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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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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