Disadvantaged young people from London’s borough of Hackney are getting lessons from the bees, and passing them on to lawyers and bankers in the City of London.

An innovative project set up seven years ago to improve the employability and well-being of 16- to 20- year-olds is teaching them about enterprise and beekeeping. “Lessons from nature help prepare them for the workplace: learning how to control emotions; and to develop positive relationships,” says project director Gustavo Montes de Oca.

Through The Golden Company’s bees, the young people learn about nature and their role in it. They learn how to maintain a hive, and they accompany the head beekeeper on inspections of the hives dotted around the city’s rooftops. 

Law firm Lewis Silkin is one of the City companies sponsoring hives on its roof. Others include the London Stock Exchange, Nomura International and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP.

Both employees and clients are interested in learning about the bees, says Steve Forster, head of facilities at Lewis Silkin, who persuaded the company’s CSR committee to get involved. “We invite our staff and clients to take part in bee inspections. Lots of people want to come up. Some of them are quite frightened at first but once they get to understand what the bees are doing, they’re very interested.” Meanwhile, the young people who lead the hive visits “get to see what a corporate law firm is like”.

The Golden Company teaches young people about enterprise and beekeeping

The young people also help facilitate the sessions that Montes de Oca runs for company employees, using bees as a metaphor to give them insights into communication, how teams work; the corporate organisation as a hive.

While other firms have approached The Golden Company, limited foraging opportunities for bees in the middle of the city mean a limit to how many colonies can survive. It’s actively trying to encourage planting on rooftops, too.

Each year, Forster’s company takes little honey from the hives - if the bees are healthy - and runs tasting sessions in the cafe, led by the Golden Company’s trainees. “The honey tastes really lovely,” Forster. Its distinctive flavour comes from the lime trees nearby.

A longer-term ambition is to develop workshops to encourage corporates to see themselves as part of a wider ecosystem. Companies can learn a lot from bees, Montes de Oca points out. “Bees do more good than meeting just their own needs – by creating a habitat for other creatures, for example.”

 In other words, the rooftop hives could be a route into systems thinking.

bees  The Golden Company  environmental conservation 

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