Equality Planet

Flower power

“I’ve always loved plants and gardening, but I want to impact people’s lives as well.”

As the Founding Director of Organic Blooms, Jo Wright is certainly achieving that aim. From a four-acre farm near Bristol, the social enterprise sells seasonal British cut flowers that have been grown sustainably, without the use of chemicals. The business also gives people with disabilities and support needs the opportunity to develop their skills and confidence via training in horticulture, with the added prospect of gaining a City and Guilds qualification.

Having worked in hospitals and day centres as a practitioner in therapeutic horticulture, Jo set up Organic Blooms in 2006, after seeing that more significant and practical support could be offered in this area of mental health provision.

“Doing an hour of gardening is great, but doing three days can change somebody’s life,” she says. “Throughout my career, I’ve often heard people say that they love pottering around gardens, but what they also want is proper work.”

Over the years, Organic Blooms has seen hundreds of trainees pass through its doors, often referred through social services. Following an apprenticeship, some move on to other horticultural work, but many have been employed by the business. Out of the current team of 16 people, 10 have come through the training scheme.

“We get people with a wide range of support needs,” says Jo. “They can do a job, but can’t necessarily fit into a normal working environment.

“We break the skills down so that someone with a learning disability or autism can do the tasks. We don’t want the people we work with to be peripheral, and just do weeding or watering. We want them to be core to the business.”

Since starting with just a few flowerbeds and providing bouquets for friends, Organic Blooms now delivers throughout the UK, runs a variety of courses and workshops, and has developed local and national partnerships. But the emphasis on being organic and promoting sustainability continues to be a guiding principle.

“Cut flowers are a luxury,” Jo says. “If you knew how they are traditionally grown, and the cost to the planet, you wouldn’t enjoy them as much.

“I think people are starting to look at sustainable lifestyles beyond food now, and questioning the environmental impact of everything they buy. We have got to be responsible.”

For more information about the flowers, the apprenticeships, or volunteering, go to

By Theo Hooper


Taking positive steps

It was a chance meeting and a YouTube video that gave rise to Juta Shoes. In early 2016, Joanna Hamer visited a community centre in east London as part of her postgraduate course in social innovation. Whilst there, she briefly met Sabeha Miah, who was running projects at the centre for marginalised local women.

“Sabeha and I discussed an idea she had about setting up a craft-based social enterprise that would be a pathway into work,” says Joanna. “About six months later I taught myself how to make espadrilles from a YouTube video, using quite a simple sewing technique. I hadn’t forgotten my chat with Sabeha, and I emailed her to suggest we start a business together!”

Following some brainstorming sessions and a successful Kickstarter campaign, Juta Shoes was launched. Selling bespoke, hand-stitched shoes, the Bethnal Green-based social enterprise offers an employability scheme to local womenwho face barriers to work. The women – known as ‘makers’ – are often from migrant or refugee backgrounds, and receive training, a support network, and the opportunity to work for the business at a fair wage.

“A lot of our makers have amazing craft skills and really want to work in the creative sector,” Joanna says. “But they face a variety of obstacles, like a lack of flexibility around child care, little previous experience, or because English is their second language.”

All Juta Shoes are made from sustainable materials, like leather upcycled from factory offcuts and reclaimed vegan faux fur. Sabeha’s family work in the leather trade, and were able to provide information about the waste produced in the industry.

“It turns out that there’s a huge amount of waste generated, especially due to things like upholstery from cars,” says Joanna. “We went to several factories and asked if we could take away their offcuts, to divert them from landfill. They were happy for us to do that, and we now get factories from across the UK offering us their leftovers.”

Along with selling the shoes online and via a handful of other stockists, the business runs shoe-making workshops, where anyone can design and hand-stich their own shoes, which they take home at the end of the day. Group bookings have become popular, like birthday treats or hen parties, and Joanna says that corporate team workshops are on their agenda.

“After operating for a couple of years, we are going into a new phase of growth,” she says. “Hopefully we can take on more makers, run more workshops, and try to build more partnerships with other brands. It’s really exciting.”

By Theo Hooper

Photo by Kanahaya Alam

If you are interested in buying some shoes, booking a workshop, or becoming a ‘maker,’ all the details can be found at


A talk on the wild side

If you’ve ever thought that owls are particularly beautiful and impressive birds, then you are not alone.

“I think owls naturally demand respect,” says Tonya Knights. “Most people, both children and adults, are in awe of them.”

Tonya is the founder of Hoot With Me, an educational social enterprise that encourages people to nurture nature. Operating throughout Norfolk and Suffolk, the self-funded organisation delivers multi-sensory workshops about wildlife and the environment to people of all ages, from pre-school children to college students to community groups. Tonya is also part of the team at the Happisburgh Owls centre in Norwich, and the Hoot with Me sessions will often include an appearance from one or two of the birds.

“We are all about education and conservation,” says Tonya. “Taking the owls along helps people, especially children, to understand why they need to look after the environment.”

The workshops for younger audiences will include reading stories, creating artwork, and role-playing, inspiring young minds to imagine what it’s like to be an owl.

“We try to capture the children’s attention,” Tonya explains. “They make owl eyes, and pretend to be the birds. We don’t allow touching of the owls, unless someone is blind or partially sighted, but we take along feathers so they can experience what an owl feels like.”

Since setting up the project in 2017, Tonya and her small team has been going into schools and colleges on a regular basis. For adults and older students, the workshops cover more information about the owls themselves, and the larger environmental picture.

“All the sessions are bespoke, so it always depends on what the objective of the lesson is. When a group is older, we may focus on the physiology of the owl, or look at the wider eco-system. We also discuss concerns regarding the environment, such as the decline in hedgehog numbers, or the repercussions of not replacing trees.”

As facts and figures about the environment increasingly become a part of public discourse, Tonya is keen to continue motivating others to treat the natural world with respect.

“I think society’s focus is now more on money than wildlife and nature, and that has had knock-on effects for the environment,” she says. “That’s why we encourage people to nurture nature, and not destroy it.

“We get lots of lovely feedback,” she continues. “School teachers tell us how much their children have learnt. Even if just one child takes something away from our lessons, then we’ve made a really positive impact.”

If you would like to book Hoot with Me or find out more, go to

By Theo Hooper

Culture Equality Wellbeing

Artful inclusion

“Elsewhere these people might be known as residents or service users. But here they are artists.”

Katie Abbot knows how such a distinction lies at the heart of ARTHOUSE Unlimited. The charity gives people living with epilepsy and learning disabilities the opportunity to create artworks, which are then developed into designer products for sale.

“It’s important to all of us to feel valued and respected,” says Katie, the sales and marketing director. “Instead of the artists’ work just being thrown away at the end of the day, we’re showing them how their creative talents have real value.”

Founded 14 years ago by artist Becky Sheraidah, ARTHOUSE Unlimited now has over 200 items for sale, with all the designs created in their premises on Godalming High Street in Surrey. The location is another important factor in the charity’s ethos.

“The studio and the shop are all open plan, so people can see the work being created and chat to the artists,” Katie says. “It encourages a sense of integration, making the artists very much a part of the local community. We really want to challenge society’s perception of people that live with disabilities.”

But it’s not just locals who get to peruse and purchase the goods on offer. An impressive range of products, including clothes, homeware and toiletries, is also sold online and via national and international stockists. On certain items, the charity has collaborated with some high-profile names, including Oxfam and Lush.

So the studio is a busy one, with sessions run every weekday by professional art instructors, with care workers on hand to provide physical or emotional support. In keeping with their emphasis on community engagement, there is also a team of local volunteers helping out.

“This might be people who are looking to find a way back into work, or just feeling lonely,” Katie explains. “We try to be as inclusive as possible.”

Relying on profits from sales, the charity is self-sustaining, with any funding a welcome bonus. The ambition is to see their business model replicated throughout the UK.

“It would be great to have something like ARTHOUSE Unlimited on every high street,” says Katie. “That’s the dream, and we’re getting there, one sale at a time.”

To find out more, go to or send an email to [email protected]

By Theo Hooper

Photo by Mike Petrucci on Unsplash


Making a fashion statement

‘The way we make, use and throw away our clothes is unsustainable.’

Those are the unequivocal opening words of a report released earlier this year by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). There is a link to that report on the website of Rags2Riches UK, a social enterprise that is aiming to be part of a grass-roots solution to the environmental and social problems caused by ‘fast fashion’.

Launched just a few months ago, the Brighton-based enterprise is run by Annabel Dearing, who is seeking to create a network of sewers, tailors and designers who will be upcyling donated fabrics to create new clothes and accessories for sale online, and also repurposing clothes brought in by customers who want to bring new life to old garments. Originally from Lancashire, Annabel was keen to set up a project that has personal resonance.

“Traditional jobs up in the north are suffering, and sadly some of the old craft skills are dying out,” she says. “I wanted to create something that takes textiles out of landfill, enables people to make money for themselves, and also keeps alive those wonderful skills.”

Via, Annabel has been hosting weekly sessions in Brighton where local tailors, designers, pattern-cutters and enthusiasts meet for coffee, cake and idea-sharing. Fabrics are also brought in, and upcycling projects taken on. With up to 30 people in the network so far, the enterprise is starting to gain momentum.

“People have brought in dresses to be funked up, and curtains or cotton sheets that can be transformed into anything,” says Annabel. “We saw an old-fashioned men’s suit that got a bit of a redesign. Someone came in with some linen trousers, which got made into a pair of shorts and sandwich bags. We’re excited about what can be done.”

That EAC report also states that ‘around 300,000 tonnes of textile waste ends up in household bins or landfill every year,’ and that ‘less than 1% of material used to produce clothing is recycled into new clothing at the end of its life.’ With projects like Rags2Riches UK, Annabel hopes that such statistics will eventually become a thing of the past.

“We’re trying to get rid of this reliance on fast fashion,” she says. “Ultimately I want us to make garments that are everyday, mainstream stuff. So you don’t have to go to high street stores, because we can make you a decent T-shirt, that – literally – does not cost the earth.”

By Theo Hooper

Rags2Riches UK are looking for sewers, tailors, designers, enthusiasts and suppliers of recyclable fabrics to join their movement. Get in touch at

Culture Wellbeing

Doctor who invented 18 medical devices

Since 2010, Bangalore-based Dr Chaturvedi, has co-invented 18 medical devices to help address inefficiencies he’s spotted in the Indian healthcare system.

And he’s part of a growing band of professionals who are using their frustrations at work to come up with money-making ideas to solve their problems.

He came up with his first idea before he even qualified in 2008 when he was still training to be a doctor.

Now a fully qualified ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist he remembers the rudimentary conditions in rural India where he learned his craft.

“We were using long mirrors and headlamps to check patients, whereas my hospital had a flat-screen TV and more advanced technology,” he recalled in his book, Inventing Medical Devices – A Perspective from India.

So he came up with the idea of a portable ENT endoscope with a digital camera attached.

But he found that being an entrepreneur was very different from being a doctor.

“Being a doctor and not having training on how to make a product, I really struggled, so I licensed it out to a design firm,” he says.

He got full backing from senior professors in the ENT department which was vital as he was missing training days to get out and meet investors. His colleagues had to pick up his work load which, unsurprisingly, caused resentment.

Original article by Suzanne Bearne – source BBC

Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash


Women and girls fight back

When Modina Begum heard that a 13-year-old girl in her village in central Bangladesh was about to be married off, she went straight to the girl’s parents and persuaded them to cancel the wedding, rescuing the teenager from a fate Begum herself had escaped.

“I convinced my parents to call off my own marriage, let me finish my studies and become self-reliant before getting married,” says Begum, now 19, as she leads a group of girls in English and digital skills at the Edge club in Narsingdi district, 50 kilometres north-east of the capital, Dhaka. “Now my parents have faith in me and I have the confidence to speak out for others.”

The Edge club initiative, run by the British Council and social development organisation Brac, is helping to equip girls with skills and teach them about their rights. The project is making breakthroughs on gender equality despite a climate of increasing conservatism and – some say – “Islamisation” in the Muslim-majority country.

Two years after the government of Sheikh Hasina introduced a law allowing girls under 18 to marry, with parental and judicial consent, in “special cases” such as early pregnancy, or where marriage would protect the “family’s honour”, rights campaigners remain divided on the extent to which the legal loophole has led to a rise in early marriage. But Bangladesh has the world’s fourth highest rate of child marriage, and they are determined to keep opposing it.

Shireen Huq, founder of women’s rights organisation Naripokkho, says: “Some people who defend the government’s action say: ‘It’s not such a bad thing, why are you so upset about it?’ They say that, in any case, the parents of the young girl must seek permission from the court, so there are built-in checks and balances.

“But we have had newspaper reports of local administrative officers rushing to the site of a marriage ceremony. As soon as they know an underage girl or boy is being married, they have the power to intervene to stop it. But now they think: ‘Yes, maybe they have permission from the court.’ Once the marriage is solemnised, it’s too late.”

Huq was speaking at the Women of the World festival in Dhaka, where deep disparities between women’s lives in urban and rural areas, and in the public and private realms, were the subject of discussions, pop-up performances and workshops.

While this month’s festival marks the first time Dhaka has hosted the international event celebrating women’s potential and confronting gender inequality, it emerged that, in a small town south-east of Dhaka, a 19-year-old woman who reported that her headteacher had sexually harassed her was doused in kerosene and set alight. She died 10 days later. The incident underlined the social issues facing women who report sexual harassment.

Original article by Jo Griffin – Source The Gardian

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

Planet Wellbeing

Charity income streams

As the summer of 2018 approached, Plymouth resident Gareth Chugg found himself getting involved with organising the town’s annual Freedom Community Festival. Encouraged to submit ideas by the organiser, he suggested setting up a tent providing free refills of chilled and filtered water – with making a donation an option – and asking the traders not to sell single-use plastic bottles.

“The organiser loved the idea, and gave me three weeks to sort it out!” says Gareth. “So it was a last-minute thing, but we managed to pull it off.”

The event went so well, that Gareth took the Aquavida project to other local events and festivals throughout the summer, and is planning to do the same this year. The operation involves running the local water supply through a 1,000-litre tank, a commercial filter, and then water chillers. Customers can get unlimited refills, on a ‘pay what you feel’ basis, using their own bottles or the stainless steel or recycled plastic bottles sold by Aquavida. The initiative reduces the use of plastic, encourages recycling, and all donations and profits go towards grass-roots organisations promoting environmentalism and well-being.

“The feedback has been fantastic,” says Gareth, an environmental geologist who personally finances the enterprise. “Normally at a festival, refill points are just a standpipe in a field. People like the water being filtered and chilled, especially on a hot day, and are very happy to give a donation.”

Around a £1,000 was raised last year, divided up between several local organisations including Clean Seas Odyssey, Plymouth Beach Clean Volunteers, and The Wave Project, an enterprise that uses surfing to treat mental health. As somebody with a lifelong commitment to the environment (and a keen surfer!), Gareth is passionate about supporting these organisations, and Aquavida’s local focus helps to do that.

“We’re operating purely in the South-West,” he says. “Other similar projects have the logistics to do the bigger festivals, but we wanted to start with the smaller events, and see how it goes from there.”

They have four events lined up for this summer so far, including the Port Eliot festival in Cornwall. With a team of around 10 volunteers, a shift rota ensures that someone is always on hand to oversee the operation.

“We’re all like-minded individuals,” says Gareth. “It’s a really good way to enjoy a festival, but also be involved with something positive. That was the basic premise, really, to raise money and do a good thing.”

If you would like to volunteer for Aquavida or find out more, go to

By Theo Hooper

Culture Planet Wellbeing

The ‘holy grail’ of plastic?

The “holy grail” of plastic – a material that can be repeatedly recycled without any loss of quality – has been created by scientists.

Placed in an acid bath, it can be fully broken down into its component parts.

Like lego, these monomers can then be reassembled into different shapes, colours and textures, according to the scientists at California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who created it.

Currently, less than a third of recyclable plastic is re-purposed to create new materials, leaving the majority of it to end up in landfill or the ocean.

“Most plastics were never made to be recycled,” said Peter Christensen, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Chemistry. “But we have discovered a new way to assemble plastics that takes recycling into consideration from a molecular perspective.

The acid breaks the bonds between monomers and separates them from additives that give the plastic its distinctive look and feel.

These monomers can be recovered for reuse for as long as possible, or “upcycled” to make another product

Original article by Phoebe Weston – Source The Independent

Image by Rupert Kittinger-Sereinig from Pixabay

Culture Equality

From the streets to the studio

When the Crouch End arts festival in north London collaborated with a local homelessness hostel in 2013, there were some unexpected results.

“We set up a photography workshop in the canteen,” says Marice Cumber, the festival’s former director. “Hostels don’t tend to be particularly joyful places, but I witnessed something wonderful happen. The workshops generated a great atmosphere, and I saw how empowering it was for the residents.”

Inspired to develop the collaboration further, Marice founded Accumulate, an organisation that now runs creative workshops for seven hostels across London. The sessions are often held at high-profile locations, including Tate Modern and Somerset House, and help people affected by homelessness to learn new skills, become part of a community, and boost their self-confidence.

“If you’re in a negative environment, it’s hard to engage with turning your life around,” says Marice. “The workshops are something the participants can look forward to every week, and experiencing a positive situation encourages a more positive outlook.”

Accumulate’s programme covers film-making, creative writing, photography, illustration, textile printing and jewellery, and serves around 100 people a year, which includes asylum-seekers and victims of torture. Using renowned institutions to host the sessions helps to emphasise how creativity and culture should not just be a preserve for the privileged.

“We work with places like the BBC, the V&A Museum and the Saatchi Gallery,” Marice says. “Accumulate enables a marginalised group to use and enjoy these cultural resources, and to understand that they are open to all.”

Alongside these prestigious institutions, Accumulate hosts workshops at Ravensbourne University London, in the south-east of London. With the lecturers providing tuition, and the students also helping out, it’s another way of delivering opportunities to those who would not ordinarily get such chances.

“It breaks down significant barriers,” Marice explains. “Ravensbourne has an incredibly diverse student base, so our participants get to see and meet people at university who are like them. It’s really good to make friends through shared interests and not just shared circumstances.”

So successful has the partnership been, that Accumulate has secured some corporate funding to award several scholarships for their participants to take a one-year diploma course in creative and digital media.young woman receiving certificate

Photo @benlukepeters

“Somebody living in a hostel is unlikely to go to university, and obviously one big reason is fees,” says Marice. “Our Ravensbourne scholarship means they don’t have to pay, and going to university is a great step towards improving their lives.”

Accumulate are keen to hear from anyone who is interested in helping out in some way, or has an idea about collaboration, or just wants to find out more. Get in contact at

By Theo Hooper

young woman taking photo of graffiti

Young with white jacketyoung people with certificates
Photos @sabela_street_photo