Final report….done!

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Woo Hooooo!…..finally finished my report (link below) regarding my Winston Churchill Fellowship to New England looking at Rural Retail. Thanks to all that helped me with my travels and to my family for putting up with me through the dark days of December when the report was being put together.

I hope to carry out some talks/presentations relating to my fellowship and the learnings I gained during 2014. If you are interested in listening to me drone on in comedy Glaswegian accent about my travels then let me know and I would be delighted to turn up at your event/community/conference/bar mitzvah/wedding etc etc.

Contact me at blue1.skye@btinternet.com or through Facebook if you dare!

Churchill Report

The Last Post

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Its been just over a week since I returned from my Stateside Fellowship travels and it has taken this long to catch up with life on the Isle if Skye. What with a very excited collie to pick up and exercise (see above), unpacking, washing, bills, no phone line due to a BT engineering cock up, no oven due to a major electrical issue, loads of good folk wanting to hear my adventures, our Trust’s AGM, hockey and boyfriend taxiing for one of my daughters, a half a sheep being delivered (dead and for the freezer of course) and several dozen emails to answer.

As mentioned above lots of folk want to know what I have learned from my fellowship experience and my findings will be fully explored in my final report to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust but some areas that I will concentrate on are ways to encourage more rural enterprise and local food production including better marketing of provenance. “Buy local” campaigns are very successful in the US especially those that include training and events tailored to inspire a more divesified local economy and a Skye wide scheme could be a great initiative for the island. Stand out visits were a culinary school for the long term unemployed, young people and those recovering from illnesses, the alpaca farm in Martha’s Vineyard and the several country stores packed to the gunnels with products but also providing a valuable meeting point for the community.

I’ll post a link to my finished report in a few months time but til then a pretty sunset from earlier this year taken from my front garden.

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Grubbing the Line

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Well it is all over. After six weeks and 2500 miles of driving, it is back home to Scotland today. I have been aware that my blog has been very factual regarding my visits and with less on the “other stuff” that has happened to me during my journey around New England et al. To write (sic) that wrong…here are my top ten highlights of some other things that have went on….

1. Managed to book the right hotel in the wrong place. Who knew there were two Portlands! The buggers (Hampton Inns) won’t give me my money back but they haven’t heard the last of me on this one…

2. Motoring Issues – Part One…..small accident with another car but all worked out OK…no fatalities and insured up to the eye balls…. sorry again Janet!

3. Motoring Issues – Part Two…..several dalliances on the wrong side of the road and countless times lost in the middle of nowhere but met some lovely people while asking directions. My hire car has been a star…I will miss you…you great gas guzzling galoot!

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4. Met the youngest daughter of Charles Lindbergh….yes THE Charles Lindbergh….Spirit of St Louis and all that….Reeve, his youngest daughter, is a lovely woman and is an author, residing in Vermont.

5. Been interviewed for several local papers and online media things. Was also filmed for a CBS Connecticut programme eating my dinner with my wife while in a restaurant in Milford.

6. Met my best friend from High School after 30 years in of all places North Adams, Mass. and learned about his project to develop a block of houses and retail spaces at a cost of over a $1million. Who knew two waifs and strays from Clydebank would have made it so far..

7. Gained plenty extra pounds after eating and eating and eating…this is indeed the land of mucho food and some great craft beers as well as blueberry pancakes with Maple syrup…I will miss you my friends

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8. My accommodation has been an eclectic mix with some great hosts. I have stayed on a farm, in an attic in the Hood, in a house with a sauna in the back garden (see below) and many hotels where the activities of my fellow guests has been somewhat entertaining..

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9. Visited the Big Apple and fell back in love with the place. Broadway show, Jets v Patriots at the Metlife, great bars/restaurants and even became part of the street theatre in Times Square…

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10. Finally I have visited 8 States (Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey) meeting over 100 wonderful people who are doing some amazing community related projects. Their hospitality and gracious understanding of a broad Scots brogue has been a joy to behold.

Now how am I going get an Alpaca in my case…

P.S. Grubbing the Line is a college student term for cleaning the leftovers from canteen plates…apt

Brass City – Part Two

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The second part of my time in Connecticut was in the Brass City of Waterbury itself. First up was a meeting in the very grand and just made over…. at a cost of $30 million…City Hall and in the office of the mayor no less. Joe McGrath, Director of Economic Development, took me through the history of the city and how they are now putting great efforts into improving infrastruture and housing. One of the first great challenges that they have is to upgrade their transport system to free up the downtown area to provide a better investable commercial area for the good citizens of this hardworking city. They are doing much to get manufacturing back to the area as well as new skills and are doing this through targeted training resources in new schools and colleges. The city’s promotional DVD can be viewed here http://www.whybehere.com/….snappy song eh? Maybe one for Sleat?

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Next on the list was a visit to Brass City Market http://brasscityharvestwtby.org and to meet with Susan (Sue) Provonost, Executive Director (pic in the white below). A “not for profit” the market buys local farm produce and take it to the people. They run a shop selling produce and other gift ware, manage a downtown farmers market on a Thursday, grow their own food in two glass houses on brownfield sites and have just started rearing trout! They have also started selling reasonably priced local fruit and veg at local hospitals car parks and are about to take their van out to a local housing scheme. The Market is still very reliant on grant funding and a large part of Sue’s time is spent writing  grant applications to keep everything running.

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The Market also runs some small educational events on subjects such as nutrition, cooking local produce and,  on the weekend, it was soap making. An eclectic mix of things going on and they have been well served with support from the Connecticut Community Foundation which was my next meeting appointment.

After an introduction the previous evening to most of the personnel of the Foundation, at the home of the Vice President, I was invited to take part in their weekly staff meeting  and to tell them about Sleat Community Trust and my Churchill Fellowship. A great question and answer session followed with a lot of interest in how the Trust owns a forest and learnings from my travels around New England. With that it was off for a weekend break to New York city and to catch up with an old family friend before making the trip back to Scotland via Boston.

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Brass City – Part One

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The Connecticut Community Foundation, and in particular their President and CEO, Paula Van Ness, has been of great help to me during my fellowship. They have arranged several inspirational visits to groups and individuals that they work with in their grant giving area of Waterbury and the surrounding townships. Waterbury is known as the Brass City from a long history of using this metal to make a variety of products. The factories have long closed down and the city has went through some tough times with high unemployment and little investment in infrastructure and housing.

My first visit was to the Community Culinary School of Northwestern CT in nearby New Milford. Dawn Hammacott (pic below) is the Executive Director and founder of the project which has ran for seven years. Industrial quailty kitchens are leased for a small annual fee at a local church and are used to train up to 10 students, the majority long term unemployed, over a 12 week period, in the basics of food hygiene and cooking. The school has over a 95% success rate at placing students in a long term work role. Blythe the Head Chef and trainer is ideal for this role dispensing the training syllabus with humour and a good deal of “tough love”. Too many great stories to tell of live’s being turned around through this great wee program.

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After this it was off to a nearby community farm. The Friends of Sullivan Farm took over the running of this 100 acre steading 2 years ago from the nearby township. DSCN2061

They employed Joe Listro as their Manager and he has set about making the land work for them. Hay is their main crop which is sold locally as are the fruit and vegetables that they grow on the land and in their “hoop houses”. They have started a new venture by making maple syrup which is a fascinating process as trees are still tapped by hand with the syrup running downhill to their processing plant. The farm is also used by local schools to educate students about growing food and to connect them back to the land. The farm has a shop which sells their produce and syrup but even with all this going on it is difficult making the books balance. Thus the constant need to raise funds from the local community and to that end the farm had just held a Fall festival where lots of fun activities took place for all ages and much needed income was raised (http://sullivanfarmnm.org/)

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After this visit it was off to the beautiful home of Foundation Vice President Ann Feinburg for a superb pot luck dinner and to meet the rest of the staff. Great hospitality and wonderful people! We are hoping one day they may visit Skye so we can return their kindness!

Three days – Three States

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After a final day in Cape Cod, Massachussets it was a short hop across the state line to Providence, Rhode Island. There I met with Jessica David, Vice President of Strategy & Public Affairs of the Rhode Island Foundation, who very kindly gave up some of her Columbus Day holiday to see me. The Foundation in 2012 distributed $30 million to more than 1,300 community organizations. As the community foundation for the entire state, they fund a wide range of initiatives and projects, many of which are determined by the charitable interests of the donors.DSCN2013

The foundation is a wee bit behind the curve on social enterprise but is taking on ownership of the state “Buy Local” campaign which has over 600 members. A strategy is being devised to reinevent this project and generate more concrete results from its running.

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Most of the famliy then enjoyed a visit to probably the largest downtown shopping mall that we have ever seen before a night stay in an attic space courtesy of airbnb in a rather colourful area of this compact city.

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On then to Connecticut and a sit down with Tony Sheridan, President of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce. Tony emigrated from Ireland many years ago and through hard work and study he has held manypositions in high office of the local city Waterville. Tony was able to give an overview of the dispartity between the very wealthy and poor in this one of the richest States in the US. The chamber looks after the interests of over 1000 mainly small businesses in this busy State. One part of their mission statement is “Promoting our region’s value and virtues as a great place to live, work and play”. They do this by getting their message out both nationally and internationally as most of the Chambers I have visited have been keen to point out. Tony was indeed just back from a tour of Austrailia to promote the area.

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After this short meeting it was off to visit the Waterbury area of Connecticut where the local Foundation had been great in organising several meetings which included a not for profit culinary school, a community owned farm and a visit to the Mayor’s office. I’ll leave the detail of this little lot for my next post..

Alpaca’s and Bed Racing

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One of the stand out visits to date of my fellowship was last week in Martha’s Vineyard (MV). Nancy Gardella, the Executive Director (that’s her with my wife below), of the islands Chamber of Commerce took a day out to show us round the sights of MV.

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In great weather Nancy took us to see Barbara Ronchetti and her business Island Alpaca (http://islandalpaca.com/). Must admit this was my first time up and personal with these great creatures. Barbara started her farm in 2006 and now has over 80 alpacas and one grumpy llama. The herd is used for breeding purposes and prices for a pedigree specimen can reach tens of thousands of dollars. The wool (or fiber in US speak) is very soft and this herd is particularly known for a fine micron density which can be sold as yarn at a premium. The farm also has a shop where products made from the wool are for sale. All manner of hats, scarves, gloves ets etc can be purchased both at the shop and online. The business is now profitable and a top island visitor attraction. A cute pic below of a cria, a baby alpaca.

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My visit was rounded off with my family and I taking Roberto and Salvatore (best behaved in a friendly herd) out for a walk. Great fun and it was a lesson in what can be achieved with hard work and a slightly off the wall business idea.

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In my last few days have also managed to visit a couple more general stores, one with a building owned by the community, Alleys in MV has been around since the early 1800′s and was absolutely stuffed full of thousands of items.

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The Brewster General Store in Cape Cod which in part was my inspiration for my fellowship was as welcoming to vistor and local alike with its mix of old and new.

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Rounded off my visit to Cape Cod with a day out at the community run Yarmouth Seacoast Festival with over 125 craft stalsl and much entertainment for children and adults including a very competitive bed race…. although some participants came a cropper early on!

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and the eventual winners…far too professional!

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