Interview by Kath Jenkins
Continuing our series of interviews connecting with other organisations in Wales which share our core values of waste reduction, skill sharing and community cohesion, I recently met up with Becca, a co-founder of Green Squirrel in Cardiff. Having spent some years collaborating with social enterprises and starting out as Green City Events to promote sustainable living, Green Squirrel was set up in 2015 to provide informal workshops aimed to make greener living achievable and enjoyable. I was keen to find out more and started by asking Becca how Green Squirrel’s activities result in waste reduction, one of our key aims at Repair Cafe Wales as we like to repair things rather than throw them away:
“Reducing waste is one of our main goals which we achieve behind the scenes through collaborating with other enterprises including Repair Cafe Wales, Benthyg Cymru and Community Gardens. Our public facing events, including our workshops, focus upon sustainable living and reusing or repurposing what we already have rather than buying a new replacement. Our workshops provide practical skills which can result in waste reduction through actions at home and in communities and empowering those who attend by thinking about waste differently.
In the past recycling has been seen to be a sort of ‘gold standard’ in sustainability, but really it isn’t. When something is recycled it still uses energy, water, resources and transportation to become a new product so it should actually be our final option rather than our only choice. We don’t think that it’s fair that so much pressure is put on consumers to make the best sustainable choice. Our workshops get people talking and we try to help find out how to fix things or buy things that last longer.
We hold interactive workshops that focus on different parts of our households including bathroom, kitchen, wardrobe and garden. Since last March they have taken place online. We usually have a chat and a discussion as well as a quick practical demo. We have also started to send kits out before the events so that everyone can join in. Although changing to online was initially different, it has worked really well as our community now can reach much further afield. We’re working on some new exciting events for later in the year.”
I was eager to find out more about how Green Squirrel promotes skill sharing, another of our prime objectives at Repair Cafe Wales. Our visitors are invited to sit with their volunteer repairers to watch and discuss the repair, enabling skills to be passed on:
“Our main focus last year was our stay home and grow your own project which we started at the beginning of the first lockdown. We have been holding virtual grow-a-longs which aim to bring people together to share growing knowledge and skills regardless of their skill level. These events are friendly and informal and encourage everyone to build their confidence and skills whilst connected to other members of the community.
We were so excited to secure Railway Gardens in Splott last year. Although we haven’t been able to make a start on the site yet but hope to start this year. This project will provide a real opportunity for skill sharing, swapping ideas, meeting neighbours and connecting community members and even starting up new local initiatives.”
I also asked Becca how Green Squirrel promotes community cohesion which Repair Cafe Wales’ pop up sessions aim to do by inspiring and connecting local residents from different backgrounds:
“I lived in Splott for 7 years and really feel that the community is really coming together, especially since lockdown began. There are already many great community organisations in Splott and the pandemic has certainly helped them all to connect, share resources and support each other. There is a lot of common ground between the organisations and our hope is that Railway Gardens will be a place where the community can meet in a comfortable, safe space and feel that it is theirs.
We have helped distribute plants in the community and we will be holding a logo design competition for Railway Gardens, open to local people.”
This led me on to my final questions regarding the current restrictions which have meant that Repair Cafe Wales has been unable to hold public events. Instead, we have been streaming virtual repairs which can be watched here. Although Becca had already told me about some of the changes brought about by the COVID-19 situation, I wondered whether there were any other effects:
“We are now far more digitalised as our workshops have gone online. We had been planning a more online presence and we are pleased that this works really well. We’ve had opportunities to collaborate with others and have found that lots of volunteers were willing to distribute plants in our stay at home and grow your own initiative. We also collaborated with Bute Park Plant Nursey in a ‘plant rescue’ as the plants that were due to go into planters in the city couldn’t, due to staff being furloughed and therefore would have been wasted. We were able to give away thousands of vegetable and herb plants between June and September in 3 big giveaways throughout the city. We were really interested to find out that our survey found that 70% of the beneficiaries were brand new to growing.”
So, if you’ve been inspired, as I certainly have been, and would like to take part in some workshops, why not have a look at Green Squirrel’s social media sites:
Join us next time to find out more about another Welsh organisation which shares our core values.