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.