectively own a home and live co-operatively. I visited a housing co-op in Nottingham to see how they lived.
Radical Routes is about people taking control of their own housing, work, education and leisure activities. People set up co-ops to manage these activities themselves, removing the need for managers, owners, bosses or landlords.
10 people live in Ned’s housing co-op so I was expecting some horror scenes of student style living. I as very pleasantly surprised to discover a clean home with bulk ordered food, shared meals and creative spaces. Communal living is always a function of the people living together but it was lovely to see a house where like-minded people are able to live cooperatively. Seven principles of a co-operative were hanging from a tea towel in the kitchen, bikes were in the workshop and ethical books were covering the shelves.
Radical Roots also runs an ethical investment scheme called Rootstock which lends to co-operatives on the basis of mutual support. It’s exciting to see the growing number of co-operatives where people are coming together to take power over their living, and the way that Radical Routes is helping to support that movement. There are so many ways that we can work together to live more in harmony with our ethics. Let’s celebrate taking the radical route of co-operation.
Yes I do have spelling problems but no I haven’t misspelt that, mesters. Mester is a Sheffield term for artisans who used to work in small rented spaces and collaborate on craft projects. Take an umbrella handle. One specialist might carve and prepare the horn or bone, another polish it and another fix it to the umbrella. The mesters of days gone by would hire space next to each other in a workshop and collaborate to produce their products.
Regather is a co-operative that provides space for people to collaborate, run events and access local food. The Regather vegebox scheme allows local farms to supply to residents.
At Hagglers Corner they provide space for 14 different businesses to thrive. From picture framing to yoga, from a seamstress to a cafe, Hagglers Corner brings together exciting new businesses and helps to build the local economy.
Airy Fairy is just one of the many wonderful independent stores and cafes which gives the area of Sharrow it’s character. At the back of the shop is a welcoming cafe with a wood burning stove and a beautiful courtyard garden.
While the fantastic Mr Pickles Yorkshire Food Emporium is keeping it local…
When you order a book on Amazon they give less money to the producer, they also pay no UK tax and the money ends up in the US. When you visit a local independent bookstore you can discover books you never knew you were looking for (as well as get Harry Potter). Five leaves is one of those places, with comfy stools dotted around inviting you to sit and explore. The shop staff pride themselves on making available a wider range of ideas and high quality books than a standard chain store.
Veggies is a vegan catering and campaign social enterprise based in Nottingham that provides delicious food at events like Glastonbury whilst promoting a better future for the environment and people. I spoke with Chris about their work and what it means to him to be vegan.
The tasks of restoring ourselves and our environment are intimately linked. To be resilient in a changing future we need emotional and environmental resilience. At their home in West Norfolk Ben and Sophie and doing just that, building resilience. Their home incorporates many aspects of self-sufficiency that you might see elsewhere, but what they then do is open up their home as a restoration space for survivours of torture.
It is genuinely impossible for me to imagine the strength that survivours of torture find every day. After escaping from their situation, to seek asylum in the UK they are processed in a second round of suffering within our system. These highly traumatised people are housed in often horrendous conditions and in order to get any food they must use a pre-paid card which will only work in certain shops such as Tesco. So if there is no Tesco near where you are put, you have no way to pay for a bus to get to one, often as well as language difficulties, leaving you open to further exploitation.
The value of providing a safe space in a family home where groups can visit with a therapist is enormous, often life changing for people who have been to hell and back. Their work has only been going a few years so they hope they will be able to find the funding to continue, but I wish them every success and have the deepest respect for what they have accomplished.
Part of the essential work being done for a better future is to conserve wildlife and species. That way when we are able to change the system of our society to one that is less destructive, there will still be species left to return. Norfolk Wildlife Trust is protecting many such precious habitat areas which are vital refuges in this country. In Foxley Wood I saw some of the semi-natural habitat they are maintaining to encourage different species.
A major consideration is this islands role as a support for migratory species and no where is that more obvious than with our wetland birds. Cley Marshes was the first Wildlife Trust reserve in England and the trust’s recent purchase of a further part of land is ensuring that the area will be a reliable haven for birds for many years to come.
The new visitors center means that many people who couldn’t get out on to the reserve can now view birds from the long windows, learn about the habitat, all whilst enjoying a coffee from the cafe.
There have been quite a few community owned businesses during the tour so far, and I love it every time we find one. Rocklands Community Shop is a wonderful example. The way a community business works is that shares are sold to members of the community, local people staff it and often will volunteer there too. I’ve seen community pubs, a wind turbine and shops but really there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the business model for all sorts of things, whatever the community needs. The great advantage is that the money spent in the shop stays in the community. Normally when you shop at a chain store a large chunk of the money leaves the community to be paid to the head office and on to the parent company, gradually bleeding the resources from the town. If you buy at somewhere like Starbucks or Amazon almost all the money leaves your community and goes to the US, thus avoiding paying any UK tax. Community businesses are a great way to help each other stay strong.
Sat by the river in Norwich you can meet the most lovely people. Johnny told me about his recent experience on an environmental awareness course for businesses called Green Edge.
Years ago at university I knew I wanted to volunteer to protect the environment in my spare time, and the first place I turned was The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) previously BTCV. The volunteers go out to do conservation work, meet friends and keep fit. I asked Debbie what it’s meant to work for them in Norwich and how she managed to make the change from her previous work in banking.