March Monthly Meetup – Construction

March Monthly Meetup – Construction

PROJECTS  > MARCH 2024 MONTHLY MEETUP

4theRegion Monthly Meetup – Construction

Creative Monthly Meetup

It’s always interesting to discuss our regional construction sector.  So much good stuff happening, but so many missed opportunities.  Local firms missing out on local contracts; challenges around recruitment and getting young people into the sector; and just not enough quality firms to meet the demand that exists.

This month, our regional discussion brought together a diverse mix of people and businesses from our network, to explore “opportunities in and for the regional construction sector”.

You can catch up on the full meeting recording below or click here for the full meeting report.

Full Meeting Recording

Meeting Highlights & Notes

“There’s a significant skills shortage in the industry, leading to the reliance on foreign workers. Collaborating with Gower College, efforts are being made to train students with the necessary skills, tailored by businesses to bridge these gaps across various sectors. Courses are now offered at night to accommodate working individuals, proving popular and beneficial. The construction sector offers lucrative opportunities, such as bricklayers earning £500 per day and quantity surveyors starting at £35k annually. It is essential to change perceptions and promote construction as a desirable career path for future generations.”  Mike Kavanagh

“Collaboration is essential for advance notice of opportunities. It is not easy to put a collaborative bid together; time is needed for trust and arrangements to be established. If notices come to the market too late, it is hard to collaborate on those bids. Think NOW about coming together as a network of companies, ready for contracts in the future. Small SMEs can unite, bringing together all trades, and establishing a coherent unit that can enter the bidding process as a group.”  Peter Austin, Swansea Bay City Deal

“The procurement agents (buyers) should take that on, rather than bundling big lots together. Buyers need to make those contracts accessible. Currently, it only happens with the smallest, unprofitable aspects of work, not the big profitable stuff. Lazy or risk-averse buyers. We have been utterly unable to access work through the city deal. All the big contractors are closed to our particular trade.”  William Silverstone – Silverstone Green Energy, Pembrokeshire

“We have many people here in South West Wales who don’t know about all the opportunities available. We are in a privileged position to hear about the fantastic opportunities in our region, but we really need to get that message into communities and colleges. We need to reach young people with these messages. The opportunity is for our young people and those living here now, so they can stay and thrive in the communities they have grown up in. We need to make people realise this.”
Zoe Antrobus, 4theRegion

“The size and opportunity in retrofitting buildings to meet 2050 environmental standards are substantial. The average cost of a retrofit for a dwelling is £60,000. With 328,000 dwellings at £60,000 each, this represents a £19.7 billion opportunity. Even with a smaller scale, there’s still a £14 billion market in retrofitting, which could translate to £140 million in annual expenditure within our region, creating 4,000 jobs with good salaries. This could be a transformational opportunity for our area.  Twenty-five per cent of this contract value is in overheads and profits for the main contractor. There is a huge opportunity for local entrepreneurs and a significant need for training!”  William Silverstone – Silverstone Green Energy, Pembrokeshire

“It is a practical reality that only a few contractors in Wales are equipped to manage large contracts. Clients should clearly specify in the procurement process their preference for a significant portion of the budget to be spent locally. It is also important to acknowledge that many local companies may not have the capability to undertake the projects being put out to tender. How can a contractor grow to a size where they can handle such levels of risk and capacity? It would be beneficial to receive insights on this matter.”  Peter Austin, Swansea Bay City Deal

May Monthly Meetup – Regional Food

May Monthly Meetup – Regional Food

PROJECTS  > MAY 2024 MONTHLY MEETUP

4theRegion Monthly Meetup – Regional Food

Creative Monthly Meetup

Connecting all the good things happening around local and sustainable food across South West Wales

This month, our regional discussion brought together the four local food partnerships – Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire, Swansea and Neath Port Talbot, to update on their activites and priorities.

It was great to hear about all the work that the food partnerships are taking forward, and useful to connect the dots across the four counties.

You can catch up on the full meeting recording, or view the PDF notes from the meeting here.

Full Meeting Recording

Meeting Highlights & Notes

Click to read the full report with updates from the 4 partnerships:

  1. Sue Latham from PLANED, Pembrokeshire
  2. Mary Duckett, from Bwyd Abertawe, Swansea
  3. Phil McDonnell from Neath Port Talbot Food Partnership
  4. Augusta Lewis from Bwyd Sir Gar

Coming Up in June 2024:

It’s Your Swansea

It’s Your Swansea

Last week we hosted our It’s Your Swansea Conference. Let’s have a look back on an incredible day showcasing everything that’s great about Swansea and hearing from the people, organisations and businesses who are making change happen.

Swansea Arena playing host to our It’s Your Swansea Conference, 7th March 2024 (Pic: Innovation Photography)

The conference opened with exciting announcements and updates from key local partners, exploring how Swansea is addressing the challenges of our time and embracing opportunities in 2024.

Cllr Andrea Lewis, Joint Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Service Transformation at Swansea Council, gave an exclusive insight into the schemes that will make Swansea an even better place  to live, work and socialise. She said “Swansea is a real city of opportunity. These are exciting times.”

These opportunities include a major new high tech sustainable office development at 71/72 Kingsway, linked to the “living building” at Picton Yard, one of the greenest buildings in Wales; the transformation of a former BHS store into a new community hub; redeveloping the Civic Centre site for leisure and hospitality; redeveloping old buildings such as the Palace Theatre and Albert Hall; transforming Castle Square to be greener and more welcoming; and much more!

Perhaps the most exciting thing is the £4bn renewable energy project, potentially including a tidal lagoon, a battery farm to store renewable energy generated, a floating solar panel facility, an oceanic and climate change research centre, eco-homes anchored in the water, and a hyperscale data centre.

Cherrie Bija is CEO of Faith in Families, who have been providing skills and opportunities such as free breakfast and sports for kids for the last twenty five years.

Faith in Families have been approached by Amazon with opportunity to run a warehouse which was something they had never done before. They take Amazon’s surplus goods and give them to people, such as shirts for interviews. In fact they can provide pretty much everything you need for a home. Parents aren’t buying things like toothpaste because of cost of living crisis, so Faith in Families can provide them with dignity. 

They have launched Cwtch Mawr, Wales’ first multibank, which aims to identify and help forty thousand familes this year. Giving them brand new items says to them “You’re worth it, we believe in you”. Forty thousand items were given out on two days over Christmas. They put coats out and said “Please take a coat because we need the space”. It was several days before people were actually taking them, but they gave out fifty coats, as well as things  like brand new football boots for children. They can provide all the things that turn houses into homes.

Serena Jones is Executive Director of Operations at Coastal Housing Group, who provide safe, affordable, quality homes that meet sustainability targets. She said they are “working hard to address the deepest housing crisis I’ve seen in thirty years. The systemic challenges are real and biting, but it’s good the Welsh Government understand link between housing and climate change.” She believes “Sustainability is also about people.”

Coastal Housing have installed hybrid heating systems in their properties leading to a 70% reduction in energy bills, volumetric water cylinders resulting in a 38% energy decrease (which can be overriden for hot water if needed), solar PV with sensors to see their impact, and apps to monitor carbon monoxide and general indoor air quality.

Professor Ian Walsh, is Provost (Swansea & Cardiff) at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, which is currently ranked as the top university in the UK for active graduate businesses. It was a fascinating update. Did you know work at the university has transformed the way we repair windscreens on cars? UWTSD”s latest building, the Innovation Matrix, will be as close as possible to net zero, but can’t get there completely because of the computers. It already has about a 70% occupancy and will be opening in June, providing an ecosystem where businesses can thrive.

We heard from young people who are seizing the opportunities on offer here in Swansea, and inspiring others to do the same.

Amy Tanker has volunteered with a number of organisations. As a Psychology & Criminology Student at Swansea University, she was particularly keen to volunteer with Families and Friends of Prisoners Swansea. Not all prisons have family services like this, so volunteering with them meant she had social policy research opportunities and was able to get an internship.

Saadia Abubaker, Founder of Saadia Speaks, wants to empower the next generation of leaders. Born in Sudan, she moved to Swansea age two. Growing up, she experienced a lot of racism, but seized all the opportunities she could. She joined the Youth Sports Trust to encourage more girls like her to do sports, and now uses the same approach to build her brand. She said “People are not always supportive of my ideas, but if one organisation says no to me another will say yes.” She asked “Will you join me in inspiring the next generation of leaders?”

Fatima Lopes said “I grown up here my whole life. In school I couldn’t wait to leave because I didn’t know the opportunities that were here.” She said working as Student Union President at Gower College Swansea has made her aware of of those opportunities, and she will be going to Swansea University.

She said “During Covid, I was in year 10 and 11, and this is when I’d normally do work experience, so I didn’t get this. Students are now more hesistant to embrace opportunities because of lockdown.”

She’d like a sector wide approach on business and schools linking together, similar to Cardiff Commitment. She said students are very passionate and this can be harnessed with clubs and societies. She’d like something similar for people in work. This should be combined with mental health support for people in work and education.

She chose to go down an academic route, but if she’d done an apprenticeship, believes she would have faced stigma and a lack of knowledge, and this needs to change.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we also welcomed four women to share their stories of overcoming challenges and embracing opportunities in Swansea.

In school Alison Vickers, Managing Partner at Bevan Buckland, knew she wanted to be an accountant (or a detective). In 1986 she got a three month trial with Bevan Buckland, earning less than £400 a month. She rose up through the company and in 1996 joined the board of what was still a very traditional practice. One of her first acts was to end the ban on women wearing trousers! Bevan Buckland now employs a hundred and twenty people and are the biggest independent accountants in Wales. Alison said being based in Swansea hasn’t held them back. She’s learnt everything new is an opportunity, prepare well, and enjoy it!

Joy Ogeh-Hutfield, a Transformation Coach and Leadership Consultant, sees opportunity everywhere. She said “Sight is seeing things as they are, but vision is seeing how things should be. Having a vision means the city has something to give back to you. Gain more clarity by thinking about how your vision can bring change. My greatest joy helping clients understand their true authentic self. Invest in you, because if your cup is empty you have nothing to give. Enhance what you are and what you do.” She added “Teachers open the doors but you must enter by yourself.”

Eight years ago Amy Price, Director at The Social Butterfly Marketing, was a job jumper with bad mental health. She’d never learnt about self employment in school and was in in-work poverty. She said it was very strange attending her first networking event while still working in a call centre, it was “lonely being the youngest business woman in the room, but I’ve grown and I pick up awards in front of those people.” She feels she now lives a good life and doesn’t want to sacrifice more.

Her advice is “Stay in your own lane. Life is full of unique challenges, some days are harder than others, but just try your best.” She believes women are more resilient and risk adverse than men, and have a lot of side hustles but don’t see this as business. She said “I still have imposter syndrome and accept anxiety is a part of me. This year I finally felt I run proper business. I say yes to any opportunity Swansea presents to me and know this helps my mental health.”

Everything Kim Mamhende, Chief Officer of The CAE, does is about empowering people. For her it’s about change in the community, and underpinning that is equity and ensuring everyone has opportunity to do what they want.

She believes everyone has right to live their dreams, and the Welsh dream is achieving what you want without having to move, which is also being about equity and opportunity. She said “Opportunity is about creating. You can’t wait for a seat at the table sometimes you need to create your own table. Entrepreneurship is about adding value, creating your own opportunities and enacting positive change. It’s not always an easy journey.”

This year, we’re exploring even more of the region where we’ll be welcoming everyone to the following It’s Your… Events, so make sure to save the dates!

It’s Your Pembrokeshire, 8th May, Queens Hall Narberth

It’s Your Carmarthenshire, 11th July, Yr Egin

It’s Your Neath Port Talbot, 12th September, Blancos Hotel

Supporting Local

Supporting Local

At 4theRegion we’ve always been passionate about supporting local.

Swansea City Centre Conference 2023 Photos

When we spend our money with big businesses, most of it leaves our local economy and lines the pockets of distant shareholders. When we spend our money with a local small business, it creates benefits for local people, and recirculates in our economy, where it has a much more positive social impact.

Perhaps the most important thing for supporting independent retail in Swansea is for more of us to make the effort to support local whenever we can. How can people, businesses and organisations across Swansea collaborate to promote the cause of our local businesses?

This is why “Supporting Local” is the theme for our Swansea Conference. Last year we hosted the first major conference at the newly opened Swansea Arena, and we’re so excited to be back there once again on March 29th!

We’ll have a regeneration update from Rob Stewart, leader of Swansea Council, and major partners, about all the exciting development projects currently underway and coming soon. This’ll include news of the successful Leveling Up bid that will see significant investments in the Lower Swansea Valley and an update from Urban Splash, the development partner on the Seafront and other strategic sites across Swansea.

Swansea Council has said it wants as much work from regeneration projects go to Welsh businesses as possible. And it was good to see a regional firm like Ministry of Furniture be one of the first businesses to benefit from a project to redevelop Oxford Street’s former BHS and What! store into a new city centre community hub. Ministry of Furniture has been appointed to design the furniture and fixtures scheme, working on the contract with the council and main contractors Kier Construction. Ministry of Furniture worked for the council on the most recent fit out of the Civic Centre, largely with remanufactured furniture. As a boost to the circular economy, they aim to move the majority of that apparatus to the new hub.

Many people across our communities are struggling to afford healthy food for their families, an unacceptable situation that’s been compounded by the cost of living crisis. So what needs to happen to make healthy, affordable and locally produced food available to everyone in Swansea? How can we connect people to where their food comes from, and how to grow and cook it?

GRAFT is a garden and workshop, based at the National Waterfront Museum, working with local communities, schools and adult learners to grow food, preserve seeds, keep bees, and learn cooking skills in a clay oven. Volunteers are invited to join an intergenerational curriculum of outdoor learning, wellbeing and making connected to food. All of the garden’s infrastructure has been built by the team and participants who are learning woodwork and metalwork skills, alongside horticulture.

Farmers across our region face a huge number of challenges in a vulnerable and uncertain sector. The farming industry needs to substantially change to address the climate and nature emergencies, but farmers often feel unfairly blamed or misunderstood by people in towns and cities. How can proactively engage with local farmers to understand their challenges and how they can be better supported? Creating links between farms and local communities and customers is essential to relocalising our food supply chains and creating a resilient food system for Swansea.

Public sector procurement is often recognised as a key lever for change, with the potential to provide a steady and reliable market for locally produced food and drink. The Welsh Government has launched a new initiative meant to encourage more local spending on food by the NHS, schools and local government. But change isn’t happening fast enough. What are the challenges around putting more local food on the public plate – in hospitals, schools and other settings – and how can we overcome them?

At the Swansea Conference, Bwyd Abertawe, a local community based food partnership, will be launching the Swansea Food Charter, as part of their effort to get everyone working together towards making Swansea to become a Sustainable Food Place, where healthy, local and  affordable food is available to everyone, promoting the wellbeing of people and the planet.

At 4theRegion we believe that the creative industries present a huge opportunity for jobs, entrepreneurship, regeneration and wellbeing across Swansea. By investing in creativity we can breathe new life into our high streets and town centres. How can we make sure there are opportunities here in Swansea for people to develop rewarding careers, and build successful businesses, in the creative, digital, arts and cultural sectors?

People in Swansea have an amazing mindset and willingness to help each other out. Elysium have over 100 studios they can rent out across 4 buildings in Swansea. They started off in messy art painting and now have photography studios, TV broadcasters and other creative industries using the space. If you look at creative projects in other cities, there are lots of disparate studios that are always competing. We don’t seem to have that as much in Swansea. Of course, not everyone knows what’s here! How can we better promote and connect all the good stuff that’s happening, to strengthen the sector and engage more people in the arts?

How can we make sure that Swansea retains (and develops) a vibrant and diverse mix of independent retailers, in the face of huge competition from big name brands and online shopping? To survive and thrive as an independent retail business, entrepreneurs need to adopt innovative strategies that set them apart from the global competition. So how can local businesses in Swansea embrace technology?

Russell Greenslade, Chief Executive of Swansea BID, has said the majority of the independent businesses Swansea BID has supported in opening in the city centre in the past 18 months have a very strong digital channel presence.

He said “The strength of the independent business is being nimble enough to respond to trends and situations with instant decision capability. They can be better placed to find their niche, innovate, have more power over profitability, provide a personalised experience, and be their own boss.

“As businesses, we operate in different and more challenging environments since bouncing back from a global pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis. The challenges include staying relevant as customers evolve, embracing online shopping and harnessing the power of digital to help overcome challenges. Using technology to analyse our customer data, we can adapt accordingly to put customers first and use digital, data, technology and the intelligence they provide to improve the experience and anticipate customer needs enabling business growth.”

The Swansea Conference & Exhibition is going to be an unmissable day. If you haven’t yet booked your free ticket, please take a moment to do it now! There’ll be over 120 exhibition stands showcasing local businesses and community organisations, interactive exhibitions from the universities, Oriel Science, and Plantasia, opportunities to meet local companies, and a Youth Voice area celebrating some amazing young people. Find out about local job opportunities, meet new suppliers, pick up lots of free goodies, and feel proud of the people and organisations that make Swansea great! There’s something for everyone!

Where does our food come from?

Where does our food come from?

We believe that access to locally sourced food is more important than ever. The last couple of years has demonstrated the weaknesses in global supply chains, and with the uncertainties around climate change and the political landscape, this isn’t going to get any easier!

Barbecue chicken breast served with spiced wedges and seasonal vegetables as part of our Gower Field to Fork project

Our grandparents knew where their food came from, and probably produced at least some of it themselves. But somewhere along the line we lost that connection. How do we get back these connections to our food? How do we get healthy, sustainable, locally grown food to local communities?

How can we reconnect young people with farming and the land?

Our recent Gower Field to Fork project looked at just that. Working with Bishopston Comprehensive School, Castell Howell, Gower Farmer’s Market, Red Media, Western Slade Farm and Little Walterstone Farm, we brought Welsh food to Welsh school plates.

Gower has a proud history of being self-sustaining in farming and food production. Not long ago, “everyone” had a garden and grew vegetables, kept chickens and so on. But over the last hundred years this has dwindled to the point where only one farm was able to produce the quantities of food needed for our project.

Castell Howell ensured farmers got a fair market price for their produce in the hope that they will be encouraged to continue growing, keeping local farmers and future generations of local farmers working and shortening our supply chains.

Locally sourced potatoes, beetroot, cauliflower, leeks, and honey were converted into delicious, fresh, nutritious meals, chosen by pupils for pupils, with beetroot brownies for dessert! The pupils were amazed food in supermarkets is flown half way around the world, when much fresher and more nutritious food can be grown on their doorstep.

The new curriculum allows schools in Wales to access more creative and holistic resources, so any lesson could be themed around sustainable food and farming. Learning about food means children are more likely to try new food, have better diets, have a better understanding of nutrition, learn life skills, and accept responsibility.

School gardens restore the soil, and help children learn in authentic contexts, connect with nature and their communities, boost their immune systems, reduce obesity, moderate moods, reduce anxiety, develop empathy, and practice risk.

All these things apply to adults too, and research has shown gardening will also reduce your risk of health problems such as stroke, depression or Alzheimer’s. There’ll always be a benefit from growing your own food, even if it’s just knowing that for the next few days you don’t need to go to the supermarket!

So what can we do to feed ourselves and be as self-sufficient as possible?

Local networks and community activism are a key driver for change, putting the issue of healthy local food on the agenda and leading grassroots initiatives. The Sustainable Food Places movement believes a transition to a healthy, sustainable and more equitable food system requires not just strong national policy but also collaborative action between local policy makers, businesses and communities.

Bwyd Abertawe, whose interim chair is 4theRegion’s Co-Founder Dawn Lyle, is seeking to make Swansea a Sustainable Food Place. It has recently secured Welsh Government funding to grow the Good Food Movement in Swansea, which will build public awareness and active food citizenship around good local food.

Bwyd Sir Gâr Food is also a member of the Sustainable Food Places Network, and is beginning its own very exciting journey to make Carmarthenshire sustainable by ensuring equitable access to healthy, high quality local food.

Access to land is reportedly the biggest constraint to growing more food locally. What if we created a directory of available land, and called on businesses and landowners to lease it at peppercorn rates? What if new developments included community allotments and green space? A lot of public land is unused because no one knows who owns it. If in doubt, surely just make the land available?

Community supported agriculture (CSAs) are partnerships between farmers and consumers in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared. They offer a guaranteed fair income for growers throughout the year, because households subscribe in advance and growers know that whatever they produce, they have a market for. Locally grown food is provided directly to households with a very low carbon footprint, and the money spent is retained locally, creating worthwhile employment for local people.

Cae Tan CSA has successfully proven over the last few years that growers can create an economically viable business, produce a good amount of food, and have a wealth of benefits in terms of community cohesion, the environment, and education.

Cauliflower mac ‘n cheese as the vegetarian option for our Gower Field to Fork project

And of course we also need more urban and peri-urban farming!

Room to Grow are already repurposing tired old concrete gardens and under used land and turned them into vibrant “Grow Your Own” spaces packed full of nutritious herbs and vegetables. They will help build and maintain your garden planters and raised beds, share the produce and even learn some great new recipes to help you get the best from your garden.

Meanwhile, Biophilic Living Swansea will feature two south facing greenhouses on the roof of a mixed use development. The largest greenhouse will be serviced by an aquaponics system designed to produce up to 4.5 tonnes of fruit, vegetables, salad and herbs a year. The aquaponics system will create a continuous cycle where waste produced by fish, living in onsite tanks, adds nutrients to the water which feeds the greenhouse plants. The water is then filtered and recirculated back into the system. The plan is that residents will run the farm as a social enterprise.

Finance can also be a barrier to growing local food. The Sustainable Farming Scheme will only finance farms that have more than three hectares in production. This would exclude many CSA schemes. A recent study by Food Sense Wales has shown small scale investment can have a significant and positive impact on horticulture businesses, with sales of vegetables increasing on average by 74.5%. Food Sense Wales is calling on the Welsh Government to create a new infrastructure grant scheme for small scale horticulture that would speed up the growth of the sector and lead to more sales of locally grown vegetables.

And what about more traditional farms?

Many farmers don’t like CSAs and see people growing their own food as doing it for fun. But we don’t feel farms are in conflict with CSAs. In fact, farmers in Pembrokeshire have already given access to growers. And with fifty hectares of land needed to provide a community with the horticultural produce it needs, clearly there’s going to be a need for larger farms. How do we proactively engage with existing local farms and farmers to understand their challenges and how they can be better supported? It’s clear we need more and better facilities for processing locally grown produce, such as abbattoirs, bottling, washing, packaging, distribution, processing and manufacturing facilities.

Community food hubs are another way to connect people to where food comes from. It’s a great model for suppliers and producers, because it creates a guaranteed marketplace that will generate vital incomes. Food hubs can’t compete with supermarkets on price for some foods such as pasta, but you’ll find your overall weekly shop should cost less. And it’s more nutritious! Despite this food hubs have experienced difficulties getting people to shop there. FarmCo found they needed to spend a lot of time and effort on marketing and customer retention, and ultimately market themselves as an online food shop, rather than a hub.

What can we do to support local producers?

Swansea Food Partnership aims to create a vibrant and prosperous food offer for Swansea, strengthen and shorten supply chains, enhance food tourism, and bridge the gap between rural and urban food. They have also carried out a feasibility study to map local produce and shorten supply chains, run in partnership with Urban Foundry and Afallen.

The Welsh Government has also launched a new online resource, “Buying Food Fit for the Future“, to encourage more local spending on food by the NHS, schools and local government to help support Welsh producers, create more jobs, and boost prosperity in local communities.

If you’re a business, do you serve locally sourced, seasonal food on your menus and promote its provenance? Do you have an ethical purchasing policy? Do you have land that can be made available for community growing?

As an individual, do you still shop at supermarkets or do you buy as much as you can from local retailers and producers? When you go to a restaurant, do you ask them whether the food is local? Whether the gin is local?

And we could go further. The Scottish Government recently passed the Good Food Nation Bill, which commits to making Scotland a country where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day. Is this something we should be campaigning for here in Wales?

Access to locally sourced food is more important than ever. Our grandparents knew where their food came from, and we need to get that connection back!

On January 17th and 18th we’ll be hosting Food for the Region, sharing updates, explore emerging projects and encourage collaboration on all things relating to growing, producing, distributing, sharing and caring about food in South West Wales.

If you eat, grow or buy food, this event is for you! We’re inviting farmers, producers, distributors, processors, caterers, retailers, public procurement, regulators, communities, campaigners, and people who care about what we eat and how it’s produced, to come together once again to talk about what we want for our regional food system. You can register here

 

Gower beetroot brownies for dessert!

Everyone’s Invited

Everyone’s Invited

Community is essential to human wellbeing. Real community can’t be designed from above. We have to do it ourselves. It’s about taking responsibility for doing things in your local area to build and sustain community. The instinct to be social animals can’t really be stifled. Community will always try to return.

Camp for Climate Action, Murton, Swansea (Pic: Climate and Community)

The cost of living crisis, rising energy prices, and supply chain issues may create a context where people are more likely to conserve materials, reuse items, share things, and create circular economies. So how do we build a sense of community around practical climate solutions?

From tomorrow, communities will come together for the Great Big Green Week, the UK’s biggest ever celebration of community action to tackle climate change and protect nature. And everyone’s invited! In this blog post we’ll look at some of the events during the week in South West Wales, where you will have the opportunity to learn new skills, reconnect with nature, and develop the circular economy. You can see details of some of the events here.

Throughout the week, Climate and Community will be hosting a Camp for Climate Action. They are setting up carbon negative food growing using woodchip as a growing substrate and biochar as a soil amendment. The growing area will be an alley cropping system, long beds and perennial beds where trees and shrubs are planted next to swales (shallow, broad and vegetated channels). The site is full of wildlife and needs work to lay hedges, control bracken, dig swales for water conservation.

The camp is open to any volunteers interested in working and learning new skills, eating together and talking with one another. Most of us have lost connection with the cycle of production of daily objects. By harvesting and processing natural materials, then making useful objects with them, you can experience the entire production process, with which comes a recognition of what it takes to make things and an appreciation of the value of resources.

You can learn how to scythe! Compared to machinery, you have no pollution, no fossil fuels, less embodied energy in the manufacturing process, a longer life, less noise and soil disturbance, and wildlife have more time to get out of the way! Scythes can be used in (almost) any weather. And with a good technique, it’s good physical exercise and can be meditative and peaceful.

You can learn to restore hedges! In the past hedges protected livestock from wolves and bears. Today they provide food for humans, food and shelter for wildlife, and blossom for pollinators. They store carbon and prevent soil erosion. In cities, hedges are also better than trees at combatting pollution, because their leaves are at exhaust level, rather than up in the canopy.

You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about tools and sharpening, basketry, spoon making, and field cooking.

How far could you go? Well you could build your own home! There are real savings from self-building, as natural materials can be obtained free or at very low cost. Simon Dale did just that, and it cost him £3,000. His beautiful earth sheltered roundhouse, Berllan Dawel, sits in nine acres of rewilded forest garden and a plant nursery, all powered by off grid hydro-electricity.

Berllan Dawel is part of the Lammas Ecovillage, which aims to demonstrate a thriving example of low impact development, pointing the way for the truly sustainable rural developments of the future. Residents explore alternative models for living on the land, broadly in line with the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development policy. The homes are private, but some residents will welcome visitors who come with an open mind to learn more about low impact sustainable living. During Great Big Green Week you will have the opportunity to visit Berllan Dawel, and Hafan y Coed, where Keith Burgess specialises in plants and growing furniture.

For many people, growing your own produce, building your own home, and living a low impact lifestyle is appealing, but daunting. Only sixty three One Planet Development applications were made between 2010 and 2021, of which thirty nine were approved. However, on the whole these developments, many of which are in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, are over achieving in terms of their low impact objectives and have contributed to their communities through open days, tours and employment.

At any rate you don’t need a lot of space to grow your own produce. If you’ve got a wall, then you’ve got space for a vertical farm that can grow salad items and otherwise expensive herbs. You can pick (and donate) seeds at seed swap events. These events are important. It’s illegal to sell unusual seeds that are not on official national lists, so seed saving is a way of guaranteeing their survival.

And how about creating a community food garden?

The community of Monkton is no stranger to suffering and poverty. It’s in the lowest 5% in Britain in the index of multiple deprivation. But it’s in the top league for community power! At Dezza’s Cabin everyone skill shares at the weekly garden building club, whether it’s carpentry or cookery, healing, digging or food processing,. Recent learners teach onlookers. They are reclaiming a green future. If we want a world after fossil fuels this is where and how to start. To save the earth from being destroyed these young people will take the spirit of resilience and community shown by the gang of all ages and abilities, and none, building Parc Dezza, so that people might grow, eat and live.

Dezza’s Cabin was founded when a fourteen year old boy Dezza (Derek) hung himself at school. His mother founded Dezza’s Cabin within weeks. That was seven years ago. It now has shops and warehouses and a community centre. This is the community of Monkton’s first land claim. Many more young people have died, but a greater number have been saved by the actions of the Dezza’s Cabin volunteers.

And what else can we do to make local places work?

On September 27th, Dr Ben Reynolds, director of Urban Foundry, will share his expertise on twenty minute neighbourhoods. The goal is for cities and towns to be places that connect us to each other and what we need, where everyone can thrive without having to use a car, and quality of life is boosted for everyone. The idea is to ensure that it’s easy for people to meet most of their everyday needs by a short, convenient and pleasant twenty minute return walk. At a minimum everyday needs should include food, education, healthcare, financial services, employment, public open space, entertainment, a regular bus, tram or train service, walking and cycling infrastructure, and a mix of diverse housing types including genuinely affordable and social housing.

We’re passionate about repairing and reusing our everyday items. We believe that South West Wales must move away from our linear economy (make, use, dispose), closing the loop to conserve resources and ensure long term sustainability. A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Because repairing and reusing means less waste is sent to landfill and we can all save money at the same time.

Repair cafes, run by The Environment Centre, The Stebonheath Centre, and the National Botanic Garden of Wales, will repair your bike, household items, gardening tools, clothes, jewellery, toys, ornaments, and even furniture.

There’s also a Zero Waste Scrap Store at The Stebonheath Centre. What have they got? Wool, ribbons, paint, material, ink, brushes, thread, papers, and lots more. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures for crafters and makers!

Fancy something more creative? Join Volcano Theatre’s Climate Change Action Community Arts Festival on September 24th, where there’ll be plenty of art, music and movement! You’ll have the opportunity to make a groovy belt, and a bug hotel from recycled items. You can also donate unwanted CDs to Beyond Recycling, which Smile Plastics turn into chopping boards, soap dishes, counter tops, and even furniture! They’re also looking for DVDs, batteries, corks, broken mobile phones, and wellies.

There’ll also be repair cafes and workshops, and opportunities to make better use of unwanted or seldom used items.

Swansea Library of Things is a new low cost borrowing initiative. Instead of buying a new item that ends up never being used again, members can pay a small fee to borrow it, use it and return it when they’re done with it!

Meanwhile, Matthew’s House will be collecting your unwanted good quality waterproof coats, trousers, socks and sleeping bags, and Swansea Underground Network’s Baby Bank will allow you to donate and receive baby items with no referral or paperwork.

And don’t forget, the XR Rebel Bus Tour comes to Swansea on September 28th. They plan to move about several locations talking to people, giving out leaflets and inviting them to a People’s Assembly at the National Waterfront Museum in the evening, where you can hear Ousmane Toure from Côte d’Ivoire talk about climate justice in West Africa.

Community is essential for human wellbeing. And everyone’s invited!

XR Rebels on the Bus Tour (Pic: XR Swansea)