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!!