Profiles in Regeneration: Conor, 30, London
Is our technology a tool for us, or are we a product of it? Ask questions like these and keep thinking about the impact you can make for the generations that will come after you.
Conor Gallagher wants you to eat fresh food. More specifically, he wants you to grow your own produce.
At 30 years old, Gallagher is the founder of Allot Me, an online marketplace that helps Londoners find plots of land in the city for rent so they can start their own garden. While he describes it as “Airbnb for gardens,” the idea is much more than that. Besides bringing the joy of gardening to city dwellers, Allot Me works to improve accessibility to local produce in urban areas and boost peoples’ mental health.
Most grocery store produce travels thousands of ‘food miles’ to reach consumers, needlessly adding to the global carbon footprint. A healthy, sustainable, and regenerative solution is imperative — and exactly why Gallagher founded Allot Me.
But of course, Gallagher’s aspirations go beyond London. As one of the 100 selected to be a part of the Regenerative List, he hopes to expand his startup to other cities and countries globally.
Regenerative Futures: How are you feeling right now?
Conor Gallagher: Restless, yet cautiously optimistic. It requires a serious amount of optimism to quit your job and create your own startup, to believe that you can turn an idea in your head into something tangible that has an impact.
According to recent data, 84% of 18–32 year-olds believe it is their generation’s responsibility to change the world when it comes to the climate crisis. I can personally vouch for this sense of duty, even though it may seem like an insurmountable task at times.
RF: What’s a secret your search history can tell us about you?
CG: Despite living in the UK, I watch a lot of American “late night” political satire shows. For the most part, I get my news on the world from American comedians like Stephen Colbert. Ironically, comedians often have better research teams than traditional news outlets and can cut to the core of the issue far quicker using humor.
RF: What are you reading/learning about at the moment?
CG: About two years ago, I took a deep dive into learning about business and the world of startups. Even though we have to obtain three degrees in the UK to become an architect, there is little education on running a business successfully.
My deep dive started with the likes of Tim Ferriss’ The 4 Hour Work Week and Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. Now, I am reading books about how to effectively get the message out there about my startup from authors like Seth Godin. My current reading material is Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.
RF: Who is your favorite human and why?
CG: My favorite human (in all of history) is Leonardo DaVinci — one of the greatest polymaths to have ever lived. Since reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Leonardo, I have been in awe of the detail and inquisition to which he paid to the projects he worked on throughout his life. Along with being a renegade of his era (he was an illegitimate son, gay, left-handed, and vegetarian), DaVinci was interested in all things, be it nature, military engineering, or the mechanics of the human body.
To be either an architect or an entrepreneur, you have to have a wide range of skills and an open mind to be able to continue learning throughout your life and career. Although my natural talent pales in comparison to the likes of DaVinci, I can still take inspiration from the way in which he led his life: always inquisitive, fearless of new challenges, and outspoken in his views.
RF: Which key moment inspired you to start your project?
CG: A couple of years ago, I lived in a flat in South London without any outdoor space, but started to get interested in the idea of growing my own vegetables. During this time I came across an allotment and saw there were people growing their own food in urban spaces — but I had no idea how to access it and get a plot of my own.
With great difficulty, I finally managed to make contact with someone on the site, only to learn that the waiting list was over 10 years long and closed to newcomers. Not only was this the case for the allotments near me, but symptomatic of a severe lack of food growing spaces in cities all across the UK. I knew there had to be a better way…
RF: In two years' time, what would your project’s success look like?
CG: There are over a thousand different locations listed on the AllotMe platform across the UK where we have enabled average citizens without a garden to start growing their own food. At this point, the project will be looking to scale to multiple high-density cities across the planet.
By this point, the platform also acts as a community for “Greenfingers” and provides support and tutorials to get anyone interested in the benefits of growing fruit and vegetables. The project has not only played a significant role in drastically reducing carbon emissions from ‘food miles,’ but has also helped to connect communities from a variety of ages and demographics, as well as providing an outlet for the health service who are already prescribing ‘green appointments’ for gardening as a remedy for mental health issues.
In two years, we will also have demonstrated that a tech platform can actually work to bring people together and improve our users’ mental health by encouraging behaviors that help us to put down our smartphones, interact, and get our hands dirty.
RF: If you could focus a large percentage of government funding on one industry or project for the next five to ten years, which would you choose and why?
CG: I would split the time and money between two industries desperately in need of updating: Agriculture & Construction. Both of these industries are among the top contributors to carbon emissions and both have been completely devoid of innovation compared to other industries.
Agriculture contributes to approximately 30% of global GHGs [greenhouse gases] and has not experienced mass innovation since the industrial revolution. Vertical farming and urban rooftop farms are starting to move the needle toward more eco-friendly alternatives for our food supply, but they are still not energy-efficient enough to change the industry as whole, and still only available to higher earning socio-economic groups. A consistent injection of government funding over 5–10 years would help to create more opportunity for alternative food sourcing and make it more readily available to a mass market.
Building and construction contribute approximately 35–40% of global GHGs. Having worked as an architect in the industry for years, I can attest firsthand to how much the construction industry lags behind when it comes to innovation and efficiency. The processes of building a house or an apartment block have not changed much in decades. Like urban agriculture, there are glimmers of hope in construction for processes like modular construction techniques or 3D-printed buildings, but these remain very much on the fringes of the industry. I would put a significant amount of investment into reducing the barrier to entry for modular construction companies and incentivize developers to utilize these services through decreased taxation.
RF: What are the best and the worst things about the education system in your country?
CG: The UK has a 99% literacy rate, and our education system is inherently diverse. We are ranked about 5th in the world for our education as a whole, but there are many ways it can be improved.
Every year, government funding for education is being cut, and classrooms are becoming overcrowded. At the higher education level, fees for universities have tripled, just in the period of time I started and ended my undergraduate degree — without the value for students increasing by any tangible measure.
In terms of the content of our education throughout school, there is a gaping hole where life skills should be taught. As teenagers, we should be taught the value of money and what it means to save or spend. We should be taught how to file taxes or start a savings account from a young age, or taught about the power of compound interest.
The overarching issue with the global education system is that we are not taught how to be a successful, or why it’s important to continue learning — rather, we are educated simply to get a job, and the reasons or value of this come secondary.
RF: Do you have a message for anyone your age living in the year 2060?
CG: Persevere and keep learning. If you want to achieve something, find someone who is ten years ahead of you and find out how they did it. Have an open mind, and never be afraid to challenge the accepted norm.
In 2060, there’s no telling how entrenched in technology modern life might be, but it’s important to ask what it’s doing for us. Is our technology a tool for us, or are we a product of it? Ask questions like these and keep thinking about the impact you can make for the generations that will come after you.
RF: What inspires or frightens you most about the future?
CG: The role of “big tech” in society is something that frightens me about the future. We already know how the data mined from sources such as Facebook by questionable companies like Cambridge Analytica can have a serious impact on western democracy without our knowledge (2016). But as the biggest companies in the world like Amazon and Google expand into more and more markets, the tracking of our data and the addictive behaviors built into their platforms will continue to influence our day-to-day lives from under our nose. The question now is: where will this take us? Clickbait and “fake news” travels eight times faster online than legitimate stories, and society seems to be more and more polarised as a result.
What inspires me about the future is the awareness and level-headedness of younger generations. Right now our leaders in politics are simply not equipped to regulate the big tech companies, enact stricter laws to combat the climate crisis, or reform systematic racism and injustice — but I have every faith that for the youth of our planet, issues like these will be the bedrock for the reform and the regeneration that our world so desperately needs.
RF: Regeneration is…
CG: The heart of any grassroots movement. It’s about empowering people to bring value to a space or their lives where there was once a void.
To learn more about Regenerative List Finalist, AllotMe UK, click here.