Author: David Towell and Jo Kidd
Eco Shed is a great innovation that supports sustainability and social justice. It provides employment for disabled people, creates economically sustainable activity, while also protecting and improving the natural world.
What we set out to achieve?
Skillnet seeks to find promising local opportunities for making a valued community contribution which also open up spaces for the inclusion of people with learning disabilities. The sight of a community asset in disrepair and a concern with ‘going green’ set us on the road to this innovation.
What did we do?
Eco shed is a small social enterprise based in a workshop at the back of the Sittingbourne Labour Club. Its business is recycling wood and other waste materials to create ‘ecological’ products i.e. garden equipment, bird boxes, etc. which are sold to the public - and promoting both the business and the green agenda to the local population. At the same time it employs three people with learning disabilities alongside other staff with relevant skills and aspires to help the disabled people join mainstream employment.
Eco Shed was phase 1 of a larger scale project. The Community Interest Company has managed to attract various types of funding to completely re-furbish the old Labour Hall into a community resource that will involve all sectors of the local community. Solar photo-voltaic panels have been added to the roof of the site in order to generate its own clean, green electricity. By attracting public investment to this business it is also helping to revitalise what was quite a run-down community asset and open this up to more public use, for example through creating a local café – The Pulse.
Who is involved?
Eco shed is an initiative of the Community Interest Company, Skillnet, working in Kent. Skillnet itself brings disabled people and others together to create better opportunities for disadvantaged people and contribute to the well-being of local communities. It works with other community interests, public authorities and ethical funding agencies to create useful social enterprises.
Key features of Eco Shed
- Eco shed simultaneously contributes to addressing three key community challenges: protecting the natural world (through recycling, production of ecological goods and informing the green agenda), sustainable economic development (using local waste materials to produce local goods which contribute to the local economy) and social inclusion (by offering disabled people valued economic and social roles).
- More specifically, it helps disabled people who might otherwise be seen mainly as social care users to develop their own skills and make valued community contributions.
- It also demonstrates the potential of micro-enterprises to mobilise useful social and economic contributions.
- By ‘starting somewhere’ it may also be contributing to wider neighbourhood regeneration.
Helps and hindrances in the current environment:
Eco shed benefited from the mainstream policy environment supporting sustainable development and related funding streams. It also benefited from public welcome to entrepreneurial ideas which would renew wasted local assets.
Important lessons for doing more stuff like this:
- Involve everyone from the outset – no ‘doing to’ or ‘for’.
- Always keep in mind the triple bottom line – profit, people and planet and pool efforts to result in multi-outcomes.
- Listen to as much advice as possible from as many places as possible but in the end go with your gut instinct!
- Assume that everything will take 3 times as long as you imagine but that the end product will be much more sustainable as a result.
- Genuine social business has to be flexible and move and change with the people involved.
- Work in partnership – even when it is really frustrating!
- Stay real, be genuine - don’t sell out!
NB. In 2018 Skillnet Group changed their name to Bemix, for more information visit:
The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.
Eco Shed © David Towell and Jo Kidd 2014.
All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.