A Trail in the Making

Sir Percival was one of the legendary knights of the round table. Even though he was born to noble blood, most of his family had died from knightly misadventures, so his mother took him away as a small child and raised him deep in the forests of Wales in a very simple, down to earth sort of way.

However, on the eve of Percival’s 16th birthday, a group of knights rode by and from that instant, Percival wanted to become a knight and go questing. His mother reluctantly agreed. So Percival went off to train as a knight. He was a marvelous horse rider and hunter and but had not been raised with the right noble etiquette. The thing that really annoyed other knights was his inclination to ask questions. They made it clear that if Percival wanted to succeed he would have to respect highly ranked knights and not question them or their judgment.

Time passed and Percival learnt his lessons and at last, on a fine morning, the newly knighted Sir Percival set off from Wales on his first quest. After a long ride through green forests and up steep mountains and across rushing rivers, Sir Percival noticed the land had  begun to change. It was not so lush. It was not so green. Eventually Percival came to a castle moat, where he found a man hunched over a fishing rod in a small boat. This man was a king. All around the king was his kingdom, but it was a grey wasteland –  bare and barren.

Some called him the  Fisher King –  but sadly his favourite pastime of fishing was pointless, because all the fish were gone.

Sir Percival was invited to stay at the King’s castle.  He was made much of and promised lovely things. Trade deals and such. There was a feast and entertainment, but Percival longed to ask the King what had gone wrong with this kingdom – on the tip of his tongue danced that important question “What ails thee?” but he knew that he shouldn’t ask questions, nor even suggest that anything was wrong. So he bit his lip and carried on partying and when he awoke the next day the land, the castle and everyone at the castle had disappeared. Such is the nature of questing.

Attached to the legend of the Fisher King is the idea that a ‘king’ is so tied to the land that when he is ‘ill’, the land itself falls ill as well. In the original story, the question “what ails thee?” was not asked and the story is regarded as unfinished. Many people have written different endings to the legend but perhaps it is better – more challenging – less comfortable – unfinished. And perhaps it is unfinished because it’s still career suicide to ask a leader “What ails thee?” Ask – and it disappears.

Also still unfinished – A Trail in the Making. Arriva Trains Wales recently funded a study for a walking trail, weaving between stations along the Heart of Wales Line. The study was carried out by Professor Les Lumsdon and Alison Caffyn, working closely with local walking groups. They came up with a fantastic long distance route – that starts (or finishes) in the old railway town of Craven Arms,

Bridleway between Llangammarch Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells.JPG
Photo near Llanwrtyd Wells. Les Lumsdon

passing through stunning countryside and intersecting walks that include the Shropshire Way, Offa’s Dyke Path and Beacons Way

Offas Dyke (Visit Wales).jpg
Photo:Offa’s Dyke. Visit Wales

and finishing (or beginning) at Llanelli with a final stretch alongside the estuarial salt marshes of the Loughor Valley, en-route to the Millennium Coastal Park.

27-6-15 Loughor 150 2V38 0900 Shrewsbury - Swansea.jpg
Photo: Loughor Estuary. Stephen Miles

And so a trail is in the Making. The trail steering group are working with Rights of Way teams across Powys, Carmarthenshire, Shropshire and Swansea to make the trail a reality. A crowd funding appeal runs from January till April. https://localgiving.org/heartofwaleslinetrail

Sponsors’ names will appear on a special Roll of Honour at Llanelli and Craven Arms stations. Don’t let this brilliant idea disappear.

Rachel Francis

Published in BroadSheep

Riversimple Custodians #3


Peter’s  background is in business, working for the CBI, DTI and Business in the Community. He became the first Commissioner for Sustainable Futures in Wales in April 2011. Peter has taken a key role in the development of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act, leading a national conversation on “The Wales we Want” and using the findings to create a framework for long term goals.

Peter Davies RF Custodian

On What Makes Riversimple Unique

I am especially inspired by the depth and breadth of the Riversimple vision.  I believe the governance system could help to rebalance the relationship between local and global from a business context.

On ‘Community’

Community – simply put – is about being connected. Community contributes to our sense of who we are and what we care about.  

The “Wales we Want” conversation engaged 7,000 people across Wales. We found that feeling disconnected, in particular from decision making, is a significant issue for communities today. Many people don’t feel in control of what is happening to them. Many younger people don’t feel there is a future for them.  The Riversimple model represents an opportunity to shape business in a way that re-connects with community, creating new opportunities, engaging young people in particular – and enthusing them.

On the best and worst things that a business can bring to a (geographical) community

A business can bring investment and jobs to a community – it can help to develop a local skills base and local supply chains. It can bring prosperity, not just in the form of jobs, but the long term resilience of the community and that brings with it a sense of pride.

But all businesses should consider the wider impact they will have upon a community. Its not just about winning support in the short term.  Political and media rhetoric can tend to focus on job creation but whilst important, that is not the whole picture, quality of life for a community is dependent on the nature of those jobs.

Wales is a country that knows all about the adverse affect of heavy industry – the effect that it can have on air pollution and the long term health of the community. We’ve had that experience and hopefully we are much the wiser. So a company like Riversimple, at the leading edge of socially and environmentally responsible business, is exactly what Wales needs to fulfill the ambitions of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

What are you looking forward to?

Its very exciting that this radical change is being led from a company based in the heart of rural mid Wales. I’m looking forward to the first pilot in Monmouthshire – our first community. I have great regard for the leadership in Monmouthshire and together we have a chance to test out the car and the business model – demonstrate its value.

There is a huge groundswell of local support. Local people really want Riversimple to succeed. We want to show that we can attract the very best engineers and new technology to a rural area. That we can bring young people back to rural communities because there will be a business growing there offering careers that appeal to them – without damaging rural ways of life or the environment. I am very excited about that.


Riversimple’s ‘place by place’ pilot, it is hoped, will begin with trials of the Rasa car in Monmouthshire.  Following both rural and urban-based trials, Riversimple could then expand via regional, small scale manufacturing units, producing 3,000 to 5,000 vehicles per year. Each unit could create high quality local jobs for c200 people.

This article was first published in the Chartered Quality Institute monthly newsletter “Knowledge.”


Written by Rachel Francis

In my mind’s eye I try to picture the kind of railway station I love. It has a kind of rural simplicity. But also a buzz. This station includes people. It may not be a London Euston or a Manchester Piccadilly, but it is still a place where we pass in transit – whether we are on our way to the office or a rugby match or auntie’s house or the other side of the world.

I am trying to turn this idea into something with more shape. I’m writing the first word onto the first blank sheet of paper. Gateway. And this word seeks other words, in an effort to say something precise and uncomplicated. And now I have a sentence. A small gateway to the world. I am struggling with the way this sentence sits with other sentences …

A small gateway to the world. Not another shopping mall. But perhaps a local trading post – with a commitment to not damaging the world. Because when you leave this gateway to travel somewhere, you need to know that you are not damaging the very place that you’re discovering.

I would like the idea contained within these words to be delicious to people. Consider the Café des Fleurs at Rye Station


At Rye Station in Sussex, an empty station building has become a Café and Flower Shop. An old empty building can be a sad place. A deserted railway station after dark or before dawn is especially empty when you have to wait there for a train. It’s not much of an incentive to leave the car at home.

But this café, not designed by Pumpkin Cafes, or Starbucks, but by Lucy Forrester and her gran, opens up early for commuters, serving great coffee and homemade porridge, and very good scrambled eggs on toast. The florists occupy the other side of the cafe, where they make displays for weddings and special events. Local people actually come to the café so that they can watch the flower displays being made. By combining the two business ideas the whole thing becomes viable in a small town.

From Rye, you can travel by rail up north to Yorkshire and the town of Settle – gateway to the legendary Settle and Carlisle Line.

Version 2

Settle Station was first opened in 1876. It had a Station Master’s house, goods shed, weigh office, cattle dock, signal box and water tank, but goods facilities were dismantled in 1970. Today the station might be too small for the corporates, but it has a ticket office, a shop selling local produce, and a waiting room which is about to become a micro pub, complete with honkytonk piano. A unique community-based company runs the station facilities at Settle and also further along the line at Appleby. The same company operates locally sourced on-train catering, creating jobs and valuable contracts for small suppliers.

If you haven’t been there, you should consider a visit.

And finally to Llandeilo on the Heart of Wales Line

At Llandeilo station there was once a station pub called “The Refresh.” Old locals still remember it with a smile, but the building is long gone. Llandeilo Station has been a lonely platform at the end of a lonely road for a long time.  In my mind’s eye I try to picture the kind of railway station I love. It has a kind of simplicity. An aesthetic.


The Llandeilo “Station Hub” is a small, transportable building with a covered aisle, leading to a modern composting toilet. It was designed along the lines of the old freight wagons and built with FSC Welsh wood by David Bamford and a build team from Presteigne. The idea was to create a space that could be run on a tiny budget, by and for the community.   The design includes a rainwater harvesting system and optional renewable energy unit. The result is a stand alone, multi purpose, mini-building. Not another shopping mall. But rather a gateway with a commitment to not damaging the world. Because when you leave this gateway to travel somewhere else in the world, you need to know that you are not damaging whatever it is you’re discovering.

Already a new company are starting to distribute local and organic produce from the station hub at Llandeilo. And it has recently been shortlisted for a national award for the most enhanced station.

So this has already happened. But what if we built more of these hubs, for other lonely stations, and for other community enterprises? The builders of the Llandeilo Hub are up for it, so the Heart of Wales Line Development Company will help them market this idea to the rail industry. With several stations already expressing an interest, it could just happen.

To find out more about hub sales, you can contact rachelzzzyx@gmail.com On behalf of D.S Bamford and the Heart of Wales Line DevCo.

This article, written by Rachel at www.sharpeningpencils.co.uk  was first published in Broad Sheep Magazine and the Weekly Salvo.

Riversimple Custodians 2

This is the second interview in a mini series exploring the Riversimple model of governance. The business structure underpinning Riversimple is described as disruptive, but what does this really mean? This month I interviewed Dr Stafford Lloyd.

Stafford is Systems and Sustainability engineer. He joined Riversimple from Rolls-Royce plc and has an engineering doctorate in environmental technology. He was recently voted in by staff to represent them as a custodian. He describes the role as “making sure that Riversimple is run well from a staff’s perspective” and wants to bring staff into the decision making process without becoming “a puppet for populist ideas.”

 On The Role

When I accepted the role of staff custodian it was largely undefined. I felt that it could easily have become confused with an HR role. Human Resources however, is focused inwards – on maximizing employee productivity, improving skill base, management of the workforce.

The staff custodian represents staff in a radically different way. It’s about collecting the opinions and thoughts of staff and then bringing the worker’s perspective to the table so that they are part of shaping the direction of the company as a whole. Exclusion of social consequences in economic decision making can be very damaging.

On Systems

Decisions taken in one place can have unforeseen consequences in another. A key part of this role is to review possible consequences from a wider point of view before a critical executive decision is taken by the board.

Of course this process must not become too cumbersome –  but with the right mechanisms and the right people, there is a potential for ground breaking progress to be made.

 On Staff Involvement

There is an opportunity here. It is an opportunity for Riversimple to benefit from, rather than just manage, staff perspective and viewpoint. The challenge, however, begins with several tough questions: How does a company deal honestly and meaningfully with knotty problems raised by staff? How can we draw out staff perspective in a way that is objective and free of prejudice? Is it possible to measure staff well-being in a way that can stand up against financial targets?

 What Do Staff Want?
For employees, a decent wage is the bottom line – to feed the family, to provide security, for happiness and well being. There are also issues about pay structures and at the moment we are grappling with this. How do we keep a fair ratio of pay between high and low wages for the benefit of the company as a whole?

And above and beyond wages, what draws in talented staff and how they are lost? Riversimple has an opportunity to offer a fresh kind of legitimacy but what does this mean on a day to day basis? People respond positively to somewhere that is a great place to work, where they don’t have to leave their values at the door as they come in every morning, where communications are good and where there is a real sense of having a voice.

The Team

A team is something bigger than the sum of its parts.  The custodian framework creates an opportunity to tap into that, to develop and shape both company and outputs in a more connected way – it is a framework for change.


Next month (last in series) – interview with Peter Davies, custodian for neighbours/community.

Written for Riversimple, interview with Dr. Stafford Lloyd by Rachel Francis at Sharpening Pencils

Published in “Knowledge” – by Chartered Quality Institute

Image shows Riversimple team. Stafford Lloyd is pictured 5th from left

The Barcelona Connection

Barcelona is a city of visions …


 of football stars and fashion … of ancient sculpture and modern art … of streets winding down to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a good place to talk aspiration and design with Chris Reitz, a key figure in the story of Riversimple.

Chris is a member of the Porsche family. He studied at the Art Center College of Design in Vevey, Switzerland – a college that has a reputation for producing top quality car designers. Chris has headed up design teams at Alfa Romeo and Fiat. He now lives and works out of Barcelona and is design artist for the Riversimple Rasa.

Q: What brought you to Riversimple?

I love cars. I grew up with people who live and work everyday in this world. I am inspired by creating something courageous – ahead of the curve.

Q: How do you even begin to design a car?

Design is many disciplines – it’s not just about shape and surfaces – it is about what is needed and who is it for. Let’s talk about our car, the Riversimple Rasa. We start with a very radical business idea to design a hydrogen fuel cell car that is super light and super strong – and so we have to ask, how will we express this in the design – and who will it be for – who is the customer?

This is exciting for the artist. For a startup business there is no existing brand – no Nissan, no Lotus, no story to define how we write the first marks on the page. We are designing something completely fresh.

A group of us at Riversimple worked together to shape the idea – this included Hugo (Spowers), Fiona (Clancy) and Richard (Coltart). We asked ‘What will people expect of a hydrogen fuel cell car?’ And ‘What will motivate them to choose this new technology?’

If an actor plays a boxer in a movie – the actor has to understand how this person boxes in order to play the part well. So we began by imagining the different kind of people who might be Riversimple customers – what are their lifestyles and their everyday needs – what will make this car a good decision for them?

Q: What do you think early adopters most wish this car to be?

Early adopters are very open in their mind – they like to have their finger on the pulse, they look for a car with style. Not so long ago, the Prius became a statement for famous sports personalities and actors – this is not superficial: enthusiasts for clever, sustainable, technical, environmental and economical solutions are an important influence.
In appearance this car must reflect elegance without compromising safety. For example, the shoulder of the car is wider than the cabin and this gives us stability and also fluidity.

Another fundamental element is sustainability. A good aerodynamic design will allow the wind to slip past the car in motion, refining the vehicle performance and efficiency. So we have low overall height, with space for the wind to flow underneath as well. The spats over the rear wheels of the Rasa reduce turbulence to a minimum. Each design element minimises resistance and becomes a fluid part of the whole.

Finally, safety. Safety will be synonymous with all vehicles in the Riversimple family. The carbon fibre framework takes the form of a single carbon fibre monocoque originating from racing car design. Racing cars must be super strong and super light and very protective to the driver. Likewise, Riversimple cars.


The butterfly doors are very eye catching – are they more about style than substance?

It has been our intention to design an honest car every step pf the way – to inspire people, reassure them, take them with us on the Riversimple journey. The butterfly doors are eye-catching but the design element has purpose. We have a car that is low in height and this is very aerodynamic, but if we use standard doors for the Rasa, we will have a problem with the ability to get in and out of the car easily. The butterfly doors open out of the roof and so they create space for people to get in and out easily and elegantly

RIVERSIMPLE RASA - FRONT WITH BUTTERFLY DOORS OPEN - HIGH RESThe Rasa style says ‘this is the future’ but without trying to be flamboyant. We don’t want a style that will simply create a stir and then go out of fashion. We have long term plans and other vehicles in the pipeline, so the look and feel must encompass an element of timelessness.

Over the course of the public trials, we will be adding further refinements to the car. We have some special and amazing design features to add. The production version of the Rasa is going to be very exciting.

Help fund the public trials by investing in Riversimple  here.

We Farmers


“We farmers … what a high position we once held in this country. We and our profession have been the central theme of many poets … agriculture was considered the noblest of professions as the world was dependent on the farmer and his plough … but what is our status now?” T. ANAND RAJ, farmer.


Farmers work with systems that are linked with place and season. The knowledge of local farmers is unique to a particular environment and continually revised through accumulated experience. From the dawn of agriculture this knowledge has passed and evolved, from generation to generation. Local farmers everywhere have knowledge about the climate, vegetation, animals and soils that repeatedly, in the absence of external pressures, results in multi-dimensional land use and production strategies which enable food self-sufficiency for the community.



“In Maharashtra this year, the Godavari river in Nashik went dry. There is no water in Ramkund … in the town of Latur water scarcity is so severe that the district collector has imposed Section 144 and taken over 150 wells and tubewells near the city … Water is being supplied by tankers after a water train brings water all the way from Kota. While the drinking water emergency will be addressed … what of the farmers?”

Most of Maharashtra is plateau formed by lava millions of years ago. The major rivers and tributaries have carved river valleys across these plateau, but these rivers dry up during drought conditions. Inland the vast farming area is semi arid with scorching hot summer from March onwards broken briefly and violently by monsoon in early June. The character of the monsoon, with its short spells of rainy weather and long dry breaks, results in floods, but especially in droughts and these are getting more extreme with climate change. This is the farming struggle in Maharashtra.



“Farmers are struggling to repay even small loans of a few thousand rupees. Every time the creditor comes, we are put to shame… He shames our families and snatches our belongings. Unable to bear such insults, thousands of my people have committed suicide.”


Maharashtra is experiencing a convergence of crises – on the one hand climate change is leading to prolonged episodes of intense heat leading to drought – on another there is no financial cushion for simple farming families if the crops fail and so the debt collectors move in. Farmers in Maharashtra are advised to borrow money and grow cash crops with a better return such as sugar cane and GM cotton, but there is reason to believe that these crops are less resistant to drought and quickly soak up precious water reserves, whereas the old staples such as Jowar (sorghum) have supported food and livelihood income for many generations.

When the crops fail there is no way to pay back loans. In the last 20 years, nearly 300,000 of India’s farmers have ended their lives by drinking pesticides or by hanging themselves. Maharashtra state is the worst affected.



Farming in Britain is very different to India – but it is still about that same conflict between the weather, the times, the market, the cost of things, natural law and  policy. It is waking up in the morning and deciding, having studied the forecast for weeks, to cut the grass. It is praying that it wont rain. It is praying that it will rain.

And, as in Maharashtra, when things go wrong – really wrong – farming is hell. When Foot and Mouth Disease struck in Britain, not so long ago, a kind of madness descended. Carefully nurtured breeding stock was lost, on a vast scale. Generations of work disappeared. Animals starved, unable to be moved for fear of contamination and the farmer who threatened the Ministry vets with a shot gun? This story is still told in many a local pub.

This is why I am excited to be talking to a fellow writer from London, who first told me about the situation for  farmers in Maharashtra right now. Her family originate from the farming communities of Maharashtra, just as my children were born to a farming community in Devon.

An idea is to go out there and hear from the farming families first hand, and, as writers, tell the stories. I’ll let you know what happens.

Rachel Francis

First published in Broadsheep Magazine.

Deep Heat

This summer I travelled to Andalucía. I arrived in a heat wave, early and intense even by Spanish standards. It was 41 degrees by the time I reached Seville on 10th July and the walls and pavements were still radiating heat at 11.oo at night. The mountains beyond Seville were fresher, but the heat was taking its toll upon local crops.

2015-07-11 17.39.11

Europe by Train

Popular opinion says the easiest way to get to Spain from UK is to fly. But I wanted to travel from Knighton to Seville by train. I was going to do some writing, and it was climate related. I had come across a new company called Loco2 that sets out “to make booking trains across Europe as easy as booking a flight.”

The small team at Loco 2 have put together some clever software that simplifies booking trains in and across Europe and they now work with many of the big train companies including Renfe in Spain, SNCF in France and Eurostar. You can plan your journey and order the whole thing online, with print-at-home tickets for many routes. Loco 2 have also developed a tool that tells you the carbon dioxide savings you can make by taking the train in comparison to flying the same route.

Air travel is still the fastest growing contributor to climate change. The huge increase in aircraft pollution is mostly because of the growth in air traffic since the sixties, but Eurostar recently commissioned independent research to assess the CO2 per passenger produced by a London-Paris Eurostar journey compared to a London-Paris flight.  They found that taking the train to Paris instead of flying cuts CO2 emissions per passenger by 90 percent.

Changing Landscape

Despite all the dire warnings about hold-ups at Calais, the only real problem was the London tube strike. I walked from Euston and just managed to catch my train from St Pancras International to Paris. 

The next morning it was the high-speed TGV to Barcelona. This is a long journey, but from the upper deck the views, especially along the coast, are fantastic.

2015-07-09 18.51.51 2015-07-10 10.13.18

The changeover at Barcelona was a bit rushed and in future I would plan to stay at more destinations along the way.

Another thing it helps to know:  Spanish trains are on time. They are also very sociable with friendly, lively bars.

And something I will never forget:getting off the air-conditioned train at Madrid to walk into a wall of heat. There is no preparing yourself for the 25-degree temperature change between Wales and Southern Spain.

From Madrid to Seville takes just over 2 hours in an AVE train. The scenery along my route had steadily transformed from lush in Mid Wales – through the patchwork crops of central France and vineyards to the South – and finally into sun baked mountains, scorched earth, magnificent solar arrays and lunar landscapes between Madrid and Seville. I was picked up by car and taken by Sam to Finca Buenvino. Time to get writing.


Turning Point

By the time I left Spain, temperatures were peaking at 48 degrees. This extreme heat is unimaginable until you experience it. In Spain the weather is getting hotter, in Wales – mostly wetter. This December is the Paris climate summit. I hope UK will follow Obama’s lead and commit to real action towards clean technology and leaving fossil fuels in the ground. I’m not saying we don’t benefit from some deep heat from time to time – but there are limits – and – the world has reached them.