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

Royston revealed

This time last year I was planning 12 monthly articles under the theme of ‘Hidden Royston’ for the Listing – our local lifestyle-and-community magazine. We agreed that 250 words and a photo would appear in print (delivered to 17,000 homes in and around Royston) and 1,000 words with photos would be published online.

I’d lived in Royston for 25 years but I felt I knew little about the past and present of our wonderful market town. So I wasn’t setting myself up as any sort of local expert – my first task was to talk to others who were. I wanted to uncover interesting (and probably trivial) facts that might get a ‘well, I never knew that!’ response from readers and leave me and others better informed.

Naively I imagined I could plan out a month-by-month writing schedule neatly fitting topics into three sub-themes – underground, after dark, and behind closed doors. Of course, it didn’t turn out like that; on one or two occasions pieces unravelled as copy deadlines loomed, ideas that I thought were rock solid didn’t develop, and some stories I’d love to have followed didn’t happen for reasons beyond my control. The series is now complete – 11 blog posts (and a Christmas quiz) are online for all to read (see links below) so I thought this was a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt over the past year that might help others thinking of doing something similar.

Older and wiser – lessons learnt: So-called facts can be closer to speculation and need triangulation to establish some sort of truth. My research skills are limited and conversations with different local information sources often told divergent stories about the town. One line I pursued early on was that there was a tunnel from a High Street shop to the local church. A couple of local traders confirmed it; one even said they knew someone who’d been down the tunnel. An ‘authority’ later scotched the theory and said it was untrue with no evidence to back up the assertion. Information about another underground tunnel from a local hotel – Banyers House – to the same church proved to be more accurate and I was shown what was said to be the blocked end of it.

Another lesson learnt was that other people’s timetables aren’t your own. I spent literally months pursuing an ‘after dark’ piece, being reassured it would happen, only to give up after being passed from one contact to another. My last piece in the series – an after-dark-behind-closed-doors piece about the biggest local employer Johnson Matthey  took a long time to set up, because of security and other considerations, but the visit went head smoothly in the end.

A tip for anyone researching and writing a series – have an article ‘in your back pocket’ just in case a planned piece falls through at the last minute. I wrote one about reducing waste in Royston and was pleased to have it ready-written to meet a tight deadline.

Early on I discovered an easy way to add interest to a piece is to conduct a ‘straw poll’ to gather the views of local people. This applied to two pieces; one when finding out which High Street traders had cellars and how they used them. The other piece was on CCTV cameras in public places. I had expected it to be a controversial subject but after talking to a random selection of local shoppers I found that few of them were bothered about being filmed!

Most interesting discoveries: Some of my research didn’t result in a published piece, but intriguing conversations with knowledgeable locals gave me great pleasure. I met a local former furniture upholsterer who knew my father’s family firm – Arthur H Lee and Sons wove fabrics for domestic and commercial use – that closed back in 1970. I had a long conversation with a former neighbour who is an authority on the Royston Cave. We agreed that the cave was famous enough not to merit further coverage, but that same source shared a story about forged bank notes being printed in a local hotel cellar that was later confirmed by hotel staff.

Surprises: I wanted to find out what goes on behind closed doors at the local police station (it’s been closed to the public since 2013) and to investigate the use of use of CCTV cameras in public places. I expected to be told the information was confidential. While one or two answers to interview questions were ‘not for publication’, I’m pleased to report I was welcomed with straight answers to my questions.

For me, one of the most intriguing pieces focused on the origins of different road names around Royston . Much of the work had already been done by local historians – thank you F John Smith in particular – so the piece could be drafted in the comfort of our local library.

Ones that got away: I had a theme going around in my head along the lines of… lines. Something about Royston being on the Meridian Line, being the centre of important transport routes (the town is at the crossroads of two ancient trading routes) and talk about ley lines in the town centre. But sometimes you start a piece in your head and find it simply doesn’t work out on paper.

Another topic that never materialised was ‘dogs after dark’. A friend who is both a dog owner and an insomniac talked about the community of dog-walkers who meet at all times of day and night on the Heath with dogs in tow. When dark, they recognise each other by the coloured LED lights on the dog collars! My plan had been to join dogs and owners in the dark – sniff them out if you like – but I decided such an approach might be misinterpreted.

In conclusion, I’m very grateful to all the people who gave me their time to suggest stories and advise me on places and people to look for further information. I have always sought to get approval for pre-publication drafts and feedback suggest that subjects have been happy with what I’ve written. I’ve also been particularly pleased when my writing stimulates positive exchanges on local social media platforms – not least from the Facebook fan club of my interviewee at Royston Fire Station! Finally, special thanks to David Waters – photographer for some of the articles – his pictures considerably upped the quality of those pieces.

Read the Hidden Royston series of articles here https://www.thelistingmagazine.co.uk/category/community-news/hiddenroyston