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

Eco Furniture for the Future

6th August 2013 by

picLast year we met a very inspiring Tristan Titeux and spoke to him about his Where’s Milo project.  Nowadays he’s busy  working on what he calls, the most important thing he’s ever done.  He’s finished his book titled “Furniture for the Future”. The book is about using sustainable eco-friendly materials to build great furniture, but it is also a book about much more than just furniture. It gives a real insight into our current way of living and just how you can make a difference to your health, to your home and to the planet, the health of the planet and our own health is totally linked.  It addresses many of the crucial questions and topics about our wonderful environment and our role in it.

It’s a comprehensive 175 page full colour hardback book that explains how one could use sustainable materials to make furniture. The book will hopefully inspire you to make more ethical choices, think about what you buy, how it affects you, your health and the world. It also explains how we could learn from older civilisations and what the real costs are of not caring for our environment.

Tristan has now launched his crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for printing and in particular, to print 500 copies with a hemp hard cover.  Check it out here and see for yourself.

New Home!

21st January 2013 by

If you’ve been friends with us for a while you’ll know we’ve had multiple homes in East London, in fact we’ve moved nearly every year since Otesha UK was born, phew! Just before Christmas we packed up our plants, worms, the infamous cycle tour slug and other bits and bobs, waved goodbye to Toynbee hall and piled into Edd’s horsebox to travel over the canal to our new home in Hackney- Workshop 44.

Based in Regents estate, workshop 44 is now home to Otesha, London Orchard Project and a number of individuals working on different social justice and environmental campaigns.  Together we host the space for the local community; welcoming in residents who want to use computers and resources and running workshops in the evenings.  Otesha will be running a set of three Dr.Bike sessions (suitable for all!) weekly from Tuesday 5th February, 5pm-6pm.  Pop along and say hello!

Home sweet home

25th March 2012 by

A little photo essay of our new home, Toynbee Hall.

A City of 20

8th March 2012 by

Tom Platt is London Co-ordinator for Living Streets, which campaigns for safe, human-friendly streets. In this guest blog he tells us about the campaign to persuade the London Mayoral candidates to pledge to bring in a 20mph speed limit in the capital.

Last year alone 77 pedestrians were killed on London’s streets.  Any death is a tragedy but add these to the 16 cycling deaths on London’s streets last year and you have something much more than that.

Living Streets is the national charity working to create safe, attractive and enjoyable streets around the UK. In our opinion the single biggest change we can make to create a safer, more liveable London is to reduce vehicle speeds across the capital.

That’s why this year in the lead up to the London mayoral elections Living Streets, Sustrans and a coalition of 27 other prominent organisations are asking for mayoral candidates to commit to introducing 20 mph on parts of the mayoral controlled streets where we live, work and shop in our campaign a City of 20.

Simply put, if you get hit by a car driving at 30 mph you are much more likely to get seriously injured or killed than at 20 mph. If fact a pedestrian struck at 20 mph has a 97% chance of survival whilst at 30 mph the figure is 80%, falling to 50% at 35 mph.

In London, Transport for London (TfL) found 20 mph limits to have cut fatal and serious casualties by almost a half. Applying results from previous TfL research to the four hundred 20 mph zones London has today suggests an equivalent of 192 killed and seriously injured casualties are already being prevented each year.

So far most 20mph campaigning in London has focused on residential streets and near to schools. We strongly support this and are calling for the next Mayor of London to inspire and encourage local authorities to follow Islington’s example by implementing a default 20 mph speed limit on all residential streets.

However we also know that around a third of London’s collisions are happening on those streets controlled by the Mayor (the TLRN) and that’s despite it only making up 5% of the street network.  By tackling these streets where the greatest risk of conflict arises we can make the greatest benefit to people’s everyday lives. These are community centres and local high streets – the streets where people live, walk to school and use their local shops.

Of course 20 mph doesn’t just make our streets safer, it also makes for better streets where people are more likely to walk and cycle. Unsurprisingly, in Europe 30km/h (18mph) speed limits are the foundation of cycling and walking policies in Germany, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Importantly 20 mph can be implemented at low cost, and is easy to do. Portsmouth converted 1,200 streets in the city to 20mph for a cost of just over half a million pounds. Prior to this, they had been planning to spend £2 million on ten targeted 20 mph zones over five years. New government legislation makes it now possible to introduce 20 mph limits without expensive roads calming measures. In fact the cost of road casualties suggests a sound economic argument for 20mph simply with the amount casualties it will prevent, with the Department for Transport estimating that a road fatality costs in the region of £2million.

There simply is no excuse for the entirety of the TLRN to be exempt from 20 mph. Already other main roads such as the Walworth Road in Southwark have a 20 mph limit. Islington has recently announced plans to expand 20mph from residential to all main roads in the borough.

Getting London to be a truly world class city for walking and cycling is a huge challenge but 20 mph speed limits on the streets where we live, work and shop would be an excellent start. Please join the campaign by writing to the future Mayor of London today.

For any enquiries about the City of 20 campaign, please contact Tom Platt on 020 7377 4900 or email

Three Little Pigs

21st January 2012 by

Click for the full size image. More cartoons here.

Spread a ray of sunshine

1st December 2011 by

In deepest darkest winter, when the nights draw in and our governments head to the UN for more fraught negotiations on the future of the world’s climate and its seven billion people, I search for things that give me hope. Things that crack open the darkness of my annual November pessimism and spread a ray of light.

In the wake of the devastating cuts to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) currently proposed by the coalition government, these solar projects make me happy. They remind me that there is reason for optimism – along with the movement to reduce our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, the alternatives are growing. And boy are they beautiful.

Solar Mosiac

This California-based community crowdfunding project lets people come together to fund solar panel projects. So far, Solar Mosiac members have funded solar power for the Asian Resource Centre in Oakland, California and they’re just getting started. Earlier this month they staged an Occupy Rooftops community solar day where people snapped pictures of rooftops they want to cover in solar panels – how lovely is that?

Solar Schools

Here’s a homegrown example of a crowdfunding platform, dreamed up by our ever-imaginative friends over at 10:10. Of the ten schools piloting the project this year, many are tantalizingly close to reaching their goals – EP Collier School in Reading has raised more than £8,900 of its £10,000 goal, for example. Community members donate anything from £5 upwards to help their local school fund a solar roof, which aside from being a generally warm and fuzzy thing to do, will help school cope with shrinking budgets by massively reducing their utilities bills.

Solar Ivy

For those who want their solar panels to look gorgeous, Solar Ivy does what it says on the tin – the mesh panels mimic the look of ivy growing up the side of a wall. Jumping on the bandwagon so far is the University of Utah, Science World in Vancouver and the Montreal Biosphere.

Solar Power Tower

To the detractors who say solar panels can’t power a city, Spain is fighting back. This avant-garde project in Sanlúcar la Mayor is already up and running. When it’s all completed in 2013, it’s going to power 180,000 homes through a combination of solar heaters, mirror collectors and a steam turbine – generating enough watts to power the nearby city of Seville. So there.

Spray-on solar window film

If we’re going to crack this whole energy security thing, we need multi-tasking homes. A company based in Norway called EnSol has made a super thin spray-on PV coating that will go a long way towards this. You can apply to the spray anything – windows, walls, you name it. It achieves the same efficiency as good old fashioned solar PV cells and it’s completely translucent so you won’t even know it’s there. Or if this sounds too complicated, you could buy windows already treated with PV film.

And if all that isn’t enough to lift your spirits too, I’ll leave you with this final sunny thought.

You’re welcome.

Full circle: products that are made with recycling in mind

19th October 2011 by

Written by Otesha alumni Andy Hix and cross-posted from The Guardian Sustainable Business blog

Imagine an old pair of shoes that grows into flowers, a carpet that cleans the air and clothing that becomes food for plants.  These are the kinds of products being developed by Dutch designers inspired by the Cradle to Cradle concept.

I have spent a month in Holland interviewing businesses that are creating products that benefit the environment, improve people’s health and are profitable.

Developed by American architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle envisions an economy based on closed-loop cycles of materials. The concept gained widespread popularity in the Netherlands following a documentary in 2006.

The first meeting I had was with Erica Bol, co-founder of Rewrap, a company that makes Cradle to Cradle laptop covers. The sleeves are made from biodegradable wool from eco-sheep(!) and non-toxic dye with the minimum of materials. They are manufactured in a workplace that helps reintegrate disabled people into the workforce.

The next week I travelled to Venlo, where the city council has decided to make the whole region Cradle to Cradle. Previously young people were leaving Venlo in search of work. Now the city attracts the leading businesses in Cradle to Cradle and has become a hub for sustainable innovation.

Roy Vercoulen, the Managing Director of Venlo’s Cradle to Cradle Exposition Centre, explained that the city’s procurement criteria stimulates innovation by stating intentions – such as a building that produces oxygen, sequesters carbon, purifies water, improves the health of its occupants and promotes local biodiversity – whilst allowing as much room for creativity within that as possible.

If a company meets some of the procurement criteria they score thirty points, if it meets all of the criteria it scores seventy points, and up to a hundred per cent by coming up with solutions the city hadn’t even conceived of. The average score is eighty-three.

I met Richard van Dijk from the Dutch waste company Van Gansewinkel, whose corporate slogan roughly translates as ‘there’s no such thing as waste’. They realised some years ago that most of the materials being brought to them as waste can be turned into other products, which it turns out is very profitable. Now they advise manufacturers on how to design their products to be more easily made into new ones.

Lex Knobben, co-founder of laladoo, a baby clothing company, said he came across Cradle  to Cradle when he was trying to find out if it was possible to buy non-toxic apparel. He told me even clothing made of organic cotton is often soaked in toxins during the dying process.

None of the high street brands he researched could guarantee that their clothing is one hundred per cent toxin free so now he is designing and selling onesies and bibs made from Cradle to Cradle materials.

When I asked Stef Kranendijk, whose carpet company Desso has boomed since adopting the Cradle to Cradle philosophy, what inspired him, he gives the same answer as almost everyone I ask. It was the documentary.

He is brimming with enthusiasm as he recalls watching it and thinking ‘this is fantastic. Fantastic! But I’m going to have to change my whole company!’ Which is exactly what he did. Cradle to Cradle is one of the key drivers of innovation at Desso, who have developed a carpet that helps asthma sufferers by collecting dust from the air and can be easily disassembled and made into new carpet.

The company Oat Shoes have deigned stylish trainers with a packet of seeds in the tongue. The idea is that when they are worn out you can bury them, water them and “watch wild flowers bloom out of your old kicks.”

What’s impressive is how these companies have made the environmental and social outcomes of their businesses a core part of their strategies and a driver of innovation. Instead of aiming to reduce their impact to the environment they are actively seeking to have a positive impact, and are making money in the process.

Cradle to Cradle has made me realise that we need to redesign everything and in order to do that we need a level of collaboration never seen before between chemists, designers, architects, waste companies and manufacturers.

While this is very ambitious, the fact that is can profitable gives me hope that businesses can be persuaded to it.

If you’re interested in finding out more, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is a good place to start.

Guerrilla Knitting

20th May 2011 by

In case you didn’t know I am a knitter, a knitist even. I love knitting because you can do it  everywhere, except I believe on airplanes these days, which is fine by me since I’d rather be on the train clicking my needles anyway. So if, like me, you have an slightly obsessive compulsive desire to make things constantly, I recommend counseling. Or knitting.

All of my nearest and dearest are proud owners of surprisingly shaped hats. I once bought a cardigan from a charity shop, unraveled it and knitted it back into a jumper – and yes, believe it or not, it was worth it. One day I hope to only wear socks of my own creation. So far I have 3. I would love to knit and wear this jumper.

Real wool is expensive, but it is lovely and luxurious and comes in beautiful colours. I have tried to ban myself from wool shops but I occasionally go in and stroke the shelves. Recently I met a man who spins undyed wool from his own sheep, it takes him a day to make a hat, the result is beautiful, warm and waterproof (the oil in untreated wool gives it water resistant properties). He gave me some, it still smells of sheep.

Luckily I was bequeathed several bin bags of wool that a friend bought at a car boot sale. This matched with my penchant for unraveling second hand jumpers means that my wool habit should be forever satiated. This much wool in the cupboard is a constant race against the clothes moths, but I do like to live dangerously.

Anyway, imagine my excitement at discovering that June 11th is International Yarn Bombing Day (it’s also Worldwide Knit in Public Day, what a coincidence). Stitch and Bitch London will be marking the occasion with a Stitch Crawl through the Royal Parks.

Yarn bombing for those not in the know, is the process of decorating the streets with knitted or crocheted graffiti. Yarn bombing (also know as guerrilla knitting and yarn storming) is practised in cities all over the world. Past targets have included a London phone box, a bus in Mexico City, street furniture, trees and a subway carriage in Berlin.

Wikipedia, the source of all random knowledge, says:
The practice is believed to have originated in the U.S. with Texas knitters trying to find a creative way to use their leftover and unfinished knitting projects, but it has since spread worldwide.

While other forms of graffiti may be expressive, decorative, territorial, socio-political commentary, advertising or vandalism, yarn bombing was initially almost exclusively about reclaiming and personalizing sterile or cold public places. It has since developed with groups graffiti knitting worldwide each with their own agendas.

The movement has been said to be “changing the face of craft” as stitchers are more and more frequently being viewed as fibre artists.

So get your needles out and improve the urban landscape one stitch at a time. Does that seem a bit wooly?


2nd March 2011 by

We’ve told you before, but we’ll tell you again.

Insulate with a friend. Insulate with a loved one. Insulate with a glass of wine. Then insulate some more.

We’re often told to reduce our electricity use. Sure. But space heating accounts for 60% of the energy we use in the house, with 20% on hot water and electricity only 20%. Reducing the heating demand for energy in the first place will do wonders. Pester you parents, landlords and friends on the housing ladder to insulate lofts, flat roofs, slanty roofs, floors, pipes, cavity walls, solid walls…

(If you’re interested in learning more you can read some or all of David McKay’s book Sustainability Without the Hot Air book for free online)

The Energy Saving Trust will be able to tell you about grants for insulation, draft proofing and other super-sexy energy saving measures that are available in your area so give them a call on 0800 512 052. They also have detailed guides on home improvements that you can download for free.

With loft insulation going at only £3 a roll, it’s more a matter of can you be bothered to pay a smaller heating bill than can you afford to insulate.

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