Zoe Palmer and Aisha Forbes founded The Golden Company, a social enterprise based in Hackney that empowers inner city young people with business and life skills through beekeeping.
How did The Golden Company come about?
“I was filming with National Geographic in Albania [in 2008],” recounts Zoe, “and we were staying in this amazing place in the mountains where the family was completely self-sufficient and one of the things they had were beehives. I’ve always loved bees, but had never actually been around a beehive before. One day, the old guys [went to the hives to inspect them and work with the bees] and they didn’t even have suits on. They had cigarettes in their mouths and [were using that smoke to manage the bees]. I spoke no Albanian, but I asked them if I could watch. They were very sweet and gave me the only beekeeping suit they had, a musty old thing, and they let me watch them all afternoon. From there, I was hooked [on bees]. When I came back to England, I was thinking about opportunities for young people to engage with nature in the city and earn money, and realised that there were very few that would actually appeal [to them].” Zoe and Aisha started the enterprise to provide such opportunities to young people so that they can earn money while working and sharing in the running of a business and, simultaneously, receive training in urban beekeeping, permaculture, business, carpentry, bee-based product development, marketing, sales and life skills.
How did the enterprise develop?
“In January 2009,” Zoe continues, “I looked into [and received] funding from UnLtd,” a charity that supports social entrepreneurs, and “Aisha put the business elements together,” including recruiting the board of trustees. “We have three teaching hives in St. Mary’s Secret Garden,” a horticultural project in Hackney, and three additional hives at the Water House, a social enterprise and ethical and environmentally conscious restaurant on Regent’s Canal. From previous outreach experience, Zoe and Aisha tapped into a network of youth organisations from which they receive member referrals. The first group of young people joined The Golden Company in July 2009. Since then, members have not only tended to their beloved bees, but have also launched Golden City, a scheme to provide City-based companies with their own urban hives and bee friendly environments. They’ve also developed, manufactured and marketed their products, including bee houses (for solitary bees), salt scrubs, lip balms, body creams and honey. They have a stall at Borough Market on the last Saturday of each month. The Golden Company also received the 2010 Youth Award for Innovation from the Royal Society of Arts.
What is the best thing about being part of The Golden Company?
“Having a real benefit on the community and bringing people together,” says Aisha and “empowering communities to do things for themselves and with each other,” echoes Zoe.
What is the most difficult part?
Unanimously and unsurprisingly, “funding!”
Find out more about The Golden Company’s activities, products and how you can support them on its website http://www.thegoldenco-op.com/home.