A six acre community garden powered by an on-site wind turbine, and a fleet of kerbside collection lorries running on used chip shop oil are just two examples of the creative approach to business being adopted by Bute based Fyne Futures.
Fyne Futures is a subsidiary company of the Fyne Homes housing association and was formed in 2004 to help achieve the environmental and community goals of local groups. This has already proved a big success with the expansion of an existing recycling operation and the creation of the "Bute Produce" community garden in Rothesay.
Fyne Homes and community recycling organisation Bute Waste Watchers have long worked together to provide recycling services on the island. A few years ago they jointly looked at the potential for expansion: the result was an award winning purpose built recycling centre in Rothesay, on land owned by Fyne Homes, and an extended kerbside collection service for cans, plastics, cardboard and textiles.
As successful as these developments were, however, the partners recognised that to ensure long-term sustainability the service had to be developed still further. The creation of a separate company, Fyne Futures, was seen as the best way to provide a more business focussed structure not just for the recycling service, but for other potential environmental social enterprises.
The move has been positive all round and Fyne Futures Recycling has grown year on year: its collection area has expanded to parts of Cowal and more and more material is being diverted from landfill. The main sources of income are contracts from the council for the collection of waste, and from the onward sale of materials such as aluminium, paper, cardboard, steel/metal, textiles and plastics, for recycling. It's a tough business environment though: running big vehicles across such dispersed rural communities is expensive, plastics are bulky to collect in relation to the amount they earn, and the price of recylates is unpredictable; sometimes even close to zero. Much of the focus of the last couple of years, therefore, has been on ways to make the business more efficient and to boost its income.
In terms of efficiency, Fyne Futures Recycling now has bigger lorries capable of longer runs, and fuel costs have been cut through using biodiesel made from used cooking oil. A student on placement helped research the potential for the project, and capital grants from HIE and Third Sector Enterprise Fund allowed a production plant to be set up at the recycling centre. The aim now is to increase the collection of used vegetable oil, mainly from commercial premises, convert it into fuel and sell it on to local companies. Fyne Futures Recycling is also looking at ways to re-use other materials it collects: adding value where they can and finding new markets for them. Ideas under review include developing skills in furniture restoration, reconditioning electrical goods and making new items out of textiles and plastics. All of these could bring in much needed cash, and reduce waste.
This same energy and creativity has been applied to their second enterprise, Bute Produce, which was set up to grow fruit and vegetables from a community garden and sell these alongside other locally grown produce.
The garden, which covers six acres, is only around 18 months old but has established itself very quickly. A pilot vegetable box scheme in 2009 for around a dozen local households is being extended to 100 households and a local farm business will take on responsibility for the delivery side. Billy Miller, Fyne Futures Business Manager recognises that this partnership approach is an important part of the enterprise as it aims to work closely with other local businesses and farms to increase the sale of all kinds of locally produced food.
Education is also a big part of Bute Produce: the garden is next to a school and young people are being encouraged to get involved through school visits and the various training placements on offer. Environmental as well as financial sustainability is also a big part of its philosophy: in early 2010 the garden acquired the first wind turbine on Bute. This will not only supply power for the site, but should generate up to £5,000 a year for the enterprise through putting surplus energy back into the grid.
All these developments have happened very quickly over the last few years, and HIE has contributed towards the capital costs of various items, including a polytunnel for the community garden. Kerrien Grant from HIE is impressed with their enthusiasm. She says, "What I like about them is they are always keen to try new things". However, her role in a rapidly evolving business is to help keep their feet on the ground. Kerrien says, "My job is to keep them focussed: I'm the person who comes in and asks the awkward questions, like 'what about your market, your staff, can you make this work?'"
It's a role that is appreciated by Fyne Futures. Ailsa Clark of Inspiralba has played a key part in developing the organisation since 2005 and she says, "We keep in touch regularly. It's great just to be able to reflect on the business as a whole through the questions Kerrien asks".