Feature

Meet Wales’ first Rastafarian beekeeper!

By Maidah Khan

Phillip Henry, co-founder of The Honeycomb Cooperative at the Grange Pavilion.
Photo by Maidah Khan

Phillip Henry is the co-founder of The Honeycomb Cooperative (THC), an organisation of Pan-African Welsh Apiarists.

Phillip was helping a friend through the grief of losing his farm when he came to the realisation that his community had lost their connection to nature.

“I grew up in Bristol in the eighties; it was a hostile environment, like racial violence, stop and search et cetera, and obviously, as a young child it had a profound effect upon on my being,” says Phillip. “But in that hostile environment, nature was my consistent friend… never made fun of my economical state, the personal issues that my household was going through, you know? Always a friend.”

Phillip’s family are of the Windrush generation—migrants from the Caribbean who were encouraged to immigrate to the UK in order to fill labour shortages after the Second World War.

“When the Windrush came over here, unfortunately, it was no blacks, no dogs, no Irish, which obviously made it hard for us to get accommodation, to settle our families—to develop and progress. When I grew up and listened to the experience of my elders, it was evident that what was missing was our access to land, to be able to express ourselves, reconnect, build bridges, and address trauma in our community.”

After moving to Cardiff in 1997, Phillip worked as a musician, which is how he met his co-founder, Charles Braithwaite, a tree surgeon from Barbados. 

“Charles had a farm at the time but unfortunately, due to a family tragedy, he had to sell it and the trauma was still there—so I was helping him out through that,” says Phillip. “I started paying more attention to what he was doing as a tree surgeon and I was recognising the amount of waste; so we started talking about how we could solve the problem.

“So that’s the basis of The Honeycomb; there’s myself and Charles, and then we have another director, Michelle—a veterinarian. Our main objective is to facilitate conversations around conservation and environmental investments.”

Photo by Phillip Henry.

The Honeycomb Cooperative operates on the principles of Ujima and Ujamaa, the Swahili words for ‘collective responsibility’ and ‘cooperative economics’.

Phillip sees the idea illustrated in a healthy beehive. From queens, to drones, to workers, all bees have a collective responsibility to do their jobs in order to achieve the collective reward, i.e. survival. THC hopes to mirror that relationship in communities across Wales through three key services.

Their RasCycling initiative aims to promote recycling and combat electronic waste.

“So RasCycling is about learning from the beehives,” says Phillip. “The girls recycle everything, the flowers that you see, by the act of pollination is a form of cycling, they recycle the genetic species and enable that species to become better than its previous generation. So each generation is praising and striving to do a better praise than the last.”

Phillip has been looking into making “more endurable” products using eco-bricks—these are reusable building blocks made from plastic bottles filled with used plastic. They were developed in the Philippines to manage plastic waste and prevent ecological harm by keeping plastic from entering rivers.

“The whole objective is to create a bee-friendly society, but the waste that we are accumulating at this time is no good. We need to be more efficient with our resources,” says Phillip.

Shashamane is their tree planting scheme which focuses on providing clean air and sustainable habitats. THC works with commercial farmers across Wales to grow and manage trees.

In 2020, they adopted two-thousand oak samplings to be planted over a three year period. Phillip also hopes to identify new, bee-friendly fertilisers and pesticides through permaculture—an agricultural approach which takes inspiration from natural ecosystems.

“We believe that permaculture celebrates biodiversity, and we believe the best way to fight against racism is to celebrate biodiversity of food, because every nation needs food—so every nation should celebrate where their food comes from.”

The National Hive Service acts as the collective responsibility branch of THC.

The educational programme is provided to community centres, schools, and prisons; its aim is to raise awareness about bee welfare, and introduce communities to beekeeping.

The most recent workshop was held at the pavilion in Grange Gardens. Upon arrival, Phillip burnt two pieces of frankincense and placed chairs on either side of each piece, creating a path for attendees to walk in an infinity motion.

“Humanity has lost their relationship, their dance, their vocabulary, with the earth that they were created from,” says Phillip. “When we can walk with and make an effort to reach out—to return back to our first love, first language, our first vocabulary… it has a profound effect upon the cellular level of every organism which we are part of.”

To keep up to date with The Honeycomb Cooperative, visit their website and follow them on Instagram.

Categories: Feature, Nature

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