Being last, not fast

“There is more to life than increasing its speed” Mahatma Gandhi

My dear old dad hated school sports. He told me he was so determined not to come last in running races (he had standards…) that he once ended up in second place and was annoyed that he had to run again in another heat!

At the weekend I recalled my dad’s remark about not coming last when attending my local parkrun. I’ve written other blog posts about my love of parkrun – particularly that it’s about community rather than competition – but last Saturday’s experience was a first for me – I came last!

My time was 00.55.41 for the 5K – the slowest of 304 parkrunners – but that was all part of the plan as I was a ‘tail walker’. It involves making sure everyone returns safe and sound at the end of their run/walk/whatever. My hour-long walk around the route was a joy – very fresh air (a good blow in bright sunshine), great exercise in beautiful National Trust surroundings, and friendly chat – mainly with my co-tail walker who’s recovering from a hamstring injury. We talked about everything from sports injuries obviously, to dogs, caring duties, films, and the NHS.

It wasn’t quite a stroll in the park, but I was pleased there was no pressure (self-imposed or otherwise) to do other than finish the 5K circuit… last. I feel society is increasingly inclined to make us think that fast is desirable – that cramming more and more into our already busy lives is ‘a good thing’.

The idea of slowing things down is, of course, nothing new – the slow food movement in Italy dates back to the late 1980s https://www.slowfood.com.  I bought Carl Honore’s intriguing bestseller In Praise of Slow soon after it was published in 2004  https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Carl-Honore/In-Praise-of-Slow–How-a-Worldwide-Movement-is-Challengin/1980344 and I’d probably buy The Idler (a bi-monthly magazine for people who like to live in the slow lane https://www.idler.co.uk) if I had time to read it.

On a similar theme, if there was a competition for firing up your laptop, mine would probably come last. Every time I sit there after switching on my computer, I’m reminded of an early marketing database I used which allowed me time enough to make a cup of tea while it was selecting records from a list of 10,000 book-buyers. Fast forward three decades and, for all my impatience while waiting to use my computer, I’m grateful for the enforced delay as an opportunity for some mindful reflection at the beginning on the working day.

To coincide with its 15th anniversary, parkrun-UK commissioned some research  https://blog.parkrun.com/uk/2019/10/05/not-just-run-park. Two findings particularly interested me – firstly, that volunteering at parkrun was found to be better for our health and well-being than just running or walking the 5K. Interestingly the role of tail walker has been renamed in recent years – it used to be ‘tail runner’ – and this relates to a second research finding; that the average time for the 5K circuit had increased year-on-year – reflecting the growing number of people taking up parkrun (and running?) for the first time.

Looking more widely at slowing down society I don’t think I’m inclined to start a ‘come last’ campaign, but anything we can do to find more flexible ways of working (I’m right behind the campaign for a four day working week https://www.4dayweek.co.uk ) and to reduce the pressure on the next generation, is to be welcomed as a route to improved well-being.

Related blog posts:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/counting-what-counts

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/06/01/coming-from-behind

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/07/29/my-four-day-weekend

Running Repairs

I was thinking about the phrase ‘running repairs’ this weekend while marshaling at Wimpole parkrun (no virtue signalling intended). You know how some TV and radio programmes – To Hull and Back springs to mind – sound like they’ve thought of the title first and then developed the idea behind the title; well, this could be the case with the idea of Running Repairs.

The phrase combines two of my passions – getting free exercise and giving free fixes – which got me thinking… What if runners with relevant skills could be matched with local residents with things that needed fixing. This could be a lightbulb or fuse to be changed, a dripping tap, a button that needs sewing back on, a bike chain that needs adjusting, anything that needs lubricating, gluing or cleaning – the list goes on. It would be a free, non-emergency, accessible service, but only for small jobs; you wouldn’t want to put professional handy-people and repairers out of business.

The idea is not wholly original – some readers may know about GoodGym a brilliant national initiative which brings groups of runners together to do ‘good work’ in their community. They run to locations to do this – for example to do a litter pick in a local park or a village hall to paint a room. They also support older individuals with small tasks and companionship. Nor is free community repair a novelty – we’ve been running a quarterly Repair Café in Royston for the past six years.

Why the ‘running repairs’ idea is a bit different from a community event is that the interaction with residents is 1-2-1 in their homes, and the fixes would tend to be for people who, for one reason or another, can’t attend a community event (and you can’t bring in a dripping tap or light socket…)

So, an idea to combine keeping bodies and things working well, connecting communities and creating friendships along the way – good for people and the planet. What do you think – has ‘Running Repairs’ got, er… legs?  Please let me know.

https://www.goodgym.org

www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Slow fashion

My work colleague is off to buy a prom dress with her daughter. If you know anything about my colleague and proms (I don’t mean the musicfest at the Albert Hall each year) you’ll know the dress is for her daughter.

I don’t know the history of the school prom in this country (it probably originates from the USA) but it’s a semi-formal post-exam celebration for secondary school students. Wikipedia says it’s a shortened version of Promenade Dance. For the girls or, more likely their parents, it can cost £££ for the prom dress and, as my colleague pointed out the other day,       ‘all the other stuff’.

I suspect most prom dresses are only worn once; an extreme example of the worst waste of the ‘fast fashion’ industry. (Incidentally, did you know the average DIY power drill is used for only 13 minutes of its life?) Given that the younger generation seem to be more in tune with the climate emergency than their parents, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any downturn in the (new) prom dress market in the coming years. I’d like to think that campaigns are slowing fashion, alongside the emerging range of alternatives to excessive spending on clothes – renting, sharing, upcycling, donating – making secondhand, pre-loved, vintage (chose your own adjective) clothes not only acceptable, but desirable.

At the high-end of the re-worn clothing market is Wardrobe HQ – a luxury fashion rental and resale website. I say ‘high-end’ and your rented designer coat could still set you back £295 for a week, and a sequinned bodycon (whatever that means!) mini could cost you a maxi £215.

Interviewed in the Guardian newspaper, Wardrobe HQ Chair Jane Shepherdson is quoted as saying the idea of clothing rental is particularly appropriate for luxury womenswear, with ski-wear, occasion wear, maternity wear and kids-wear other areas ripe for rental. Personally, I think she’s got that the wrong way around; maternity wear and kids-wear should come first as it affects so many more people. But then maybe I’m looking at this through an environmental/community lens rather than a commercial one.

A similar but much more affordable clothing option that’s geographically and conceptually much closer to my heart is Nuw. Based in Cambridge, Nuw describes itself as a clothes-sharing app and community; they’re all about sharing, not renting. I met the people behind Nuw at a Swish (clothing exchange event) in Cambridge and they seemed to have their hearts and heads in the right place.

In the west country, the fine folk of Frome in Somerset have taken the community clothes exchange concept a step further. The Frome Wardrobe Collective organise swapping events, but also have a small ‘community wardrobe’ in a converted public toilet (a case of deja loo?) alongside their community fridge and larder – the first such fridge in the UK when it was set up more than two years ago. From 8am to 8pm people can leave their ‘occasion clothes’ for others to borrow.

Closer to home, Circular Cambridge are promoting slow fashion through discussions and events, including a festival and Swishes. Swishes are volunteer-run and usually free and tend to feature women’s and children’s wear (the only man I know who’s into secondhand clothing does his shopping for designer items in charity shops in posh places). Circular Cambridge also organise Repair Cafes and more often than not these include sewing and mending facilities as part of their free offer – anyone for a bit of upcycling?

Not forgetting community exchange platforms such as Freegle (many localities also have Facebook groups for local exchange or sale of pre-loved items) and charity shops are another great source of affordable clothes.

I’m sure I won’t have to persuade my colleague about considering these alternatives to prom-dress-buying – a way to save money and the planet. I suspect that convincing her daughter might be somewhat harder…

https://www.mywardrobehq.com

https://www.thenuwardrobe.com

https://edventurefrome.org/enterprises-initiatives/frome-wardrobe-collective

http://circularcambridge.org/category/blog/fashion

http://www.getswishing.com

https://www.ilovefreegle.org

Wise words from StartUp 2020

For a third year I’m in Central London on a frosty Saturday morning in January to learn from an impressive line-up of speakers advising 2,000 aspiring young entrepreneurs about putting head and heart into starting a business.

For the past two years I’ve reported on what I learned and readers of this blog seemed to find that useful, so here are a few quotes I picked up during a packed day of keynote talks and workshops expertly organised by Enterprise Nation.

It’s about you

“When you’re starting a brand, people are buying you… think about having a head-shot [photo in your publicity]” EJ

“Know your story and use images consistently… think Richard Branson.” EJ

“Accept full responsibility for where you are and where you’re going. Show up every day, put yourself out there, and take risks.” SAO

“There are two sales in business – the first is selling you to you, the second sale is you to others.” SAO

Don’t measure your success by other people’s metrics… know your own premium value.” SAO

“Focus on what you do best and outsource the rest.” EJ

Mindset is one of the most important tools on your journey… It can turn interest into commitment, indecision into decision, problems into opportunities, lack of resources into being resourceful and creative.” SAO

“Focus on all that you are, not what you are not. The only person you should compare yourself to is who you were yesterday.” SAO

“Solitude can lead to real clarity in business.” GT

Getting started

“Don’t get nervous about telling other people about your idea… sharing your start-up story warms up your [future] customers and builds your brand profile.” EJ

“Until you do it, you don’t understand your business – and talk to people.” AP-A

“When pitching your business idea, always be prepared, make it personal – make phone calls and ‘stand up and smile’ when you do so!” EJ

“I used my unique story to create an online community of people who felt the same.” TRW

“I found it really important to create a specific ‘ideal customer’ – we paid to get help with this. We used the detailed profile for targeting all our communications… To widen our audience, we then identified people who ‘aspired to be our ideal customer’.” TRW

“To turn interest into commitment, come up with reasons why, reduce distractions, plan your day the night before.” SAO

“Don’t over-research – just do it! It doesn’t have to be perfect – put it out there and get feedback.” NG

 “[Looking back] our best business idea was the one with the most differentiation from the competition (our USP) and ease of entry into the market.” AC

“There’s a fine line between procrastination and intentional rest.” SAO

Routes to success

“The only way to know if you’ve got something is to try it with your customers… be brave.” RS

“Our customers are the biggest force in deciding what we should be doing.” AC

“A passion turned into a business doesn’t really feel like work… But it takes hard work, so it makes it easier to put the time in.” EJ

“Your value is how much you offer against what you take in payment.” SAO

 “The worst things in life often lead to wisdom, insight and skills for the best times in your life.” SAO

“Having a clear purpose is important for pushing on when the going gets difficult.” KL

“Resilience in a number one skill to learn… try everything, challenge everything.” GT

“Look at your core business and invest in that. Don’t cut corners, collaboration can help.” NG

Working well

“As an entrepreneur, there’s no point in working on your vision if you burn out in the process.” SAO

“Take time for reflection and be more mindful; creativity will blossom… Thomas Edison used to take two hours a day to go fishing – without bait ‘so no one will disturb me, not even the fish’.” SAO

“How you start your day is important – a balance between stability and excitement about the challenge. Set your morning routine and have a good quality breakfast.” ED

“Know your team… their backgrounds, their interests beyond work. Enjoying being with them is important for the tough days. Care about them and the space they work in.” KL   

AC – Adam Carnell, Instantprint

AP-A – Abena Poku-Awuah, Legacy

ED – Evelina Dzimanaviciut, Elite Mind

EJ – Emma Jones, Enterprise Nation

GT – Guy Tolhurst, Intelligent Partnership

KL – Katrina Larkin, Fora

NG – Natalie Glaze, StayWildSwim

RS – Rachel Stockey, Kings College London

SAO – Simon Alexander Ong, business and life coach

TRW – Tim Rundle Wood, Twoodle Co

Thank you, and to Enterprise Nation for bringing us all together  www.enterprisenation.com 

https://www.enterprisenation.com/learn-something/the-top-eight-gamechanging-pieces-of-advice-we-heard-at-startup-2020

Other StartUp tips:

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2019/01/23/wise-words-from-startup-2019

https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/enterprise-essentials-21-tips-from-startup-2018

 

Now you have no excuse

I’ve followed Jen Gale’s wise words on being green since, what I’ve recently learnt, was her first public-speaking engagement – a TEDx talk in Bedford in July 2013 which she describes as ‘terrifying’. I was part of the group organising the TEDx event and as well as introducing me to Jen, it also sparked an ongoing interest in TEDx events around the East of England (including speaking at one of them which, I can confirm, is terrifying!)

As well as an interest in TEDx Talks and sustainable living, I also have a passion for real books (for details check out a blog post in the ‘My love affair with…’ series). This interest includes 15 years in book marketing and sales and explains my addiction to buying printed books, some of which end up in the Little Library outside our house. So, when I saw that Jen Gale had written The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide I couldn’t resist being consumer(ish) and I bought a copy.

Being a grumpy old pedant, I notice it’s not printed on recycled paper, but it’s ‘responsibly sourced’ and, since I refuse to read e-books, that has to be good enough. If you don’t know already, you’ll soon learn that trying to ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to behaving sustainably it’s often not straight forward. Try looking at the relevant carbon footprints of plastic, paper and cotton bags.

What I like about the Sustainable(ish) Living Guide is that it doesn’t pretend there are easy answers, but it does address the common concerns that I suspect many of us share. To quote from the book’s introduction… ‘This is for you if you’re worried about the state of the planet, but you’re just not sure where to start or what to do… It’s for you if you feel a kind of low-level guilt about the things you do every day, knowing that there is a better way, but you’re up to your eyes in work and family and life stuff, and it doesn’t feel like there’s the time or energy to make big changes.’

But here’s the good news – all effort, however small, is worthwhile and Jen Gale’s guide provides an abundance of (jargon alert) quick-wins that won’t involve a radical change to the way you live nor having to find more hours in the day to make an impact.

And she doesn’t just cover day-to-day living. My love of books attracted me to one idea for an alternative advent calendar – involving books – and, similarly, Jen’s ideas for more ethical Valentine’s Day presents reminded me about the idea of giving family and friends ‘a blind date with a book’, bought from a charity shop and wrapped (in newspaper of course).

Charity shops cropped up again in a section about how many donations, however well-intentioned, end up in landfill because clothes are unwearable or toys and equipment are broken. This got me thinking… could volunteer repairers in Repair Cafes (also commended in the book) team up with local charity shops to fix donated items – increasing income to those charities and, of course, saving stuff from landfill. So, the book has already helped me make connections!

If this book does nothing else, I think it gives the reader hope, and ideas, and some answers. What is comes down to is that each one of us is personally more powerful than we might imagine. And it’s not all about costing more; many of the actions to save the planet can actually save us money. When we do have to spend, we have choices about where and how we do this. We have no local bookshop where I live, but by buying The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide online from Hive Books, I support a company that pays it’s taxes and gives a share of the purchase price to my nominated independent bookshop.

My make do and mend year – Jen Gale TEDx Talk  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCm7aBM7EeY

Buy the book https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jen-Gale/The-Sustainableish-Living-Guide–Everything-You-Need-to-K/23879824

Visit the website https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk

Sharing, repairing, re-using in Royston*

There really is no planet B, so now is the time to join millions of others locally, nationally and internationally helping to tackle our climate emergency by cutting waste. The scale of the problem is mind-boggling; every week in the UK 11 million items of clothing go to landfill; that’s an annual total equal to the weight of New York’s Empire State Building. The average household owns £4,000 worth of clothing, 30% of which has not been worn in the past year. Estimates put the value of this unused clothing at around £30 billion. Time to get swishing!

Think global, act local

For many, a barrier to taking that first step to conserve resources and reduce waste is a sense of helplessness – not knowing where to start and, perhaps, feeling the problems are too immense for individuals to make a real difference. But there are ‘quick wins’ to be made (see link at the bottom of this piece) and you are not alone; a number of local initiatives are already demonstrating practical, creative (and fun!) ways to consume less and keep items out of landfill, not just in Royston but around the world.

Say yes to less – share

For nearly 15 years, and without spending a penny, the Royston Recycle online platform promoted and enabled the free exchange (freecycling) of unwanted items – from children’s toys and equipment, to household items, garden tools and musical instruments.  Between December 2004 and December 2019, over 7500 members in and around Royston posted 97,000 ‘offers’ and ‘wants’ keeping an estimated 45,000 items in use for longer.

Don’t despair – repair! 

An offspring of the Royston freecycling initiative is Royston Repair Cafe – a series of free community repair events held every three months to keep items in use for longer. Owners of broken items have discovered ‘the joy of fix’ and, since February 2014, volunteer repairers have mended over 50% of the 640 items brought in for free assessment. Everything from clothes and books to bikes and electrical equipment have been given a new lease of life to the delight of their owners – saving their money and the planet.

Creative ways to re-use materials

When it comes to crafting someone else’s waste materials into one-off additions to homes and gardens, the new kid on the block (although the two guys behind it could hardly be described as ‘new kids’!) is Green & Grey. Using mainly pallet wood (but not averse to working with driftwood, wellington boots and bike parts) the pair are using their interest in ‘making stuff’ from reclaimed materials to promote the value of original hand-made items in our increasingly mass-produced consumer society.

An even newer kid on the ‘zero waste’ block is a Royston resident’s Anahata initiative promoting and selling planet-friendly plastic-free produced and packaged products. I can recommend the shaving soap.

From sharing, repairing and reusing, to recycling. Terracycle – an international recycling company – have teamed up with residents in and around Royston to support their efforts to recycle ‘difficult materials’ – including soft plastics, toothbrushes and crisp packets. A growing number of collections points around town help raise money for charities when you make the extra effort to protect our planet for generations to come

Contacts and further information

Sustainable living https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk (Including quick wins to sustainability https://www.asustainablelife.co.uk/12-quick-sustainable-wins)

Royston Repair Café www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Green & Grey https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/about

Anahata www.facebook.com/Anahata.Planet

Terracycle  https://www.royston-crow.co.uk/news/new-recycling-options-for-royston-residents-1-6194192

Circular Cambridge http://circularcambridge.org

Swishing http://www.getswishing.com

*This blog post is adapted from one which first appeared on The Listing magazine website in September 2019  in the ‘Hidden Royston’ series  http://www.thelistingmagazine.co.uk/category/community-news/hiddenroyston

RIP – Re-use In Practice

On 14 December 2019, almost 15 years to the day since  starting it, we closed Royston Recycle – our local freecycling group*. The reason for this was quite simple – hosts Yahoo reduced their functionality, so our online group couldn’t, er…function. GDPR considerations notwithstanding, it was not feasible to ‘migrate’ (to coin a dreaded Universal Credit phrase) our members to a new site and, anyway, there are now alternative local free-exchange platforms to join.

The aim of freecycle/freegle** is simple – the free exchange of unwanted items to keep them out of landfill and in use for longer. That core objective directed our moderation of the site for the 15 years – set up with techy support from Dermot for many years; a role continued by Andy until this month’s close-down. But it did so much more than just reducing waste; locally it spawned a new initiative – Royston Repair Café – and it inspired personal friendships between people with a common cause.

Ultimately, the success of the site in meeting its aim has been down to the active and responsible  participation of its members. Co-founder Dermot was keen that the site should, as far as possible, be self-moderating, with few rules beyond ensuring items on offer and requests were ‘legal decent and honest’. We had to intervene once or twice over live animals (discouraged but not actually banned, and I learnt that re-homing frog spawn is discouraged by wildlife groups). The lack of rules was a problem for some. We knew that some members would get stuff free online and then sell it on via boot sales or selling sites. While people would complain about this apparent abuse of people’s goodwill, it wasn’t, in fact, against the rules. The big thing was that giving and taking had to be free of any exchange of money (‘the clue’s in the name’ we’d say ‘free-cycle’) but sometimes people would try to make a charge for delivery or ask for a donation to charity – both, however reasonable, against the rules.

Trust and mutual respect were an important part of the relationship between members of the group – we only rarely ‘advised’ particular people about the rules (this usually amounted to a verbal warning or putting them on moderation) when evidence had built up. More often than not the problem resolved itself; friendly reminders to the whole group were usually enough to get things back on track.

I always describe Royston Recycle as the most sustainable community initiative I’ve ever been part of. We spent no money on it, we never had a planning meeting, we attracted 7500 members through word-of-mouth. Since 2004 those members have posted 97,000 ‘offers’ and ‘wants’ keeping an estimated 45,000 items out of landfill.

In our increasingly materialistic and seemingly divided world, it’s been heartening to see people willing to give without expecting anything in return. I’ll never forget when, following a post from someone who’d been thrown out of their house, members piled in with offers of bedding, small pieces of furniture, and even a tabletop cooker.  I was always delighted when items, particularly for children – toys, clothes, pushchairs – circulated many times around the group, multiplying value for so many and saving the planet for the benefit of all.

I often quote a memorable experience from my own use of the Royston Recycle group. One Sunday morning my daughter asked if I’d buy her a clarinet on e-Bay. ‘No’ I said, ‘but I’ll post a request on freecycle’. The post went up at midday and by 6pm that same Sunday, my daughter had gratefully collected a clarinet from a local member and had an offer of a free lesson!

Although my other half always reminds me we need to get rid of stuff not acquire it, I have rarely been disappointed when posting requests for ‘odd items’ to do with my re-purposing/ upcycling projects – mirrors, brush heads, and clock mechanisms being just three examples.

Talking of odd requests’, one stands out above all others. The woman posting the ‘want’ later reflected that she might have asked the moderation team before she posted the request. And we agreed – it did generate a lot of complaints. Whether she fancied herself as a second Damian Hirst, I don’t know, but her request for a dead horse didn’t go down well. I think it was for an art project, and we never found out whether she got one!

So farewell Royston Recycle – you have served us and the planet well. Long live re-use!

*Royston Recycle would have been called Royston Freecycle but for an error at the registration stage. This mistake proved to be fortuitous when, some years later, the founder of Freecycle in the USA tried to ‘stake a claim’ in each local group. We refused his demands and simply had to remove any freecycle branding without needing to change our name.

**Freegle is the UK version of freecycle – started in response to the attempted north American takeover.

Also reducing waste in Royston area…

Royston Repair Cafe http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Royston Free and For Sale Facebook Group  – https://www.facebook.com/groups/roystonfreeorforsale  [The local moderators of this group points out they allows things to be both given away for free and sold. Items given away may be later resold]

Royston Freegle group – https://www.ilovefreegle.org/explore/Royston-Freegle [The moderation team for this group are based in Stevenage. This group is only for rehoming items without any money changing hands]

Trash Nothing – Not so much a group but an easy way of interacting with a number of different freecycling/recycling groups https://trashnothing.com