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Going greenfingers in The Red Shed

Serial entrepreneur Graham Bell, former head of press and policy at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce,  tells Scot-Buzz of his venture into market gardening

I started by first business aged 30.  And now we are thirty years on… and seven businesses later.  I chuckle at the folks who tell me they are ‘serial entrepreneurs’, conjuring up images of constant success. 

History shows us that the most successful entrepreneurs have also embraced failure along the way.  Well whilst I agree with accentuate the positive, I also have a feeling that a little more honesty in the marketplace is good for us all.

How’ve I done?  Not sure.  Have a nice home, a great family, many friends and I hope a great reputation in the business community.  Some wins (a couple of angel buy-ins), a voluntary winding-up, one sell-out, two solvent closures… Did I get rich and famous, no.  (Although I do receive world-wide plaudits for the help I’ve given other people, which does help keep me going).  Written a couple of books.   And countless articles.

Taught loads of people.

Spent six years transforming the ability of the Prince’s Trust to deliver for young people.  Have been a respected commentator in the media.  Helped five hundred people start businesses and another five hundred not do so (and so not get into debt, so sometimes feel that’s the greater achievement).

Have always felt everyone should be treated with equal respect.  So have been delighted to have in-depth conversations with Royalty, Ministers of State, key business people, children, parents, ordinary folk, the able, the not so able…  well, you get the picture.

Believe passionately in the value to our society of our wealth creators, believe we live on an abundant planet capable of giving an adequate lifestyle to all, if only we would recognise how to manage it.

Have worked in Scotland for 25 years, the City of London (before that) for 10.  And also:  England, Ireland, Iceland, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Holland, USA, Israel, Palestine, Spain, and West Africa.

So at the ripe old age I am, have just started a new business:

The Red Shed Nursery:

A long held passion for growing things, a connection with the earth and food and flowers, to me is the kind of grounding influence that busy business people all need.  It also stems from my interest in Permaculture, a design science which encourages us to consciously design our inputs and outputs in a way that means we agree to take responsibility for ourselves.  We agree to provide as much of our own needs as we can, to deal with our waste responsibly, to share our surplus, and to leave our environment at least as healthy and productive as we found it.

The Red Shed specialises in producing North Hardy Plants for Forest Gardens… that is, top fruit, soft fruit, herbs, perennial flowers and salads for home food production in organic gardens which favour wildlife as well as human consumption.  All done from a quarter acre of our Borders based garden.  Plus we run courses to share our lifetime’s experience in practical, design and business skills with other folks.

The other interesting aspect about this for me is that it just shows that with the collapsing world of pensions, the growing lifespan of people in our culture and the obvious solutions in self-reliance, we can all start and pioneer businesses well into the ages of ‘retirement’ which we have been accustomed to over the recent past.

Running a nursery means I can have something to do practically which reaches the parts of what I most care about, and keeps me alert and active into my older years.  And the responses are fantastic.  Let’s hope it also turns a penny or two…

On a parting note from my days in Business Advice mode, I noticed that my colleagues all winced when anyone said ‘lifestyle business’ in a deprecatory tone.  98% of Scotland’s businesses are SMEs, 95% have ten or less employees.  Every one of these folks is working to feed themselves and their families, eschewing state benefits where they can and adding to the economy.  “Mony a mickle maks a muckle”.   Bills Gates has a lifestyle business, it’s just his lifestyle is a bit more opulent than mine.  But is he happier?  I don’t know.  Health, wealth and happiness.  We, the wealth creators strive to create all three.