Bi-monthly Challenge – March 2014

17th March 2014 by

It’s Challenge Time!

At Otesha, we like to challenge ourselves (and our readers) to live more sustainably. That’s what our cycle tours and all our other programmes at Otesha are about! Regular readers of our musings will know we set a challenge with each newsletter. We want your ideas, the challenges you want to take part in – or have already tried! Email to give us some suggestions!


This month, though, a sustainable transport challenge, with a few options…

1. If your bike’s rusting away - get it out, give it some love and get it (and your lovely self) back on the road. (If you need help, pop along to our free Dr Bike workshop at our office on Tuesdays 5-6pm!) If you want some cycle training, lots of local councils offer free sessions, they can be a great way to feel confident on the road. We’d love to see photos of you and your trusty steeds. Email them to us or tweet @OteshaUK

2. If you’re a regular bike commuter - try something new. What about a mini-weekend bicycle tour? It’s a great way to see the UK, a wonderful, cheap holiday, and you’ll feel so alive! Or go and get skilled up in bike-maintenance so you can be a self-sufficient cyclista. (You could also sign uP1060484p for an Otesha tour!)

3. Help someone else get on their bike. Let’s face it, some of us couldn’t cycle much more if we tried. So why not support someone else to start cycling… you could join a campaign or give more practical support with bike maintenance, or join someone on their commute to work to help them feel more confident on the road. You could check out organisations like this, this, and this, for a place to start!

4. If cycling isn’t for you, switching your travel habit, to foot, bus, or train is super too!

Alumni Spotlight: Harley

14th March 2014 by

Everyone who goes on a cycle tour, joins our green jobs training programme, or comes to us for support to set up their own project becomes part of our alumni network. We send them weekly updates, filled with  green, world-changing jobs, interesting volunteering opportunities and events, a bit of Otesha news, and something to make them smile! Basically, we like to keep in touch, find out what they’re up to and support them however we can. Here’s a little spotlight on one of our wonderful alumni!

1. Which Otesha tour did you go on?

Tastetastic 2012 – Scotlaaaand!

2. What were you100_5861r tour highs and lows?

Highs - Too many to mention but I really loved our time at Broomhill community garden in Burntisland with Elly and the founders of Fife Diet. Our first day working out in the sunshine and meeting some very dedicated and inspiring people.

Lows - Having to jump on a train on our first proper day cycling… my knee was not up for it and I was worried that was me done for the tour I’d been so excited about. (With a couple of days rest it was fine and I lived to tell the tale!)


3. Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

After the tour I moved back to Newcastle and have been living up there until very recently. Living with an incredible bunch, cooking and eating tonnes of big communal veggie delights. Enjoying the beaut that is Northumberland, cycling, learning lots about growing veg, taking kids on farm tours and making them taste new things! Getting dirty growing and selling tasty veggies, dancing, adventuring and planning exciting things for the future!

4. Tell us a bit more about Food Nation…

For the past year I’ve been working on a number of projects for an organisation called Food Nation. They are a social enterprise based in the East End of Newcastle that aim to inspire people about good food. This varies from cookery classes for all ages/abilities, outreach at a number of schools, community centres, universities and events. They also have an allotment where they run a few programmes for local schools to visit and engage with gardening, food growing, cooking and tasting! They are also linked to Food Newcastle which has been set up to improve some of the food systems in Newcastle by setting up a Food Charter – read more here. It’s been a pleasure to work on such a range of food related initiatives with them and I recommend checking them out!

SONY DSC5. What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

I was lucky enough to get onto the tour just after graduating and I think Otesha has given me a fundamental backbone of inspiration, knowledge and positivity. Learning so much more about FOOD and confirming my desire to GET INVOLVED. Falling in love with cycling. Friends! (I met the most brilliant of humans!) Feeling part of a powerful network of individuals from all over the world. Despite not living in London I have still felt supported by Otesha and looking forward to getting more involved when in London. It’s confirmed my view that by creating an enthusiastic and inspiring example (by DOing), others will feel encouraged to join in and get involved themselves. Also, by educating people with a fun and playful approach, it can be a much more influential way of changing the habits of individuals.…… I am also a lot less scared of standing in front of a class of children which has come in handy!

6. Are you still involved with Otesha and how?100_5617

Only a fan from afar but hopefully this will change now I’m a little closer!

7. What advice would you give to new tour members?

Don’t bother with those ‘waterproof’ socks… They don’t really work.

Just get ready to have a wonderfully fun and productive time, meet glorious people and learn loads!

8. Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, or an action?


Generation Bee

3rd March 2014 by

Generaton Bee


I am writing from Bosavern Community Farm in deepest Cornwall where I have been WWOOFing for the last month.*  It is a wonderful place and I would highly recommend it to any WWOOFers reading this.

I left London to WWOOF around the UK at the end of January, a move partly inspired by the 3 wonderful weeks I spent almost entirely outside in the sunshine on my Otesha tour last summer.  I am very excited about my year as I’m planning on farming in places I’ve wanted to visit for years – lambing in Shetland, cycling round the Outer Hebrides, Crofting on the Isle of Eigg and learning Beekeeping in Dumfries.

The beekeeping is uncertain at the moment.  It is part of a project I am involved in to cultivate new beekeepers both through training and through the production more affordable starter hives which we hope will encourage people to start beekeeping.   We need to raise £5000 for this project to go ahead, and are trying to fund it with a crowd-funding campaign found here:

Bees are struggling at the moment, they are afflicted by parasites and disease, by pesticides, by poor management and, surprisingly, by disinterest.  Although the plight of the bees features regularly in the media, Beekeeping in Europe, either as a hobby or a livelihood has fallen by 54% in the last 20 years, leaving us with far less than the optimum number of colonies for crop pollination.  As bees are a crucial pollinator, responsible for a third of our food, this loss of bees is detrimental to both our food security and the health of our ecosystems.

The UK is no longer a friendly place for bees. The parasitic varroa mite has destroyed most, if not all, wild bee colonies and is seriously affecting the health of ‘domesticated’ bees.  Furthermore, the increase in mono-crop farming, pesticide use and loss of hedgerows and meadows means that nectar is in much shorter supply.  These problems have affected honey yields and made beekeeping a less profitable and riskier business.

In November last year I saw a host on the WWOOF UK website seeking keen young people who wanted to learn beekeeping.  I have been interested in beekeeping for years, I’ve WWOOFed with many beekeepers, and had the luck to work for the London Honey Company where I enjoyed tasting delicious honey from around the UK and further afield.   Besides really liking honey, the variety in flavour, clarity, colour and consistency just amazes me, as does the history of beekeeping which has been practised for thousands of years all around the world.

I immediately emailed to ask if I could come and learn beekeeping and Luisa (the beekeeper) was very keen to host both myself and another trainee over the summer season.  However, as her young business only just covers the rent of one room, she has nowhere for us to stay.  I suggested doing a crowd-funding campaign to fund both the trainee beekeepers and another project to produce more affordable bee colonies and starter hives to encourage people to start beekeeping.

In January I took the night bus to Glasgow and met both Luisa and the 4 other volunteers working on what was soon to be christened the Generation Bee project.  The name is meant to reflect both aspects of the project, we want to train up a new generation of beekeepers, and we want to generate more bees by selling young colonies at an affordable price to interested individuals and schools.

There is more information and an exciting video on the campaign website –  We have only 33 days left to reach our £5000 goal and there are some fabulous rewards for pledges including E-booklets on how to cook with honey, make natural beauty products, plant bee-friendly flowers and more, all written by the team (the Gormet drone recipe e-booklet is mine.)  There are also the workshops on beekeeping and beauty product and candle making which are going to be run in Dumfries on the 26th and 27th of April (only £35 for a 2 hour session).  I feel a bit cheeky asking people to support this campaign, as I will directly benefit from it.  However this year is the trial run and crucial for building up the business.  Luisa is very passionate about training young beekeepers so I am sure that the success of this campaign will lead to more training positions available each year, as well as starter hives with young colonies sold at about half the normal price.

Please pledge if you can and spread the word by sharing the campaign with anyone who might be interested in supporting it.

Thank you,


*WWOOFing aims to provide volunteers with first-hand experience in organic and ecologically sound growing methods, to help the organic movement, and to let volunteers experience life in a rural setting or a different country.

Greenwash Monsters?

16th January 2014 by

I’m not quite sure why the title got ‘monsters’ in it – it was the first thing that popped into my head, and it stuck. Monsters aside, I read some things about supermarket waste practices today and I thought I’d share some thoughts…

So what’s been happening? One recent announcement is that Co-op supermarket are replacing their plastic carrier bags with compostable ones. Well, that’s a great start for reducing plastic in landfills – but only if you don’t look at what goes inside the shiny new compostable carrier bag. I very rarely go into supermarkets – I’m opposed to them for a variety of ethical reasons (this is not the place to get into a debate about all things supermarket related – you can have a look at for more info). Anyway, one of the problems with supermarkets is that they end up with a monopoly and sometimes there are no alternatives. Recently I was in a small town, needing food and there was nothing else available. I tried to buy vegetables, but everything was plastered in plastic – the only loose vegetables I saw were some anemic-looking out-of-season tomatoes – tasty! A lot of the plastic was the thin sort which most councils don’t recycle either. This is only the waste that we see and deal with as customers. How much is hidden by press-releases about small changes? Some tiny percentage of supermarket waste is now compostable – but how much is this worth, when a far higher volume of waste inside the carrier bag still gets sent to landfill/sea/other countries?

A number of other UK supermarkets have apparently made a partnership with Coca-Cola encouraging customers to pledge to recycle. The argument here is sort of the same, brands and supermarkets shift responsibility to you, the consumer, instead of looking at how they package items and taking responsibility. Apparently last year 37,000 people spun this wheel and pledged to recycle. 37,000 more people recycling may be a good thing – but I’ve got some questions.

First, why would anyone want to spin a wheel on a website to see which material they should pledge to recycle? Maybe I’m missing something, but I think there are more fun things to do. I’ve spun it three times now, and it’s not getting more interesting. Wheel-spinning hasn’t cropped up in much I’ve read about behaviour change either.

Second, if you make a pledge, you get yourself some free Coca-Cola merch in the form of a fridge magnet. What’s the idea? You go to the fridge, think “oh Coca-Cola is so delicious”, and then “I don’t even need to recycle the bottle once I’m done because I only pledged to recycle metal…”

Third, why does it only encourage you to recycle one set of materials, when a lot of councils collect them all together?

Fourth, there’s a link to find out more about how they recycle, but it doesn’t work. (That was even less of a question than the other points – I’d better hope Gove isn’t reading this!)

Fifth, what do I do with all the things I’ve bought I can’t recycle? Why is there so much packaging in the first place and why are you making it my fault? If supermarkets and other companies didn’t put so much packaging on everything, it wouldn’t be there to go to landfill, recycle, repurpose, or for me to complain about!

And finally, my question to all of you. Is it good, or is it greenwash? Are these businesses making real change, or are they hiding unsustainable business practice behind the celebration of minor changes and shifting responsibility to the consumer?

If you think shops should stop creating waste, perhaps you could take your custom elsewhere (if you’re still fortunate enough to have that option), or go and tell them what you think!








Training for Transformation

12th December 2013 by

This little blog is full of links. Follow them to find out more – I’m sure they can all explain what they do better than I can!

This week I visited New Unity in Stoke Newington for the first time – an amazing place for an amazing event. Sometimes it’s wonderful what can hide behind walls. A place some of us had cycled past every day, lived or worked a stone’s throw away from, but didn’t yet know about.

New Unity is a “radically inclusive community of faith”, focusing on compassion and social justice, with a fascinating history. One of the many things on offer are community events. This week they were host to Let Freedom Ring, sharing some tools and practices from Training for Transformation. This training is based on the work of Paulo Freire, on community and popular education. It is about transforming societies through people and thinking critically about educational processes, developing new ones from the people.

I came away full of ideas to incorporate into our work at Otesha and full of inspiration to continue learning. The day was inspiring, not just because of exciting training, but all the wonderful people there. People working and taking action on so many vital social/environmental justice issues. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next!

Crafty Magazine blog tour: Sarah Corbett’s A Little Book of Craftivism

5th December 2013 by

Crafty-template-for-main-imagesWe were pleased as punch to be approached by Crafty Magazine to review A Little Book of Craftivism as part of their blog tour.  We’re the last stop this week and thrilled!

For those of you new to Sarah and craftivism, be sure to check out our Q&A and the fun had with our Patron Josie Long.

The Review: A Little Book of Craftivism

For someone who appreciates physical books, small things, clear and concise info, how-to create craft project instructions and social activism, A Little Book of Craftivism is a small piece of brilliance in your hand.

What’s even better is that for those who have no idea what the Craftivist Collective is all about, it’s an essential read.  It lays the concepts out very simply:

‘…craftivism is ‘slow activism’.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect in a way that I hadn’t really made time for before.’

‘…projects are small, attractive and unthreatening.  Our mini protest banners or cross-stiched masks catch the attention of passers-by in a respectful and thought-provoking way without forcing our views on them.’

‘With craftivism, we encourage people to meet up in small numbers to create craftivist projects in public places or on their own on public transport.’

Some of you may also be thinking - I have never picked up a sewing needle… help!    You’re in luck as the book lays out small projects you can follow carefully.  Also, an integral element at the heart of the Craftivist Collective is to join other crafters, find a group near you or better yet – create one.

A few final wise words from the author herself:

‘Craftivism isn’t the answer to everything: there is no quick fix.  But we can all be part of the solution and craftivism allows us to express ourselves, and to create safe spaces for honest, open conversations… Justice isn’t soemething we wait for, it’s something we MAKE.’ – Sarah Corbett

Pros: Clear, concise, exciting how-to’s, an easy read, informative and interesting! An excellent stocking stuffer so why wait?! Click here to purchase the lovely book.

Cons: none that our eye can see.

And don’t forget to check out all the reviews by various bloggers this past week:

Crafty Magazine
Mancunian Vintage
Tom of Holland

Getting a job you love (and that loves you) take two!

3rd December 2013 by

It’s nearly two years since Jo wrote a blog about getting that dream job – and also making sure it is your dream job! As we’re hiring again, we thought we’d pop it back up. Writing an excellent application is pretty important if you want to get yourself a job, and if the job is about helping other people get jobs it becomes that little bit more crucial…

Enjoy! And very good luck if you’re applying for a job with us or anywhere else.

Here are our top tips:

  • You’re sending the application to a person, not a Sir/Madam, so use their name. If you’re not sure who to address your application to, call up and ask. At Otesha, sometimes we’re known collectively, but our names are all on the website too…
  • Read everything you can about the organisation and the role before you apply.
  • The covering letter is the key thing. After reading your letter we should know if we want to interview you or not. Your CV should back up everything you say in your covering letter, but it’s only a supporting document.
  • Otesha is a pretty informal organisation – we like covering letters that sound like real people wrote them, ones that will make us smile when we read them. Not all organisations will appreciate such an informal approach, but no one wants to read a letter that could’ve been written by a computer.
  • At Otesha, the first thing we want to know is why you want to work here and what you think is special about this organisation.
  • The second thing we want to know about you is why you really really really want to do the role you’re applying for.
  • You need to address every point in the person specification and it can be helpful if it’s in the order they appear in the job posting. Imagine it’s the early hours of the morning and you’re desperately trying to get 100 applications down to a shortlist of 20. The easier you can make it for the person reading your application the better.
  • Your covering letter should usually be 1-2 sides long. Any shorter and we’re wondering why you don’t have the enthusiasm or experience to fill a page. Any longer and we think that you’re not able to communicate in a concise manner.
  • Don’t just tell us that you have ‘experience working in a team’ – we need to know where, how etc. Back up everything with clear examples of your experience.
  • Voluntary experience is just as valid as paid work experience.
  • End your letter telling us anything else great about you that might be relevant to the role.
  • Don’t bother sending off generic applications. We can tell if we’re receiving the same application you sent off for a different job last week! If you’re not interested enough to write a new cover letter, I’m afraid we’re probably not interested either.
  • Be meticulous, get someone to proof read your cover letter and CV. If the job specification asks for excellent written skills, your application needs to be excellently written.

Housing… need I say more?

21st November 2013 by

Housing.  These days, it feels like a word steeped in controversy.  And yet according to Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of one’s self  including housing.

There’s been a sharp increase in rents along with associated utility bills.  At the moment reports show that together theyphotoswallow a third of incomes‘.  And ‘for everything that’s wrong with London’s housing and built environment, look to the Heygate Estate, and to what will replace it‘.  And what is with the obsession with home ownership?  Across other European countries (most notably Switzerland, Germany and Denmark) it’s rather the norm to rent as opposed to ‘wasting your money’.  I know it’s probably a very complicated matter especially when it involves the economic market and policies on tenant/landlord rights.  But I’m still not convinced house ownership is the answer.  In truth, I believe it’s damaging.


And ultimately if housing is a basic right, then can we afford to house the poor in the future?

Are there alternatives out there?  Yes, but one must be creative and it’s a complicated matter.  Here are some examples of what we’ve found so far:

  • An innovative Scottish approach provides affordable housing that is resistant to soaring rural house prices
  • The essential importance to town planning
  • Housing Co-operatives – there are many out there and many more being created every week.  Hundreds of thousands of resources can be found online. 2012 was the International Year of Co-operatives and their site is extremely useful in summarising the principles of co-operatives. We’ve also come across a fantastic summary at CECODHAS Housing Europe which is the European Federation of Public, Cooperative & Social Housing.  There are further examples of student co-ops, and co-ops started by a collective group of individuals. For further inspiration of housing alternatives around world, look no further than the winners of the 2013 World Habitat Awards.  But the truth of the matter is that there are far too few housing co-operatives in the UK.

Have you found any interesting and inspiring projects out there?  Let us know your thoughts below.

The Festive Season… Otesha-style

8th November 2013 by

The festive season is approaching quickly and we’re thrilled to say that we’ve got our very own Otesha Christmas cards in stock. Designed by Calu, a longstanding Otesha volunteer, and printed on 100% recycled paper it’s easy peasy to wish your friends and family a green Christmas the traditional way.

To order a pack, just email

£7 for a pack of 10 cards, with all proceeds going to support our work.


Otesha card snapshot


Inspiring Projects to make your own

7th November 2013 by at Otesha we’re always on the lookout for inspiration.  No doubt, there are hundreds of thousands of people, organisations, projects, and places that do the trick.  Recently we came across Revolutionary Arts and their list of 50 inspiring projects.  We like what they have to say: Revolutionary Arts is dedicated to new ideas, fresh challenges and radical thinking. It makes things for places and people.

Looking over the list below, I’d say it’s all about finding those precious moments/ideas/thoughts/people and celebrating the way they ‘inspire you to bring playfulness, pride, pop up fun, placeshaking and productivity to the place where you live‘.

Stay tuned as sources say there’s another list of 50 coming.  We can’t wait!

  1. Open a pop up bookshop
  2. Make some robots
  3. Plant more sunflowers
  4. Start a shop local campaign
  5. Walk to work
  6. Create an indoor charity market
  7. Open a cycle-powered cinema
  8. Ask people what they want in the neighbourhood
  9. Make your own roadsigns to encourage people to walk
  10. Start a weekend festival in a forgotten corner of the town
  11. Manage the empty shops to make it easier for people to use them
  12. Make the public spaces places for people to sit
  13. Turn the place you live into a Play Street
  14. Create a Cash Mob and support independent shops
  15. Print your own money
  16. Grow more food
  17. Fill the shops with swings
  18. Plant a sensory garden
  19. Think of the bicycle as transport, not just a leisure activity
  20. Install benches with bookshelves at bus stops
  21. Open a pop up playspace
  22. Design theatre posters and paste them up
  23. Find new uses for empty shops
  24. Only buy secondhand stuff
  25. Start a bicycle recycling project
  26. Tell people what’s made locally
  27. Collect photographs of things you’d usually ignore
  28. Make your street a 10 smiles an hour zone
  29. Give teenagers their own market
  30. Open a café that gives homeless people jobs
  31. Ride your bike naked
  32. Open a box shop
  33. Find the garden under the paving slabs
  34. Build your own mobile phone network
  35. Imagine what an art festival could do
  36. Meet up to celebrate local architecture
  37. Create interactive art in windows with digital technology
  38. Open a book exchange in a fridge
  39. Ensure that people can walk (not drive) to the town centre
  40. Clean up the place where you live
  41. Make buildings from shipping containers
  42. Open a pop up crazy golf course in a shopping centre
  43. Make the whole town an arts venue
  44. Turn the local park into a city farm
  45. Paint your own pedestrian crossings on streets
  46. Start a moveable museum
  47. Bring bees to the city
  48. Find out what makes a place special
  49. Make sure your high street balances
  50. Create a pop up thinktank and write your own list of ideas for making where you live better
via Revolutionary Arts

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