The beginnings of an Eco Hub

So here it is Merry Christmas everybody’s having fun…..  For auld lang syne, my dear…

Okay, okay the season for jollity and over indulgence is over, for 11 months anyway. So what now, back to the grindstone, the 9-5, mundane job. Well not for me. Over the last few months, I have been working in my not so secret laboratory of invention on the idea of creating an Eco Hub in Walton-On-Thames – the town I call home.

It all started after watching an episode of BBC’s Countryfile where they highlighted the great work being done by a team of volunteers in Frome, Somerset – at the local Library of Things. I had never heard of this, so was curious to learn more and also to see if we had one nearby. We don’t.  For those not familiar with the Library of Things concept, its where people can borrow (for a small price) items to use on a daily or weekly basis. Items could include a lawn mower, a hedge trimmer, a carpet cleaner, a set of ladders, camping gear even a chocolate fountain! The outcome is that people save money, share resource and saves perfectly good items from going to landfill. A great example of this is a POWER DRILL. Data shows that the average drill is used for 2 hours in its lifetime, despite having the capacity to be used for hundreds! Therefore, why buy something you are rarely going to use. Instead hire a drill for ~£2 per day, return it in the condition it was when collected allowing someone else to use it and this could be done hundreds of times.

At the time (Mach 2019) I conducted an online Facebook poll to see if the local community liked the idea. Overwhelmingly the answer was yes. Over the next few months the idea kind of stalled as life got in the way. How dare it!!  Anyway, fast forward a few months and the idea has grown from starting a Library of things, to a full blown Eco Hub.  The magic of the Hub is that it will house many different initiatives under 1 roof. The Hub will not only include the LOT but also a Community Re-paint, Community Fridge, a small item recycle collection point, a skill share, a repair café, a baby hardware CO-OP, a Zero waste/plastic free shop, at the very minimum a collection point for the local Foodbank (may extend to a distribution centre) and a tree planting and growing program.

To try to make this happen I have been networking like you wouldn’t believe. There is no way one person can make this happen. Thankfully via the Walton Litter Pickers, I have got to know many likeminded people, some of whom are very keen to help not only with setup but long term – including my wife Mrs T. With offers of financial, logistical, media, accounting, and business support secured, its time to take the next step and form a legal entity. The likelihood is we –  yes we – will form as a Community interest Company (CIC). This format allows for limited liability for directors therefore protecting our families and personal investments from risk. It also has this thing called an Asset Lock – meaning in the event of dissolving the business, all assets must be passed on to another CIC or charities – ensuring even in the worst case scenario, other groups will continue to benefit.

So where are with all of this. We have identified a small core team of people (the Directors) who will help ensure the business (The Hub will be a Not-For-Profit) remains true to its original aims an objectives.  To support the core group we will invite another group of people to provide specialist support for areas such accounting, social media engagement, funding applications, procurement, volunteer engagement etc

Currently we do not have a home for the Hub. We are working hard to identify suitable, available and affordable premises.  Ideally the Hub will be situated relatively centrally in town to attract the highest volume of potential customers/users as possible. In addition, the building has to be large enough to house all the initiatives. As you can probably see, finding a suitable permanent home is not going to be easy. However, 2 local organisations have come forward and offered homes to some of the initiatives until we have our own permanent base. The management at Riverhouse Barn – the local arts community centre has offered to run the skill share and repair café, whilst Walton Charity have in principle offered to house the small item recycle point and provide land and support for nurturing young saplings until they are large enough to sell, rent and plant.

You may be asking yourself, who are we actually aiming the business at – i.e. who will be our customers.  Well, rather than focusing on one specific group of people within our community, we have decided to try to have something in the Hub to potentially benefit everyone, whether your are in need of support in the form of ensuring food security for you and your family,  wanting to hire a tool to allow you to trim the hedge, learn a new skill such as sewing, knitting, using a computer, or shopping for high quality, fair trade, plastic free food and health and home products.

This is a very exciting journey, one that we are working very hard to make a reality. As a Not-For-Profit we will rely heavily on donations of items, food, time and money from the community. We will be applying for grants to help with start up costs and ongoing community improvement funding, but we do not want to rely on funds from charities or other philanthropic organisations long term . We aim to be self sustaining. It may take a while for that to happen, but it must be one of our aspirations.

Conversations are being had with interested parties almost on a daily basis. The main thing holding us back now is finding a permanent venue. Fingers crossed we will find one soon. I think that’s enough for now.  Future posts will describe each of the separate initiatives in more detail. Of course at this stage there is a lot of room for flexibility. Some currently proposed initiatives may drop out and others come in. That’s the beauty of having so many things going on. We can easily adjust the plan according to community needs and demand.