Who hasn’t noticed the growing vacancies on the Totnes High Street? Totnes has been more the exception than the rule, resisting the retail malaise that has struck High Streets all over Britain. It has, so far, resisted the encroachment of chain stores, while being held up as an example of a local economy thriving on tourism, community spirit and independent shops. For decades, local traders have opposed pedestrianisation, which is, ironically, a suggestion that many visitors make upon struggling their way up the High Street and The Narrows. A few years ago, a temporary traffic reversal was blamed for a few shops closing with an energetic campaign to reverse the reversal.
But there are larger forces at work behind the current trend of closures. One obvious explanation is that shops are failing because people don’t want to buy what they’re selling. This is undoubtedly true for some, probably most, while a few are closing for strategic reasons of their own. A couple of multinational retail chains are opening new units, a SpecSavers and a Coffee One, a subsidiary of Cafe Nero. Both will put further pressure on locally-owned opticians, as well as local cafes and their local suppliers.
This is the 7th year of the Local Entrepreneur Forum, where members of the community come together to connect, support local entrepreneurs and raise up enterprises that are doing good. It’s like a barn raising. It’s like how during the March blizzard, people delighted in the snow and looked out for one another, helping neighbours, helping strangers. We’re all in this together.
This year’s Community of Dragons is Thursday, May 10th, at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel Ballroom. Bar opens at 6pm and programme starts at 7pm. We’ll have the Leader of South Hams District Council, John Tucker, offering some remarks to get things started. Yes – Cllr Tucker has been a keen supporter of the REconomy Centre and this project and we’re delighted he’s supporting the Community of Dragons.
But of course, it’s all about the pitchers and this year we have four amazing enterprises:
ThoughtBox Education – www.thoughtboxeducation.com – ThoughtBox programmes develop critical thinking, empathy & connection, helping our children learn to make sense of the world.
Nourishing Families – nourishingfamilies.weebly.com – A social enterprise in the making, Nourishing Families is dedicated to supporting parents and children get maximum benefit and enjoyment from food and meals times.
Revolutionary Women – www.revolutionary-women.org.uk – Our mission is to connect women who are looking for opportunities to change their lives, and the world around them, with women who can help them to achieve their goals.
Fieldgrassjuice – fieldgrassjuice.com – Organic fieldgrown WHEATGRASS harvested traditionally, freshly pressed and frozen. ‘Nestled on the slopes of fertile Devon, near the coast at Beeson, our WINTER WHEAT has weathered wild storms, grey blue ocean coloured clouds watering the earth seemingly endlessly…’
Everyone is invited and everyone can play the role of ‘dragon’ for the evening. Investments include offers of help, support, money, hugs – it’s all good! These enterprises will be lifted up by whatever we can ‘invest’. Come along – it’s fun and fulfilling. And help spread the word!
Community gathers to invest in local enterprises in party atmosphere
If you have watched the Dragons’ Den on TV, you may have already figured out the twist behind the May 11th Community of Dragons event in Totnes – everyone’s an investor. For the past six years, the people of Totnes and District have come
together to help local entrepreneurs lift off, or a young business grow, with financial and non-financial investments of thousands of Pounds Sterling, offers of business advice – and even child minding and home-cooked meals.
This year’s event is at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel Ballroom and will be co-hosted by Katie ‘Mama’ Tokus, singer of sassy, self-penned blues and soul songs, and a spoken word performer. The evening promises to be fun, lively and productive.
Five local projects will be pitching for funds, advice, and help of all kinds to get their businesses to the next level: food growers the Apricot Centre, at Huxhams Cross Biodynamic Farm, led by Bob Mehew; Potting Shed
Jay Jacoby of Yew Media, a bespoke biographical and personal legacy film company, says, “I’m SO grateful, excited, honoured, scared and happy!!! Thank you for this opportunity! I can’t wait to ‘get stuck in’!” Bob Mehew says, “We at The Apricot Centre are delighted to be presenting to the Community of Dragons this year. With public help we can invest in and share our tractor and other machinery to enable us and other small scale land-workers to improve their efficiency and go further.” Emily Reed of Black Bee Combe says, “We seek to demonstrate ethical beekeeping, by using hives which support honeybees natural preferences,
practicing minimal intervention beekeeping and reestablishing a locally adapted strain of the nationally threatened native honeybee. I hope the Dragons can help us develop new income streams to support the project.”
“The way it works is that everyone can participate and be a ‘dragon’, just like in the ‘Dragon’s Den’ TV show, except we’re all friendly dragons,” says Jay Tompt, coordinator of the Totnes REconomy Project, one of the co-organisers of the event. “We can support our local entrepreneurs with money or time or skills or experience or neighbourly encouragement. Past investments have included hugs and home-cooked meals, for example.”
The 2017 Community of Dragons has been timed to take place during Global Divestment Week (May 5th-13th), when campaigning groups synchronised by climate safety charity 350.org will be persuading individuals and institutions all over the world to move their money out of climate damaging fossil fuel investments. But moving one’s money is only the first step; the Community of Dragons creates investment opportunities, the second and key part of Divest/Invest. Here is where people can move their money closer to home and put it to work creating a vibrant, healthy economy that can grow for the benefit of everyone, providing opportunities for young people and new life for the Devon economy.
The event has supported a wide range of businesses in the last six years. Last year, Ambios Ltd – an educational farm project – and local caterer The Kitchen Table pitched, alongside theatre designer Iola and horse trainer Horse & Heart. In prior years, enterprises have included the food processor Grown in Totnes, New Lion Brewery, GroCycle mushroom farm, and Argand Solutions, a technology company. Last Saturday, April 29th, saw The Kitchen Table providing local-grain-based catering for Grown In Totnes’ processing unit launch on the Totnes Industrial Estate. Both these enterprises are dedicated to promoting local food, and such mutual support is what the Community of Dragons is all about.
“I never thought I could be an investor but always wanted to support the kinds of businesses I’d really like to have in my community,” says 2016 participant Jane Brady. “It felt so good when I ‘invested’ in Ambios last year with my promise to take part in their ‘share in a sheep’ scheme. It was the most delicious investment I’ve ever made in my life!”
John Elford of the Totnes Pound says, “We will be be making the annual Totnes Pound award of t£100 to the enterprise project that best embodies the spirit of Totnes innovation, and t£21 to all the other pitchers.” In every community there are people with experience in business, people with a little bit of money in the bank, and people who value the neighbourliness in the places they live. The idea behind the Community of Dragons and other ‘reconomy’ projects is that when local people come together like this, a vibrant, healthy economy can grow, providing opportunities for young people and new life for our High Streets.
Everyone is warmly invited to join the fun at the Community of Dragon’s event, May 11th, Royal Seven Stars Ballroom, Totnes – networking starts at 6pm, programme at 7pm. Further information are available on the REconomy Centre website at www.bit.ly/lef2017
Over a hundred people gathered at Totnes Civic Hall on Thursday May 12th, for a day supporting local social enterprise at the Local Entrepreneur Forum, hosted by Transition Town Totnes’ REconomy Project. After two inspiring speakers, including the new CEO of Dartington Hall Trust Rhodri Samuel, and an afternoon of discussion and networking, it was down to business and the Community of Dragons, where local people invest time, money and skills into local ethical businesses.
There were four people pitching for financial and practical support this year, from Iola Weir’s theatre arts start up and her vision to create local livelihoods amid a flourishing regional arts and culture scene, to Sima Cutting’s Totnes-based and expanding sustainable catering company The Kitchen Table that supports local producers and raising awareness of important food system issues, to Marie Franco and her expanding horsemanship training practice that offers a range of services supporting the use of horses in agriculture, health and care. Last but not least came Jack Skuse’s ‘Share in a Sheep’ scheme at Lower Sharpham Farm, a not-for-profit running UK and European training projects that help people achieve their goals for nature, science, education and employment.
Each of these projects aims to contribute positive impacts to the local community in a range of ways, from providing worthwhile employment to training opportunities, to decarbonising agriculture to providing an ethical and localised alternative to catering large and small events.
The fine detail of the pledges is still being gone through, but at a rough estimate, overall a total of 75 ‘investments’ were made, including 16 investments to this year’s pitchers from current/past pitchers. Nine ‘friendly & patient’ loan offers were made, totalling £4,000, a sum that is expected to go up substantially after follow up conversations. Gifts of money to the tune of £1,850 were also made. Fourteen ‘share in sheep’ memberships were pre-sold, guaranteeing Jack £1,400 in pre-sales. Six days labour worth approx £600 were offered, as well as 26 offers of networking, promotion & collaboration worth approx £1,000, 16 hours of professional services worth approx £1,000. There were seven offers of equipment, either loaned or gifted, worth approx £2,000. And then there were all the hours of unpaid time that went into organising the event, totalling about £1,250, which doesn’t include the volunteer time given on the day itself, as well as an approximate value of £5000 in non-financial gifts. Bringing a preliminary total of £18,100+ investment into the local economy.
Previous projects have raised £70,000 as a direct result of pitching at the LEF, and indirectly a couple of hundred thousand have been raised, in a combination of loan, equity, grant, pre-sales, and gift. ‘Investments’ have also included offers of non-financial support, including professional business services, legal services, marketing and communications, advertising, video and radio production, mentoring and coaching, use of buildings and office space, use of land, labour, fruit trees, mulch, horse paddock, lunches, home-cooked meals, and much more; all gifted but worth thousands of pounds, and all representing an investment in the growth of the South West’s new economy.
Overall a great result for all concerned, including our local economy. Jack Skuse summed it up by saying “We’re delighted with the pledges and have started the follow up. Nearly two weeks on and the glow of the LEF still shines – a great network and positive conversations that will I’m sure lead us further along our respective paths. For me its about developing a network with the local community and widening the opportunities for our team at the farm as well as ever important revenue; I feel we developed these at the LEF.”
For more information on this, and on plans for the next Local Entrepreneur Forum in 2017, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
This is proving to be an interesting year for a very young, but growing, ‘new economy’ emerging in this region. A new economy, we say, because the key value drivers are fairness, ecological integrity, resilience, wellbeing, and earning a ‘regenerative profit’. And growing, because young, new enterprises are launching and expanding all around us.
On May 12th, Totnes and the 5th annual Local Entrepreneur Forum become the focal point, with a full-day agenda designed to help new economy entrepreneurs, organisers, activists, supporters, investors, catalysts – and everyone in the community – connect, share, learn, collaborate, support and invest. Four very worthy entrepreneurs will pitch their projects to the ‘Community of Dragons’, (that means everyone – we can all be investors!)
Pitching this year:
Iola – iolaweir.co.uk – a start up led by Iola Weir in the theatre arts space with a vision to create local livelihoods and be catalyst for a flourishing regional arts and culture scene.
The Kitchen Table – thekitchentable.org.uk – an expanding sustainable catering company led by Sima Cutting, supporting local producers and raising awareness of important food system issues.
Horse and Heart – www.horse-and-heart.com – Marie Franco leads this expanding horsemanship training practice offering a range of services supporting the use of horses in agriculture and health & care.
Ambios – www.ambios.net – an expanding farm and educational project led by Jack Skuse, producing organic food and serving the land-based educational needs of young people.
Each of these projects is looking to contribute positive impacts to our community in a range of ways – please stay tuned for more information about them and their pitches. And please plan to attend the LEF, May 12 at the Totnes Civic Hall, where you can hear their stories first hand and invest your support, it whatever way you’d like. In the meantime, please don’t be shy about rallying the support of your friends and neighbours, and cheerleading for these hardworking change makers on social media.
This is the 5th annual Local Entrepreneur Forum in Totnes is on and it is going to be smashing. If that’s enough for you, we’re now accepting ‘early bird’ discounted bookings, through Sunday April 10th. Go on, click it!
Want more details? Read on, or check out the full programme.
Timing – This year we’re starting the day at 2pm and will go to 10pm, which means more people can participate, especially for the Community of Dragons bit. We’re mixing a few other things up, such as more time for networking and collaborating, and a more fun evening After Party.
Rhodri Samuel, the new CEO Dartington Hall Trust, will have some very interesting things to say during his short ‘afternoon keynote’, perhaps offering a glimpse of an emerging new vision for Dartington Hall.
Jonny Gordon-Farleigh, founder of Stir to Action – publisher, entrepreneur, social entrepreneur, catalyst for change, new economy organiser – all that while still in his 20s! He’s also co-founding member of the Young Cooperators Network and will share his experience during his ‘evening keynote’ as an emerging ‘new economy’ leader in the Southwest.
Pedal powered coffee from the BeanBug, lovingly prepared locally sourced cuisine from The Kitchen Table, and community supporting craft brewed ales from New Lion Brewery.
We’ll have the Needs & Offers wall and Be Like a Bee, just as we always do, so you’ll meet who you need to meet and learn what you need to learn.
The Community Dragons – we’ll have four or five projects pitch. Could it be yours? And we’re also on the lookout for projects led by young people and ready to offer a little extra support. Our deadline is April 1, so act sharpish.
After party – we’ll have NLB brews flowing and special DJ set by the Sea Change Festival.