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.

Michele Fitzsimmons, growing ideas

May 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

Edible Landscaping

Michele Fitzimmons © gwionthorpe

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

Deri Reed, the ethical chef

May 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Deri Reed © gwionthorpe

A lot of you will probably already know about Mr. Deri Reed, or his alter ego the EthicalChef.  For those of you who haven’t heard of him, the chances are it won’t be long until you have.

Deri is essentially a vegetarian chef living in Cardiff, which isn’t that crazy or exciting perhaps, but this young man has literally burst on to the City’s food scene over the last year or so and really caught people’s attention and imagination.  For the past 8 months, he has been running his own stall at Riverside Market selling freshly made food using produce sourced from his fellow stallholders.  In March this year, he started a pop-up Supper Club in Riverside to get the community together for good food at a good price and to “show people that there are great alternatives out there that don’t need the use of meat”.

As a meat eater myself, there is no reason why I should particularly care about what Deri is doing, but it’s the way he has gone about doing it that I find really inspiring and motivating.  “I deliberately didn’t do things everyone tells you you must do, like business plans, I just went in with passion, drive and enthusiasm and got out there and did it.  You can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen.”  Passion and energy are words that are all too often used to describe people these days, but they really do just ooze out of this guy.  Anyone who has met him will know what I mean.  “What frustrated me about myself was the fact that I was saying ‘we should be doing this, we should be doing that’, so one day I woke up and said ‘just do it then you idiot’…so I started doing it”.  Simple as that!

Although still in his early twenties, Deri has already clocked up over ten years experience of working in kitchens.  When he arrived in Cardiff the plan was clear.  “The vision was a restaurant to showcase vegetarian food using Welsh produce” but he quickly realised that “the odds are against you, 50% of businesses fail in the first three years and 50% of those that survive fail in 5 years.  Plus, it’s not easy selling vegetables!”

Deri has many of the classic traits of an entrepreneur.  He is confident, driven, impatient, very serious about what he’s doing and great at selling his ideas (and vegetables!).  Like many entrepreneurs, however, Deri is already looking for his next challenge.  “I’m at a bit of a juncture.  Do I want to spend my whole life feeding people?  I don’t know if that’s my calling.  At the moment I’m wondering where I should go, what route I should take”.  The answer may well have arrived.  Deri has recently made contact with the good folk behind The People’s Supermarket (as seen on Channel 4) with the aim of setting up a similar venture right here in Cardiff.  “What TPS has done in London is astonishing, they’ve basically signed up 500 volunteers to run a supermarket in the centre of London. The project has been so successful it has inspired me to look into it a little more to try to make it happen in Cardiff”.   Different to his other projects, this is not a one-man show and the success of it relies on people like you and me, “It’s still very early days. I’m waiting until 100 people sign up to the mailing list before arranging the first meet up where we will just start to get to know each other and share what skills or contacts we have that might be able to help”.  If you’re interested, sign up here.

What I really like about Deri are his principles.  “I’ve always said that I won’t compromise on my values.  I’d rather not have the business to be honest”.  Similarly, “when you’ve got a good product, it’s the easiest thing to sell.  But if you haven’t, or you don’t believe in it, it is impossible to sell.  You have got to love it”.  That’s why I think Deri is so popular.  He clearly loves what he’s doing and believes in it 100%.  He is also very much a 21st Century businessman. Social media has been critical to his success and developing his brand and he clearly understands how to connect with people.  But Deri is very quick to point out that he is no superman.  “Running your own business can be lonely.  No one else is going through what you are so you can’t really explain how you’re feeling.  But, I am lucky to be around a lot of support networks – my parents are nearby, my brother is here (in Cardiff), and my friends and volunteers have kept me going”.

We are very lucky to have someone like Deri Reed in Cardiff.  He’s a do-er and is making exciting things happen.  There is a definite buzz surrounding his work.  He also cares about the important things in life – people, food, health and the environment.  If ever there was a good role model for our kids, this is the man.

EthicalChef © gwionthorpe

EthicalChef will be appearing at the Cardiff Vegetarian Festival on Sat 21st May and will be doing other events as part of National Vegetarian Week 23-29 May.  He is gathering interest for The People’s Supermarket in Cardiff and, if you’re interested, you can sign up here.

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