Local businesses putting people and the planet first

Social Saturday took place on 13 October.  The annual campaign highlights businesses that make a difference in their communities by trading for a social purpose and using commerce to create a more equal society.

Last Saturday cabinet members from the Forest of Dean District Council visited some of our local businesses to see what they are offering and to find out more about the excellent work they do in our community.

The first business to be paid a visit was The Dean Forest Food Hub which is like an online farmers market. Customers can order produce from the local area on a weekly basis, knowing they are getting high quality food, supporting local businesses and cutting down on their food miles.

Customers order what they want and producers bake or grow to order, reducing waste. The hub currently has around 150 customers and 35 local producers with about 50 boxes being delivered each week.

Cllr Chris McFarling, cabinet member for environment, wildlife, heritage and culture said, “This is a brilliant initiative which I wish had been here years ago. We have to cut down on our food miles; this scheme is achieving that whilst giving its volunteers a wonderful opportunity to be involved in something worthwhile.

“Anyone interested should visit www.deanforestfoodhub.org.uk.  The food hub is also looking for more producers, as the demand for food boxes is increasing, so there are also opportunities for even more local food businesses to get involved.”

The second business visited on Social Saturday was the Rewild Project. Their mission is to re-connect people to nature and their ancestral heritage through arts and crafts, growing food, outdoor learning and community-building projects.

As part of its New Leaf programme it trains and helps local (often long-term unemployed) people learn coppicing and green woodwork crafts.  This helps them to gain the confidence they need to reapply for work. It also runs a range of ‘Edible Forest Skills Workshops’ on pruning fruit trees, foraging for mushrooms, propagation, fermenting foods and brewing natural country wines.

Over the last 12 months the project has worked with 29 people aged between 17-63, some of whom have achieved a City and Guilds Qualification in chainsaw and bushcutting with the aim of getting them back into employment.

Cllr Julia Gooch, cabinent member for town centres, business support and jobs said, “I was very impressed on Saturday to meet the people involved in this excellent project. If you know anyone locally who might benefit from one of its courses or participate in one of the Edible Forest Skills Workshops please visit www.therewildproject.com.”

Cllr Chris McFarling, cabinet member for environment, wildlife, heritage and culture added “This project is truly ground-breaking.  By combining economic efficiency, good health and wellbeing with environmental stewardship, the Rewild and Arbour Training partnership is a true champion of sustainable development – an opportunity today that will benefit future generations. I hope it receives the acknowledgement, publicity and financial spring-board it deserves.”

Coleford’s Sixteen Community Café was the next business to be visited. Sixteen is a friendly welcoming cafe offering fresh meals made from local ingredients supplied by local businesses.

The café, which operates alongside Dora Matthews House, provides a safe, inclusive place for an excellent range of affordable meals served by a team of trainees from a variety of backgrounds.  Training is on offer for people with learning difficulties and it has seen great results with trainees’ confidence boosted and some going on to paid employment.

Cllr Chris McFarling, cabinet member for environment, wildlife, heritage and culture said “The measure of society is how well it looks after its most vulnerable. I really enjoyed meeting the excellent team at Sixteen and Dora Matthews House. They are always looking for volunteers and would be delighted to hear from you if you have some spare time. Please visit www.16cafe.co.uk

The final business to be visited on Social Saturday was Forest Upcycling, a local charity set up for anyone wishing to donate used furniture in the Forest of Dean and Monmouthshire. Items are collected for free and then sold on, with the funds used to help and employ vulnerable people in the area.

Cllr Julia Gooch, cabinet member for town centres, business support and jobs said, “I was amazed to see some of the work this charity is delivering locally. Based in Cinderford for the last five years it employs 12 staff and has between 15 and 20 volunteers. It offers training for vulnerable people, carries out affordable house clearances and repairs and upcycles furniture which then goes on sale. You can buy small amounts of household cleaning essentials here, by taking your own containers you can help reduce plastics, there is even a gardening service! To get in touch visit www.forestupcyclingproject.com