Monthly Archives: August 2018

Holding up the mirror together

Ruth MarksAhead of our seminar ‘Working in partnership: Holding up the mirror’, Ruth Marks @wcvaruth, Chief Executive of WCVA, has blogged for us about the importance of working together to better support individuals and communities across Wales.

Looking at life from a different perspective is good for all of us.

Over the summer holidays we sometimes get the chance to visit different places, catch-up with family and friends and make new memories. We also look forward to the autumn and moving ahead with our plans and ambitions.

As Chief Executive of WCVA, one of my ambitions is to extend the meaningful and impactful links between charities and community groups (the third sector) with local government, health and Welsh Government.

Being able to do this in partnership with the Wales Audit Office’s Good Practice Exchange and Academi Wales is a great opportunity.

On the 19 and 27 September there are two events in Cardiff and Llanrwst where partners can come together to look at how we can work together to better focus our efforts on supporting individuals and communities across Wales.

I imagine that there will be some key messages around a common language, respect, processes, tensions and resources. I think the most important aspect is to continue to not only hold up the mirror, but to polish it and make sure we are looking at ourselves and each other with fresh eyes, renewed energy and ambition to do the best we possibly can.

blog imageBy working together, respecting each other’s strengths, collaborating fairly, recognising the real value of volunteers, and understanding the legal responsibilities of charity trustees, we should be able to deliver better services.

From libraries, childcare, GP surgeries, schools, bin collection, swimming pools and hospital treatment – services are provided for all of us and we are all likely to need some type of public service in the future.

Who provides these services, on what basis and in what arrangements needs constant thought, discussion and regular review with the people who use them.

These seminars will be an invaluable opportunity to hold up the mirror – together.

A short history of the Food Group of the Wales Regional Centre for Expertise in Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship

In September and November this year, we are working in partnership with Bangor University’s Sustainability Lab on the RCE Cymru event – ‘It’s good to share’, held in Bangor and Cardiff. Ahead of the event, Jane Powell has blogged about her experience of Regional Centres of Expertise (RCE) and the interesting history of the Food Group.

It’s fascinating to hear how this research has evolved over the years and has helped to shape the Food Manifesto for Wales along with the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. I am excited about the prospect that our young people in Wales are helping to shape the food system for the better.

Here’s Jane Powell sharing her project…

When I first came across the idea of a Regional Centre for Expertise for sustainability education – and RCE – for Wales, in 2008, I was sceptical about the latest acronym. It sounded so bureaucratic. But then I heard Julie Bromilow of the Centre for Alternative Technology talking about an RCE she’d visited in Japan, and the possibility of being part of a global network to solve a global problem seemed very appealing.

At the time, I was the Information Officer at Organic Centre Wales in Aberystwyth, organising school visits to farms and locally sourced school meals alongside my regular editorial duties. It was rewarding, but I longed to be part of something bigger, to compare our work with what others were doing, and to see how far we could take it. Above all I wondered what exactly we were doing. How were farm visits supposed to change anything? Why were the school meal projects so powerful, while running a stand at an event could sometimes be very tedious?

Perhaps the RCE could be a way of shaking things up, I thought. So I jumped at the chance to join a subgroup that would look at food education, along with Julie, Dr Jane Claricoates from the RCE secretariat at Swansea University and Dr David Skydmore of Glyndŵr University. Our first task, in 2011, was to write a topic paper, which explored what ‘transformative education’ might mean in the context of food and drew on our respective experiences as well as the research literature.

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Next, we organised an event at Coleg Powys at which we used reflection and leisurely discussion to investigate how students, lecturers and local food producers related to the food chain. This was intended to give an idea of how food education could be effective, by connecting with people’s existing understanding and values. It also revealed the richness of the human experience that lies behind the facts and figures of the food system.

After that, although we attracted some new members and continued to meet for a year or two, the group began to disperse. Illness and job changes were part of that, and maybe the RCE was too peripheral to our various job descriptions to get the attention it deserved. However, the central concept of collaboration between higher education and practitioners turned out to be very durable, as did our question about what makes food education transformative. The Food Group morphed into an enquiry held by a loose network.

In 2014 funding from the Welsh Rural Development Programme to Organic Centre Wales allowed us to take this to a new level with an action research project we called Food Values. This took research from social psychology and applied it to food education, and it turned out to be a powerful approach which brought fresh insights to many of us involved with food education. It later became the basis for the Wales Food Manifesto which holds a vision for a Welsh food system that is held together by shared values of care, fairness and equality.

Food Values exemplified the ethos of the RCE, even if it wasn’t technically part of it. It was a collaboration between higher education, in the shape of Dr Sophie Wynne-Jones and her colleagues first at Aberystwyth University, then Bangor, and the wider community, exemplified by the Public Interest Research Centre, Organic Centre Wales and a host of NGOs and individuals, from Age Concern in Gwynedd to the United Reform Synagogue in Cardiff. It enabled a very rich and inspiring exchange between academia and practitioners that benefited both sides.

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When you regularly teach groups and organise community events, as I do, it’s easy to get burnt out and demotivated. The connection with researchers can bring a fresh perspective that allows us to go deeper into our practice, and to take more satisfaction from what we are doing well. For academics, I imagine, it must be rewarding to be involved in projects that have an immediate benefit and show theoretical principles at work in everyday life. And although we didn’t manage to make any connections with the global RCE network, that would obviously add yet more value to the process.

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The Food Group is dormant now, but its work lives on, and there is so much more we could do.  As Welsh schools prepare for a major reform of the curriculum and the Well-Being of Future Generations Act starts to take effect, the opportunities are huge. Could RCE Cymru in its new guise offer the opportunity for another round of collaboration on food education? Read our blog and get in touch with Jane Powell.

Jane Powell worked for Organic Centre Wales from 2000 to 2015 and is now a freelance education consultant and writer. She is Wales coordinator for LEAF Education, a member of the Dyfi Biosphere Education Group, and editor of the Wales Food Manifesto. Based in Aberystwyth she is active in community food projects, including a garden at the university. Her website is www.foodsociety.wales.

Circular Economy in Wales

circular economyThe Good Practice Exchange is always looking out for innovation and interesting ways of working, so when we found out about the Circular Economy Research Group’s work, we were keen to share.

Dr Gavin Bunting is an Associate Professor and Deputy Director for Innovation and Engagement in the College of Engineering at Swansea University He has written a blog ahead of the RCE Cymru ‘Good To Share’ event we are working in partnership with, to be held in Bangor and Cardiff.

The group has been involved in some really interesting research on how we can reduce waste in Wales, and create a circular economy, which could see Wales benefiting by £2 billion a year. It’s ideas like this that are going to shape Wales for future generations, with sustainable development at the heart of their work. Have a read of his blog below to learn how the Circular Economy Research and Innovation Group for Wales have worked collaboratively, making strides towards achieving the goals of the Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015


The UK generates 200 million tonnes of waste ever year with almost a quarter of that going to landfill, whilst many of the resources needed for critical applications such as power generation, communications and medical equipment are becoming more scarce.

In addition, most of us have come across the scenario where it’s cheaper to buy a new printer, washing machine, phone, etc than it is to repair or upgrade it. Why should this be the case?

One solution to tackle this excess waste and obsolescence is to move to a circular economy where products are designed:

  • To last longer
  • To be upgraded, repaired and re-used
  • To enable easy recovery and recycling of constituent materials they contain at the end of the product’s life

The potential economic benefits to Wales of operating a circular economy have been estimated by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) to be £2bn annually, for the two sectors of: medium-lived complex goods, e.g. automobile, electronic equipment and machinery; and fast moving consumer goods, e.g. food and beverages, clothing and personal care.

Moving towards a circular economy requires a multi-disciplinary approach, encompassing research and innovation into areas such as: designing products for refurbishment and re-use; developing new materials and extracting useful resources from natural materials; developing new business models that incentivise the manufacturer to design a product for longevity; and investigating how can we communicate the opportunities and challenge perceptions of circular economy.

We have a lot of this expertise in Welsh universities and by working together we can address circular economy challenges. I therefore worked with with colleagues in the Higher Education for Future Generations Group, Wales, the Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) Wales, the Welsh Government and Swansea University to set up the ‘Circular Economy Research and Innovation Group for Wales’.

I therefore worked with with colleagues in the Higher Education for Future Generations Group, Wales, the Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) Wales, the Welsh Government and Swansea University to set up the ‘Circular Economy Research and Innovation Group for Wales’.

The proposed aim of the group is to connect complementary expertise and experiences to facilitate circular economy innovation and research in Wales, achieved through the following objectives:

  • Provide a forum to share good practice and facilitate knowledge exchange between academia, business and policy makers.
  • Through collaboration, increase circular economy research capacity in Welsh institutions.
  • Engage with industry to develop industry led research.
  • Provide evidence to inform Government policy and programmes.
  • Develop an online forum to facilitate exchange of good practice, funding opportunities, news and events.
  • Showcase the network’s circular economy outputs internationally, thus supporting the development of international partnerships.
  • Collaborate on curriculum development and training.
  • Work with the Global Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) network (acknowledged by the United Nations University) to share learning and good practice at regional, national and international levels.

I chaired the inaugural meeting of the group on the 8th June, where we had representatives from: Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales, Swansea, and Trinity Saint David universities. Dr Andy Rees, Head of Waste, Welsh Government, set the scene providing some useful statistics and outlining Welsh Government policy instruments for innovation in the circular economy.

It was a productive meeting, where we discussed ideas on how we could collaborate on research, teaching, knowledge transfer and informing government policy. When it came to research it was thought that that we shouldn’t just focus on circular economy specific calls for research funding – there are opportunities for circular economy to add novelty to a wide range of research areas. It was also highlighted that we need to look at how we improve communication of the circular economy to industry and public in order to encourage innovation and change. In particular, linking to competitiveness when communicating with industry is important, as well as focusing on sectors important to the Welsh economy.  The British Standard for Circular Economy, BS-8001, could provide a useful lever to engage with companies and existing academia-industry networks such as ASTUTE can provide an established route for knowledge transfer.

A core aim of the group is to encourage collaboration; this will initially be facilitated by providing a directory of expertise, so members can easily identify potential collaborators for research. In addition, we will also set up a regular email bulletin and a forum for members to discuss areas of interest. To keep a group such as this working needs good secretariat support, which Ann Stevenson from Cardiff University, has kindly offered to provide.

Moving forward, we will hold another meeting of the group in the autumn and will run sessions at the RCE Cymru Conference on the 8th November 2018, in Cardiff, where we hope to have some inspirational and productive discussions.
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If you are interested in being part of the Group, or would like to find out more please contact Dr Gavin Bunting on g.t.m.bunting@swansea.ac.uk, 01792 602802.