rebecca clark, greening the city

December 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

Rebecca Clark

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.

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steve dimmick, problem solver

August 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

© Tim Whalley

“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, CardiffReadIgnite Cardiff and igerscardiff.

Neil Cocker, the lucky man

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

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