CIRCUS Programme

The CIRCUS Programme is supporting local communities to develop new revenue streams using the circular economy, building a social co-operative of like-minded social enterprises.

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Est. annual reduction in carbon
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Est. number of people
who benefit directly

Members of Portglenone Enterprise Group with upcycled display products.

M&EA Borough Council's Story

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council worked with Workwest Ltd. (Programme Facilitators), Queen's University, Ballymena Business Centre and Ulster Supported Employment and Learning (Knowledge Partner) to co-design and develop the CIRCUS Programme to stimulate and support the creation of three Circular Economy Social Enterprises.

Across the Mid & East Antrim Borough, some 66,772 tonnes of household waste are generated each year. Of this, 34,307 tonnes are reused, recycled, or composted equating to a recycling rate of 51.32%, on a par with the Northern Ireland average. This pilot initiative sought to explore how some of the waste could be utilised for the betterment of local communities and encourage community organisations to consider sustainable funding streams going forward.

The programme was designed with innovation at the core, bringing together relevant expertise to support product and service development. This was manifested at various stages of the programme, including the use of university students, who volunteered on the programme to facilitate design and product development. The project is also developing a Social Co-operative Network to sustain and grow interest in this area.

We have seen a marked increase in participants’ awareness of the importance of sustainable business practices through training sessions, mentoring sessions and the use of role models. We have measured greater social confidence, mobility and ownership of interventions within the community organisations. It is hoped that as this project progresses, increased local waste will be reused or recycled within the borough for the benefit of local communities.

Useful Learnings from M&EA Borough Council

The programme was originally designed to be delivered in a group setting, face-to-face. However, the Coronavirus pandemic and resultant lockdown in March 2020 required delivery to be switched online using the Stormz platform, an online collaboration and meeting tool for workshop facilitation. The programme took time to work with the groups over a year and a half and it is this investment that has produced results building relationships, a network of support, and linking the participants with the necessary expertise and contacts.

A unique facet of the programme was the addition to each team of a volunteer student from Queen's University, Belfast using their skillset and outside perspective to support idea development and prototyping. This was really useful and provided a creative view to challenge ideas.

Three groups were engaged in the pilot programme and have advanced to producing prototypes for sale to the marketplace. These include upcycling waste materials into planters and decorative items, picnic seating and rocking chairs, re-using glass jars for new food products, and creating drinks cabinets, storage and shelving units for the beauty industry. The organisations have embraced the concept of prototyping their new innovations and are collaborating with the council to identify further waste streams and potential for new product and social enterprise development.

The project highlighted the vast range of circular economy opportunities available. It highlighted key barriers for social enterprises, namely access to finance, organisational capacity and capability. In developing the programme further, we are looking at the inclusion of a seed fund to allow further product development and scaling up. The community organisations are largely manned by volunteers who give their time freely. Any future programme would also need to consider sourcing support to staff the projects via volunteer network, placements or via the council's employability programmes.

The carbon emission calculation is based on information from the carbon footprint calculator provided by World Wild Life and Bellona.

World Wild Life equates 50% of 1 tonne of wood to carbon emissions. It is estimated this programme has used one tonne of wood. This equates to 0.5 tonnes of carbon saved for wood.

Bellona equates 1.9 tonnes of carbon emission for every 1 tonne of steel used. We have estimated that 0.25 tonnes of steel was used, equating to 0.475 tonnes of carbon emission.

M&EA Borough Council's Metrics

Number of social enterprises supported.
Amount of carbon saved.
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