December 14, 2013 § 2 Comments
When I was ten I spent most of my time eating too many sweets and swapping Italia ’90 World Cup stickers. When Rebecca Clark was ten she was already saving the planet. “I started a club in primary school called the Green Team. It was 10p to join, which annoyed some of the parents, but the money always went towards good causes plus you got a badge and a membership slip. We would parade round the playground with campaign banners saying ‘Save the Whales’ or ‘Save the Planet’ and we even had a theme tune, which I am not going to sing for you!”
So, whilst I was busily filling my sticker book, Rebecca was a social entrepreneur before she even knew it. She now owns and runs Green City, a not-for-profit social enterprise that organises interactive public events to promote wider issues around sustainable living. “It’s essentially a community engagement project that helps people of all ages understand and implement simple ways of living a little more sustainably, but the main aim is to inspire and engage people through fun, hands-on activities.” Things started small, with recycled clothes swapping events and fringe activities at local festivals, but Rebecca’s energy, creativity and obvious talent has seen the business grow quickly and successes now include co-hosting Cardiff’s annual One Planet Cardiff festival, working with the Eden Project on The Big Lunch campaign, doing lots of work with Sustrans and Communities First teams and, back for its third year, the Festive Food Fair, which takes place this Sunday 15th December at Chapter Arts Centre.
“I can’t pretend to say that I knew what Green City was going to be when I started it. Things developed without a clear plan, with no official business plan. I knew a lot of “green” people, I knew I liked what they stood for and I knew I wanted to communicate that to more people but I wasn’t sure how. I just started experimenting with ideas and when I realised that something I was doing had value and that there seemed to be a need for it and there were people who would support me, I went for it and it’s grown organically from there”.
Rebecca grew up in East Sussex and came to Cardiff, like many of us, to study. “My tutor pretty much told me that I had to go to UWIC (now Cardiff Met) if I wanted to do Graphic Communication. I actually wanted to go to Exeter as that’s where my boyfriend was going, but good job I didn’t because he didn’t last! I loved Cardiff as soon as I arrived“. At University, Rebecca showed glimpses of what was to come. She started running a regular techno night in town “It started off at the Ice Rink; the coolest night in town, big house party, always sold out. My boyfriend did the music and I brought all the fluffy extras – face-painting, chai tea, and fundraising”. She also joined Lush Cosmetics and eventually went on to run the Cardiff store for a year or so. “I loved what they stood for and I was interested in fun ways or stories that staff could get information across. My favourite was when we had a naked day, wearing nothing but our aprons, to promote the issue of over packaging of products. That caused quite a stir. But it was also a really good grounding for running my own business because they placed a lot of responsibility and autonomy on individual stores”.
In her mid-twenties Rebecca decided it was time to go travelling and after a couple of years returned to Cardiff with a new outlook. “Travelling gave me a real sense of an ability to live within your means, I realised I could live with so much less. I struggled to fit back into city living for a while and I suppose that’s where the seeds of Green City really started”.
Those seeds have now grown but, as for many small businesses, progress is tough. “I never saw Green City growing huge and taking over the World but it does seems to be taking over my life at the moment. It’s great fun but there’s also so much pressure on you when you’re self-employed to provide for yourself. The business doesn’t fully support me at the moment, so I have to do other things to make ends meet”. Now most people would probably find an easy part-time job to tide them over, but being the girl she is, Rebecca teaches at the circus. After joining No Fit State around six years ago to learn how to trapeze she has now progressed to teaching others. “It’s really rewarding. There are so many life skills in it. You can see kids really opening up. Some come in so closed and don’t like anyone looking at them but circus breaks that all down and gives them some great social skills. And there’s no age barrier. I also tutor a woman in her seventies who is just amazing on the trapeze. She’s my idol, if I’m 50% of what she is at that age I’ll be so happy!“
Working at No Fit State has made Rebecca realise how much she loves teaching, which has led to exciting new plans for Green City. “Next year is very exciting. I’m going to be partnering up with Hannah from Free Range Learning; she’s got some fantastic ideas and knowledge. Our plan is to develop a whole range of workshop packages that we can deliver ourselves to suit different people; we’re looking at doing sustainability summer schools and half-term activities for kids and maybe even a corporate package. We’re interested in communicating to different age groups in interactive ways and maybe even incorporating the performing arts side of things. We’ll see”.
So, exciting plans ahead and, whilst at ten years old she may have been a little bit scary, Rebecca Clark is slowly but surely achieving those ambitious playground ambitions. As Rebecca says herself, “the great thing about Cardiff is that it’s small enough to feel like you’re making a difference”, and a difference she is definitely making. Now Green City just needs a catchy theme tune!
Rebecca Clark owns and runs Green City and also teaches at No Fit State Circus. She is an UnLtd and Future Leaders Award winner. The wonderful Festive Food Fair takes place this Sunday, 15th Dec 2013 at Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. See you there for some lovely local Christmas goodies.
August 9, 2013 § 2 Comments
“We are a media company and have a vacancy for an accountant. If you can’t handle the odd mickey take and the majority of the office turning up drunk on a Friday, then please don’t apply for this job”. Now that’s not the type of thing you’d expect to read in your average job advert. But that’s exactly what Steve Dimmick wants to encourage (the honesty; not the drunkenness).
Steve owns and runs dimmicks.co.uk. The way it works is very simple. A recruiting manager makes a video job ad explaining their vacancy, how the company works but most importantly about the office culture and the types of people that would best fit in. “I thought back to some of the problems I faced in London (working for Dome Recruitment) and realised that the whole recruitment process is geared one way and there is a serious lack of information for job seekers to make a proper judgment on whether a company is right for them or not”. Given we spend so much of our waking time at work it’s a decision we need to get right.
“It’s a great chance for the company to market themselves and the feedback from people going for interviews is very positive; they’re going in feeling so much more comfortable, like they already know the place; how the people talk and so on, which makes for more confident interviews. And we’re filling vacancies, which is the important thing”. I think it’s a great idea and I hope it catches on. One thing’s for sure, if I was an accountant I’d definitely be applying for that role!
I respect anyone who takes the plunge and starts their own business but I especially love Steve’s attitude. “Starting my own company was completely scary, particularly with two kids and a big mortgage, but the best thing about it was that I suddenly had more choice over when I worked, which opened a lot of doors for doing lots of other interesting things”. And Steve hasn’t just opened those doors; he’s burst straight through them.
In addition to running his own business he is involved in numerous paid and unpaid projects to satisfy his love of “creative things, creative people and technology”. He has just completed an 18-month project as a consultant for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru, the Welsh-language national theatre of Wales, helping them with their online marketing and social media and is also an active member of Cardiff Start, the community hub for technology start-ups or “a group of entrepreneurs, startup founders, creatives, students, and investors who believe that Cardiff is a brilliant place to work and live”. If you haven’t heard about Cardiff Start then do check it out. It’s proper exciting and could really put Cardiff on the global map (albeit a slightly techy, geeky map perhaps). Watch it grow.
His unpaid roles, or “good for nothing” projects as he calls them, include curating the online photography community, Intagramers Cardiff with the help of Ben Cook, and co-running Cardiff Read, “Cardiff’s most popular book club”, with Jessica Best. “We meet every month in Chapter Arts Centre and get roughly 15-30 people each time and a great cross section of society. It’s great because we read lots of different things, not just the bestsellers but also biographies and old classics. I didn’t read much in school or university, and I really felt I missed out and I’m sure lots of other people feel the same way. Reading just wasn’t cool when I was growing up, especially for men.” Agreed.
Steve also organises Ignite Cardiff, the public speaking event with a difference, after taking the reigns alongside Ed Barnett from Neil Cocker and Claire Scantlebury. People give 5 minute presentations on a topic of their choice with no videos or audio (only text and images) with slides changing every 15 seconds. “I attended the second event, spoke at the third and have compered since. I love the idea. It’s a place where those people who are comfortable talking in public aren’t necessarily the best speakers on the night, it’s the quieter ones who’ve practised and practised talking with the slides changing every 15 seconds that really nail it. I like going to the pub or the cinema but it’s all a bit predictable. Ignite is so unpredictable. We’ve had speakers on nemonics, keeping chickens, what to do if zombies invade Cardiff and infinity (the number) all on the same night”. Everyone is welcome and for a taster here’s the playlist from the last event.
Steve is a very proud Welshman and a passion for rugby naturally courses through his veins, but growing up in Blaina meant he never really spoke the mother tongue. But with the help of his wife and kids (and a lot of hard graft too I suspect) he now speaks Welsh pretty much fluently (his vocab put mine to shame that’s for sure). This has naturally opened even more doors for him, such as the Theatre Genedlaethol project.
What I like most about Steve is his passion for helping people do what they want to do. “If you love something, do more of it and share it with others” he says. “Things are much better if you share the experience and enjoyment with other people”. I couldn’t agree more. Diolch Steve!
Steve Dimmick lives in Cardiff with his wife and two kids. He runs Dimmicks.co.uk and offers social marketing consultancy via stevedimmick.co.uk. Outside of work he runs a number of projects including Cardiff Start, CardiffRead, Ignite Cardiff and igerscardiff.
April 15, 2013 § 1 Comment
When you think of “students” what tends to spring to mind? That they sleep a lot, drink a lot (of booze), have funny hair and wear flip-flops (in any weather)? A bit of a generalisation perhaps, but we mustn’t underestimate how much of a positive difference our academic neighbours can have on our city. Take Kate Anderson for example.
This week (15th – 19th April) Kate, 20, is taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge, an awareness and fundraising campaign for the fight against extreme poverty. The challenge is to live off just £1 per day for food for 5 days. I know what you’re thinking. As a student Kate should be used to living off an endless routine of rice and beans, but it’s not a laughing matter. Currently 1.4 billion (that’s billion with a B) people are currently living in extreme poverty* across the globe – that’s over 20 times the population of the UK. 1 in 5 of the UK population live below the official poverty line. Scary stats.
So how will she manage? “Well, apart from eating as much as I can between now and then I’ll be fuelled by carbs, water and really cheap tea. Eating meat is a no, fruit and veg is a no, so there won’t be much nutrition”. That might be ok for a week’s challenge but for people who live in extreme poverty, that £1 has to cover far more than just food and drink. It needs to cover everything from the rent, transport, food and education. Hard to fathom really. To make things a bit more interesting Kate is on a coeliac (gluten-free) diet and will also be attempting to write a good 4,000 words of her final year dissertation. On an empty stomach. Pob lwc.
Kate is raising money for Oxfam, whom she is currently volunteering with as a Community Fundraising Assistant. “Oxfam does a lot of work in Wales, which is worrying really. Whilst a lot of money Oxfam GB raises is restricted for certain international appeals, more and more money (including whatever she raises during this challenge) is now being spent on important projects here in the Wales”. You can sponsor Kate via her online donations page. She’s aiming for a modest £200 and I’m sure we can help her reach that target. Just take another look at those thought-provoking stats above.
Alongside volunteering at Oxfam, Kate leads a team of 30 student volunteers working three times a week at the Huggard Centre, supporting their work with the city’s homeless population. “We do two different things when we visit; once a week we’re at the bed unit, cooking food and generally keeping them company; and twice a week we cook a meal for 40 or so people in the day centre. I was there on Valentine’s day this year!” But what makes a 20-year-old girl from Liverpool who’s studying English Literature do all this worthwhile extra-curricular stuff? “All of my family ‘get involved’. We’ve always done charity work. I couldn’t really not do it and feel happy. Meeting people in University who are middle class and get pissed all the time is boring! At the Huggard you meet people who are all really nice and not up their own arse. They all want to talk to you and they’re funny and really interesting. They don’t get to talk to 20-year old girls very often. I was there on Valentine’s day this year”
After finishing school up in Liverpool Kate moved here to study. “I always really liked the look of Cardiff and wanted to f**k off quite far and it wasn’t London. It’s such a laid back, chilled city. I love it”. Many others must agree as students now make up one fifth of Cardiff’s population. That’s a lot of flip-flops. Imagine if they all followed Kate’s lead by doing a lot of good in amongst all that drinking and sleeping (and studying of course). That would be good news for Cardiff. Best of luck with the challenge Kate.
* The international Extreme Poverty Line was defined by the World Bank as $1.25 US dollars a day, in 2005. If you live on less than that every day, you’re recognised internationally as living in extreme poverty.
Kate Anderson is a final year English Literature undergraduate at Cardiff University. She is hungover 50% of the time and is officially hilarious*. On top of her studies Kate volunteers at Oxfam and the Huggard Centre. She sleeps a bit, drinks a lot, has funny hair but does not own flip-flops and does not plan on owning any in the future either. (*Her words!)
October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Helia Phoenix allegedly has trouble sleeping. You’ll soon find out why.
Helia, in her own words, is a “100% English, Welsh, Iranian hybrid writerly type”. I know her best as one of the clever, creative minds behind the wonderful We Are Cardiff community blog, which was recently voted “Best Blog” at the Wales Blog Awards 2012. Whoop!
Helia was born in Cardiff, lived here until she was about five and then moved to a load of different places and countries and even lived on a boat for a while. Her university life started in London, but the big smoke didn’t agree with her, so she headed back to Cardiff and “from the second I stepped off the train I just fell in love with the city. After a very unfriendly time in a scary part of south London, Cardiff suited me much, much better”. Whilst she may have left the bright lights of London behind her, Helia brought a valuable lesson along with her. “Being in London made me realise you have to work hard to get what you want, and I never forgot that. The experience really made me realise you don’t get anything for nothing. You want to achieve things? You’ve got to do the hard work”. You may think she looks like ‘another one of those arty types’ from the outside, but this lady is seriously determined and has got a suitcase full of energy and ideas.
Helia’s early career was spent as a journalist and editor at the now defunct music magazine Kruger. She went on to contribute to numerous newspapers and magazines and is now a web editor for the Welsh Government, which is where she met long-time collaborator Adam Chard. “One night in early 2010 Adam and I were chatting about how nice it would be if there were more cool things happening in Cardiff. So, we bitched and moaned about it for a little while and then we just thought “well, we could just do stuff, let’s not wait for someone else to do it.”
That little conversation saw the creation of Hack/Flash, a collective that works on community art projects in Cardiff. Their aim is to get everyday people involved with fun and collaborative art projects. “Art is fun and it’s something that anyone can get involved with, anytime and anyplace. We’re not trying to encourage people to be “more arty”, it’s about getting the community together and engaged in something fun and different”. For a flavour of the kind of things they get up to check out their site and sign up to their mailing list. Get / Involved as they say.
So, having got off their backsides to start doing more “cool things in Cardiff”, Helia and Adam came up with the idea of We Are Cardiff – a voluntary project that collects stories of people who live in the city. “Whatever your story, however you ended up living here, whatever your job (or not), what you love (or hate) about the city, we want to hear it all”. The concept is simple, you write a short story about what Cardiff means to you, they come and shoot a groovy photo of you and bingo, it’s up online for all to see.
“There was never really any end product in mind when we set up We Are Cardiff. To give people in the city a voice to express themselves? To encourage people to have pride in the place that they live and engage with it more on that level? To combat the lazy one-sided journalism we see in the newspapers about Cardiff whenever it’s mentioned? All those things really. But I wasn’t prepared for the amount of amazing people and things we were going to find out about and meet. Like David Verso, for example, who’s just off the hook!” What was a product of a lazy afternoon conversation has now turned into over a hundred posts by people from all walks of life and all corners of the city.
The success of We Are Cardiff has spawned another, more challenging idea. “At the moment we’re working towards making We Are Cardiff into a documentary film which covers a year in the city. We want to showcase how wonderful, creative and supportive a place to live it can be. We’re trying to cover alternative culture – the sorts of things you might do off the beaten track if you lived here and never really went on St Mary Street or in any of the chain pubs/clubs”. To whet the appetite, a few short trailers have been released and the results look beautiful. But to make sure the film reaches its conclusion they need our help. “It’s got big ambitions but on a really small budget. We are currently crowdfunding, asking people who live in Cardiff to help us finish making the film by investing in it”. Click here to show them some love (any profits from the film will go to Llamau, a charity working to improve the lives of homeless young people and vulnerable women in south Wales). I have the feeling that this film could be BIG.
But if that wasn’t enough, Helia’s love of writing and music means she has a few other things on the go. “We are really excited to be curating our very own We Are Cardiff stage at Swn Festival this weekend. We’ve done our darndest to bring together some of Cardiff’s brightest and most fun sounds”. I’d urge you to rush down to Ten Feet Tall between 2pm-10pm this Saturday (20 October) to catch some of that. All details here.
“I’m also writing a novel but there’s not much to plug there at the moment. Just hoping to have a first draft finished sometime over the next couple of months, but other things keep getting in the way!” I bet sleep isn’t one of them.
Helia Phoenix does community art with these, runs this tumblr about her yarn obsession and more official/less random writer type stuff here. You can follow We Are Cardiff on Facebook or twitter and if you’re interested in being featured on the site they’d love to hear from you via firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow details of the film as it is made on the website
May 14, 2012 § 3 Comments
Ask anyone who loves Cardiff to give you three reasons why it’s such an ace city and I bet you most of them will name one of our beautiful parks. Big slices of lush greenery right smack bang in the middle of the urban sprawl. We’re so lucky to have them. But one remarkable lady isn’t content with a few public parks, she is on a mission to green, grow and feed our city.
“Everywhere you go in Cardiff there are bits of land where there is the potential to grow some food. It could be a small area at the end of your street where there might be room for a nut tree, it could be a brownfield site where you think raised beds with vegetables could work, it could be a community centre where you would like to join with others in creating a community garden”.
Michele Fitzsimmons is a permaculture designer and educator who, since the mid 1990s has been developing her Edible Landscaping ethos. Having completed a permaculture design course, Michele decided to turn her hand to creating edible and wildlife gardens to benefit her local community. “I’ve designed quite small gardens for places like Adamsdown Community Garden, South Riverside Development Centre and areas in Roath, to slightly bigger plots like Chapter Arts Community Garden in Canton. I’m particularly proud of the design I created at Edwardsville Primary School in Merthyr Tydfil”. This latter design included the school buildings and grounds and helped the School win the Wales Eco-Primary School of the Year award in 2008.
Michele’s latest project, part of the Transition Cardiff movement, is Farm Cardiff. It hopes to inspire individuals and groups to identify areas in their neighbourhood where there is food growing potential and then feed the info back to a group of committed volunteers who will place it on an online map available to everyone. “One way of thinking about it is to see Cardiff as a farm, with the potential to produce much more of its own food. Farm Cardiff is an open, informal group with a range of skills but above all enthusiasm and commitment to get things done”.
Michele is from Australia and her love of nature started from an early age. “I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember. I had a really idyllic childhood. We had this big garden and beyond that was acres of bush land, which was my own private playground. I used to run around in the bush, jump over snakes, go down to the waterhole, sit on top of the waterfall, hide in the caves and that was my normal playtime. I just loved being out with nature. It was heaven.”
Michele’s philosophy is matching what people want to do in their garden with some practical ideas and design. “I think we should all have an investment in our own individual food security, but I realise that most people are really busy so it’s a matter of making it easier for more people to grow their own food, even if it’s a couple of pot plants”. She runs numerous short courses for individuals right through to full landscape design and consultancy services. “I teach anything from ‘how to grow vegetables’ right through to ‘edible forest gardening’ and anything in between. It’s literally horses for courses”.
The word ‘permaculture’ comes from ‘permanent agriculture‘ and is about living lightly on the planet and in harmony with nature to make sure that we can sustain our activities for many generations to come. Or as Michele puts it, “It’s not rocket science. It’s a way of working with nature to create a really productive, nature-friendly garden and it can be achieved in all sorts of spaces”.
Over the past few months, Michele and her colleagues from Cardiff Transition have been tackling the question ‘can Cardiff feed itself?’ “Of course, it’s ridiculous to think that Cardiff could feed itself, it’s got hardly any agricultural land and over 340 thousand people, but it’s a question that raises some significant issues. A better question, and one we need to tackle, is ‘can Wales feed Cardiff and itself?’ Because yes is the answer to that…almost”. Based on research by Amber Wheeler into how many hectares are needed per person to eat a healthy diet, Wales is short by some 80,000 hectares of suitable land. “Theoretically it is possible, but it relies on a number of factors, which are quite complex. But a really simple step is to get more people interested in growing their own food. We’ve run out of agricultural land, so we need to start looking at people’s gardens, parks, industrial estates, verges, flat roves. We need to start thinking of as many opportunities as possible to grow food”. Enter Farm Cardiff.
Whilst the focus of Michele’s work is on Cardiff and Wales, the motivation is global. “There are lots of really hungry people in this World and yet they’re growing cash crops for us Westerners. Why? Why shouldn’t they grow food for themselves? And why should we depend on them for our food? Why aren’t we pulling out all the stops? I just think it’s our responsibility to grow more of our own food. So my motivation is to bring about ideas of how we can do that and get more people involved in the idea of growing food for themselves.”
But don’t think Michele is standing on any kind of soapbox. She is very much a roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty kind of lady. More practical than political. “I see my role as being more pro-active at the grass roots level. Engaging and enthusing people about nature and gardening. I don’t really want to go to meetings and talk about it. I need to stick to what I know and I know how to grow food”.
Michele Fitzsimmons is a permaculture designer and educator and runs Edible Landscaping, an education and design business specialising in edible gardens, organic fruit and vegetable growing and permaculture. She works with individuals, businesses and communities to help them realise their aspirations with their food-growing project www.ediblelandscaping.co.uk
May 13, 2012 § 4 Comments
As you may have noticed, inspiring cardiff has been rather short on posts in the last few months. That, in blogging terms, is sacrilege, a big no-no. For this, I hang my head in shame. However, there has been a good reason for this.
Since October last year I have been working with a group of very talented and committed people to set up Cardiff’s first community-owned food store: Siop y Bobl. Our aim is to create a commercially and environmentally sustainable business, owned and run by its community. We believe that local Welsh producers and manufacturers deserve a better profile and we are committed to growing the market for local food and aim to play an active part in local food networks that include growers, farmers and producers for whom a key issue is the lack of retail outlets for their product.
The first phase is now complete. We have done all our sums and agreed where the boundaries lie. We are a registered business and we have a Board of Directors. The next phase is securing our premises, raising capital and confirming our product lines. It has been quite a journey so far, we’ve learnt a heck of a lot, but now the fun really starts…and we need your help.
So, forgive me for neglecting this blog but I hope you’ll agree it’s been for a good cause. One thing is for sure, I won’t run out of material – this city is full of amazing, inspiring folk.
September 22, 2011 § 6 Comments
There are a few things that make Cardiff extra special. The Riverside Market is one of those things. Every Sunday morning, for a few hours, a stretch of pavement opposite the Millenium Stadium is transformed into a bustling local food market, selling all sorts of lovely stuff, from fresh apple juice, award-winning meats, awesome coffee, French patisserie, proper veg with mud still attached and probably the best hangover-cure ever, Kimi’s curry van. It really is a lovely experience and Steve Garrett is the man we have to thank for it.
Born in Wrexham, North Wales, Steve was educated in Liverpool before leaving for Canada, where he lived for fourteen years. It was here that he found his inspiration. “I felt a real kind of freedom in Canada to do exactly what I wanted. I lived on a communal farm for a while and got in to growing food, working on alternative energy schemes and actually trying to build a different type of life model. I got really involved in farmers markets and I was drawn to the whole idea of bypassing the big supermarkets and seeing local farmers sell directly to local people. I loved the atmosphere, it was really social, and I thought “I really want to set one of those up when I get back to the UK”. And that’s exactly what he did.
In the mid-nineties, Steve returned to Wales and settled in Cardiff where he got involved, voluntarily, in two things at roughly the same time – the Riverside Festival and setting up the Riverside Market. Both of these have now become a key part of the City’s cultural make-up. “The market was originally just ten stores in the little park at the end of the road (Despenser Gardens), trading no more than once a month. It was one of those things that I thought I’d never make a living out of it but I was determined to make it work. I never expected it to become something that totally took over my life”. Cardiff’s Riverside Market is now the oldest and, arguably, the most successful farmers market in Wales. It attracts hundreds of visitors each week, from all backgrounds and ages, and it has quite deservedly won numerous awards.
There are now five farmers markets operating across Cardiff, all run by the Riverside Community Market Association (RCMA), of which Steve is a Director. The newest of these markets, which started in August, is perhaps the most exciting development yet. It is situated right in the heart of the City, on High Street, opposite the Castle and is running for an initial 12-week trial period until mid November, every Thursday between 11am-3pm. The initial signs are good. “It really works. It’s a lovely social space there and the market is creating a kind of piazza. We’re hoping to work closely with Cardiff Market to create a proper market quarter in the center of town. The potential is definitely there”.
On the back of his hard work and success with the RCMA and other projects, Steve is now an influential and respected voice on local food and sustainability issues in Wales. He also uses his knowledge and experiences to help other groups start their own projects and is keen to see more encouragement and support for budding entrepreneurs. “We should really be trying to encourage people to start things. If you try to nail it all down and try to make it all safe you hinder creativity. But I know that Cardiff is really promoting itself as a can-do City, it says it wants to be helpful to people with ideas”.
Further afield, Steve has recently become involved with a group of women, all HIV widows, in Western Zimbabwe, helping them set up a local food cooperative. “The first time I spoke to them about my ideas I felt a bit embarrassed. I didn’t think I’d have anything to teach people who invented the whole notion of markets. But the cooperative model seems to be something that could really take off and be quite a life changer for them”. You can watch a video documenting Steve’s work in Zimbabwe here.
Steve clearly has a love of food, people and community but his other big passion is music. “I have always been well into music. My alter ego at the moment is Stainless Steve. I sing and play guitar with a little band and write songs. It’s just for fun but it’s a bit more than a hobby. It’s always a lovely feeling when you perform something you’ve created from nothing and people like it, and they laugh, which I particularly like. I’m trying not to be taken too seriously”. Through his company, Cultural Concerns, Steve also aims to “provide practical activities, advice and support to community artists, funders and policy-makers to support the development of better links between the arts, personal development and community regeneration”.
How does he find the time to do all this? “I do move a bit fast, but you’ve got to learn to manage it because there are endless things you could be doing every day. I try and savour each day and spend it with people I like”. But Steve is not one for too much reflection or self-congratulation. “I don’t spend a lot of time thinking back about what I’ve done or achieved. Pride doesn’t really come into it. I spend more time thinking about where I want to go. It’s good to know that I can put effort into things and it bears fruit. That’s a good feeling”.
Steve explained that when he moved to Canada it felt like he was breaking away from all the expectations in Britain that he had to have a certain type of job or a certain type of career. Looking back, he now admits “I’ve completely failed to have any kind of career in the normal sense, but the consolation of that is that I’ve done a lot of interesting things”. If Steve Garrett is an example of what you can achieve if you don’t conform to expectations, then it is a practice that should be heavily encouraged. See you on Sunday!
Steve Garrett is Founding Director of the Riverside Community Market Association (RCMA) and a Director of RCMA Social Enterprise Ltd. He is also the founder of Cultural Concerns, a small company focusing on culture and the arts as a means of empowering individuals and communities. Stainless Steve performs original and wryly observant songs about the ‘big issues’ of our times at venues across the country and can be booked via his agent.
July 25, 2011 § 4 Comments
“It’s about time Cardiff had a museum about the City. About time” says Dan, and I have to agree. In fact, I’ve heard a lot of people say that recently. But, although the new Cardiff Story Museum is good, what most people have actually been talking about is what’s been going on upstairs, above the museum. An exhibition called BigLittleCity, which is the brain child of Dan Green (plus his best mate Marc Heatley).
Dan is a freelance photographer, born and bred in Cardiff. Three years ago he started a photography project called Cardiff:Characters, which was all about capturing the unsung heroes of Cardiff – those familiar faces you see everyday. “After travelling in America for a bit I came back to Cardiff with a burning desire to do something. I went into The Old Library, which is a stunning, stunning building in the heart of the city that has never been properly utilised and said to the manager ‘I want to do a photography project about the people of Cardiff and exhibit it here’. He said ‘ok, you’ve got three months’ and I shat myself”. The project culminated in Dan’s first ever exhibition. “It was so exciting. The opening night was bootin’. I manned the exhibition for six weeks. Didn’t get paid for any of it but I was convinced that it would eventually pay off. There was a certain naivety to it, but a good naivety”.
Cardiff:Characters was a big success and gained Dan a lot of coverage and plaudits, but it was one piece of constructive criticism that had the biggest impact on him. “Someone came in and said ‘well done for doing this, but it doesn’t sum up my Cardiff. This is just your perspective’. That comment lingered for a long time until I eventually thought ‘ok, let’s do an exhibition where we put the call out and get different people’s perspective of the same thing”. This idea transformed into BigLittleCity, an interactive art exhibition celebrating Cardiff, which ran for three months and ended with a big, creative bang on Friday 22 July.
The exhibition took almost two years to develop and was done for pretty much nothing. “We managed to raise £4k from donations but in the grand scheme of things that is nothing. I am more and more into the red with everything I’m doing but I have always, always wanted to do something like this and all the hard times pay off when there are hundreds of people here and the place is thumping. That feels awesome.”
Dan clearly loves his City and wants to celebrate it. “I was very conscious that I wanted work that reflected on the past as well as the future, as well as different viewpoints and backgrounds. We wanted to show the true Cardiff”. I would say that Dan has achieved his aims. I bet there are a lot of artists and creative types out there who are very grateful to Dan for giving them such a great platform to showcase their work. “I have bent over backwards to get the right things in here. There are certain people that I had to work with and show a new audience their work. Charles Byrd and Mary Traynor are two good examples. These are two people in their late eighties, early nineties who are incredible artists but their work isn’t being promoted. Charles Byrd’s work has been in a basement, covered in bubble wrap for the past six years. I paid my own money for the insurance to get them here. I’m no connoisseur of art, but his work is class. Proper impact, proper heritage.”
The passion with which Dan speaks about all the work on show is really powerful, it’s almost like a mother talking about her children. “I am so much less precious about my own work now that I’ve done this. I really admire other people’s work”.
Dan’s work is pretty good too. His style of photography is incredibly vibrant and engaging and has a distinctive personality (much like himself). “I specialise in photographing people and communities in their natural environment. A strong connection to my subject is vital and I relish the opportunity to get involved in the projects I document”. This need to immerse himself in the subject has led Dan to all sorts of places, from Glastonbury to Ghana, and he is now The Safe Foundation’s resident photographer.
But now that BigLittleCity is over, what’s next? “I am definitely going to pursue my photography and I want to visit the rest of the Safe Foundation countries; that has to be done. But having brought BLC this far it would be amazing to take it elsewhere and roll it out in other cities around the UK. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. We’ve been averaging 100 people a day, which is unheard of for this kind of thing, so it could definitely work elsewhere. If you work with the right people and get the right backing it can be a big success”.
Whatever happens next and wherever the BigLittleCity adventure may go, we should be extremely proud that it was here, in Cardiff, that it all started. Nice one Dan.
Dan Green is a freelance photographer based in Cardiff, South Wales. He specialises in photographing people and communities in their natural environment. If you’re interested in hiring him visit his website
June 1, 2011 § 1 Comment
“At the age of fifteen I thought I was going to be a Marketing Manager for some big organisation, work my way up the ladder and by the time I was forty do some sort of senior management buy-out, have a top of the range Volvo and 2.4 children”. Not what most teenagers dream about perhaps, but thankfully, things didn’t quite work out that way for Neil Cocker.
Neil’s first business was Plastic Raygun records, set up with friends soon after graduating. He spent the next few years travelling the world as one half of Phantom Beats. “I finished University and went and did what everyone else did and got a job in a call centre. But at the same time I was doing some DJing and making a few beats with friends and the next thing you know I’m waking up in a jacuzzi in Miami, playing gigs all over the World, and getting a phone call saying we’ve got a top ten hit”. Bonkers.
Neil never really earned any money from his time in the music industry but, more importantly perhaps, he realised what he wanted out of life. “That was my driver. To do more of that. To get that sense of achievement, do exciting stuff and meet interesting people. I also knew that I couldn’t go back to a desk job”. And boy has he stuck true to that.
In 2007, after a rather depressing experience in a business network meeting, Neil founded NOCCI – a global network of creative, entrepreneurial people. “I was in this room with lots of white, middle aged men in suits thrusting business cards at each other and I thought there has got to be a better way to do this? So, he set up a Facebook group and within two days had over 150 people queuing up to be involved. “Things like Facebook events make it easy to dip your toe in the water without making an arse of yourself”.
Alongside Claire Scantlebury, Neil also runs Ignite Cardiff, “a regular informal community event that encourages people to share their ideas, passions and thoughts in five minute rapid-fire talks”. They also jointly-run TEDxCardiff, an event that brings world-class speakers to Cardiff in order to “inspire, inform and entertain”. Both events are free and are organised voluntarily. “I like bringing creative people together from lots of different disciplines. It’s a well-proven psychological phenomenon that the decision-making ability of a group is in direct relation to its diversity. So, give a bunch of 35-year old ad executives a problem and they’ll crack on and solve it. But put a truck driver, an old woman, my girlfriend and a school kid together and they’ll come up with better, quicker or more interesting solutions. It’s all about different perspectives”.
Neil is also a “creative industries consultant”, working with lots of organisations, including the Welsh Assembly Government, helping them engage with creative people, and he also sits on the board of directors for the Welsh Music Foundation, “helping it represent, support and develop the commercially viable music sector in Wales”. But Neil’s big project is Dizzyjam. A brand new merchandising service for the independent music industry. It is essentially a t-shirt printing company that works with bands to create merchandise to sell to their fans. “It allows bands to have their own online merchandise store that doesn’t require any outlay. This makes it easy for them to sell their stuff without having to spend loads of cash up front”.
You could be tempted to describe Neil as a bit of an ideas man, but he doesn’t share that view. “The reason I’ve ended up having a reasonably creative, entrepreneurial career is by accident rather than design. I don’t believe in that strict sectioning off of people who are ideas people or doing people. I genuinely believe that everyone can do it. It’s just the way you’re bred to think. I wasn’t one of those people selling sweets in the schoolyard at the age of seven or earning £400 from my paper round. It has been a natural mix of luck and talent of the people involved”.
However he got to where he is, he is satisfied with how things are turning out. “I enjoy what I do to make money. For me, entrepreneurship has never been about great wealth. I’ve never really wanted the mansion, the yacht or the pool or whatever. I would quite like an Aston Martin but that would be the bonus. For me, it’s about waking up on Monday morning and going ‘yes, I love what I do’. I don’t want to die having not had an amazing time and having done interesting stuff”.
During our conversation, Neil kept using one word time and again – lucky. I think Neil’s success is down to a lot more than luck though. He’s definitely earned his success. He is clearly very talented, very hard working and is interested in everything and everyone. He is easily one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He may not have been born here but Neil calls Cardiff home. I think we should count ourselves lucky to have him.
Neil is an entrepreneur, creative industries consultant, and music industry survivor. After many successful years in the music industry, Neil founded the creative industries network NOCCI, set up Dizzyjam.com, and is the co-founder of TEDxCardiff and Ignite Cardiff. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Welsh Music Foundation and is currently training for his first triathlon. You can contact him via neilcocker.com
May 31, 2011 § 2 Comments
Marc Thomas is working on a dream. “When we’re young we dream of doing something great. Most people dream of being famous, but then they go to university, live off of mouldy pasta for 4 or 5 years and at the end decide they prefer the security of a full time job”. But, unlike many of his peers, Marc has chosen a different path. He’s going it alone.
Marc is editor and owner of Plastik Magazine (formerly Journal of Plastik), an “on-line magazine of culture and things relating to creative culture”. The aim of the magazine is to “represent the creative atmosphere of one of the world’s most vibrant cities – Cardiff. The city is up and coming and producing a vast amount of incredible creative talent. Plastik Magazine exists to document the flux of the city”.
Marc acted on impulse when the idea for the magazine came up. Instead of thinking through a web strategy or developing a business plan he decided to be reckless and just do it. “Personally, I feel uneasy with the idea of just getting a job out of comfort. If I were working for a magazine or newspaper I would seldom get the chance to work on a project like this. I’d be constrained to writing features that might not be all that interesting. This might be the only opportunity I will ever have to be so free in journalism and business – If I don’t take it now, I’ll probably end up feeling bitter and ruing the day I took the easy way out”. Wise words, but also quite brave for a 22 year old fresh out of journalism school.
Plastik Magazine has gained a loyal readership in a short space of time, but over the past few weeks, with the end of his University days fast approaching, Marc has been focused on turning Plastik Magazine from a journalism project into a fully-fledged business. “I’ve been working hard on building revenue streams into the website and creating new ways to build community at the same time. There’s a big problem of how to make online journalism profitable and not sell out. Plastik Magazine wants to help local businesses, culture and customers connect and also continue to be able to afford to provide our readers with brilliant content”.
It is this dilemma that has led to Marc’s most recent venture – the Plastik Pass. The pass is a discount card, which costs £5, lasts six months and gives lots of unique offers and discounts at local, independent businesses throughout the City. “The Plastik Pass is my proudest achievement to date. It’s a cord of three strands: community, revenue and culture”. Marc’s hope is that by buying a Plastik Pass you’re doing two things. “Firstly, you’re saving a whole bunch of money, and secondly, you’re supporting loads of great local businesses and helping to promote our unique culture, which is something you can’t really put a price on”.
Marc’s creative juices are clearly is constant flow. So much so he has developed a post-it system to capture and prioritise his ideas. “If there’s something that needs doing I get very excited about the blank page in front of me”. However, he stresses that one thing he’s learning is that it’s very difficult to come up with a brand new idea. “Originality is hard to come by. These days, to get to the front of a crowd, you just need to be better at walking through gaps”. Similarly, Marc realises the importance of a good support network. “There’s a lot you can do on your own, but you can’t do everything. At some point you have to listen”.
Marc is not a native. He moved here five years ago, like many others, to study at University. But his love for Cardiff is clear and there is no doubt that he has worked hard to become part of the community. I wish I had contributed as much during my student days.
Marc didn’t quite fit the picture I had in my head of someone who is deep into the music scene, an entrepreneur, promoter, and journalist. I’m not sure what I expected, but he wasn’t it. Marc was so much nicer. In fact, you’d have trouble meeting a nicer bloke. They say nice people don’t get very far in business, but I have a funny feeling this one will. Best of luck Marc.
Marc is an editor, journalist, writer and song-and-dance man. He is currently the editor of culture e-zine Plastik Magazine, the brains behind Plastik Pass, a regular blogger and lover of sensual print layouts. He is tweetable on @iammarcthomas and would love to hear from you.