Category Archives: business

A community transport hub

Imagine not a simple bus shelter, but a small building in every village, at every key location in towns and cities. It’s furnished with cushioned chairs, magazines and a water dispenser. The place is kept clean and maintained by a rota of local people. The solar panels on the roof provide power for lighting – including the ‘Stop’ light outside so that the bus driver knows there are passengers to pick up.

Buses come every hour at most and there is thoughtful scheduling of connections. No matter how long or awkward your journey, you never have to wait more than an hour to catch your next link. Fares are cheap. A day pass costs scarcely more than a single journey. A conductor helps you on with your luggage, and can advise you about other services.

There are lockers in the building, operated by tokens or small coins, where you can leave your shopping and go for lunch. Or lock your bicycle to the racks outside and store your wet weather gear to catch the bus for the trip to work in town.

Shoppers are transported directly into the town centres. The independent shops do well, local produce sells and is encouraged, money stays within the community. Many new jobs are created.

There is a community notice board at the hub, with news of events, official meetings, items for sale or wanted. At busy times, a local business brings a small mobile stand for newspapers and refreshments. There is a roll-out awning on one side of the building to protect a weekly produce stand, or a sale in aid of some project.

The buses are partly run on electricity, and there is a charging point close to the hub, perhaps powered by the community windmill. The surplus is available to local disabled people to charge their small electric cars.

A network of bicycle tracks links these hubs. They often use different, traffic free routes with the occasional shelter along them in case of heavy rain. Footpaths sometimes follow these routes, sometimes diverge into wilder, more scenic areas.

Where does the land come from for these hub buildings?

Car parks.

© Elizabeth J Walker 2014

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Willows and Flooding

The Somerset Levels have grown willow since prehistoric times; the remains of a basket were found by the Glastonbury Lake Village. Willow trees are plentiful in marshlands as they can thrive in waterlogged soils. Their long flexible shoots have many uses, including furniture, fencing and fish traps.

Traditional methods of pruning, or pollarding, cut the tree back to its main trunk. A shock of long straight withies springs out from the cut, and can be harvested. The trees are quite tall and have a distinctive knobby shape. Pollarded trees need to be maintained, which is difficult when the trimmings have no value.

Many modern willow beds are coppiced. The growth is cut back, even to ground level, every couple of years. Material which could be used for craft products is burned as biomass fuel. Willow beds established by grant funding have no budget for upkeep.

The Levels grew nearly 40 square kilometres of willow in 1930, but this has declined to a mere 1.4, mainly due to replacing basketry with disposable bags and packaging. Garden furniture is made from imported, oil based plastic and most people would struggle to recognise a fish trap.

Planting willow around the banks of rivers stabilises them, and can be extended into a buffer zone. This would aid the retention of water in a managed flood plain, protecting urban land further downstream. Willow is particularly good at removing toxins from contaminated land. It could be planted straight after a major flood, but it won’t be, as no-one can earn a living from it.

The decline of willow production needs to be reversed by creating a market.

The storms that often accompany flooding have wreaked havoc on garden fencing. Tall solid panels which resist the wind have fallen in heaps. Woven willow fencing allows the light and air through, while affording privacy.

Order some from a local willow craftsperson. It will be more expensive than cheap imported products. If you have a garden and a fence, though, it makes sense to support the farmers upstream who are preventing them flooding. Think about what else you could replace with locally sourced willow.

Alternatively, find a project which needs help with coppicing and negotiate your own materials.  Carymoor Environment Trust in Somerset have a volunteers’ day every Tuesday.

willow crafts

 

Community Resilience and Emergency Welfare Newsletter

C.R.E.W are borrowing space here to post their steward newsletter until they can sort out a new website; however this coincides with some exciting changes in their organisation…

“Hi to all our loyal and fabulous volunteers!

Wishing you all a merry festive season!

We have rather suddenly got a new email address crewcic@gmail.com since the locally based Ergonet hosting company went bust – please direct all stewarding enquiries here for the moment and we will let you know if this changes. They wouldn’t let us send out this newsletter.

We’re seeking funding for a new website, which will come with a proper email address.

We’ve now become a Community Interest Company so that we can develop more of our resilience courses and practical skills camps. We’ll still be running stewards at One Love next summer, but not the Green Gathering. However, we are recruiting people for traffic management at the Langport Scythe Fair in June, and are looking for small event work especially in Somerset.

For next year, we’re planning low cost resilience training courses in France, the opportunity to meet up at an established camp and various hands-on craft events, among other things. We’ll send out a more detailed newsletter in the New Year.

As we are now a proper company we are building up a stock of useful items and local craftworks for sale to raise money for providing training in all aspects of resilience. For example….

Candle stove (as seen on Facebook except this one has been researched and tested for the past year)

 new design 72ppi

 The key features are the stainless steel core and the metal stand, which we can supply for £25 (Stand £20, core £7.50 sold separately) with full instructions.  Contact the temporary gmail address above for details

 new stand and core 72ppi

Resilience Handbook a 32 page A5 booklet with the basic outlines of the Resilience Wheel concept, as seen on our now vanished website, which is £3

Both items are post free to our volunteer community!

Our Facebook friend page CREW HQ regularly posts interesting and useful ideas around resilience and sustainability, please do join us there!

Cheers

Jane & Helene (Directors)

Linden (Secretary)

Linda (Consultant)

Simon (Marketing)”

 

 

The Hemp Twine Project – Introduction

There are just over half a million people in Somerset. Imagine if, just once a year, half of those people bought an item on which a local supplier made fifty pence profit. That would generate an amazing £125,000 for the local economy. More jobs created and investment in local initiatives…..at Community Resilience and Emergency Welfare CIC they have developed this concept into the Hemp Twine Project.

They were looking for an item, not too large or expensive, that always comes in handy and could be fully sourced locally. Although there are a few things made in Somerset, such as lavender oil, they decided to start a new product. This was an educational exercise rather than a commercial venture after all.

Everybody uses string. It’s not on the regular shopping list, but it’s not a luxury item either. It keeps very well, is easy to store and cheap to buy. Most household string is made of oil based plastic or imported cotton. Replacing this in your home with a locally sourced, organically grown, biodegradable string is definitely Good for the Environment.

As well as wool and apples, Somerset can grow large amounts of hemp. This used to be processed into fibre and supplied the local shipyards in the days of sail. Hemp as a material is remarkably resistant to rot, even in challenging salt water conditions, so it was often used in ropes and canvas. Nylon and plastic ousted natural fibres awhile ago, and the industry fell into decline. The soil and weather conditions which favoured hemp production are still in place though, and it is a crop which requires no chemical intervention to thrive.

Today, hemp twine is sold to the home craft market, for use in beadwork or macrame. Sourcing a larger quantity was difficult but, with the aid of the amazing desktop ball of string maker, finally translated into a product at the right price.

old fashioned string winding machine
The old fashioned winding machine is fed from a reel on the right and makes neat balls of twine

If enough people buy hemp twine, the hemp industry could revive faster than it fell. Farmers would be paid well for a low cost crop, a small industrial unit would suffice to process the fibre into twine and local shops would profit from the sales. Spin offs include hemp oil, valuable as a source of Omega-3, hemp cake for cattle and hempcrete for building material. Each of these can underpin another entire small industry.

All that is needed is a market – your one ball of string a year – and the local economy could be richer by a whole new industry! With a steady income from conscious consumerism, businesses can plan ahead. Instead of playing the customer loyalty game with uncaring multinationals, bring it home.

Think what else you could create by buying local.

The Apple Juice Project – Part One

Somerset, famed for its cider, is still a good place to grow apples. Many gardens boast at least one tree, but few people are able to make full use of the fruit and it often goes to waste. Collecting spare fruit to make apple juice could be a resilient way forward.

So we collected bags of sound apples. They need to be in good condition for juicing, not bruised or chewed. We borrowed a scratter, a press and a pasteuriser from Somerset Community Food and spent the afternoon pressing apples.

Much hard work later, we had fifteen bottles to fill the pasteuriser, and some left over. Unpasteurised apple juice will only keep for a few days, even in a fridge. The pasteuriser sat on a chair in the kitchen, full of very hot water, for several hours.

Although the juice did keep well – we opened a bottle eighteen months later, which was fine – it had taken a lot of apples and hard physical labour to make not very many bottles. If ever a process called out for mechanisation, this was it.

We knew a local firm would take apples and press them into juice for a fee, which no longer seemed so unreasonable. It would be possible to make a profit of £1 a bottle. Could this finance a larger project?

This year, we explored Plan B. Collecting fruit from an overgrown orchard in West Pennard, we estimated that one tree provided enough apples for one crate of the five needed for a minimum order. Two people took an hour to clear the ground of rotten apples and windfalls, then pick the good apples from the tree.

The profit margins are too small to offer the householder free apple juice, and you must be careful how much you sell at cost. Most people who have unused fruit trees, though, are pleased to have the ground underneath them cleared. Fallen fruit attracts wasps, is slippery and interferes with lawn mowing.

People already doing gardening work could combine this with harvesting the apples. A cider company might buy the windfalls, increasing the profit margin. Careful planning of collection rounds can minimise fuel use.

One crate of apples gives you about 12 bottles, from which you need to pay for your fuel and the time spent selling the juice. You would need to invest the money in having the juice made, and maintain a small van. It should be possible to earn a small living from the wasted apple harvest for one quarter of the year though.

The project may be a good income for a community group using volunteer labour. They would have the added benefit of being able to access a market, funding for a pilot scheme and better publicity networks.

 

preserved apples
Keeping apples in a sealed bin can preserve them for months

The Hemp Twine Project – Part One

One of my planned projects involves encouraging the sale of hemp twine to promote the local economy in Somerset. Everyone needs string. Hemp was once a major crop here, supplying huge quantities of rope for the Bristol shipping trade.

You can still see some of the long sheds where the ropes used to be twisted together from fibres.

Accordingly, after my summer adventures in the field, I set about ordering some hemp twine. Reluctant to create yet another customer profile for a possible single purchase, I called my chosen supplier and spoke to a friendly chap from the north of England.

I deplored the price of hemp twine, given the ease and low cost of hemp cultivation. He told me the sad tale of the decline of the natural fibre rope making industry faced with competition from oil based plastics. The hemp I was buying came from Egypt. Could I believe that unscrupulous sellers even tried to pass off jute fibre as hemp?

Uncomfortably aware that, although my grandfather would certainly have known the difference, I could be thus hoodwinked all day long, I moved the subject to purse nets. The hemp twine – the largest and cheapest reel I had found – was destined to make and repair these nets, commonly used for catching rabbits.

Alas, there was a sad story there too. Modern lads take no care of their hunting gear, but are content to stuff wet and muddy nets into a plastic sack at the end of a day. Left in this condition, even the spectacular ability of hemp to resist rot is overcome. Cheap imported plastic nets, however, can be abused endlessly.

Lads – do you realise that your careless lazy habits are having this impact? Take a minute or ten just to rinse out your nets and hang them up to dry before opening that can and slumping in front of the TV! Buy hemp purse nets or better still have some pride in your craft and make your own. There are instructions on the internet.

Hemp can and should be widely grown in this country. As well as fibre to replace imported oil based plastics, it yields nutritious seeds ideal for livestock feed. All it lacks is a market. Hundreds of new jobs could be created.

See how it’s all connected?

Start paying attention.