Women-Fix-It

11th May 2016 by

Working with the Otesha team to get a women’s bike maintenance project up and running has been the highlight of 2016 in my world: here’s the story:

wfiWomen-Fix-It came about whilst cycling across Portugal solo. I had the map reading down, chunky calves, panniers, and a sweet touring bike – what more can a woman ask for? Ah yeah… the knowledge that is needed to put your bike back together after it’s been in a box. Alex a good pal helped me to box it up for the flight over to Portugal. Yeah I’ll remember all this – easy…

I’m not saying that as I stand looking at my handle bars off at a peculiar angle, the brakes are rubbing on the wheel and I’m unnecessarily covered in grease. Frustrated, I begrudgingly head to the nearest bike shop, where 2 guys attempt to teach me bike basics in Portuguese. I felt pretty stupid with my ignorance, not to mention scared that I had to keep the steed in one piece for the next 3 months. I couldn’t but notice that it was always men serving me in bike shops, or I’d likely ask a male friend to help out with bike related stuff. Pedalling up and whizzing down the mountains of Portugal I was lucky to keep my bike in one piece – but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head as to why I didn’t know to fix her up.

The more I discussed this with other women who liked bikes, it became clear that I wasn’t on my own… reverberations of the same comment kept coming back to me: “I feel uncomfortable to ask stupid questions” “I always feel pretty silly when I go into bike shops” “I wish I knew more about bikes” “I’m just not very good at it”.

I felt happy that it wasn’t just me… but also sad that so many strong, independent women that I knew and loved had the same block as me. I wanted to learn with other women and to be taught by a non-judgemental woman who could share her knowledge. I searched around my local area in South London and struggled to find that space, but alas it was not there.

A friend put me in touch with Bikeworks – a fantastic social enterprise delivering community based cycling activities across London. They took me onto a course in Level 1 bike mechanics and I commenced a journey totally out of my comfort zone… loads of tools, jargon, and a good dose of testosterone. I was feeling the need for Women-fix-It in my life.

It seems fitting that this project is a collaboration with The Otesha Project UK, as it was this wonderful charity that has empowered hundreds of young people to cycle hundreds of miles and educate thousands of people in issues of environmental awareness, sustainability and social justice. As tour alumni, tour coordinator and workshop facilitator with Otesha, It felt like the right time to join forces to run Women-Fix-It. Winning a bid to Transport for London’s Cycling Grants, the project finally got legs.

Camberwell Subterranea offered us their garage workshop for us to run 3 week maintenance courses from Feb-June 2016. The project aims to work with women from diverse backgrounds, bringing together women from all over South London. It is important that it’s a safe and comfortable environment for all to enter into. We’ve run 3 courses so far, working with 27 women to teach them the basics – an m-check, parts of the bike and how they fit together, punctures, brakes and cleaning/ general maintenance.

wfi1The essence of the project is that we want women to go away with enough skills to keep their bike safely on the road. If it needs to go into a bike shop, then they might have a better idea of what’s going on. We want women to feel empowered to ask those “stupid” questions that we might not normally ask. Courses will continue until June and we’re running women’s social rides around South London this summer.

Fancy finding out more, or want to be involved?

Check for updates on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/womenfixit/

How to Change Things – Free Training

15th May 2014 by

We’re running a free training on ….How to Change Things. Read on for how to get involved!

This training does pretty much what it says on the tin, exploring all the necessary steps needed to set up and run an effective community project – making real, positive change to environmental and social issues. We look at how to get a group together, do some people research, work out the aims and objectives of  your project, dabble with a tiny bit of behaviour change theory, and much more!

1In the past we’ve only offered this training to our programme alumni, but this year we’re running a free, open training on Saturday 14th June for young people in and around Hackney who have a project idea! After the training we will arrange regular mentoring sessions to support with the latter stages of project development. We have space for up to 15 participants so if you’re interested please get in touch with Iona or Edd on 020 3609 6763 or info@otesha.org.uk.

Your idea doesn’t need to be well developed – it might just be ‘I really want to do something to do with bikes’, or you might have a much more specific plan already! We will be giving out places on a first come first served basis, but we do want participants to demonstrate a commitment to making their project a reality, so we’d love to have a quick chat through your ideas if you’re interested in coming along.

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!

Feminist maths…

9th May 2013 by

Read more from Sylvia’s Mother here.

Branch Out! Join our FREE horticultural work training programme

13th February 2013 by

GREEN JOBS ARE A-GO! Grow your way to a green-fingered career on Otesha’s newest programme -‘Branch Out’! Want to work outside, get some environmental qualifications and find a great green job at the end? Then join our 1st programme from April- June in Hackney!

Branch Out is totally FREE and open to ALL 16-25 year olds who can travel to East London 2 days a week. If you, or someone you know, wants to join this course and find work then get in contact with Tamsin by emailing tamsin@otesha.org.uk or calling 020 3609 6763.

Registration deadline March 18th 2013.

branch_out_poster

Laying down Roots of Success in East London

30th October 2012 by

99% of the UK is literate. Many of us are financially literate. But how many can claim to be environmentally literate?

Many of you reading this will be well aware of the far-reaching environmental impacts of our everyday actions, from what we choose to eat for breakfast, how we travel to work, how we conduct ourselves in the workspace to how we socialise.  We have become aware of the spaces we find ourselves in and the practices required to maintain or make them ‘green’.  But how many of us had these thoughts in our head when we were 16 or 17, deciding our ‘careers’?

Financial reward, professional development, qualifications needed… these were key factors to consider when ‘deciding our future’ as one career advisor put it.  I remember clearly taking a ‘career test’ when I was 15, a series of questions covering academic, personal and lifestyle preferences.   The result; I should look into becoming a telephone pylon erector; I didn’t mind heights, liked the outdoors and wanted variety in my job.   There was no mention of the environmental impact of this career choice- the resource intensive, carbon polluting energy sector I’d be working in, no mention of renewable energy, no mention of the vehicle I would inevitably be driving around in to erect these pylons.

11 years on, with the impacts of climate change being felt world-over, with resource wars a real or threatened phenomena on every continent- you’d expect environmental impact and sustainability to play a large part in career choice for today’s young people making the transition to work, right? Wrong.  A few months ago we were contacted by a careers advisor from a local connexions service in a bit of a panic- she’d had young people coming in asking about how to get a green job, some wanted to work in renewable energy.  They had no resources or knowledge to deal with it.  This is madness.

We know that to address the global challenges facing our economy and climate, we must transform society within a single generation.   The need to transition to a green economy is urgent if we are to meet the national target of 80% carbon emissions cuts by 2050.  And this transition requires green jobs. We know there are policy barriers to the creation of green jobs.  We also know that those making the transition to employment, both young and old, need to understand, want and demand green jobs.

That’s why, as part of our green jobs programme here at The Otesha Project UK, we’ve spent the last 10 months adapting the successful US environmental literacy and job readiness curriculum ‘Roots of Success’ for a UK audience.  It’s a 9-module curriculum, each one themed and aimed at raising awareness of local and global environmental issues whilst improving essential job market skills.  At the end of each module there are case studies on relevant green jobs, how to access them and career pathways.  It’s interactive and dynamic, using videos and discussion to engage and give participants a solid understanding of environmental literacy.

We’ve started piloting our UK version with groups here in east London.  We worked with a group of young people on the Princes-Trust Team Programme who took the introductory ‘Fundamentals’ module and the ‘Community Organising’ module which was used to help plan their community project.  We’ve also worked with trainee bike mechanics on Bikework’s ‘Cycle into Work’ scheme, running the fundamentals, transport and community organising modules.  We’ve had really positive feedback from participants, some learning “the importance of not wasting stuff”, another saying he would “Look into how [he] could incorporate eco friendly ideas in [his] business plan.”  The course aims to inspire and empower; one trainee left saying “I definitely want to have a green job!! I knew that already, but this class opened my eyes.”

And we’re planning more; we’ll soon be delivering the training with volunteers at Hackney City Farm, with trainee construction workers and homeless people at Crisis Skylight to help broker people facing barriers to employment into green and decent work;  helping to tackle massive youth unemployment and climate change.

 Tamsin Robertson, Otesha’s green jobs caseworker

Tasty Tales – Bread Matters

8th August 2012 by

Hello!

Welcome to the second blog post of the Tastetastic food sustainability tour! We write to you from the magnificent Scottish Borders, a land of beautiful rolling green hills, many happy sheep, and an enthusiastic bunch of foodie cyclists, who have come from far and wide to embark on a 3 week Otesha extravaganza.

We started our tour in sunny Edinburgh, our first task being to cycle en masse through the capital and navigate our way to our first host – Bread Matters – who have kindly welcomed us to their home on Macbiehill Farm for our five days of pre-tour training.

Bread Matters, in Peeblesshire, provides weekend courses teaching people about the importance of slow fermentation, a traditional method of making nutritional and tasty bread. Recently, industrial bread-making techniques have arguably led to a rise in many health problems such as wheat intolerance and other digestive ailments. Bread Matters is seeking to educate people about the benefit of Real Bread – better bread for individuals, communities and the planet.

Bread Matters has been a great place to start our tour, as it is an example of a local initiative that is building a vibrant (and resistant) local food economy. The founders of Bread Matters have grown varieties of wheat (and other grains), and processed it by gently milling on a small scale. The flour that is produced is crafted into beautiful bread, and this bread is sold locally through innovative community-oriented distribution networks. This approach to local food is a ‘message’ that we hope to take with us on tour, to inspire a new generation to become more engaged with where their food comes from, and how it’s produced, as well as forging community ties through the sharing of nutritional, wholesome food.

During our time on Macbiehill Farm, we have been thrown into a whirlwind of learning workshops, thought-provoking discussions, scrumptious vegan food, and (perhaps most importantly) sowing the seeds to build our own tastetastic community. As a group, we have shared our stories, experiences, knowledge, and values with each other. There’s also been lots and lots of laughter (and some tears, too). Not to mention, being treated to use the most LUXURIOUS compost loo EVER! Courtesy of Andrew and Veronica of Bread Matters.

It’s really hard to believe that we are only 4 days into the Otesha experience – it’s as if a magic spell has been cast to temporarily stretch out space and time, with everyone happily saturated with ideas, excitement and positive energy.

This is just the beginning, and everyone is itching to get on the road, get cycling up more hills (!!) and start putting into practice everything we’ve been preparing for during training week. (But first, we are spending a vigorous afternoon tending to the small-scale agro-forestry project at Bread Matters, as a work exchange to thank our generous hosts).

Are we ready? Yes we are!

PS. A massive thank you to Amy and her team for spending 2+ hours sharing with us how to love our bikes (and maintain them).

Failing forward

13th July 2012 by

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Nobody likes to fail, do they? (…do they…? Answers on a postcard please). At least, I don’t like to fail. When a project hasn’t gone to plan, or ground to a halt, it is very tempting to go erase your mind somewhere in a tub of ice cream or TOWIE. Maybe that’s just me. Either way, sweeping failures under the carpet doesn’t do anyone any good. Because if we can’t share where we went wrong, or what barriers we found, how will others learn who are planning similar projects?

This is where the concept of ‘failshares’ comes in. Over the past few years, organisations such as Givewell have got brave and laid out their shortcomings. People across different sectors have got together and hosted ‘FailFaires’. Engineers Without Borders now release Failure Reports every year and have set up the site Admitting Failure to ensure that the international development community ‘fails forward.’ They define failing forward as:

  1. Operating in a safe environment for testing risky innovative ideas
  2. Recognizing failures early
  3. Admitting failures open and honestly
  4. Learning from these failures
  5. Adapting actions based on the learning in order to improve upon risky innovative ideas

So, in the spirit of failing forward, let me share the story of a project we have been trying to make happen over the past few months – the East London Greener Jobs Pipeline. We aimed for the Greener Jobs Pipeline project to work in partnership with employers, training providers and support agencies to create pathways into employment for approximately 15 young, unemployed people who wanted to work in the green trades. We planned to do this by taking participants through a training programme that encompassed pre-employment skills, vocational skills, financial literacy, wraparound support services, environmental literacy, and an apprenticeship or work placement in trades such as solar roofing, insulation, horticulture and recycling.

About 6 months ago, I wrote of some of the barriers that we were experiencing in trying to make this project happen. The main one was that we were eager to find an employer who could guarantee a work placement or apprenticeship before we recruited for the young people – we figured that there were enough training courses out there that led on to nothing. However, the truth was, we just couldn’t find an employer. We talked to dozens of businesses, but there were no jobs, especially after the FIT cuts. This delayed the project by months, but when we did eventually find an employer – a small, social enterprise that specialised in energy efficiency – we found yet more barriers to do with recruitment. We needed 10 young people to run the training, but when it came down to it, only 3 young people managed to make the registration day. This was despite having met with nearer 20 young people and their key workers who were keen to join the course and who planned to enroll.

So, what went wrong?

  • We were limited to a 16-18 age range because of government funding constraints. This was a really difficult age to outreach for because many at this age were already in education or training (which also made them ineligible for funding). Sadly, we had a lot of interest from 19 year olds that we had to turn away. If our age range had been broader, ‘we would have smashed it’, as one local youth worker from the Prince’s Trust said.
  • The time of year wasn’t that great – some young people who were interested in the course were about to sit their GCSEs, so our training started too early for them.
  • Working with ‘NEET’ young people can mean things don’t always go to plan - on the registration day, four confirmed attendees were absent due to: broken ribs, being arrested, housing problems and family problems.
  • The reliability of key workers – we often found that communicating directly with the young people was more efficient than trying to pin down their key workers – not the way round you want it to be. A couple of key workers were supposed to escort their young people to the registration day, but didn’t pick them up.
  • ‘Not another short course…’ - there is a real sense that young people can be jostled from one low-level course to another and not gain a meaningful qualification. Although the pipeline participants would have completed some pre-apprenticeship course content they were not gaining the full qualification, due to time constraints.
  • Unsure work placement offer- the above point was overcome with the provision of a guaranteed work placement. However, at the last minute our employer changed their offer of paid work from 3 weeks to 1-2 days – not enough to pull in young people when other courses with higher level qualifications being offered.

With lessons absorbed about partnerships, age of participants and timing, we hope that roll-out will now take place in autumn 2012. In the meantime we have been providing a training and employment signposting service to the young people who showed interest. We have helped, signposted and offered advice to 12 young people and 4 youth workers on other training and employment options. 4 of the young people have now applied for recommended courses and we remain in contact with the others and continue to send opportunities when they arise.

Although the project didn’t go ahead as planned, we have learnt important lessons which can be used when tried again later this year. The most important lesson is that there is a real need for this type of project. There are many young people who have slipped through the net, and even this project – which aims to engage with young people facing barriers to employment – has built in requirements that have been barriers to their participation.

Next time, we hope to use this learning so that we can:

  • Increase the age range
  • Start at a more appropriate time of year
  • Ensure that we only partner with an employer who can be truly involved in the design of the process, and that has capacity to provide paid work placements or apprenticeships
  • Ensure our training offer includes meaningful accreditation and qualifications

So, there you have it. Not everything works out. But we feel it’s important to share, as there are other people out there working towards the same goal of creating green jobs and skills for young people. It’s inevitable that approaches will be duplicated, but that’s only a good thing if we know that those approaches work!

Taking the time to examine the successes and failures of different aspects of our work also acknowledges the complexity of what we are trying to do. If it was so easy, the world would be saved by now, and we’d all have green and decent jobs. Amirite? Complex problems need complex solutions, and I feel like we’re on our way to figuring some of those solutions out.

 

Greening the 9-5

19th June 2012 by

Back in July 2011, our lovely ex-Project Director Liz led a two-day Greener Workplaces training session for a large company alongside Otesha cycle tour co-ordinator and graphic recording whiz Calu.

They took all that fresh Otesha knowledge of sustainability and how to get projects off the ground, sprinkled in some valuable behaviour change theory and created an inspiring training course to help people green up their workplaces. The two-day workshop went down really well and helped kickstart some exciting new initiatives for greening up the company’s HQ.

Fast forward to early 2012. The Otesha team were keen to investigate ways to bring in some extra income to help fund current projects and perhaps kickstart new ones – as Liz described in the Guardian back in April. As this is a social enterprise, we were looking for a project that not only brings in a bit of income to support Otesha’s good work across the board, but – very importantly – also one that aligns with Otesha’s mission and ethos: creating real change through the actions we take in our daily lives (including our lives at work).

I was joined by a brilliant volunteer, Bunmi. Our task (should we choose to accept it): undertake a bike-trailer-load of research into different social enterprise ideas for Otesha, and then help the team pick out the best idea.

The ideas ranged from a café selling sustainably-sourced food, to Otesha cycling holidays. But the one which grabbed everyone’s attention, and soon shaped up to be the most promising, was to roll out the Greener Workplaces training to other organisations – from companies and charities to public sector organisations and universities.

The past two months have been incredibly busy getting the project off the ground.  At the end of May we ran our first pilot training session: a one-day workshop with Lewisham Council. We talked about behaviour change theory (which we also use to design effective programmes at Otesha), giving participants the skills and knowledge they need to engage with other employees and create real change from within. Then we worked on putting together action plans in the areas identified as the most important (and the most doable) within the context of the organisation.

Co-facilitating the workshop, I found it fascinating to learn about the specific barriers to change faced by the public sector in a time of drastic budget constraints. What’s more, the energy and commitment to greening up from the inside, despite the financial pressures, was truly inspiring. Luckily they seemed to like us too, and feedback from the participants emphasised how inspiring they’d found our more creative approach. And vitally, their action plans are now on the way to becoming a reality, showing us that this training could be a powerful way to create change.

And we’d all learned a bit more about how we can offer the best training possible – no dreaded Powerpoint included (well, who needs Powerpoint when you’ve got our own amazing graphic recorder, Calu, wowing everyone…)

So, what next for our intrepid trading arm? For the next two months we’ll continue finessing the training for different organisations and working out how we can include some inspiring bike-based tours of inspiring social and ecological projects into the training we offer, because we believe good ideas are worth sharing – and there’s no reason why a borough council or a university shouldn’t get a world-changing idea from a grassroots bike co-op or permaculture forest garden!

We’ll also be beavering away on an ethical policy that will ensure that any organisation we work with commits to real, lasting change before embarking on the training. If they don’t? Well, we won’t continue to work with them – simple as that.

Our ambiition is that the project will not only spread Oteshaness into new places and new organisations, but also bring in enough business to start to stand on its own two feet and then to give Otesha greater financial stability into the future. Hopefully this is just the start of a greener workplaces revolution.


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