Back when Maggie Boyle and Tessa Houghton-Budd started talking about bringing local wholesome food to Folkestone, a scene like that at Folkestone Quarterhouse last Tuesday would have been a dream. That’s how it felt to be walking into a buzzing, celebratory atmosphere and to see so many people excited about their local economy. There was excitement in the air. Something new had arrived in town, or more significantly, this was uncovering and manifesting what was always there but had never been brought into one place at one time.
What is the Food Assembly? This is a wonderful concept of people being able to pre-browse and pre-order and pay for local produce online and then come to the Food Assembly collection point to meet some of the producers and to collect their purchase. Our Folkestone one came about when a group of people got together wishing to have one place where you could buy organic produce and wholefoods. They tested the water last Xmas, with a small shop on the Old High Street, selling a range of Xmas gifts and using the opportunity to chat to people about their interest in buying locally-produced organic food. During the Summer, they ran Mannafesto, a Saturday pop up shop on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm, selling organic fruit and vegetables. This was where they met Bean and Beth and started to discuss the more sustainable concept of the Food Assembly.
Bringing together local producers and community
Not until you go to collect your produce do you realise that this isn’t just about the producers and local food. It’s about creating a sense of belonging and identity. From the moment that you are greeted and pick up your order ticket, to the moment you leave with your bag of purchases, you feel part of an event. You, and everyone else who is there, has made a commitment and, as such, you have a connection to one another and a shared experience which is completely different to walking around any other market or retail outlet. The producers can relax as they know, upfront, that you’ve shown an interest in them. The interaction becomes immediately about meeting them face to face and chatting to them about other products or, simply, how they are doing. People were smiling at one another because you’re not busy thinking about what to buy, what you’ll do with it, and whether or not it’s good value. You’ve done that when you purchased online.
When all the producers are there, it is quite a challenge to navigate your way around the stalls and to try and remember who you bought from whom. This was part of the appeal for the party mode of the first Food Assembly in town and will, of course, become simpler when you simply collect your purchases and there are only one or two of the producers there for that particular week. However, the bustle and opportunity to chat to other people is also part of the conviviality and buzz. The Food Assembly is like a Farmers’ Market, but one where you are happy to meet look the producer in the eye and find out more about what’s on offer. There is no pressure to make that immediate purchase. You’ve either committed to buy from them or you can decide to do so in future weeks.
Prices are great. You’re buying quality, freshness, seasonal and local. All the suppliers have been visited by Maggie, Bean or Beth, who have found out about soil quality, animal welfare, employment practices etc on your behalf.
New Year Resolution – I’m going to buy local! Buying local food is one of those things that you know is good for your community and it’s now got easier. Extrapolating out from this first Folkestone Food Assembly takings, if it were to continue at the same rate, then, over a year over £75,000 will have remained within the local economy. This, from a bunch of people getting together and making a decision to build community, choice and health from the grassroots up. Let’s see if we can make that impressive £75,000 seem like small change and make this the start of a growing trend in how we shop, eat and live.
Today's the day. After weeks of deliberating, a few weeks ago, I started to become increasingly moved by the example set by Sarah Smith, parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Dover Deal.
Deal borders South Thanet "Kipperland". The Dover Deal constituency is one of the seats that swung to Tory at the last election. We have two women parliamentary candidates. Both of them have a hard battle on their hands. Clair Hawkins has the all-to-try-for campaign to win back the seat for Labour. Sarah is fighting the not-a-hope-in-hell one.
Why do it?
Sarah Smith is older, wiser and, you might say, really should know better. She would have been on a hiding to nothing even in 2010. Now she carries the slur of broken promises, a growing perception that this middle ground party is a party of weak, easily broken, convictions. Then you meet and hear the real person.
This is what I think should sway all of us as we think about how to vote. Of course there are policies at play and how candidates talk about them reveals a tremendous amount. Headline policies that are crowd-pleasers, easy to grasp concepts and vote winners on the “issues that concern all of us”. When you listen to your local candidates, you soon hear if there is an in-depth understanding on policy. Can they give local examples and can they talk in more detail about the policy and how it would work? Often you realise that, no, they can’t. Hence the back and forth of apportioning blame and sniping.
The drawing out of weapons on both side – how one side has no compassion and backs millionaires, how the other thinks there is a bottomless pit of money and whose policies would suffocate our businesses. All churned out time and time again and all left as platitudes banded about, never truly explored. I’ve yet to hear a response from the audience at a hustings that I’ve attended. It would take up even more time, but it might encourage all of us, as voters, if we could delve deeper instead of conjuring up all too scandalous images of flagrancy and injustice on either ends of the spectrum.
That’s why it’s important that, tomorrow, with whatever government or non-government that we wake up to, we continue to engage, step up as citizens and take part in the ongoing debates.
About five years ago I first started hearing about community owned energy co-operatives: how communities could rally together, buy shares in renewable energy projects and start to generate their own power.
It was something that seemed too good to be true and where would you even start? Further down the line and there are plenty of examples of community owned energy. Getting started has never been easier. We’ve got people who have been there and done it. We’ve also got incentives and support from government.
Here’s a quick run through of 5 things we could get moving on in 2015 in Kent - and elsewhere in the UK.
1. Get help from the people who have "been there and done that".
Just over the border, there are plenty of examples and a willingness to help. East Sussex based, Community Energy South is at the ready to provide expertise and support. Ovesco has also secured funding to offer mentoring to groups who wish to start a community owned energy co-operative. Subscribe to Community Energy South and/or find out more about Ovesco’s mentoring scheme offer.
2. Get support from central, district and local government.
There are plenty of funding sources to help get you started. For rural areas like East Kent, there is the Rural Community Energy Fund ( RCEF) which offers up to £20K for feasibility studies and then further access to finance in the form of a loan for up to £130K to pay for business planning and planning applications.The Big Lottery, Esme Fairburn, UK Power Networks and a host of other funders offer grants ranging from £hundreds to £hundreds of thousands for community energy projects
3. Get to grips with all the incentive schemes
Incentives abound for the whole range of different technologies – and there are added tax bonuses for community owned energy co-operatives. It’s a case of putting all the pieces of a puzzle together and you’ll come up with the local model that is going to work for you. There are plenty of financial incentives, and the better versed you are in how they all work, the better the business case. So, some top line ones to think about are:
Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme
The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Scheme
Both schemes offer fixed tariffs to community energy groups and there are added tax incentives for community groups. For full advice and signposting, it is best to make the most of the mentoring and support in point one, but to look up just how much is out there, click here
4. Find out where all our budding community energy projects are in Kent.
A good start are our transition town teams or local green groups, most of whom are already talking to Kent County Council. Community energy projects are what they say they are – a community endeavour. Therefore, it’s very important to have a sizeable group of people on board. You’re going to need ambassadors just as much as core delivery people and so it’s best to make the most of all the stakeholders and potential partners out there. Kent County Council has done a lot of the groundwork already and can bring plenty of expertise to the table.
See page ten of this report for more information.
5. PICK one and get going!
In the end, it’s just a case of getting started. Four years ago that is what OVESCO did in Lewes in East Sussex. Four years down the line and community energy co-operatives are popping up all over the East and West Sussex. We’re looking for the Kent equivalents and 2015 is definitely time that we got started.
Happy energy-generating 2015
Before I starting working for Sustainability Connections I had very little knowledge on what a social enterprise was and how it worked. However having working with SC now for 6 months I can really see the impact that social enterprises have on communities and bringing about social change.
As an activist myself I believe that social change comes about through grass root campaigns, and although the changes might start off small and seem insignificant they will always make an impact on the community you are working with and there will always be like-minded people like you who also want to bring social change and make an impact on their community which I believe to be very important.
Sure it’s great to have politicians in power who sometimes do get policies you want through but sometimes they can also fail you. Social enterprises such as Sustainability Connections empower people who often do not feel like they have a voice in society and gives them a voice and the opportunity to improve their own community through grass-root campaigning. This is largely true for women specifically, who due to societal barriers may find themselves cut out of the ‘male, pale and stale’ politics of today, allowing social enterprises to give women and those who may feel cut out of today’s politics the voice they deserve to have and the ability to make a change that no-one else has managed yet.
Sustainability connections is a perfect example of this, founded by a woman and other women giving up their time to ensure that their worries about energy prices or environmental changes have an impact and are listened too.
The importance of social enterprises in today’s society isn’t simply to exert a passion you have, but it’s to give a community of those who do not feel like they have a voice, the voice they deserve.
"Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic man. Better than he was before. Better...stronger...faster."
These iconic lines are very familiar to those of us who watched the Six Million Dollar Man in the seventies. We had just witnessed the moon landing and we grew up passionate about the promise of technology.
For decades, this kind of transformational technology remained the stuff of fantasy. We stopped letting our minds wander with thoughts of how our world might be changed for the better and we settled into being consumers. There we were, buying gadgets and upgrades of stuff that simply helped us lead the same kind of lives in a more efficient, expedient or faster way.
Over the past decade, however, technology truly has started to catapult us forward again and when technology meets social entrepreneurs, things get exciting.
Social Entrepreneurs are the people who are lifted by the thought that they are going to rebuild their lives and the lives of others: the “we’re going to make it better” people. Naïve, delusional, unreasonable, they are the ones who turn the world upside down and make the difference.
The thing is, we do stand at the brink of making things better than they were before. Technology has given us the opportunity to look around and find others. Communication on a scale we couldn’t have imagined when we were watching the bionic man (interestingly Steve Austin was the ultimate symbol of what we can achieve when we set our minds to it - an astronaut), has meant the birth of collaboration. Building a world from the inside out, from grassroots up, is how we hope to kick out a great deal of suffering and pain. We’re feeling the fresh air of hope and the boundless potential of opportunities that we have always believed were out there, but that we couldn’t access. Astronaut, six million dollars, rebuilding broken bodies…these were the stuff of fantasy for us, possible only for the elite. Not any longer.
A whole bunch of us have the technology. We have the capability to make the world better than it was before.
Better. Stronger. Fairer.
Going back way before Tupperware parties, women have been second-to-none in their prowess at recommending and selling products to one another. Typically the products on offer have been home goods to do with family, housework, beauty or cooking. This is a well-mined seam.
Bringing things right up into contemporary social economic concerns is the problem of fuel poverty, now faced by an increasing number of households. Stephanie Karpetas, Action Women! Community is convinced that training women to be local community energy champions is a very effective key to tackling fuel poverty. Many unemployed women are experiencing debt and are far more likely to be talking to one another on the impact that it is having on their friends and families.
Not only can women do so much − given the chance, we are exceptionally good at doing things when we see chances being taken away.
So, it’s exciting to be rolling out, via Action Women! Community CIC, a European Social Fund project this September, that will take ten local unemployed women in the Dover and Deal through a ten week programme of confidence building and basic energy awareness training. The idea behind the project is to gear women up to taking control over one element of the amorphous blob that soon engulfs your life when you are unemployed − fuel bills.
Fuel poverty is an all too common experience for an increasing amount of people. A basic understanding of how to read your energy bill and how to find out if you’re better off by switching is a starting point. There are also simple things that you can do at home to reduce your energy consumption and some, “easy when you know how” low cost DIY measures that could also save a tidy sum. Add to that an understanding, level of trust and the ability to grab government grants for energy efficiency measures that come and go with a flick of a switch, and you’ve got a better chance bringing your bills down in one big shift.
The programme is not all kilowatt hours and tut-tutting about how much water we put in the kettle. It is balanced out with informal confidence building workshops. Throughout the ten weeks, participants will get to know a much wider set of people, make new friends and contacts and have the opportunity to volunteer or take part in work shadow opportunities.
Based on the successful “Network to Work” programme that Action Women! Community ran in 2012, it recognises that the isolation of unemployment can be deeply debilitating. The group of 12 women who took part in Network to Work formed a support network and ties to one another that endured well beyond the programme.
Above all, they had fun and started to laugh about some of the stuff they were all going through. As soon as the smiles appeared, so did long lost self-esteem and confidence too. And, we all know what happens when you feel you can take on the world again?
7 reasons not to apply for grants for your enterprise.
And why they are just excuses.
Right now, I should be settling down to put together my next grant application, deadline in 48 hours and here I am procrastinating. So, what do I tell myself when I just can’t get started?
1. “Real game changers don’t need grants”. I think about the very few examples of people that have set up amazing enterprises and who tell me that they’ve done this without any grants or loans. Visionaries who somehow manage to subsist on their passion are rare and “I did it off my own back” stories should be taken with a large pinch of salt. For the rest of us, feeling overwhelmed while we’re treading an unknown path, help is on hand. Go and find support and then help your friends and peers who are trying to do the same.
2. All the time I’m writing this bid, I could be doing something to grow my business/ taking action/ developing an idea. I don’t want to count the hours I’ve spent researching grant opportunities, going to briefings, e-mailing prospective partners and then filling in application form. How much might I have achieved if I’d just put the same level of commitment into a project? Yet, writing bids is exactly the discipline needed to shape and refine projects. By the time I’ve completed an application form, I have better descriptions of products and services I plan to charge for and a ready-made list of features and benefits.
3. I feel depressed having to harp on about the deprivation/ problem/damage that I am trying to solve. Funders ask us to do this all the time and so, when we write our bids, we spend a lot of time sitting in the area of problems, doing our best to illustrate how great a need there is for our solution. When you focus on what’s wrong, it can drag you under. Keep detached and get the points down, with as many facts and figures as you can muster. Save the emotion for the solution.
4. The odds are stacked against me. I might as well give up before I’ve started. Most funders are amazed at how many organisations just try once, get refused and then never try again. When I look back at some of my earlier failed attempts to win funding, I remember the disappointment, but I also think about how much material I have for the next bid and how much better it is going to be.
5. I’ve left it too late. Yes, and…? I think most entrepreneurs, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably on the same wavelength, have an innate understanding of just how far they can push their own deadlines. If you want to go for the application, you’ll find the time and you’ll get the application in. If you don’t truly want to do it, then you’ll neglect the task until it’s really too late.
6. It’s not that much money. It’s really not worth it. I do look at some grants and think that I am being a mug to even apply. Look at the value for money the funders are getting? Just look at the staff day rate I’ve allocated?! Then, I remember the feeling of being helped to roll out something that has made a difference. Grants enable your organisation to take risks and to step into situations where you can set something in motion that could one day be the norm. Use them.
7. I don’t want to write bids, I want to do! You’re starting to repeat yourself. Sit down and write your bid. Then, help others to do the same. Good luck.
Stephanie Karpetas works with communities, businesses and public sector organisations,
helping shape and deliver programmes that make sustainable development feasible
and fun. Stephanie has recently set up Sustainability Connections
and is working on low carbon projects in Kent and Europe. She is a Co-founder
and Director of Action
Women! Community CIC