My Green Trip to Italy

I was delighted recently to be informed that I was successful in winning a place on a Green Trip to Italy as part of the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Project with the Irish partners Tipperary Energy Agency (TEA).  Earlier in 2014 we had hosted a group of over 30 visitors on a similar trip from Europe and Ireland in The Bothy in Borrisoleigh. The Bothy is a community shop selling locally produced food and crafts along with tea and coffee (we haven’t quite figured out how to grow our own tea and coffee yet). It is a non profit enterprise run and staffed entirely by volunteers and with the invaluable addition of a lady on a Tus scheme. Visitors to Ireland on that trip visited such places as Templederry Community Wind Farm, Drombane Upperchurch  Energy Team and Cloughjordan Eco Village.

 Update 31st Jan 2015 – There are now places up for grabs for a Green Trip to Holland in April 2015 click here for more details

Bassano Del Grappa
Bassano Del Grappa. It’s famous covered wooden bridge over the River Brenta was designed in 1569. The bridge has been rebuilt a number of times to the original design.

Six of us flew out on Wednesday 8th Oct. to Venice and then on to Bassano del Grappa, a medieval city and the birthplace of the alcoholic spirit Grappa. My other travelling companions were:- TEA representative Vincent Callagher. Will Softly (great name isn’t it) of the Seedsavers Association and Brigit’s Garden who also does a bit of DJing. Ailbhe Gerrard of Brookfield Farm where this year’s All Ireland Permaculture Gathering was held. Michael O Meara, a farmer, beekeeper and Independent  Councillor with Tipperary County Council. Colm Byrne of Glas, a renewable and sustainable energy solution provider. We arrived to our destination late at night and were lucky to find a restaurant still open where we could have dinner after our long journey. I think it was there that we all really started to get to know each other as we shared an excellent meal and great conversation.

 

Our visit the next morning started with a short bus ride to the Color Café, a cultural centre and cafe which is a project of the Cooperative Adelante of Bassano del Grappa which provides a venue for people of all walks of life and ages to hold exhibits, concerts, show movies and anything else they can think of, while also offering assistance in arranging same. The slogan beneath the Color Café sign reads ‘Animatori di idee’ which translates to ‘Animators of ideas’. The omens were good.

 

We assembled in the theatre part where we were welcomed by a local Council member. This was followed by a brief introduction on the Solidarity Purchasing Group (SPG) on Solar Photovoltaic Plants and then a presentation on the technical aspects of the SPG by two local engineers. SPGs are an Italian-based system of purchasing goods collectively. These groups are usually set up by a number of consumers who cooperate in order to buy food and other commonly used goods directly from producers or from big retailers at a price that is fair to both parties. They put people and environment before profit.

20141009_102051
Presentation by Solidarity Purchasing Group (SPG) on Solar Photovoltaic Plants

 

The SPG on Photovoltaic Plants has 10 Founding Values

 

  • Help families have clean energy through economic saving.
  • Involve SPG members in the decision making process.
  • Stop land exploitation! Reject big land plants that waste fertile agricultural land.
  • Create a sustainable and green economy.
  • Support the economy and small local business.
  • Fair wages to every supply chain member.
  • Choose components produced in democratic countries.
  • Choose eco friendly technologies and production processes.
  • Support environmental protection, public health and sustainability.
  • Nuclear energy is not necessary.
Michael and Will admiring the electric car owned by one of the engineers.
Michael and Will admiring the electric car owned by one of the engineers.

In 2010 the SPG on Photovoltaic Plants in Bassano del Grappa was the biggest SPG in Italy. They organised agreements with banks to grant credit to people who wanted to install photovoltaic plants. They had 160 plants installed. There was 374, 400kg of CO2 saved in one year and they had the involvement of low income families.

 

 

After the the presentation on the SPG, representatives of the partners from participating countries gave a brief description of learnings and what they have done since their visit to Ireland in relation to education and recruitment with the wider population. We then broke for lunch in the Colour Cafe.

 

Holy Moly, an ethical bank! What could it mean?

 

Walking through Padua
Walking through Padua

With our physical hunger satisfied, the quest to satisfy our hunger for knowledge continued and we boarded a bus to head to the city of Padua, which is home to a university where Galileo was once a lecturer. We walked along the picturesque streets with it’s magnificent buildings for a while before we eventually reached Banca Etica, Ethical Bank in English. Holy Moly, an ethical bank! What could it mean?

 

From their website, the idea behind Banca Etica consists in creating a place where savers, driven by the common desire of a more transparent and responsible management of financial resources, may meet socio-economic initiatives, inspired by the values of a sustainable social and human development.

 

The exterior of one part of the Ethical Bank.
The exterior of one part of the Ethical Bank.

The Company adopts the following principles of Ethical Finance:

  • ethically oriented finance is aware of non economic consequences of economic actions;
  • access to finance, in all its forms, is a human right;
  • efficiency and soberness are components of ethical responsibility;
  • profit produced by the ownership and exchange of money must come from activities oriented towards common well-being and shall have to be equally distributed among all subjects which contribute to its realisation;
  • maximum transparency of all operations is one of the main conditions of all ethical finance activities;
  • the active involvement of shareholders and savers in the company’s decision making process must be encouraged;
  • each organisation which accepts and adheres to the principles of ethical finance undertakes to inspire its entire activity to such principles.

 

Ethical Bank Padua
No pin stripe blazers for these trail blazing bankers!

The talk given to us in the bank focussed more on the green initiatives and energy efficiency of the building itself. While it was interesting to hear about the biomass heating, insulation and solar panels on the roof, I would have been more interested in hearing about some of the projects that the bank has financed.

 

So instead I did my own research:-

In 15 years, Banca Etica has, among other things:

  • provided a total of 23,804 loans to families and social enterprises for a total of € 1.8 billion;
  • 70% of the funding approved by Banca Etica has gone to non-profit organizations (compared to the 1% of the Italian banking system’s average). In recent years, Banca Etica has also gradually added some responsible for-profit organizations to its borrowers.
  • the interest rates charged by Banca Etica loans to customers (families, non-profit organizations, social enterprises) are on the average lower than those of the rest of the banking system
  • Banca Etica has funded the installation of 1531 renewable energy plants

You can read the full report here

 

One man’s junk is another man’s treasure

 

Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza
Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza.

As my Italian isn’t up to much, I resisted to urge to try and borrow a few quid from our new friends in the bank and headed off to get the bus with the rest of the group. Our next stop was the Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza, which is a ‘Type B social cooperative’, which means it is a social co-operative dealing with work inclusion of disadvantaged persons. The Insieme co-operative was established by some groups of citizens who were actively involved in helping troubled young people – especially those with problems of drug addiction, prostitution, theft, conviction. These citizens decided to promote activities to help the troubled people reintegrate into the community. Insieme’s main business is the collection and reuse of waste materials.

 

Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza
Furniture given a chance of a second life

And boy do they know how to collect and reuse waste materials! The location we visited was a 3,300 square meter building that was officially opened in 2006 at a cost of €2.3m (the Banca Etica, mentioned above, was one of the sources of funding for the building). From books to bikes, furniture and clothes and everything else in between, at the sides, on the top, underneath.

Seriously, nothing goes to waste here. Every item of clothing, and there’s a lot, is graded. Anything not good enough to resell is used to make cleaning rags or sent on to be used as stuffing etc. We got a tour of the premises by the manager who informed us about how the whole operation works. Upstairs, not open to the public, is the furniture restoration area and electrical recycling area where crates of cut off plugs, old hard disk drives, cables and all sorts of bits and pieces that would have any hacker/maker drooling at the mouth.

Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza
Bicycle repair section of the Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza
Insieme Cooperative in Vicenza
Part of the clothes sorting area

 

There’s a case study about the Insieme Cooperative that you can read here

 

 Day 2

I want to ride my bicycle

The next day we walked the short distance from our hotel to the Don Cremona Hostel.  At the hostel we were given bicycles to begin our cycle tour in association with the FIAB Association. The FIAB is the Italian Federation of cycling friends, a charity which promotes and encourages cycling in communities.

Bassano Del Grappa cycling
On the way to Conca D’Oro

For most people there were electric assist bicycles to get to our destination. If you’ve never ridden one of these before, make it your business to do so! When you peddle, a little battery kicks in and gives you a hand (or a foot as the case may be). Your job is to keep the pedals moving, the bike supplies the power to propel it forward. There’s even a ‘boost’ button when you want to rev it up a notch!

With the Italian climate it is a perfect way to travel…. For some people…. There weren’t enough electric assist bikes to go around for everyone and myself and a few more had to make to with regular bikes.

Those short cycling trips with my kids back home paid off and I made it to our first stop of the day, San Giuseppe di Cassola Synergistic Garden, without breaking too much of a sweat. And managed to resist the urge to poke a stick into the spokes of the other smug looking electric bikers 🙂

At the garden a member of FIAB spoke about the work they do in promoting cycling and then we moved into the synergistic garden itself where the head gardener told us about this gardening technique. This is where I get lazy and hand you over to Wikipedia.

Forget your shovel if you want to go to work (in the garden that is)

San Giuseppe di Cassola synergistic garden
San Giuseppe di Cassola synergistic garden

Wikipedia tells us that Synergistic gardening is a system of organic gardening, developed by Emilia Hazelip. The system is strongly influenced by permaculture, as well as the work of Masanobu Fukuoka and Marc Bonfils. After establishing the garden, there is no further digging, ploughing or tilling, and no use of external inputs such as manures and other fertilizers, or pesticides. Soil health is maintained by the selection of plants, mulching, and recycling of plant residues.

Did you notice that part above? ‘No further digging’, that’s my kind of gardening.

There must be something to it if bees are any barometer to go by. There were some hovering around the flowers on some of the plants and you could actually see the honey on their legs.

 

Green cleaning

Buen Vivir Association self production of bio-detergents
Non toxic products used for making bio-detergents

After getting down and dirty in the garden it was time to move indoors for a lesson in cleanliness. A member of the Buen Vivir Association gave a practical lesson in the self production of bio-detergents. Buen Vivir translates as good living or living well. It describes a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive (good article here going into more detail).

Most of us are familiar with some of the cleaning properties of everyday items at home such as vinegar, baking soda or lemon juice. The lady who gave us the practical lesson holds regular classes in the making of bio-detergents. Products such as washing machine powder, washing liquid etc. can all be home made using readily available products.

Buen Vivir Association self production of bio-detergents
I can’t believe it’s not Daz!

The great part is that they are not as toxic as the products on sale on supermarket shelves. You know, the ones with poison warnings and skulls and crossbones and the like. The ones that are put into separate bags from your other shopping. And woe betide the careless bag-packer raising funds for the local primary school who puts the washing powder in with the bread!

Buen Vivir Association self production of bio-detergents
Practical lessons in diy cleaning products

 

 

 

 

 

 

After our lesson we mounted our bikes again and headed off for our last visit of the day.

 

 It’s a farm, but not as we know it

Conca D'Oro Social Farm
Conca D’Oro Social Farm

Conca D’Oro is a social farm using bio-agriculture and which promotes the professional inclusion of disabled people. Conca D’Oro is an inspiring place to visit. About 25 to 30 of the people working there are mentally disabled or autistic. Accommodation is also provided. Before going on a guided tour of the farm we had lunch in the onsite restaurant. All the food served is produced on the farm, bread, eggs, vegetables, fruit, jams etc.  Conca D’Oro sells it’s produce through a little shop on the farm, through it’s own restaurant and to shops and restaurants in Bassano Del Grappa.

Conca D'Oro Social Farm
Outside the restaurant, even the Italian trees have more fashion sense than me!
Conca D'Oro Social Farm
Oh lay, oh lay, oh lay

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conca D'Oro Social Farm
Inside the shop
Conca D'Oro Social Farm
The herb garden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can learn more about the role of this social farm here

 

or listen to some audio below

I managed to rob borrow acquire an electric bike for our return journey, not that I needed it or anything, and we all headed back to the hostel. The bikes were so much fun that six of us, three Irish and three Belgian, asked could we hold on to them a little longer and go on a little tour ourselves through Bassano del Grappa and outskirts. That was great fun, zooming through the narrow streets. It was like in the car scene with the Minis in the movie ‘The Italian Job’, except we were on bikes of course.

That night while deciding where to go for dinner we bumped into one of the staff from the hostel. He told us of a good restaurant that uses the food from Conca D’Oro. That was that decided!

The late night dinners and dining alfresco with a glass of Prosecco while enjoying the conversation among great company was the topping off of a wonderful few days. Really and truly it was a wonderful experience visiting the various projects and gaining an insight into how they operate. We learned a lot over the few days and came home brimming with ideas. Watch this space for future developments!

Green trip to Italy
The Irish contingent along with the Italian hosts and some of the Belgian contingent. L-R:- Colm Byrne, Michael O Meara, Vincent Carragher, Very nice Italian host, Ailbhe Gerrard, Derry O Donnell, Will Softly, Crazy Belgian man,. Front: Crazy Belgian man, Very nice Italian host, Crazy Belgian man.

 

Read more about the partners involved in this element of the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning Project here

 

Co-ops – The saving of a community. Report from LiT Thurles

Friday night, 21st Feb., I popped along to an event organised by the Tipperary Environmental Network in LiT Thurles.  The event ‘Co-ops – The saving of a community’ involved presentations by three speakers followed by a discussion and Q and A  session.  The speakers were Bill Kelly of Meitheal Mid West and the Limerick Community  Grocery Co-operative, Marcella Maher Keogh of the Drombane Upperchurch Energy Team and Mary Fogarty from The Cottage Loughmore.

Bill Kelly was first up to speak about Meitheal Mid West and the Limerick Community Grocery Co-operative. Meitheal Mid West was established in 2012 when an initial group of 19 got together. It was Ireland’s first Multi-Stakeholder Co-operative, which means it is a business that is owned and democratically controlled by multiple stakeholders which can include workers, consumers, producers, and/or community members. The community grocery started out as a buying club but is expanding it’s services as it grows.

In order to learn more about successful co-ops they visited the hugely successful Mondragón Cooperative Corporation in the Spanish Basque country which employs over 80,000 people and has an annual turnover of €14 Billion. The co-op model is the default model for any new businesses setting up in the region, even schools are established as co-ops.

The group also visited the Park Slope Food Co-op in New York which is open 7 days a week, has over 16,500 members and has an annual turnover of $48 million. Members volunteer for 4 hours work per month. They could be shopping today and packing shelves tomorrow. They employ 70 full time staff who earn $56000 per annum (7 staff are on higher salaries of $70k due to extra work and responsibilities). There is a waiting list to become a member of Park Slope Co-op. You can read more about it in this BBC report.

The Limerick based co-op now has 108 members (as of 21/02/14) with an average of 5 new members joining up each week. Their mantra is ‘wholesome food at affordable prices’. Bill is keen to emphasise the importance of looking after your suppliers in a co-op.  He also spoke a bit about safeguarding the assets of a co-op from predatory exploitative elements and to ensure a legal structure is in place to prevent takeovers and buyouts. This would mean having a strict form of co-op that would protect the ethos of it’s members.

Bill told us that in the future they will be exploring crowdfunding to assist in their plans for expansion. This will possibly be in the form of loans from members of the community who would rather see their money put to use and benefiting the local community than just simply sitting in a bank account earning a low rate of interest. Peer to peer financing has seen considerable growth over the past while. Irish company LinkedFinance.com has assisted several viable businesses obtain loans from members of the public who offer the amount they are willing to lend and what interest rate they would like.

In true co-operative spirit Bill told us he was travelling to Dublin the following day to visit Dublin Food Co-op to share ideas and learn from each other. As is evident in the UK where co-ops are far more plentiful, there is a willingness to share information and knowledge. A pleasant change from the corporate diet of ‘dog eat dog’ we have all been fed.

This video helps explain more about workers co-operatives.

The next speaker was Marcella Maher Keogh from the Drombane Upperchurch Energy Team (DUET), Co. Tipperary.  Earlier this year DUET won an award for Best Community Renewable Energy Project at the Community and Council Awards. Members of the Drombane-Upperchurch village group in Tipperary got together in 2011 to discuss economic solutions for their community. They considered many ideas, from wind farms to a local ski slope.

marcella maher drombane upperchurch energy team
Marcella Maher Drombane Upperchurch Energy Team giving her presentation

After several meetings with Tipperary Energy Agency and North Tipperary Leader Partnership, they settled on a community housing retrofit scheme. The aim of the scheme was to convert many of the houses in the locality to high energy preforming homes.  This would result in warmer homes, lower fuel bills, and the creation of local jobs.

A survey was carried out which found that in total, the 400 houses in the Drombane and Upperchurch locality spend €1,000,000 on home energy each year. This equates to €1000 per person or €2,500 per household. A 25% reduction in home energy expenses would save €250,000.

Around the same time the DUET group was meeting up, SEAI introduced the Better Energy Communities Scheme. This enabled the group to proceed with their plans. In 2012, in a 4 week period, 22 houses were retrofitted at a total cost of €115,000, which was grant aided by SEAI  to the total of €88,000. Most of the insulation work carried out involved attic insulation and pumped cavity walls.  In 2013 another 28 houses and 2 community buildings were completed. The total cost so far has been €403,000 which includes grant aid from SEAI of €301,000. A loan was also received from Clann Credo who provide social finance for community growth.

You can download a case study of the project from the DUET Facebook page. The success seen in Drombane and Upperchurch has encouraged other projects to get started in Co. Tipperary and the setting up of other Community Energy initiatives driven by North Tipperary LEADER Partnership.

Drombane Upperchurch Energy Team were featured on a recent edition of EcoEye. See full video below (the DUET story is just after minute 17) . My other neighbours in Templederry also feature in the video for their Community Wind Farm project. So just watch the full thing, ok .

Mary Fogarty from The Cottage in Loughmore, Co. Tipperary was the last speaker. The Cottage is a community based shop and tea rooms. Mary and her colleague Maeve O Heir had similar ideas and a shared vision to try and do something for their village. There was no grocery shop in the village so they decided to open one based on a community ownership model. Maeve’s sister provided the use of an old cottage for the purpose.

To finance the operation they approached North Tipp Leader (NTLP). A feasibility  study was carried out to check it’s viability. They also met the CEO of the Plunkett Foundation who was visiting Ireland. The Plunkett Foundation, founded by Irishman Horace Plunkett, is a UK based organisation who provide advice and assistance to hundreds of co-operative community owned shops, pubs  and other enterprises in the UK.  He invited them over to the UK where they visited a number of community shops, of which there are over 300.  They gained valuable advice and insights from their visit.The cottage loughmore country living magazine

To set up legally as a co-op they engaged the services of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS). Two thirds of the parish came to a meeting the women organised. People were invited to become producers and craftspeople. They now have 9 of each supplying the shop coming from within a 5 mile radius. Community shares were sold at €10 each to parishioners, meaning that the community actually owns the business.

Currently 25 local people benefit financially each month from The Cottage. There are 3 full time employees, 12 volunteers and 2 Tús scheme participants. The Cottage has won 2 CAVA Awards (Community and Voluntary Association). They’ve appeared on RTE’s Nationwide programme and have been invited to attend various events from the National Ploughing Championships to Electric Picnic and have featured in countless newspaper and magazine reports. You can keep up to date with their news via their Facebook page.

It was then time for tea. And biscuits. And scones. And cake.

After the break Davie Philips of cultivate.ie gave a quick mention to the Get Involved project which is a local community initiative developed by NNI Local & Regional and the Regional Newspapers and Printers Association of Ireland (RNPAI). The Get Involved project encourages the sharing of ideas and collaboration and has the potential to generate livelihoods, resiliency and neighbourliness. Watch out for ads in local papers in March.

Attendees were then invited to break into groups and work on answering some questions that were written on large sheets of paper at various tables. A spokesperson from each group then delivered their findings.

Our question was ‘How to identify the supports available/not available?’worksheet lit thurles

Supports available were listed as:-

ICOS

Plunkett Foundation

Leader

SEAI

Community Pioneers (People who spearhead projects)

Enterprise Boards

Supports not available (and probably more intangible) were listed as:-

The mind set – to work co-operatively

Imagination

Role models

Education – knowledge of sustainability information deficit.

Groups at LiT Co-ops event

Training and Education for Business in Tipperary

Lack of education was one of the things that popped up in a few of the group presentations. As it so happens, members of North Tipperary Economic Working Group are hosting some events in March to get the views of people and some input into the County training and education plan. Hopefully more training and education on setting up co-operatives and community based schemes  will be added to the list of courses run by the various state agencies. Some workshops on collaboration and group problem solving would also prove beneficial and would help foster greater community participation in resolving some of the issues we are faced with today. I remain hopeful for the future.

 

 

Crazy things happen when your Internet is down

There’s nothing like a splash of cold water in the face to wake you up from a slumber. Similarly there’s nothing quite like having your creature comforts removed from you unexpectedly to make you re-evaluate things.

As I type this I am one of the lucky ones in my town to have electricity and running water. Our phone lines are down as is the internet connection. As we live outside the town, our power supply comes in from a different direction and wasn’t affected by the storm damage. We have our own well, so don’t rely on the public mains water supply.  The phone I can live without. But the Internet! Noooooo, don’t take my connection to the World away from me! I can’t check my emails, Facebook, Twitter, update websites or do anything online.

 

So I wondered what will I do, tidy the office or write a new blog post? A quick look around the office settled that one quite quickly! You the lucky reader get to benefit too from my decision, unless of course you decide to visit my office.

 

It’s a perfect excuse for me to update my blog which has been gathering dust for a while now (Ok, it’s not exactly crazy as the title would suggest, but I couldn’t think of any other title). I’m not going to be writing anything earth shattering in this post, it’s more of a kind of yawn and stretch to wake myself up and let you know that I’m going to be a bit more active here. I’ll be writing more about community resilience, the sharing economy, food and energy solutions and any awesome stuff I come across related to collaboration and co-operation. This is the stuff that is being done by people and communities throughout the World who have realised they need to work together to accomplish great things and not to rely solely on governments to sort out the economic mess we find ourselves in.

 

I’ll probably write a bit also about my latest ideas and new business ventures. This is not to put myself on a pedestal or say ‘look how great I am’, but more to organise my thoughts and also to hold myself accountable for what I might say I will do. There’s nothing like writing your thoughts and ideas down to get them organised. And if I tell you I’m going to do something, then I’ve got to go ahead and do it don’t I. See what I did there? Now I’m going to have to start writing more! It’s also said the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, so get ready to learn!

 

The Christmas Present that started me on the entrepreneurial road

I only remember one occasion when I actually stated what I would like for Christmas. Every other year I simply said ‘I’d like a surprise’. I was generally quite happy with whatever I had at the time. Having only one TV channel and no toyshop catalogues meant that I wasn’t too aware of what else was out there. Most of my play was outdoors building forts, making things, cutting up the new lino (sorry Ma) and generally getting up to mischief. Don’t worry I’m not going to go into an Angela’s Ashes or Bill Cullen ‘we were so poor…’ kind of a tale.

I only remember a handful of the Christmas presents I received as a young boy (not too long ago :)). One of the surprise presents I received one Christmas morning when I was 14 was a Prince August Soldier Making Kit. There were four moulds in the kit. Two for infantry, one for cavalry and one for a cannon. To make the pieces you melted lead and poured into the rubber moulds which were clamped together.

It didn’t take me long to use up the lead that was supplied. Luckily at the time my Father had a roll of lead that would have been used in construction work. Having an endless free supply of raw material I decided to go into business for myself. I don’t know if it was my idea or if someone suggested it, but I began my first self employed venture.

I had the product. I set the price at 10p for infantry pieces, 15p for cavalry (you got a horse) and 20p for a cannon (the wheels worked). The place where I sold them was in the small sweet shop we had attached to the pub. The promotion was via a large A3 size poster I made saying ‘Create Your Own Battles, Recreate History’.

I was never really into playing with small toy soldiers myself, but I knew others who were. So it was worth a try. I sold the lead pieces unpainted. It was too time consuming to hand paint each individual piece. Anyway “who was I to choose the colour of your army? You’ll have much more fun painting them yourself”.

As is always the case, there were a couple of casual buyers and a couple of fervent collectors. Although I didn’t know what it was called at the time, Pareto’s Principle (the 80-20 rule) was certainly in place. I rewarded the big spenders by keeping the best unblemished pieces for them. Money given for sweets was being diverted into unique handmade collectibles and miniature armies were growing under beds in the village.

I was rolling in the dough, fast cars, loose women, exotic holidays……well, maybe not. I was ok at saving, helped in no small part by the fact I lived over a sweet shop! I’m not exactly sure why I stopped selling the soldiers. Maybe the buyers found some new craze. Maybe the moulds were on the verge of disintegrating from constant exposure to molten lead. Maybe I just got fed up of it and wanted something new. Probably a combination of all of the above. Anyhow a new opportunity presented itself.

A farmer who drank in our pub had some baby pigs (bonhams) for sale for £25.  The sow had a litter of around 10-12 bonhams. I did the maths. 10 bonhams at £25 each was equal to 2,500 lead soldiers at 10p each.

I was going to go into pig breeding!

But that’s a post for another day. I guess the idea of this post is to encourage the buying of gifts that encourage kids to create something, to make something, to build something, to bring out their imagination. Encourage them to start their own little micro enterprise. Let them learn, let them succeed, let them fail, just let them at it.

Have you any memories of presents that brought out the best in you or that taught you a lesson?

 

Over 100,000 YouTube views in less than a week, some insights

The idea was simple, the timing was perfect.

A woman in England dumped a real cat in a wheelie bin, was caught on cctv and the footage ended up on YouTube and then national TV.

The Kilkenny hurling team, known as ‘The Cats’ were hoping to make history by beating Tipperary to win 5 All Ireland Championships in a row.

Smack bang in the middle of these two headline news events I came up with a simple idea ‘film someone dumping a ‘Kilkenny cat’ in a wheelie bin’.

The next day, Friday, I drove deep inside ‘enemy lines’ to purchase said cat. I toyed with the idea of getting someone well known to perform the dastardly deed. Perhaps a well known Tipperary hurler dressed in drag or similar. I thought about it for a while and decided it best to keep it close to the original video footage and ’employ’ the services of an unknown woman (nationally at least).

Cue my mother. “Ma I want to video you throwing a cat in a wheelie bin” I said. “For what”, was her confused reply. I explained what I had in mind and this was the result.

On Monday evening 30th August I uploaded the video to my YouTube channel and then posted to my Tipp Tatler Facebook page and then shared through my personal page. I was banking on family and friends and relations who knew my mother Noreen picking up on it and sharing it further. I knew it was quite good and would probably do the rounds of Borrisoleigh and maybe a bit more as she is a popular woman and much liked by all who come in contact with her, and little did I realise her exceptional acting abilities. I had no idea it would go to the 120,000+ viewers that it now stands at or would be featured in so much of the mainstream traditional media and linked to on dozens of websites.

I think the video is beautifully simple (not that I’m biased or anything). But the screenplay, if you like, has all the main ingredients of the original video with some extras thrown in. The solitary wheelie bin at the beginning and end of the clip, the arrival and departure of the woman caught on camera, the stroking of the cat, the binning of the cat (which happens to be from Kilkenny) and the coup de grace the catchphrase ‘Five in a Row My Arse!”, language unbecoming of a mature lady some might think. All captured in 17 seconds. The fact that practically all of the country was hoping for a Tipperary win possibly also helped.

YouTube have a thing called ‘Insights’ where you can analyse statistics like who’s watching your video, their age, what they are watching it on, how they came to watch it etc. If you’re interested in that kind of thing read on, if not, tune out now.

Statistics on the location of the video.ie. Where was the video viewed, shows that
53.3% on YouTube
31.8% on an Embedded Player (where the video is on a site other than YouTube, eg Facebook, Tipp Tatler etc.)
14.6% on Mobile Devices
.32% YouTube Channel Pages

Facebook without doubt won the embedded player contest with 28.8% of the views on embedded players coming from there. Followed by Boards.ie 0.69%, Newstalk.ie 0.44% and Tipp Tatler 0.32% (Yeah, yeah, there I go plugging it again, well tough :))

Embedded player statistics

The demographical statistics are also quite interesting.
Broken down by sex the video was viewed by 64% Male 36% Female.
The larger male % is probably explained by the video associated with a predominantly male sport.

The video was viewed more by the over 35’s than the young whipper snappers.
More than half the viewers were aged between 35 and 54.

13-17yrs 10%
18-24yrs 12.05%
25-34yrs 15.55%
35-44yrs 26.81%
45-54yrs 23.60%
55-64yrs 9.66%
65+yrs 2.28%

Age Demographic Graph

The Hot Spots chart is pretty nifty I think.
It tracks the audience attention by watching where viewers tune out or rewind a particular piece to watch it again. A red vertical line moves along as the video plays so you know at what point viewers enjoyed most. The graph below shows the audience attention was in the hot zone throughout. I guess the length of 17 seconds made it easy enough to accomplish that.

Hot Spots Graph

Some other, what I think are interesting, points are
When it was at 14,500 views I had a look at the insights and the % for viewing on mobile devices was 21%.

While the 35-44yrs group was still the biggest % of viewers, the 25-34yrs was slightly more than the 45-54yrs.

The day after I caught those figures was the day that the story appeared in the newspapers and was mentioned on radio etc. This suggests to me that the traditional media sources drove an older demographic who were less likely to have smart phones to search for the video online. This is further borne out by the statistics of the number of visitors to the Tipp Tatler website through various combinations of the search words Tipperary, woman, cat, bin, Kilkenny etc. which increased significantly towards the end of the week.

I was tempted as it was growing in popularity to edit the video online, as YouTube allows, and maybe add in some reference to the Tipp Tatler magazine but decided against it, as I didn’t want to interfere with what appeared to be a winning combination. In any case, a lot of the national media mentioned the Tipp Tatler along with a local paper and ourselves of course. Our YouTube channel is linked to our website, but that reference would be lost viewing it embedded on other sites. If doing something similar again however I would be sure to put in some subtle hint of who was behind it. Hindsight is a great thing.

It’s been an unusual but fun week, the phones didn’t stop ringing from when the papers came out on the Thursday with The Independent, The Star and The Evening Herald all with some mention of it and a radio interview with Ray D’Arcy on TodayFM, followed on Saturday with another interview with Marian Finucane on Radio1. I’d like to thank my mother for being such a good sport and for capturing the hearts of so many people.

But do you know what topped it all?

Tipperary won the match! All Ireland Hurling Champions 2010! 🙂

Two years on Twitter

I’m coming up to my 2 year anniversary using Twitter. No, I haven’t been counting the days, there are easier ways to find out. Anyhow I thought I’d share my thoughts on the whole Twitter thing.

The first I’d heard of it was via an American, would you believe. I read in a Marketing Sherpa piece about a Peter Shankman who had set up a Facebook group called Help A Reporter Out, where journalists looking for sources could post their queries. The group soon outgrew the 1200 limit set at the time (or that was the limit on messages that could be sent out, I forget which) and a website was set up called helpareporter.com. In emails sent out there was always a mention ‘for urgent haros follow me on Twitter @skydiver’ . Out of curiosity I signed up.

Like a lot of people signing up without knowing how it works or who to follow, I floundered around for a while I’m sure, probably not talking to anyone but following links etc. I was probably following the social media gurus and blogging experts across the water. Then at some stage I found some Irish folk or they found me. I must admit it opened up a whole new world to me.

I never knew there was such a large online community in Ireland. It was almost like discovering a parallel universe. There were Open Coffees and Bizcamps and all sorts of digital meetups that I knew nothing about. The sad thing is most of these are promoted online, so if you’re not online in the right places you rarely find out about them, in my experience anyhow.

I’ve met loads of wonderful people and learned loads of fantastic things through Twitter. If you want to know something or have a query on how to do something most likely you will be able to find out via Twitter.

Once I got into it I was tweeting like a thing possesed, on my pc, laptop, blackberry and then iPhone. I couldn’t watch TV without tweeting about it and my viewing was often dictated by what others on Twitter were talking about. I’d switch to that program so I could join in the conversation. Ok, that probably sounds worse than it was. To put into context, to date I’ve 7287 tweets over 714 days, that’s an average of around 10 tweets a day. Of course some days there would be a lot more and other days hardly any or none at all.

Lately (as in the last few months) I haven’t been as active as when at my peak (on Twitter that is!). There are a number of reasons for this.

It takes time to tweet. Despite what is often said by the gurus, it does take time. Taking my average 10 a day and multiply it by 30 or 60 seconds (conservative estimate of how long it takes me to type a tweet) gives you 5 or 10 minutes a day simply typing. Now factor in time spent reading other peoples tweets, copying and pasting interesting links and following links to read an article or blog post that someone is sharing. It doesn’t take long before an hour or two is spent. Basically, engaging in conversations online (or offline) takes time, otherwise you’re just broadcasting.

Adverse effect on productivity. Because of the time spent on Twitter, especially during working hours, it definitely meant I was less productive on the tasks I should have been focusing on. It’s very easy to get pulled into reading tweets, following links and chatting away. Mainly because it’s so enjoyable. If major news starts to break, as it regularly does, then it’s very hard to pull yourself away. But now I’m happy to wait until I hear the news on radio or TV. I don’t really care if I’m not one of the first to know about some political scandal or somebody dying.

I like to daydream. This may seem at odds with the previous paragraph but actually it complements my productivity. One of the side effects of Twitter and the Internet as a whole is information overload. In any given day I could read dozens of articles and blog posts across a range of subjects. They would be informative, educational and entertaining. I enjoy reading them and have learned a lot, for which I am thankful. But it meant my brain was soaking in vast amounts of information without getting a chance to rest. Now if I’m waiting somewhere, waiting for something to download, waiting to meet someone or simply just waiting, I let my mind wander. I daydream, I engage in people watching, I think about issues affecting my work or private life. You need to give your brain a chance to wander to let the creative juices flow.

Plancast and Foursquare. These two services have eliminated some of my reasons for logging in to Twitter. Plancast keeps me updated on events that people whose opinions I value are attending. I get a notification email telling me that so and so is attending such and such. It’s a great tool. Foursquare allows me to ‘check in’ at various locations and posts it to Twitter and Facebook should I choose to allow it. So instead of Tweeting ‘I’m getting new tyres for the car’ I check in to the tyre shop on Foursquare and can also add a comment. I have another reason for doing this. If I’m in one of my customers premises, I’ll check in and announce it to my friends on Twitter and Facebook. This gives my customers some extra publicity and hopefully translates into extra business for them. You also get lovely virtual ‘badges’ for regular use 🙂

Family Time. This is the main reason I cut back on tweeting outside of work hours. I have four fantastic children, the eldest of whom is five years, the youngest is five weeks. From the time I finish work to when they go to bed only adds up to a couple of hours. The best gift you can give a child is your time. I try to give them that gift every day. Then when the kids are in bed there’s my wonderful wife who is also equally deserving of my attention. It takes me a good hour to check that she has completed the household chores to my satisfaction! What’s a man to do 🙂

There’s other minor things as well I’m sure, but I’ve gone on long enough. I’m not knocking Twitter, I still think it’s a great tool (if that’s what you call it). Social Media apparently affects the brain like falling in love. It triggers the release of the generosity-trust chemical in our brains, the cuddle chemical, in other words oxytocin. If that be so, I think my love affair with twitter seems to have come to an end, but we will always remain good friends

Funnily enough when I logged onto Twitter before finishing this post it was down. She must be sulking.

Nowadays I just get the chance to jump in and out occasionally and I find if I’ve missed a few days it seems to take a while to get back into it.

But who knows, maybe someone will come up with virtual twiagra and our love affair can blossom once again.


The Idiot’s Guide to Internet Success!

Q: How long will it take me to get insanely rich?

A: Depends on you. Probably two weeks. Some people take as long as a month.

Q: Does it take hard work or long hours to get insanely rich?

A: No. This is the Internet.

Q: Can just anybody get insanely rich?

A: Yes. This is the Internet.

Q: How do I proceed?

A: As you’re surfing around the net you’ll see banners and links that say things like “Make Fourteen Million Dollars in Ninety Days, Click Here to See How!” Simply click the link to get started.

Q: It won’t really take ninety days though, will it?

A: Of course not. They just say that so you’ll be pleasantly surprised and so it doesn’t sound like hype.

Q: Okay, I’ve found one that says “Retire to Your Own Caribbean Isle in One Month!” Is that good?

A: Perfect.

Q: What does MLM mean?

A: Nobody really knows. Morons Lose Money has been snidely suggested by the little-brains.

Q: I signed up and now I sell low phone rates. They say it’s the easiest thing to sell because everyone uses a phone. And since it’s MLM, by the time my third level is operating I’ll be making $345,915.45 per week.

A: Conservatively.

Q: They say the first step is to get my mother into the program. Why is my sponsor happy that Mom has Alzheimers?

A: Your sponsor is a shrewd business person. People with any sort of memory disorder make the best targ… uh, clients. You can switch your mother’s long distance carrier for her, and then start calling the other members of her support group.

Q: That sounds a little fishy.

A: The ends justify the means. You are offering people substantial savings on long distance. It’s for their own good.

Q: How else can I get new business?

A: Spam. Spam. Spam.

Q: I thought spam was bad.

A: No, spam is good. Anyone who says it’s bad is just jealous because their brains are too small.

Q: But won’t I lose my web host and ISP?

A: In the get-rich-quick business, it’s important to cultivate a zen-like non-attachment to service providers.

Q: What else can I do to promote my new business?

A: Here’s a list of suggestions:

–Sign up with a free website provider and fill your site with zany colors and flashy banners.

–Join every free banner exchange.

–Get your own free-for-all links page.

–Join every opt-in email list with the word Money, Rich or Lackwit in the title.

–Buy software that submits your site URL to the 15,000 most important search engines. –Buy software that submits your ad to the 50,000 most-read free classified sites.

–Hire a bulk emailer.

–Sponsor a golf tournament.

Q: Okay, I’ve done all that and I’m still not rich. I haven’t even driven my hit counter to its knees yet. What am I doing wrong?

A: It’s possible that you’re not very bright. Consult one of your friends who has retired on their Internet earnings.

Q: What if I don’t have any friends who have retired on their Internet earnings?

A: Then contact someone on the Internet who has retired on their Internet earnings.

Q: What if I’ve never heard of anyone retiring from their Internet earnings?

A: Well, then maybe you can be the first.

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Hope you enjoyed this and I must admit I didn’t write it, simply a copy and paste job from a joke newsletter I received (Yes, part of my job entails reading jokes for publishing them in the Tipp Tatler). Hopefully someone will read it before ‘investing’ money in some get rich quick scheme.

Now I’ve got to go and sort out the paper work to collect the lotto winnings from that country I’ve never heard of and help that widow transfer her deceased husband’s millions to my account.

Where’s my cheque book?

More bureaucratic bullshit

Last week I sought to register a new business name with the Companies Registration Office in Ireland to launch a new magazine, a sister magazine if you like to an existing one.

Today I received a letter from the CRO stating that I would have to resubmit the forms because “It appears that the business is located at your residential address. Given the nature of your business it would seem more appropriate that your business would be better located at a commercial premises

Extract from CRO letter
Extract from CRO letter

What the hell gives the CRO the right to tell me where the most suitable place to run my business is?

Do they even know what it entails to run my business?

I have run my business from an old kitchen table at the foot of my bed.

I have run my business from cafes with free wifi.

I have run my business from another country for God’s sake.

Why the hell should it matter where I run a business from so long as I at least try?

Why does some bureaucratic bullshit delay me in my attempts to start something new, maybe even create employment (heavens forbid) while someone with a clipboard offers me unasked for advice on where best to run a business from?

I despair, I fucking despair

Online PR with Damien Mulley

Way back in January I attended a course in Online PR run by Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications. The course was announced in ’09 and the first batch of people to leave their names on the Facebook Page for Online PR in Ireland got to attend. Thanks to my skills of observation and swiftness with a keyboard and mouse I was in (I know, I know, not so swift in writing this blog post though was I?).

The day long course covered a range of topics such as the basics of online communications, developing a communications bible and a communications philosophy, working with blogs, Twitter, Forums etc. Finding tools – who is talking about you online and crisis communications.

I won’t go into explaining all about the above as that is expertly done by Damien himself (yes, that’s it, click on the links). An incredible amount of news stories are generated as a result of PR, over half at least, according to this research. So knowing and understanding the importance of PR is vital.

I guess the main thing I took from the day was the importance of reputation management. What kind of reputation do you want portrayed about your business. How to monitor what’s being said about you. Who in your organisation should be responsible for representing it online. And most importantly, how to respond when the shit hits the fan.

Darragh Doyle gave a great example on what happened the previous week with boards.ie and how they responded.

For some interesting media monitoring cases studies have a look at O Leary Analytics

The need for Online PR or reputation management is not just the preserve of large corporations or government bodies. It also applies to individuals. How many times have you heard about employers searching through a  prospective candidates Facebook/Bebo etc. account. Indeed in my latest recruiting quest I came across a CV of a potential candidate. Upon Googling the name the first result that appeared was a newspaper report of a court case involving the would be candidate and former employers. Not exactly the best first impression to create is it?

If you care anything about your online reputation, whether business or personal, it is most certainly worth your while clicking through to the links above to Damien’s posts and attending  one of his courses.

Print media starts to fight back

Magazines the power of print

For years lovers of the Internet and Social Media have predicted the death of print media. It is true that sales of magazines and newspapers have declined Worldwide along with the advertising revenue which accompanies them. I don’t accept for a minute however that print media will soon be extinguished anymore than ‘video killed the radio star‘. Yes, things will have to be done differently by magazine and newspaper publishers. Some will survive and thrive and others will just die, the same as they did before the Internet and in other industries.

Anyhow, this subjects warrants a much longer post than I currently have time to write, but I will come back to it. This post has been prompted by a campaign that has begun in the US by 5 leading magazine publishers who have teamed together promoting magazines and the power of print. Below is their ‘Good News’ celebration video. What do you think? Is print dead or does it have a future?

And if you want something else to Tweet about, here’s another video

Twenty Tweetable Truths about Magazines