According to the Danish social enterprise and co-op, Bybi, it takes more than 66,000 flowers to make one bottle of honey beer. The Copenhagen-based business is one of a throng of social enterprises worldwide offering much-needed work and training opportunities via bee population-boosting projects.
A European Commission study last year of 32,000 bee hives in 17 countries listed the UK as one of the six countries where the death rate of bees is “unacceptable”. Low honey prices, intensive agriculture, climate change and bee-related diseases were all listed as factors influencing the decline.
There’s a growing demand for urban projects to help bring more bees to city areas to boost effective pollination and the harvest of fruits and berries from trees and bushes. And social enterprises are springing up to meet the challenge.
Those taking the initiative include Liverpool-based Hope Street Honey, run by the multi-award-winning social enterprise Blackburne House. In the past three years, the project has trained more than 100 people, many of who were low-skilled or unemployed, to become beekeepers. Lesley Reith, project manager at Blackburne House, says it’s more than just selling locally-sourced products and giving back to the community; it’s about teaching locals about how they can get acquainted with nature, by doing things like planting a variety of flowers in window boxes to attract more bees.
Last year, Hope Street Honey received nearly £86,000 funding from the People’s Postcode Lottery. “Those funds have allowed us to have a significant effect on educating people about the plight of the bee and to increase the local honey bee population by donating hives and bees to the local community,” Reith says. “We’ve also been able to influence local planting and increase the usage of unused land.”
Denmark, where Bybi is based, was also listed as one of the six countries where the death rates of bees was considered unacceptable.
Like Hope Street, Bybi is supporting the promotion of local natural diversity and employs those from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds.
The business got off the ground in 2010 with the help of a scheme that offered them free, unused municipal space so that they could set up a full-scale honey factory – in return for committing to taking on three formerly homeless assistants from Activity Centre Sundholm.
The social enterprise runs a “honeypusher” project, which sees people on the edge of the jobs market cycling to work places to sell Bybi’s products directly. “The people we work with have mostly been unemployed for a long time and find it very difficult to get near the work market,” says Oliver Maxwell, Bybi’s founder. “Working with us gives them an identity, network, skills, structure and a bit of extra money.”
The social enterprise also partners with local businesses, which pay Bybi to place hives on their rooftops or in their grounds. The businesses can then buy the honey at a reduced price.
As is often the case with social enterprises, saleable products are the cornerstone of keeping the business thriving – any honey provides a clear opportunity to do that.
Beeconomics, a social enterprise working with young people in Pernambuco, Brazil, recently raised more than £17,000 through crowdfunding, which will help them develop and expand their outreach over the next couple of years. The plan is to recruit the first lot of trainees in early 2015 who will use beeswax and honey to create a range of cosmetic and hair products.
Dom Ridout, co-founder of the organisation says: “Beekeeping’s economic impact goes beyond providing jobs for beekeepers through the pollination of our food. But beyond that, honey and beeswax can create value and jobs through producing products.
“The more our trainees learn about the bees and the vital importance of protecting them, the more engaged they’ll become in our endeavour to achieve positive environmental impact and increase their general employability,” he adds. “It’s our hope that they become professionals in green and greening industries and ambassadors for conservation and sustainability.”