On a recent Saturday morning we headed to Cardiff to meet with Rebecca Clark, a passionate urban gardener and founder of environmental project Green City Events. Rebecca and her partner Dan ‒ an avid record collector, musician and keen photographer who is very supportive of Rebecca’s ventures and volunteers a lot for Green City ‒ welcomed us in their home with big smiles, freshly brewed coffee and hot cinnamon rolls, and had a chat about what brought them together, their life in the city and our shared obsession with Twin Peaks.
Good-humored and perceptive, Rebecca was keen to show us her little urban garden and her studio, telling us how her passion for all things green led her to start Green City Events, an eco-initiative aiming to help city-dwellers live greener and healthier lifestyles by offering them the opportunity to learn traditional, rural and sustainable skills through engaging and inspiring workshops, events and activities ranging from food foraging to creative upcycling.
For people who don’t know you, who is Rebecca Clark? Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in Wadhurst, a small village in East Sussex then studied Art foundation in Plymouth and moved to Cardiff for a Graphic Communication degree. I think I slowly fell in love with Wales and Cardiff, so after travelling around Asia and working in New Zealand for a couple of years with my best friend I moved back here and started to find my place.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
Oh, I think it’s probably walking in the woods not far from our house and playing in the stream, making dams and collecting sticks and leaves… closely followed by playing in the garden and making miniature houses and fairy gardens for various bugs. I somehow convinced my mum it was a good idea to have pet woodlice in my bedroom! I loved being outside, still do.
When and in what context did you discover your passion for sustainable living?
It’s something that happened in childhood really – I was passionate, determined and probably pretty stubborn. I couldn’t see any reason why my actions couldn’t change the world so I rallied all my friends (at primary school) and started a club called the Green team! I made badges for our members and we would parade around the playground with our banners shouting ‘save the trees and save the whales!’ Throughout University many of my projects had environmental messages, it just seemed to stay with me. It wasn’t until I returned to Cardiff after travelling and started meeting like minded people that I started putting this into practice and learning more. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to change my ways – I have learnt and grown through the people I have met and the projects we run – I am still learning.
Tell us about the inception of Green City Events. How did it all start and who or what inspired you to embark on this journey?
Coming back to city life after travelling really hit me hard and I was infuriated at all the wastefulness around me. I realised many of the things I took for granted as a way of life – not wasting food, re-using and up-cycling, growing food, fixing stuff, sharing stuff – were not normal practice for many people in the city. I wanted to learn more myself but also inspire others to make small practical changes and show them it could be easy. There were already lots of green initiatives in Cardiff and people with skills to share – I wanted to help connect people and support this work. I really had no idea what Green City would become, what direction it might take – I just knew I needed to start something. Just before I left Cardiff I had got together with some friends and we decided to host a giant clothes swap called Re-Vamp. A group of us worked together, sharing skills and responsibilities and we pulled off a great event with up-cycling workshops, live music and an ethical fashion show as well as the swapping – there were queues all around the venue! It felt good to take action and work with a passionate group of people and I wanted to create something that could build on this. I remember scribbling down some ideas on a bus journey back from London and then started talking about them to anyone that would listen! Eventually a friend pointed me towards UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs who support social start-ups. I put in an application, met with a mentor (hi Sam!) and we were off!
What was your biggest challenge starting out?
Confidence. Starting your own business is pretty intimidating and there was a lot to learn. Now if I meet people at the start-up stages of social ventures who need some help I always make sure I meet with them and give them some support. I remember how valuable that was in the early days of Green City and how many people gave up their time to share their experience and advice with me.
Why is sustainable living socially important?
I think the term ‘sustainable living’ can been seen as intimidating and maybe a bit preachy. For some it just sounds unattainable and unrealistic. For me it’s about awareness and being conscious of the decisions we make and realising that we do have a choice. Sustainable living isn’t just about living in a way that is better for the environment, it’s about people and community and making connections that improve all aspects of your life. Living in this way should make you feel happier, healthier, and valued as a part of your community.
What have been the main benefits of facilitating and implementing sustainability initiatives in Cardiff?
The community that has grown around us and all the new projects and initiatives that are springing up in Cardiff right now. It’s an exciting time.
What are some of your favourite projects you've worked on, and why?
Wasteless Suppers – The feasts helping to make Cardiff a Wasteless city. Wasteless Cardiff is bringing together local food businesses and food lovers to inspire positive change and pave the way for Cardiff to reduce it’s food waste. Our collaborative suppers bring together some of Cardiff’s best local food businesses, working together to create a unique dish showcasing often overlooked ingredients and all coming together to serve you an exceptionally delicious meal.
Save the mermaids – An awareness raising campaign helping people to recognise single use plastics and reduce plastic in their lives. We created two beautiful life size mermaid tails, made entirely from plastic waste! They are touring some of Wales’ biggest running events this year.
Green Squirrel (workshops and suppers) – Green Squirrel is a project from Green City Events, bringing together skilled local tutors to teach practical sustainable living skills that benefit people and communities, and bring rural and traditional skills to the heart of Cardiff. Now in its third year, Green Squirrel brings you a programme of affordable, friendly and informal workshops and events to make greener living achievable and enjoyable, and make Cardiff a more connected and sustainable place to live. Also look out for our seasonal suppers where we’ll be inviting our guests to cook together, share sustainable skills and meet their community.
What more could be done to raise awareness about environmental issues and to encourage people to lead a more eco-friendly life? In other words, how can we bring more nature and sustainability into our modern lifestyle?
You would think that all the news about climate change, melting ice caps, deforestation, air pollution and plastic waste etc. would be enough to scare us ALL into immediate action but it seems that many people can’t process what these serious issues mean for our (near) future. We live life so fast these days and convince ourselves we don’t have time to make changes in our lifestyles so I think we could all benefit from slowing down and thinking about what’s actually important. Easier said than done. It’s going to be different for everyone, I don’t think there’s one solution – you have to choose what is achievable for you. Start small, start at home, and talk to people about what you are doing and why.
Why do you do what you do and what makes it all worthwhile to you?
It’s the buzz you get from working with passionate people trying to make a difference!
What advice would you give to someone wishing to embark on a similar journey?
Come and say hello and meet some like minded people, get inspired!
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
I want some land please and some chickens and bees and a polytunnel… hopefully these dreams will become a reality in the near future in the form of an exciting new project but we don’t want to jinx it… shhhhhh!
When you think about the future of sustainability in Wales, what are you most excited about and why?
The capacity for our country to be bold and lead the way in the UK. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act has really set the bar and now we have to deliver these goals. Wales is small enough to make things possible and big enough to make an impact.
And now a Max Frisch question: What are you grateful for?
All the plants! And my partner Dan who always supports me in my ventures and gets involved!
Can you recommend us:
A book: Anything by Neil Gaiman!
A song: Feist, Caught a Long Wind
A film: I always fall asleep during films, it’s a real problem! I’ll think of one…
A Green place: Anywhere there’s trees and a breeze.
Dan, tell us a bit about yourself and the projects you’re involved with.
I grew up in Caerphilly, but my family are from Cardiff, so the city has always been important to me.
Growing up I always felt that I wanted to leave Caerphilly and university gave me that opportunity. I was accepted into Cardiff University to study Welsh and Ancient History in 2002 and have pretty much been based in Cardiff ever since.
Music is a big part of my life. My dad is an avid record collector and that brushed off on me very early on. My dad is always astounded at how much vinyl I have compared to his collection. So Becca can blame him!
I am also a musician. I play guitar, piano and I sing. My band, Samoans, recently played our final show, which was incredibly bittersweet. We had been together for 10 years and had achieved a lot more than I ever expected. Our debut album, Rescue, was nominated for the 2014 Welsh Music Prize up against the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs, who were all a big part in me picking up an instrument in the first place.
I currently play guitar for the incredibly talented Jemma Roper and have begun a new solo venture under the name Ritual Cloak, writing instrumental soundscapes centred on emotive piano pieces. I’ve almost finished recording an album and plan to release in the near future.
I’m a keen photographer too. Last year we went to India and I took a lot of photos that I’m proud of. It was such an inspiring place. Recently, I’ve been inspired by photographers like Jason Lee and using film to explore the city’s empty spaces (car parks are currently a favourite).
I also volunteer a lot for Green City. It’s great to see Becca doing so well. I’m very proud of her. Being involved in the collaborative Wasteless suppers is incredible. I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time and working in a pressured, but thriving, kitchen environment with amazing chefs always leaves me wanting to keep being involved in more of these events.