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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kate anderson, living below the line

April 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

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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!)

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

Marc Thomas, Mr. Plastik fantastic

May 31, 2011 § 2 Comments

Marc Thomas © gwionthorpe

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.

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