Category Archives: History

A good report from the Ecology Building Society

The Ecology Building Society is dedicated to improving the environment by supporting and promoting ecological building practices and sustainable communities.

It aims to build a greener society by providing mortgages for properties and projects that adopt environmental building practices and improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s building stock, funded through their range of simple, transparent savings accounts.


In 1980, during a conference of the Ecology Party (the forerunner of the current UK Green Party), a Yorkshire based solicitor complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage for a property needing extensive renovation. Someone asked ‘Why don’t we start our own building society?’ In those days, a building society could be started with just £5,000. Ten people put in £500 each and some of those still save with the society. It began trading in 1981, from a tiny upstairs office in Cross Hills, West Yorkshire, just a few miles from the current headquarters’ eco-build offices (section above).

April AGM approaches

Several reports have been written about this year’s progress. The first lead was a link from the Business Desk (Yorkshire), which led to an article recording another year of solid results, which continues more than 30 years of uninterrupted profitability with record assets and savings balances for 2016.

For the year to December 31, 2016, it recorded assets of £173.1m (2015: £145.9m):

  • gross lending stood at £30.7m (2015: £42.1m)
  • savings balances rose to £163.1m (2015: £134.7m)
  • and net profit increased to £920,000 (2015: £881,000).

In 2016 Ecology lent more than £30.7m for sustainable properties and projects, with 94% of mortgages advanced on residential properties, including new builds, renovations and shared ownership, and 6% on community-led housing, including charities, housing co-operatives and community businesses. Chief executive Paul Ellis (left) said: “Our priority for 2017 is to continue to grow our mortgage book, particularly supporting more and more people to renovate their homes to a high environmental standard.

“Our financial success is based on sticking to our core principles: thinking long-term, putting our members first and focussing on our social and environmental impact”.




Top post of 2014


Top post this year – by far – Highland Home Industries (2011)



A web search revealed some contradictory accounts but it is agreed that the original Highland Home Industries was set up in 1931 by Hannah MacCormick, selling products in a small crafts shop on the island of Iona, but most of the information found relates to the silverware produced there.

Read on:


Philanthropists in Bournville and Dumfries


If half the wealthiest emulated the work of philanthropists in Bournville and Dumfries, the country could be transformed

bournville js 1Bournville Junior School (left) was founded by factory owner George Cadbury in 1906 and built with pride, to provide education of the highest quality in an ethos which was forward looking and tolerant.

Cadbury Brothers moved their factory from Bridge Street in Birmingham to a country location, in order to improve the quality of life of their employees and other incomers. Families in the new town, Bournville, had houses with yards, gardens, and fresh air -improvements in living conditions which enhanced public health. To this day, the town offers affordable housing. Figures published in 1915 show that the general death rate and infant mortality for Bournville was significantly lower than that for Birmingham as a whole, over a five-year period.

Training and employment opportunities multiplied as the factory site became a series of ‘factories within a factory’; everything needed for the business was produced on site.

This policy continued until well after the second World War, when – deplored in hindsight – it was considered advisable to use specialised ‘outside’ suppliers.

Work in progress

Work in progress

In 2007 a philanthropist mobilised a consortium of charities and heritage bodies to buy Dumfries House near a former coal-mining town with 16% unemployment, which according to Strathclyde University, “suffers from social deprivation and widespread degradation of the built environment and associated infrastructure”.

dumfries traineeDumfries House is now employing and training many young people who come from families with three generations of unemployed. They usually progress from apprenticeships to full-time employment.

An engineering centre is being created to revive skills in an industry considered vital to the country, counteracting the prevailing view in education that engineering is dirty and manufacturing ‘dead and gone’.


An outdoors centre; a cookery school; mill, woodyard, cookshop and training allotments and vegetable gardens (below) have been created – a comprehensive business, social and environmental approach designed to kick-start regeneration in impoverished East Ayrshire, where mining communities once flourished.

dumfries allotments

Scott Bader Commonwealth

scott bader building

Scott Bader was founded in 1921 and conventionally managed for 30 years. However Ernest Bader, the founder, was never comfortable with a capitalist governance structure. Having become Quakers, Ernest and his family believed that ethical and moral action to improve this world was vital. They believed that labour should employ capital, acknowledging everyone as equals and in 1951 the Scott Bader Commonwealth was founded on Quaker Principles:

  • equal opportunities (workplace benefits available to everyone);
  • involvement and participation (everyone having a voice);
  • the chance to be involved in social/ community activities;
  • responsibility for one’s own actions;
  • the development of individuals (to achieve their full potential);
  • leading by example and resolving conflicts non-violently through dialogue.

These principles changed the fundamental structure of the company and shared the responsibility for its long term future with its workforce – a self-governing structure. Common-ownership or ‘trusteeship’ was conceived “as an alternative to a war-based capitalist economy on the one hand and to communism on the other”. The founders envisaged a “leadership founded on approval rather than dictation”; and a turning away from “participation in industrial strife and international war; and a refusal to take an active part in re-armament” (Preamble to the Constitution – April 1951).


Godric BaderAs Scott Bader has no external shareholders it cannot be taken over, so there is stability and long-term planning. As trustees-in-common, employees have the responsibility of ownership which creates greater commitment and engagement to ensure ongoing success, and drives active involvement. With a strong commitment to support the workforce, society and the environment, social responsibility was made a key part of the company culture by Ernest Bader long before the term was popularised.

As far back as the early 1950s, Ernest Bader was promoting the idea of optimising the use of natural resources in manufacturing products.

Most of the raw materials used are produced from crude oil using conventional petrochemical processes, but SB is working with its suppliers to secure raw materials from more environmental friendly processes using non crude oil or ‘Green/Bio’ feed materials and environmental friendly processes. As these processes become available these materials will be evaluated so that suppliers can form a successful commercial partnership in the use of these materials in the company’s processes. They continually seek to source raw materials where possible from environmentally friendly and natural sources.

scott bader logoLife President Godric Bader encourages the work of the Sustainability Team which regularly reports back to the Group Executive Team on their progress. And R&D projects and collaborations are routinely assessed against a set of criteria so that they can be ranked in terms of sustainability. Products for metal replacement are sought; these can reduce weight e.g. for rail rolling stock, saving fuel and transport costs. 

In addition to other sponsorships (see website), the company’s constitution requires it to donate a minimum of 1% of the group salary bill to the Commonwealth Global Charity Fund each year. £176,000 was donated in 2013 from 2012 group profits.


Bradford Muslims help to secure the long-term future of the Reform Synagogue


We thank Shafi Chowdhury of Surrey, for bringing this cheering news to our attention.

bradford synagogue exterior.

bradford synagogue text.

Last year, Rudi Leavor, the 87-year-old chairman of Bradford’s final remaining synagogue, who moved to the city from Berlin as a refugee in 1937, reluctantly proposed to sell the 132-year-old building, forcing the congregation to go 10 miles to Leeds to worship.

In addition to mundane and minor demands such as dry rot removal and boiler replacement, there were structural problems. The roof of the Grade II-listed Moorish building was leaking, there was serious damage to the eastern wall, where the ark held the Torah scrolls and there was no way the subscriptions paid by the temple’s 45 members could cover the cost.

One good turn . . .

Leavor had earlier been approached by Zulficar Ali, owner of Bradford’s Sweet Centre restaurant, which is just a few doors away from the synagogue, seeking his help with opposing a planning application. Ali then introduced Leavor to the Carlisle Business Centre, a local social enterprise, which awards grants to worthy causes. They gave several hundred pounds for emergency roof repairs, and a local businessman, Khalid Pervais, donated a further £1,400.

The secretary of a nearby mosque, the owner of a popular curry house and a local textile magnate helped Chairman Leavor to mount a substantial and eventually successful Lottery bid, which – together with £25,000 pledged by Bradford Council – will secure the long-term future of the synagogue.

A historic link discovered

After getting involved, Zulfi Karim, secretary of Bradford Council of Mosques, learned that the mill where his father worked after emigrating from Pakistan in the 1960s was run by a Jewish descendant of Joseph Strauss, the rabbi who founded the synagogue in 1880.

bradford synagogue.

In a joint interview, Karim, said “Rudi is my new found big brother. It makes me proud that we can protect our neighbours and at the same time preserve an important part of Bradford’s cultural heritage.” At the start of December, Karim and other Muslims attended a hanukah service at the synagogue and strongly feel that the way to build tolerance is ongoing interfaith dialogue.

Read more in and the article by Helen Pidd:


The Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm): sustainable land-use and food systems, primarily within local economies

orc 2header

The Organic Research Centre (Elm Farm) is a registered charity, formally known as the Progressive Farming Trust Ltd.

ORC elm farmORC’s business is to develop and support sustainable land-use, agriculture and food systems, primarily within local economies, which build on organic/agro-ecological principles to ensure the health and well-being of soil, plant, animal, people and our environment. Read on here.

ORC elm farm researchers2

The research programme is co-ordinated by Dr Bruce Pearce with support from our Principal Scientific Advisor Prof. Martin Wolfe, Crops Team Leader Dr. Robbie Girling, Socio-economic Team Leader Dr. Susanne Padel and other members of the research team.

ORC elm farm researchers3

Read more about the centre’s research areas here. For more information see the website and the account in its 30th Anniversary Bulletin.

ORC elm farm pigs

And – at Aston University in January: ORC 8th Organic Producers’ Conference: Intensive Sustainability or Sustainable Intensification – which way forward for organic farming?

ORC elm farm training.jpeg

The pictures come from their charming Christmas video – well worth seeing.

ORC elm farm greetings


The admirable life of Thomas Hobson

thomas hobsonArn Dekker has just compiled the Cambridge Peace Trail, with photographs taken by Annie Lovett.

Some social and economic contributions were recorded, including an overview of the admirable life of Thomas Hobson (1544-1630). An octagonal monument to Hobson stands at the corner of Lensfield Road.

Thomas Hobson was one of many involved in the building of a conduit to bring fresh water into the city from springs at Nine Wells, now a local nature reserve. Designed by the Master of Peterhouse, ‘revived’ by the Master of Sidney Sussex College and known as Hobson’s Conduit, this is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument. Hobson endowed a Hobson’s Conduit Trust to deal with maintenance of the waterway.

thomas hobson blue plaqueA blue plaque on Hobson House in St Andrew’s Street mentions that he founded a charitable trust to set up and fund the Spinning House providing housing and employment to the poor, spinning flax or beating hemp.

In his livery stable, horses not being used to deliver the mail to London and back were rented by students, who preferred the fastest animals. After noticing that these were suffering from overwork, Hobson arranged a rotation of horses and insisted that the animal nearest the door be hired, giving rise to the phrase, ‘Hobson’s Choice’.


A most practical philanthropist . . .