An eye-opening internship at ONCA

By Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant

As part of the University of Sussex’s Summer Internship programme, I was lucky enough to spend 10 weeks working at ONCA Arts and Ecology as fundraising assistant this summer.

Ideally, as I had just completed my second year as a Psychology student at Sussex, I was planning to spend my summer working in Brighton. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to apply for an internship here and get some great experience which will stand me in good stead when I look for a job after graduating.

I chose ONCA, because I was super impressed by what they do, and liked the fact that they had a focus on arts and the environment.  I also really wanted a feel of what it is like to work in the charity sector, as this is the type of work I think I would like to get involved with after I graduate.

It wasn’t until I arrived here that I realised I’d learn so much more than that…

From the moment I started here I was made to feel like part of the team, which made doing my job incredibly fulfilling and pleasurable. There is a small team at ONCA and I was welcomed straight away, alongside George another intern from Sussex uni.

As ONCA has recently expanded into their upstairs centre, I was able to see first hand how the organisation was growing, which was very insightful. It was also an opportunity for me to give my opinion on things like branding and the design of the website which I enjoyed doing.

It was great to experience for the first time what it is like to work in a 9-5 style job. However, I ended up learning much more than this, in terms of both how an organisation runs, and for me personally.

As ONCA is a centre which gives back to the community, I was given the opportunity to learn how to compost and how to make fermented drinks and then translate this knowledge to the public through my blog posts, which was a very rewarding process. After learning about these things I realised that I probably would not have experienced or taken an interest in them if it was not for ONCA.

It wasn’t however until I attended a talk by Cat Fletcher of Freegle that I realised how enriching it was for me working here, and the opportunities there were to acquire new knowledge.  I was asked to go along to this event and subsequently write a blog poston it. I was keen to go but I didn’t quite realise how eye-opening this event would be for me.

Living in a student house with 4 other people who don’t recycle meant that it was never a priority for me either. Now my outlook has completely changed after learning how much waste we produce, including food waste. I was lucky enough to meet one of the people behind the real junk food project which again, has given me more of an opinion on global food waste, and made me want to get more involved about doing something about this problem.

So ultimately, I would like to thank ONCA. Thank you for making me feel so welcome for ten weeks and for giving me the opportunity to learn about new things and increase my skills, but most importantly, thank you for inspiring me to think differently and be more aware of my surrounding environment. I wish you every success for the future; I’ll be back!


Talking Trash with Cat Fletcher

By Zoe Lonergan, Fundraising Assistant

On Tuesday 21st July, I attended Cat Fletcher’s event ‘Conversation Cafe – Cat Fletcher talks rubbish’ at the Marwood Cafe in the Brighton Laines.  The event was run so that the people attending could engage with issues surrounding the themes of reuse and circular economy.

Cat Fletcher is the powerhouse behind the fantastic site Freegle, where people can arrange to give away their unwanted things to someone else who really needs or wants them, all for free! This is not only great for the people involved, but also the environment, as it means the object doesn’t go into landfill, or an incinerator.

At the cafe, the discussion was led by Cat who sprung some surprising facts on us. She told us that Brighton and Hove’s level of recycling falls greatly below the national average of 42% at a disappointing 25.2%. Considering Brighton’s Green reputation, I could not understand why this was.

Cat outlined some examples of where things are going wrong. At this years ‘The Level Summer Festival’ an event that you may have attended, 20 bins were placed across the park, but only a small minority were recycle bins. This seems rather ridiculous as the majority of things thrown away during this festival were plastic/glass bottles or cans, and despite attempts to save the situation, unfortunately most of this waste wrongly got sent to landfill.

When looking at the bigger picture, Cat mentioned that the nature of our capitalist society plays a big part in why our carbon footprints may be high. Since the 1970s consumption has risen, and we are a nation obsessed with buying new things. Before this, recycling had been prevalent throughout history in our society. In war times when people had little money, hand-me-downs and reused good were extremely common. It is only in recent decades that we have seen this surge in consumerism and a lack of responsibility from many people and corporate businesses who should do more to ensure their waste does not unnecessarily get sent to landfill. We have become a nation obsessed with ourselves and our lifestyles, not the planet!

So after this stimulating talk and discussion, I left the cafe with a slight feeling of anger towards contemporary societal values. It is human beings who are destroying our planet, and it is human beings who can save our planet. I think it’s important that we all do our bit in terms of recycling and reusing things and try to stop buying into a consumerist society. This is similar to the vision of Wangari Maathai, a woman very close to the heart of Onca. She believed that everyone should do the best that they can, and while it may not look like a lot overall, if everyone has this attitude, then change will happen. if we all do our bit then we could improve Brighton and Hove’s recycling levels, and set an example for others to follow.

An exciting upcoming series of free events called ‘The C-Side Challenge’ is about to launch in Brighton and Hove.  This is a programme of workshops targeted at inspiring conversation and collaboration around ensuring that we collectively create a cleaner, greener future for our community and embrace the principles of One Planet Living. This is a good opportunity to do something about the issues I have talked about in this blog post, if you’re interested. Also, I would like to hammer home that if you come across something you don’t want, think of ways to reuse the object or contact Freegle – don’t just throw things away!

Another way to get involved is through letter-writing. At Onca we are looking into holding letter-writing workshops in the near future; we feel there is something very special about a handwritten letter. We had been reminded at a previous event led by Nick Mole from PAN-UK of the power of letter writing. If you want to do more, write to big corporations, supermarkets and anyone else you see fit. Positive Action!


From small beginnings: the journey of ONCA

by Laura Coleman, ONCA Director

Less than three years ago, ONCA wasn’t much of anything.  It was an idea, no more, and a small one at that.  But as if by magic, ONCA has somehow managed to migrate from an idea into a gallery and now into the ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology.  By taking over an additional three floors in our beautiful Grade II listed building, we have made another exciting step in our charity’s future.

It’s been a heady few months, as we have completed a full-scale building refurbishment powered by extraordinary volunteers, love and sheer determination.  Over two thirds of our paint was donated by New Life Paints, a local company that recycles unwanted paint.  Wood was donated by Brighton Festival and Freegle, and bought from the Wood Store, a social enterprise across the road from ONCA.  All furniture was donated, reclaimed and refurbished by the team – powered by the insatiable kindness of organisations and people including Nanadobbie, Cat Fletcher, Helen Cann, Gary Mart, OnRequest and England at Home.  We have LED lighting, funded by British Gas in order to improve our energy efficiency.  And we have smatterings of artwork throughout, such as a beautiful screen print by Kittie Jones, or James Eddy’s fish sculpture entitled ‘A Great Migration’ (as featured in our 2013 exhibition ‘Making Tracks’), in our new meeting room, reminding us of all the wonderful projects and artists we have been associated with since our formation.

So now, here we are.  Our new Centre opened on the 31st May.  Above the gallery, work, studio and meeting space is already playing host to an eclectic and inspiring combination of businesses, charities, freelancers, artists and designers.  It is our unique ecological ethic that underpins the initiative.  We have a strong sustainability policy that includes recycling, composting and low energy usage, in addition to an ethos that promotes widespread, positive change.  For us, environmental well-being is holistic.  It encompasses everything from biodiversity and energy to economy, human health and technology.  And by bringing together an interdisciplinary mix of people, we hope that the ideas germinated within the ONCA Centre for Arts and Ecology will play a key role in the creation of a more positive future for us all.


UN World Environment Day – how ONCA ‘consumes with care’

Authored by George Pundek

As you may know, today is the UN World Environment Day. An annual event, #WED15 aims to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the environment, with this year’s message being to “consume with care”. Given the importance of the day, we’d like to invite you to consider the practical ways we can uphold these aims as individuals and as a community. Indeed, here at ONCA, we believe we can all go further by minimising consumption in order to maximise environmental care. Do you, however, often feel daunted by the task? Or find it hard to source materials? Or feel like simply recycling your plastic bottles is merely a drop in the ocean?

A recent challenge for us was our endeavour to uphold this aim during our refurbishment of the ONCA Centre. Yet this provided us with an opportunity to see the benefits of collaborative problem-solving, and its powerful results. For despite the scale of the task, we were able to ensure that 85% of all paint used was paint recycled or intercepted from incineration and landfill, something made possible by the kind donations from local company New Life Paints. All of our wood has been reclaimed either from local skips or from Brighton-based The Wood Store, who collect waste timber for reuse and recycling. The brilliant people from the web-based stuff-sharing service Freegle also donated most of our new office furniture and supplies, and inspired us with their passion for recycling unwanted goods. Meanwhile, Alys Dobbie of Nanadobbie hosted an upholstery workshop, upcycling colourful spare fabric to reupholster the donated furniture. This is all part of our aim to build a bank of skills, through which people can exchange their specialist knowledge in a non-consuming, democratic and non-monetary way.

The completed ONCA Centre thus stands as a testament to the potential of minimising consumption, and more importantly to the creativity, generosity and imagination of ONCA’s community of volunteers, friends and supporters. We are eternally grateful to all those who helped in this achievement, and thanked them at the launch of the centre on May 30:

 Brighton Vox Choir performing at the ONCA Centre Launch Party


Do you know of other methods of minimising consumption, or perhaps have ideas? Do you have your own plans for World Environment Day 2015? Let us know on Twitter @ONCAnetwork