3rd Aug 2022
This time our client origin story comes from Michael, founder of Elmbridge Community Eco Hub. This story really does show the power of community in difficult times. We also love that Michael was inspired by a fellow Green Hosting client when he was brewing up the idea of the hub. Here's the full story in Michael's own words...
In 2019 whist recovering from a cycling accident, I started to formulate an idea of creating a community/environmental project in the town I have lived in for almost 20 years (Walton-on-Thames, in Surrey, UK). The trigger was “fired” whilst watching an episode of BBC’s CountryFile, where they highlighted the work being done by ShareFrome, in creating a Library of Things in the Somerset town. Basically it was a retail unit that offered everyday household items, gardening tools, musical instruments, toys and games and power tools for the community to borrow in return for a small fee/donation, saving these items from going to waste sitting in a garden shed, a cupboard under the stairs or in an attic gathering dust. The benefits include saving people money as they can borrow items for a short term and not have to part with a potential huge initial outlay. It also helps the environment as it reduces reliance on manufacturing lots of new items, shipping them across the world, not to mention the mining and drilling for the raw materials used to make them in the first place. I loved the idea and started to wonder if this was something we could benefit from in our area.
During my research into the Library of Things concept, I started to discover other projects that I thought could also benefit our community. For example, Community Fridge, plastic free refill, community run small item recycle collection points and book swap. The challenge then was determining if I had the willpower, determination, time and energy to try to bring these to Walton, whether the community wanted them, how I could perhaps make this happen all the while trying to balance family life with my wife and fellow Eco Hub Director Deb, and our 3 teenage children – Dillon, Harry and Megan. After a few months mulling things over and discussing it with family and friends, I decided to give it a go. I was approached by a couple of people who had time to help and we started formulating an organisation, creating a brand, and looking for potential venues that could host all of the initiatives under 1 roof – A physical Hub, for as little money as possible - as we had NONE!
By the time January 2020 came around, we had a business plan, a constitution, a bank account, were registered as a not for profit Community Interest Company and had viewed a potentially very suitable and affordable venue. Very exciting times. Of course then the global Covid pandemic hit the world and everyone’s lives were put on hold for many months.
Roll on to October 2021. Some people - who are now lifelong friends left the project due to work and family commitments and were succeeded by others. Indeed the team grew from 4 to 8 people, all coming from various backgrounds – medicine, market research, social work, occupational health, gardening, accounting, media and home making.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, advanced and prolonged discussions with the local council for taking on a lease on a local empty property sadly fell through at the very last minute. Thankfully the council really liked the idea of the Eco Hub and following a brainstorm session offered us a 3 year peppercorn lease on a former bowling green and associated club house (an approximately 200 year old former stable block to a local Manor House). The site had been abandoned approximately 8 years and was in terrible shape. The green – approximately ¼ acre in size, was wild, often accessed by local kids at the weekends and covered with broken glass, rubble and rubbish. Access to the building itself was inhibited as it was totally overgrown with Buddleia, so much so it took almost a month of clearing before we could actually get in! With no insulation, hot water or heating, it was surprising to see that it was at least watertight and free from damp.
The fantastic people of Walton-on-Thames rallied round and helped completely clear the site, clean and decorate the building, raise funds and awareness all with the aim of bringing the Elmbridge Community Eco Hub to life. However, 6 weeks after receiving the keys, the building was sadly broken into leaving windows broken, security lighting smashed, the heating, Wi-Fi and TV stolen, and the place generally trashed. Clearly this was devastating to everyone involved, but within hours, the community had yet again rallied round, helped to clean up and make repairs, raised funds to replace heating, and install a comprehensive security system.
6 months on and the Elmbridge Community Eco Hub is thriving, some would say it’s become an essential part of our community. We host the Library of Things, Community Fridge, a Community Garden, Small item recycling, plastic free refill, book, boardgame and jigsaw swap, a seed bank, run community litter picking events and we are about to initiate a skill share initiative.
We finally opened to the public on Valentine’s Day (February 14th) 2022 and have since had approx 3500 visitors, have redistributed almost 3 tonnes of surplus food, 500 books, are nearing our 100th loan in the Library of Things. We have created a really beautiful community garden comprising an allotment area, sensory garden and wildflower meadow with 2 ponds to encourage wildlife and biodiversity. To support all this we have 35 regular volunteers, 200+ “drop in volunteers” and 16 Duke of Edinburgh bronze, silver, gold young people volunteering. We also host regular visits from schools, colleges, beavers, cubs, scouts, brownie groups, special needs groups and other volunteer groups, host corporate days and generally encourage inclusivity and community cohesion. All this and were still only 5 months old! Based on this start the future is very promising, if perhaps hopefully a little less hectic and emotional!!
27th Jul 2022
This year the Cooperative Bank are celebrating their 150th anniversary and 30 years since they formed their original customer-led ethical policy. This policy meant that they would refuse banking services to businesses involved in certain social and environmental issues. Around 12 years later (in 2004) we founded our web design business, Make Hay Ethical E-media and a year later Green Hosting. We had already decided that we wanted to run our business responsibly and with care for people, animals and the planet and inspired by the Cooperative Bank decided to implement an ethical policy too.
We haven't been around as long as the Coop but we do have a few (18 to be precise) years under our belts. To this day our ethical policy is still one of the most important aspects of our business. In our ethical policy we highlight the type of work we love to support as well as the practices we will not engage with via our services. This is not about judgement but about focussing our efforts on work that has a positive impact.
We believe there are other valuable reasons for implementing an ethical policy. A publically published ethical policy holds you accountable to your words and as a business owner the buck stops at you to ensure those words are actually actions. We ask our clients to agree to our ethical policy before signing up to our services as we do not wish to earn money from exploitative practices. This means our customers can also feel confident that they are not paying their hard-earned money to a company that profits from irresponsible or unethical business.
The list of issues in our ethical policy demonstrates our priorities and guides our work. You might wonder how necessary this is for a small business such as ours but in the early days we were approched on seperate occassions to work for companies linked to the fossil fuel industry and horse racing. We of course declined immediately. These days we are more well known for our ethos and customer base and such enquiries are not as likely. However it doesn't make our ethical policy any less relevant and acts as a means of continually provoking thought for ourselves as we continually learn and hopefully for others.
Is there anything you feel we should add to or change in our ethical policy? Do you have an ethical policy and what does it mean for your business? We'd love to hear from you.
13th Jul 2022
Our latest Client Origin Story comes from Rebecca of Conscious Skincare. The great thing about this story is that this business was in the pipeline for Rebecca from a young age. Find out how it came into being and the success it is today. Over to you Rebecca...
9 ½ out of 10. This was the score from my biology homework when I was 13. The topic was ‘The Skin’ and the homework was to create a skincare routine for a teenager.
From an early age, I always wanted to run my own business. I always loved experimenting, especially if I could see a way I could improve things. The perfect opportunity came along when me and my husband moved to the west coast of Wales. Soon after we moved in, however, my husband was poisoned by a well known weed killer and became instantly sensitive to everything so I scrabbled through my notes and recipes and made up some products he could use safely. And so, Conscious Skincare was born!
I had already started ‘tinkering’ with skincare recipes with an ‘Ooh what if I did that?’ curiosity at every turn. Now, over 10 years later, we’re blown away sometimes by how much our customers love our products, our ethos and equally by their loyalty and support; we’re humbled by it in fact. It also affirms to us that we’re doing the right things, the right way. This was never about a ‘get rich’ scheme for us, or to turn Conscious Skincare into some multi national faceless corporation. It was, and still is about making the best natural skincare products we can with the best organic ingredients and being close enough to these precious ingredients and the process to know their providence and integrity, rather than our products being massed produced god knows how, god knows where then shipped half way around the world. And at what true cost?
Who knew we’d reach the point when we were sitting at our dining room table in 2012, hand labelling 1800 products for a boutique, Cotswold hotel contract we’d won, with boxes piled high all around us? We hand labelled all those products with a ‘Heath Robinson’ gadget my father-in-law crafted from wood so we could rest the bottle on a cradle and line up the label so it would apply neatly and straight to look their best in the beautiful hotel bathrooms.
And so here we are, in our 11th year, still maintaining our founding principles, not being swayed or lured onto the ‘dark side’. We will always be cruelty free, no palm oil, no hideous 26 letter, unpronounceable preservatives in our products which continue to be lovingly made by us and our fabulous team here on the west coast of Wales.
Rebecca & Quentin, Founders
Find out more at conscious-skincare.com
21st Jun 2022
Next up in our client origin stories is the Wildlife Garden Project founded by Laura Turner. What I love about this story is how it shows that something wonderful can be created from a desire to make a difference, finding something you love and applying your skills to it. Such a positive story for the start of the summer and at a time when we can all take Laura's lead and do more for wildlife. Over to you Laura...
Hello! I’m Laura. Before I started the Wildlife Garden Project back in 2010, I was completely new to the idea of wildlife gardening. I was working as a freelance videographer making videos for small local businesses. I was loving my job, but becoming increasingly concerned with the growing problems facing our planet. I wanted to do my bit in some small way, so I started looking for a conservation based project I could work on in my spare time.
At the time, I had just started renting my first house with a small garden and I began researching things I could do to attract wildlife. The concept of wildlife gardening appealed to me straight away – this was somewhere where I, as an individual, could make a difference to help conserve the struggling wildlife in my local patch. Wildlife gardening wasn’t a new concept, but it was far less known about than it is today, and so I started forming a plan to inspire others to make these small but important changes in their gardens.
I believe film is one of the most powerful mediums we have to communicate important messages, and so I decided it was the perfect way to demonstrate how to garden for wildlife. With little to no knowledge myself, I gathered a team of experts and volunteers to help make tutorial videos on everything from building a bird box to growing a wildflower meadow. With the help of my little brother Michael, we built a website to house the videos as well as lots of articles, tips and advice to help people create their own wildlife gardens.
In 2014, I started my own company, Fuzzfox, making videos for charities and local businesses. This tied in perfectly with the Wildlife Garden Project. Not only did it mean I had the equipment and skills to make tutorial videos, but importantly, it paid my bills whilst I devoted my spare time to the Wildlife Garden Project.
In the 12 years since forming, I’ve learnt so much from my work on the project, as well as gaining knowledge shared by all the experts who so kindly dedicated their time and experience to help make videos and write articles for the website. A few years ago, I managed to buy my first house with a garden which I have been slowly but surely transforming into a haven for wildlife. Finally having my own patch means that I’ve been able to put more of the techniques I’d learnt into practice and I now get visited by a huge array of birds, insects and mammals, including badgers! I’ve even dug a small pond which the gang of sparrows that hang out in my hedges love to bathe in.
In 2019, I was lucky enough to acquire a stand at Birdfair, the UK’s biggest wildlife festival (nicknamed the wildlife Glastonbury!). A few weeks before the event I had a phone call from a wonderful woman called Tina. She’d found us on the Birdfair website and saw that we were new to the event. She asked me, ‘Would it be ok if I bring Chris Packham to your stand to do a book signing?’ After much screaming and excitement, I gave her a huge YES. The event was amazing, we met so many wonderful people and gave wildlife gardening advice to lots of new people. Meeting Chris Packham was the icing on the cake.
Tina and I stayed in touch, and many phone calls and fits of laughter later, we realised we shared so many of the same aspirations and decided we wanted to work together. I had been wanting to move the Project forward for a while, and so in 2021, we registered the Wildlife Garden Project as a Community Interest Company (CIC) along with bird and moth fanatic and expert Tom Shields.
As a not-for-profit, we are now able to apply for funding which will allow us to spread our wildlife gardening message even further. In fact, we have just secured our first lot of funding which will allow us to develop a project that Tina and I have been chatting about for over two years. Exciting times!
We have so many plans for the future, but at the heart of it all is to make wildlife gardening easy and accessible to everyone. We are all still working on the project in our spare time, but we hope in the future that we may be able to find a way to earn a small income from it so that we can afford to devote even more time to the cause. But for now, we have lots more videos planned, as well as the funded project which we hope to be able to announce in the coming months!
We are always looking for collaborations and so if you’d like to discuss working together, please get in touch!
Find Laura online at:
25th May 2022
Next up in our Client Origin Stories series is Green Squirrel, created and run by Becca and Hannah. This story really is testament to how much a small yet mighty team can achieve and how the best way to run a business isn't always the traditional way but what works for you and those who benefit from what you do. Over to you Hannah...
Green Squirrel started life as Green City Events when in 2011 Becca, returning to Cardiff after a year of travelling, became frustrated with the lack of opportunities for city dwellers, particularly those on lower incomes, to pick up the skills for planet-friendly living. In 2012 Hannah got involved and together they began testing and trialling different ways of bringing green skills to the city, from bike repair and food growing workshops to pedal powered cinema, supper clubs, and swap shops. In 2015 we formalised our community focus by becoming a CIC and in 2018 we became Green Squirrel!
There has been a lot of learning along the way. Neither of us are ecologists or climate scientists so we work hard to make sure that the information we’re sharing and the skills we’re teaching are evidence based and genuinely impactful. We’ve had to learn every aspect of running a small business because - as a two person core team - we do everything, from marketing and project management to fundraising and HR. As a social enterprise sometimes traditional business advice, designed to maximise profit, doesn’t work for us, so we’ve sometimes had to find our own path.
Now in 2022 our work is across three main strands. First is our local work as we offer a wide range of workshops and activities across the Cardiff and Valleys area. You might find us popping up at local festivals or playschemes to run creative nature or climate activities or training a local business in climate communication.
Next we have Railway Gardens, our community resilience hub in Splott, Cardiff. Due to open in June 2022, this former derelict playground has been transformed into a multipurpose space for growing, learning, play and connection. It will feature small business spaces for social and ethical enterprises, a community room and kitchen, a mini allotment, an outdoor classroom and climate and nature friendly planting. Creating this space has been a six year labour of love, extremely challenging at times but enormously rewarding, and working so closely with local residents in that area is a privilege.
Finally, since 2021 we have taken our service UK wide with The Something Club, our online climate action community. This project arose in part from our own need for a friendly and genuinely non-judgemental space to share the highs and lows of being part of the climate and nature movement, and a way to pick up the skills we need to make a change. The Something Club offered a monthly programme of online workshops and events. We bring in amazing speakers and teach all kinds of skills, from food growing and clothes mending to campaigning and communication. A key idea behind The Something Club is that no one one person can do everything to fix the climate crisis, but everyone can do something, and with a little support we can each find our ‘something’ and make a big impact.
We - Becca and Hannah - have been working closely together since 2012, but in 2020, right in the middle of lockdown, we began a new adventure together as we decided to move to a smallholding for our two families to share! In early 2021 we moved to Bryn Ysgafn, a two acre site, where we share an old farmhouse and quite a lot of poultry! Since arriving here we’ve been working to make the land as productive as possible, with a veg garden and orchard, a food forest, bee hives, and plenty of wild space left for nature. This spring we began hosting hands-on workshops here too, such as fruit tree grafting and composting.
Living and working together is a new experience, but it’s working well! From breakfast planning meetings to foraging for wild crafting materials right here on site, we find lots of ways of making it work. We’ve also got something of a ‘no work at weekends’ rule where we take care to switch off entirely and enjoy working in our garden or messing about with geese and chickens!
We’re looking forward to what the next few years hold for Green Squirrel. We now have a wonderful Community Coordinator supporting our work in Splott and a great ‘Green Team’ of freelancers, and we’re keen to grow our team further in the next year or so. We’re always keen to explore new collaborations and partnerships too, so do get in touch if you’re interested in discussing working together!
Find Green Squirrel online: