Organised by @SimonCockingDavie Philip @comresie, Cultivate interviewing Anthony Kelly, WeCreate @WeCreateIRL

Anthony Kelly is an electronic engineer, who worked previously in semiconductor companies in Ireland. Anthony and his family were one of the first residents of the ecovillage in 2009. He is a founder of VINE the company that installed the telecoms infrastructure in the ecovillage and developed the metering and billing system for the detract heating system in the ecovillage. In 2013 he moved to being a full time director of the FabLab at We Create workspace in the ecovillage.

Davie Philip manages the Community Resilience Programme at Cultivate. For the last 15 years he has organised events and learning programmes across Ireland promoting sustainability. He was one of the original catalysts of Transition Towns work and is currently focused on social technologies to unlock how communities can do more for themselves. He was a founding member Sustainable Projects Ireland the company behind the ecovillage project in Cloughjordan, Co. Tipperary where he is now based and currently sits on the board of Grow It Yourself Ireland.

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What is Cloughjordan eco village?

Cloughjordan Ecovillage, @CjnEcovillage is a neighbourhood of some 100 adults and 35 children living in 55 low-energy homes in the Irish rural town of Cloughjordan. Through its renewable energy system, its well-insulated houses, its community farm, its green enterprise centre and its vibrant community, is a model for the transition to a low-carbon society.

Solutions to climate change need to be fashioned in communities building practices of sustainability that can be replicated. These practices will combine latest technologies such as renewable energy systems, resilient homes, waste recycling and water harvesting with behavioural changes such as car pooling, community agriculture, biodiversity conservation and community learning. These need to be sufficient to reduce our ecological footprint (EF) to sustainable levels.

Cloughjordan ecovillage has achieved an EF of 2 gHa per inhabitant, the lowest measured in Ireland and close to the sustainable level of 1.8 gHa. It therefore offers practical examples of how to move towards a low-carbon future. Through its work as an educational charity, the ecovillage runs courses and offers tours to help share our story so that the practical lessons are widely disseminated.

For Anthony the ecovillage is a great place to bring up a young family, has a great sense of community and has the advantages of city or big town living in a rural setting. This feeling is reinforced now that he is working in the ecovillage.

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What is the FabLab? What are it’s goals?

The FabLab is a fabrication laboratory based on the MIT model. It contains a set of computer controlled equipment such as Laser cutter, CNC mill and 3D printers, which allow students, designers, crafters, entrepreneurs to make items relevant to themselves. There is also an electronics lab that allows for building small circuits to complement designs and work in the new “Internet of Things” ecosystem.

Our take on the concept, is for it to be imbedded in an innovation space with co-working, classrooms and event space.

Its goals are to provide access to the people, the tools and the space to educate, incubate and innovate. Making, working and learning are what it is all about. It is a place to bring together innovators to design and prototype new products, address local needs. A fab lab in an ecovillage in rural Ireland will be very different and have a different focus to those based in London or Dublin. It is less likely that farmers coming to city labs to look at hacking machines to provide a more low cost, sustainable way to steward the land. That is one of the themes of a programmes they are collaborating with European research partners on.

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When was it established?

It was officially opened on Valentines day 2014 by now Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly. The building that WeCreate occupies was developed by North Tipperary Green Enterprise park with assistance from Enterprise Ireland, Tipperary County Council and Clan Credo. It is a high performance low energy building designed and built to high ecological standards, is connected to the ecovillage renewable energy district heating system taking advantage its hot water and heat it has one of the best air tightness reading in commercial buildings, it contains a fully automated lighting system and is designed in a way to utilises day light. So unlike many of the enterprise spaces around the country its not a big drafty shed.

How was 2014, what were the successes? 

In 2014 the WeCreate centre was established, it has been accredited by Science Foundation Ireland as a Discover Primary Science and Maths Centre (DPSM) the only centre in Tipperary with this accreditation. Schools that are looking for excellence in science and maths awards can complete their learning process by visiting WeCreate. The programme for primary piloted and delivered in 2014.

The year was spent kitting out the FabLab with assistance from North Tipperary Leader Partnernship and at this stage have the full set of FabLab components: laser cutter, CNC milling machine, vinyl cutters and a 3D printer. Anther accreditation was as mentors given by the Local Enterprise Office and allows them to provide supported assistance to entrepreneurs, start ups via other co-working and FabLab spaces.

The co-working space has been slow to take off but now 6 start ups use the facility. The event space was successfully used for a lot of round table events, conversation cafes and training sessions innovating and prototyping ideas such as community co-operatives, green building, the collaborative economy and renewable energy. These events and trainings were facilitated with partners from Tipperary Energy Agency, the Plunkett Foundation, The Carnegie Trust, and the P2P Foundation,

What would you do differently?

If I was to do things differently it would be to try and focus on fewer elements, we have spread our resources very thin and therefore in 2015 we will be focusing on education and the internet of things.

Finances are always difficult, we have managed to achieve a lot with relatively little. We need support for establishing the Fab Lab idea in towns and villages across the Ireland, This technology is a game changer and we need to model how to use in appropriately and for the service of our communities.

What are the plans for 2015?

We are going to increase our educational offering now that we have the machines in place. There are already a programme of courses on using each of the machines, and places on accredited Design Course we are starting this year is starting to be booked. There is research plans with Limerick FabLab to look wiki houses and building low cost modular homes using fablabs. WeCreate are working on a range of products in the education and energy monitoring field and will contribute through our network of Craft Council Ireland clients to the year of Design 2015

In an ideal world how do you see it developing?

More support and funding to secure 20 co-workers and see all the industrial units full of new community companies contributing to the local economy and providing jobs. Continue to get relevant tools and machines and even make some of the tools we need.

How is the broadband?

It is barely adequate, all fablabs are connected to a video conferencing system but we struggle to contribute with our lack of speed. The ecovillage has a fiber network which Anthony was part of securing but we don’t have a fiber connection in Cloughjordan yet and we would see this as essential, a key limiting factor, probably a bigger limiting factor than money.

What tech tools are helping you to develop?

Interesting question, we use web based tools like google docs and Skype to collaborate on projects across Europe. We are endeavouring to use as much open source technology as possible allowing us to leverage the communities that maintain and develop the technologies especially as we move into open hardware. Git hub is a code repository to allow people to contribute and collaborate on software projects. Thingyverse is a similar thing for open design where you can find hardware projects, instructables is another repository for maker project.

Work / life balance, your philosophy on it?

Starting a new company does tip the work life balance quite a bit. However when you are working at something you enjoy it doesn’t seem like a chore or work. The start up phase can be difficult especially with a family but working for yourself, especially with a community of people is rewarding.

Tech and eco, what tips for other startups?

Well FabLabs in a game changer. My advice is to get into that. Co-working and collaboration is the key to sustainability and the soft technologies that help us collaborate with be essential competencies for a sustainable future. The internet of things has massive potential and we will try to be part of that, whether its your polytunnel veg beds tweeting you to say they need water, or an internet weather station ……..

Social media, you guys are active on it, lots of good content, any tips on your strategy for using it?

Tweet and tweet often it is part of building our community and to be seen as a good source of information and is a tool to converse with our community rather than just a marketing tool. Its all about reputation and WeCreate want to be seen as a pioneer in this emerging technology field.

What has it helped you to do?

Build community, follow and engage with international thought leaders and we are experimenting in social media at events to engage participation.

What should I have asked you?

How do you contact us and how do I get there, why should I come to WeCreate in Cloughjordan Ecovillage, how do I book a space, use the fab or take a course? However that is an easy answer as its all on our website www.wecreate.ie

Anything else you’d like to add?

We are interested in talking to anyone or presenting our project to possible partners and clients. We wish to engage with other entities and organisations to build the interest in coworking and fablabs nationwide.

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