Mike Joseph - social entrepreneur
When Mike Joseph moved to the Peak District village of Bradwell after working for 26 years in the USA, he noticed something missing at Christmas: festive lights.
Originally a mechanical engineer with a long career in IT, Mike had at one time taken a job lighting up New York City at Christmas along with other high-profile illumination projects.
In 2017, he had an idea for a hydro-powered Christmas display at Bradwell’s Town Bottom and his pictures of past lighting displays in NYC fired the imagination of the head teacher and children at Bradwell Junior School.
Not only did the project ignite an on-going Christmas lights collaboration - both with the school and a wider network of groups and organisations - but it also led the way to further community initiatives.
Born in London, Mike grew up in Dublin and then lived and worked in New York City for 26 years before returning to London and later moving to Bradwell in 2013.
His professional life in technology and project management included tenure at McKinsey, Shearman & Sterling LLP and UNICEF.
He says: "I had never heard of the Peak District before coming to visit it in 2013. Now I am very happy to call it home. At one time, as we planned to move out of London we considered Norfolk, but it was just too flat for a pair of keen runners and cyclists so we took a visit to Hathersage and then a bike ride that took us through Bradwell and back via Abney - I was hooked.
"I still love to cycle and run in the Peak District and have, since moving here, completed an Ironman event, many fell races and many marathons. I write, photograph and continue to look for new opportunities to make a positive contribution. I am a parish councillor and also a school governor here in Bradwell and really enjoy the sense of community I have been able to find in the village."
The Bradwell Hydro Project was launched in 2017 and is now in its fifth year.
It is a team of three volunteers – Mike and his neighbours Richard Patton and Andy Nash – with many supporters, including local group the Bradda Dads. It involves lighting trees in the village using hydro-electric power from the nearby brook via a home-made generator built from recycled domestic products (bicycle wheels and washing-up bowls) and built in conjunction with Bradwell Junior School. The project has been supported and funded by the Peak District National Park and many others over its five-year history.
Mike says: "The benefits run deeper than merely producing festive lights. By taking the children through the processes of making electricity, we’ve demystified a significant area of the larger world, opening a lot of doors for curious young minds.
"It’s a great way to give children a whole new way of looking at the problems that are facing us all right now – and investigating solutions.”
Another project, the Hope Valley Air Quality Network, began in 2020. Mike explains: "Inspired by work being done by the Global Sensor Community and Sheffield University, I developed a programme of deploying small low cost air quality sensors to be used outdoors on homes throughout the Hope Valley. The Peak District National Park Authority was very supportive of this and provided some funding. This network continues to collect data and this is now a valuable baseline for the valley air quality. It has also been called on to provide vital data about the negative air quality impacts produced by moor burning.
"Overall, we have very clean air in the villages but there is a real impact from coal and log burning in the winter and, in the early spring, we see substantial deterioration in the air quality when landowners burn the moors for grouse management."
The challenges of Covid-19 brought inspiration for a far-reaching community initiative, Hope Valley Green Ventures.
Mike explains: "In 2020, the village was facing a prolonged lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The impact on a great many of our older residents was dramatic and basic daily rituals such as food shopping suddenly became impossible for those who were isolating.
"In response to this, and quite organically, a village group mobilized to set up a support network in Bradwell - 'Bradwell Cares'. My role was to co-ordinate this group with the Parish Council.
"As a follow up, later in the same year, I was involved with several people from across the valley in forming Hope Valley Green Ventures (a community benefit society) to facilitate a Hope valley-wide shopping network providing a means for isolating individuals to buy online from local shops and have their purchases delivered to the doorstep via an electric vehicle.
"Hope Valley Green Ventures has gone on to support several other projects, including the 2021 Bradwell Wildflower Project, which has also been a Parish-supported initiative, and has just delivered its first year report detailing successful wildflower propagation, school engagement and information sharing across the village."
He adds: "I have been amazed at the level of engagement and enthusiasm which people put into community projects and it inspires me to aim as high as possible in our aspirations for the village and the valley as whole. It's a wonderful place to live and work and engage.
"I have come to see how critical it is that small communities structure solutions in a way that works for their specific needs - and the best way to do this is through the actions of local volunteers and local community bodies.
"Looking to the future, we have several new initiatives in the work. We are currently negotiating with the Peak District National Park and other large bodies in the valley - both commercial and community-based - to develop solutions to improve community resilience and sustainability in the face of the growing ecological challenge as we see and feel it here in the Hope Valley."
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