Blog post by Susanna Jones, marketing officer for the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme.
I had a stand for the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme at Off Grid festival from Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th August 2018, on the recommendation of an osteopath I met at South West Business Expo earlier in the year.
The festival dates back to 2009 and previous locations include Shepton Mallet and Exeter. This year the event was held at Tapeley Park, in the picturesque town of Instow in North Devon, surrounded by rolling countryside, where the elements have been harnessed in the form of wind turbines.
In the 1880’s it was Lady Rosamund who resided at Tapeley Park, but nowadays it is her great grandson, Hector, who runs the estate. Hector championed chemical free food production long before the arrival of organic groceries on supermarket shelves and over the years has given home to ideas, people and projects exploring the theme of sustainability. Tapeley Park itself includes a permaculture garden and is pesticide free.
As the name of the festival suggests, there were talks on how to go about living “Off Grid,” however the scope of the festival was much broader. From permaculture to yoga, micro-renewables, to knitting and singing, and plans for sea passenger vessels offering the World’s first sustainable option for long distance travel. Workshops I attended included one by Jay Tompt from the REconomy Centre in Totnes talking about Citizen-led economic transition. Jay spoke about community wealth building, in which inequalities in communities are tackled by ensuring the economic development of a place is shared equally amongst its residents.
I also attended a talk by renewable energy firm 361 energy CIC, a beneficiary of the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme, describing how 361 energy CIC was originally set up by a group of volunteers concerned about the impact of poverty on their local community. As well as providing affordable renewable energy, 361 energy works with members of the community to see how they can better insulate their homes to reduce their fuel bills. The community own shares in the business and any profits go towards fuel poverty alleviation projects in the local area. Gwen de Groot, co-director of 361 energy CIC described it as the democratization of energy, taking back control from multinationals.
I think it’s fair to say there was some surprise at Devon County Council having a presence at the event. People were interested to know that Devon and Somerset County Councils provide support to social enterprises, and many of the people there were involved in social enterprises in the area, whether as a director or volunteer, so it was a great opportunity to promote the business support available through the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme. As we are all learning from the fate of Carillion and the like, social enterprises can provide a much brighter grassroots alternative to the models of privatisation we have seen in the past.
The biggest takeaway for me though was to understand how the social enterprise movement is part of a much bigger social and environmental movement, of which we all need to be a part, and it’s very exciting.
For more information about the Enhance Social Enterprise Programme, and to register visit: http://devon.cc/ese.
The Heart of the South West Enhance Social Enterprise Programme is receiving funding from the England European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.