Community Turns Out to Support Local Entrepreneurs

by Tom Quayle

This year, we ran the 8th annual Community of Dragons in Totnes and helped pull off the first ever Local Entrepreneur Forum, including the Community of Dragons, in Torbay. These are exciting and important events helping build a more socially just and environmentally friendly economy.

In Totnes, on May 16th, the ballroom of the Royal Seven Stars was absolutely packed with people from the community looking to invest their time, money and skills with four local entrepreneurs who were pitching for support.

We had Chris Smith from New Futures Academy, aiming to give local young people the skills for a sustainable future through a range of short courses and full time further education. Rachel Phillips and Mark O’Connell from the Apricot Centre were hoping to get support in enabling them to better provide wellbeing services in their woodland for children and families experiencing difficulties. Melissa Milne was hoping to go full time with her business Melbee Artworks providing upcycling workshops and artistic services for the local area. Last but not least Dan Mifsud from the Dartington Mill was aiming to be part of a local food revolution, taking wheat in from local farmers and producing flour for local bakers. The latter is a promising legacy of the Grown in Totnes project.

Each of these projects aims to contribute positive impacts to the local community in a range of ways, from providing wellbeing services to educational opportunities, to decarbonising agriculture and providing ethical artwork.

Almost 175 pledges of support were made on the night, no doubt encouraged by the persuasive compèring of Jay Tompt and Katie Tokus. These ranged from substantial financial loans and construction materials to offers of storytelling and beers. Nearly £1,400 was gifted to the pitchers whilst loans and pre-sales arranged on the night and in subsequent conversations are nearing £22,500. On top of this financial support there was a range of other support and investments. These have been very conservatively valued at over £4,000 though in reality that is only part of the picture. What it shows is the desire of the community to invest into a new local economy. Not too bad for a night’s work.

Some of those positive vibes were seen again at the Lucky 7 Club in Paignton on June 7th for the first ever Torbay LEF run by our friends at Local Spark Torbay. The plucky entrepreneurs were Lyndon Forster with PanKind, musical therapy with handpans; Michael Harrisson-Hastings and Tim Lloyd of Mindmaps Wellbeing, providing mental health first aid training; and the team at Gaia Coffee hoping to help young people whilst providing great coffee.

Following an open space event that looked at possible solutions for problems in the Torbay area there were inspiring talks by Maureen McAllister from the Palace Theatre Paignton and Tony Greenham of South West Mutual. This really set the tone for the evening…as did the specially made Dragon cocktails whipped up by the Lucky 7 bar staff.

Like any good LEF there was a real variety amongst the 70 pledges given on the evening. There was money, accounting services, live music performances and flapjacks. Almost £700 in pre-purchases and gifts was shared amongst the pitchers, as was approximately £2000 value in other services. All the entrepreneurs, like those in Totnes, were blown away by the willingness of members of their community to back their ideas.

The continued success of the Local Entrepreneur Forum in Totnes and similar events elsewhere is a real indicator of people wanting to re-imagine the economy in their local area. For more information on plans for the next Totnes LEF and related events in the area please send an email to reconomycentre@gmail.com. If you are interested in those next happening in the Torbay area please send an email to chris@localsparktorbay.org.

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