Category Archives: resilient communities

A Significant Encounter in the Water Village

On the second day, there was a trip to one of the water villages around Shanghai. The city is built on the delta of the Yangtze River; the surrounding countryside is crossed by many small rivers. To the west of the urban area, there are several ancient towns which preserve much original culture. We were going to Zhujiajiao, about 50 km from the city.

sampan in water village nr Shanghai

We began our explorations in the Kezhi Gardens. Our guide led us through the living areas, now displaying various examples of the crafts once practised there, to a large room which housed a model of the original design.

resilience village model

I was stunned – it was an exact depiction of the imaginary ‘resilience village’ which I’d described in ‘Recipes for Resilience’! The establishment used to house not only an extended family, but also students learning about plants. The ethic was that the whole community would work on the fields and vegetable gardens, as well as studying, in order to have a balanced life.

Although the place had undergone changes – at one point it was a junior school, and is now an exhibition – the small craft workshops still housed skilled artisans. You can watch paper-cutting, calligraphy and embroidery; pick up some pretty souvenirs.

calligraphy and paper cutting

Paper cuttings
Paper cuttings

Some of the extensive fields survive as a demonstration area on the other side of the lovely formal gardens. I saw rice ready for harvest for the first time; it certainly seems to give a good yield of grain.

A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens

The garden itself was lovely. There was more space here than in the Yu Yuan; the water features were more intricate and the pavillions grander, with higher levels. You can see more pictures here, and read a brief history.

Too soon we had to continue our tour, emerging to take a walk along the riverfront and down the narrow colourful alleyways. These were lined with small stalls – the weather is quite warm here, even in November – selling all manner of enticing articles. Often the craftspeople themselves would be there, working on their next piece as they waited for customers.

riverfront water village

We paused for roll call by the famous Fang Sheng bridge, and were let off to explore. Across the bridge was an area of new development; modern apartments and shops, with the ubiquitous Starbucks. Part of the old bank was artificially preserved to ensure the survival of the old culture; the rest seemed to have managed it unaided.

The old and new in Zhujiajiao
The old and new in Zhujiajiao; the man in the boat is clearing weeds from the river

Zhujiajiao water village is one of the closest to Shanghai. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get there by public transport. Most city hotels provide small bilingual cards at Reception, instructing taxi drivers on returning wandering guests to the right address; make sure you pick one up if you’re going exploring without a guide.

Next week: Towers, silk and shopping in Shanghai

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The Return of the Sun

It’s been said that the December Solstice is the start of winter, but it’s really the middle.  Winter is half over….by Imbolc, Candlemas, in February, the first green shoots of spring can be seen.  No matter how you feel about Xmas, the sun has still embarked on its summer pathways now, and the daylight will increase.

sunset-iceland

This was crucial in Northern lands, where communities had to live on stored food for months.  The days of feasting celebrated the coming end of winter, not its beginning!

October Diary 2016

It’s about time for another diary post, since it’s been a busy week here in Somerset.

Thursday was the Community Food Forum, an annual event organised by Feed Avalon. Around forty people gathered this year – its third – to network and exchange ideas. It was great to see projects like Plotgate, a community supported agriculture venture near Barton St David, developing from their initial fund raising to a successful business!

There seems to be a steady increase of interest in growing food, with new sectors engaging every year. This time there were people who work with mental health, where its therapeutic benefits are being recognised.

Saturday saw the Glastonbury Town Council hold a public consultation on possible uses for a splendid old building they have just acquired for the community. It would be ideal for a practical crafts centre; I’d like to see that combined with an ‘eco-college’ like Dartington Hall in Devon. We could explore local materials for textiles and ceramics – Somerset having a lot of wool and clay.

edible flower baskets in Glastonbury
edible flower baskets in Glastonbury

In the evening, I went to the energy evening hosted by Green Wedmore. The purpose of the presentation and following debate was to explore future energy options for the local area. The range of these on the table was impressive. Not only solar, wind and hydropower, but also biomass from the surrounding RSPB nature reserves and anaerobic digestion using farm waste.

Vince Cable, former business secretary, gave the introduction and Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy provided an inspiring talk on how the renewables industry is adapting to a hostile government. I chatted to a long-serving member of the parish council, who’d recently had an impressive 16Kw array installed on the roofs of her farm buildings – using panels built in Wrexham. We snacked on excellent smoked trout vol au vents from the nearby aqua farm. The people of Wedmore intend to take quality with them into their sustainable future!

Someone had brought a particularly backward article just published in the Times. After spending much of the last forty years off grid, I view people who harp on about ‘the lights going out’ with the same astonishment as I’d view a flat-earther. Lights are easy. Washing machines, even freezers, are well within the scope of a modern personal renewables system without mains backup.

Tumble driers now, you could have a point.  It’s not such a rousing battle cry though – ‘without nuclear power, you might have to actually hang your clothes out to dry!’

Meanwhile, the smart consumer is considering the benefits of making their own electricity…..

solar power regulator

The best way to start this process is by looking at the devices you use already, and finding out how much electricity they use.  In the Energy chapter of the Resilience Handbook, task eight asks ‘can you calculate how much of your home could run on a supply of 2 kilowatts?’  This level of supply is not only possible with a personal solar array, but designed to use a small ‘suitcase’ generator as emergency backup. ( More power requires a larger, noisier generator.)

Once you know the answer to this question, you’ve got a much better idea what local energy can do for you – it’s more resilient than a centralised power supply!

For more information about food and energy resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

Storing Water

Some European countries are advising people to stockpile a minimum amount of water and food in case of emergencies. This certainly makes good sense in a rural area like Somerset. Our civil contingency plans recommend looking at two weeks’ supplies before normal services can be resumed, in a general worst case scenario.

We’ve had the mains water cut off before. If you’ve got enough bottled water to last a whole fortnight, it’d be easy to cope for a day or so. Where could you keep it? Any dark place will do – under the stairs, in the loft, out in a shed. Be careful in a loft as the floor is not safe to walk on, nor strong enough to hold full water containers. You’ll have to put planks across the rafters.

The five litre (gallon) bottles are the best ones to keep. The empty containers will be useful if the authorities bring a bowser or outside tap. Ideally you should have two litres of drinking water per person per day. For a fortnight, seven of these large bottles each will do.

This is quite a lot of storage for a family of four! If you simply haven’t the space for a full supply, keep a couple of the 25 litres (5 gallon) plastic water containers as well, such as people use on caravan holidays. Store them dry and empty; keep a bit of hose and a funnel with them as they’re hard to fill up from a sink tap. You’ll probably get some warning if the mains supply is going to fail, so you can get these full before it does.

a selection of water containers for an emergency

Make sure your bath plug fits and fill this up too. Extra water for washing would be nice! Remember full baths can be dangerous for small children. Add a couple of buckets and a large jug to your list and you have an excellent emergency kit to cope with quite a long interruption of mains water supplies.

For more information about emergency planning and community resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

Buy British

So…Britain voted to leave the European Union, and what sore losers the Remainers are turning out to be. Despite claiming the compassion corner, the vitriolic hate spewing out from many would do credit to any xenophobe.

In the countryside people are still stunned that their concerns have finally been noticed by city folk. They shouldn’t relax. Already there is talk of ‘not really leaving’ and murmurs of ‘punishing the rebels’.

While this acrimonious debate rages, we’re all still buying food, clothes and gadgets. It’s never been so important to target your spending at British products. Money spent in the country stays in the country and enriches it. Our economy needs that boost from ground level right now.

resilience handbook local produce in Glastonbury

If you shop in a supermarket, take a little longer and read labels. Find out what we actually make here. Try going for ingredients rather than ready-meals of dubious provenance. Spend a few pence extra to buy local vegetables, meat and dairy. The country of origin is on all packaging.

So is the name of the supplier. When you get home, go online and check out the firms which make your favourite foods. Can you buy a similar product made in Britain? What about clothes? Gadgets and services? Every little helps, they say, and it does.

Seventeen million people voted to leave the EU. If each of them made the effort to spend an extra £10 with locally owned businesses this week, it would add up to well over 2% of the entire weekly turnover of the retail sector. Joined by remainers and non-voters, just a tenner a week each adds up to 6% of this turnover – close on £500 million.

It wasn’t just the European Union who encouraged multinationals to mop up small independent businesses. Your consumer choices also helped shape this situation, and they can act to change it.

Take back your power – bring in strategic spending!

for more about bringing prosperity back to your area, read the Resilience Handbook

This link takes you straight to me at my desk, where I sign the book and send it off.  All the money goes straight into my account to be spent in local shops.   If you prefer familiar labels, you can buy it at Amazon, where I eventually get some kind of pittance.  Your choices certainly matter to me!

Last Bank Standing

I am going to a demonstration in Glastonbury tomorrow, in support of banks. This is deeply ironic, given that our historic finance system remains a major barrier to developing local resilience. However…

…..High Street banks in the UK are mounting a pull out of branches in small towns, citing the expense of running them. NatWest departed Glastonbury High Street some years ago, followed by HSBC. Then both Barclays and Lloyds announced their departure, leaving the town with no banks at all.

As they were taking their cashpoints with them, the Radstock Co-op was swift to install another. Its central location among the crystal shops assuaged fears than tourist income may fall through lack of access to cash. Facilities for the many independent traders, who supply the charm in this undeniably attractive street, are a more serious problem.

Solutions explored always ran up against the cost of cash movement; the very issue the banks were failing to deal with. Petitions to the last two banks fell on deaf ears – especially bitter in the case of Lloyds, who were bailed out by the taxpayer in 2008.

The demonstration in town on Friday is to mark the closure of our Barclays branch. As this is Glastonbury, I’m not there to wave placards, but to hold the belly dancer’s coat while she performs. You can see a couple of amusing short films featuring our last protests on the issue here –

Jerusalem

Last Bank standing – Crazy Horse

What to do next, once the dust has settled?

Drive everything online? It would take too long to explain why that is so very far from resilient (read the Resilience Handbook!).

A local currency could take some of the pressure off the cash movement problem. Many sophisticated, user friendly and secure models are running now. Money that can only be spent in a certain area is far less attractive to thieves. Mobile phone transactions can be enabled, as with the Bristol Pound. The concept needs a big player to engage – Mendip District Council accepting local currency as an agreed fraction of Council Tax payments, for example. MDC would then pay local contractors for various tasks, who spend their local pounds in Burns the Bread.

So the money circulates, which is all it ought to be doing. Let it out of your sight though, and it gets up to all sorts of mischief. Just wait till BitCoin brings you the world of Quantum Accounting. You really need to pay your milk bill with something simpler.

gothic image bookshop on Glastonbury High Street

And if you are in Glastonbury…you can buy the Resilience Handbook at the locally owned Gothic Image bookshop on the High Street! Save on postage!

‘What do you see as the other main threats to our current way of life?’

I had to prepare for a radio interview about the Resilience Handbook. The presenter gave me an outline of the questions he’d like to ask.

‘How worried are you about the way Britain is largely dependent on other countries for our food and fuel?

Very worried. It was one of the main driving factors in going to all the trouble of writing a book to explain what to do about it.

‘What do you see as the other main threats to our current way of life?’

Well, where does one start? Pandemics, economic instability, pollution…. all very threatening, but not quite what I was searching for. We already have the technology, the intelligence to climb out of this hole and start creating a better way of life, resilient against these and other threats. We’re just not doing it. Then I realised.

Our main threat is apathy.

Environmentalists argue with politicians, scientists with religious leaders, and year after year nothing is done. The endless economic growth promised seems to have turned cancerous. Resource wars are flaring up.

However serious the situation is, however impossible a solution seems, we arrived here slowly, one piece of shopping at a time. We need to take back our power and make new choices. While we still have access to fossil fuel energy, we can use it to rebuild a resilient culture. There’s no time to lose.

Even within a busy lifestyle, there’s room for these choices. You slump exhausted before the TV after a long day’s work. You make tea. Where did the milk come from? Can you have it delivered? Buy it from a corner shop? Explore the options. Just with the milk.

If you could buy milk direct from a local farm, in glass bottles, even that one tiny choice adds to the resilience of your area. More money stays in the local economy. Less plastic waste is created. If everyone in Somerset recycled just one more plastic bottle a week (that is, in many cases, recycle from the bathroom too), in one year it would save energy equivalent to one quarter of the output of the proposed Hinkley C nuclear reactor. How much more is saved by not buying the plastic in the first place!

the resilience wheel

Read the Resilience Handbook and find out how everyone can do their bit for community resilience, from organising an off grid power supply to helping out in a litter pick. Learn to change your own lifestyle for one less energy hungry and more relaxed. Pay more attention to your food – you are what you eat. Go on adventures. Become resilient.

One person can make all the difference.

Calderdale floods – how to help

Campaign to help the independent bookshop flooded out in Hebdon Bridge….

hebden bbcpic 1

The comic shop took a hit too….

comic shop hebden

Here’s the donations site for the Community Foundation for Calderdale; monies raised to help with the clean up in general.  More news on the Calder Valley Flood Support facebook page.

Hebden Bridge features in the Resilience Handbook as a top example of a town with independent local businesses, and nearby Todmorden (also flooded) is the home of the inspirational Incredible Edible movement…they deserve your support!

Now the Carnival is Over…

Crowds gather on the pavements among the chip stalls and candyfloss vendors, along comes the marching band, the radio van, the glittering phalanx of motorcycles decked out in swirls of LEDs.

somerset guy fawkes carnival 1

The sound of music, the river of light reflects on the sky as the waiting pageant powers up along the bypass – and the first great float heaves into view.

carnival floats somerset

Up the narrow High Street they pass – dancing girls and solemn statues, whirling steam punk cogs and horses frozen in mid stride, mighty warriors and young farmers in drag. This is their moment, the pinnacle of preparation!

Who else is crazy enough to hold a Carnival in November? Bracketed by gales and lashing rainstorms, Saturday night was dry but freezing. The huddled spectators make an equal commitment to seeing the event through. Road closures and traffic control mean they cannot easily leave, come wet or cold. You take your chances, and the right equipment – resilience in action!

The Carnival covers several towns, quite far apart. Sometimes, when driving along pitch dark country roads in the hammering rain, one sees the secret movements of these mighty machines. They glide past you in convoy, eerie on running lights alone. A flash of grinning jokers, snarling dragon jaws, giant clocks – they are gone into the night.

And then it’s over. The floats return to their obscure sheds, the costumes are packed away. The coalman is just a coalman again and the tractors return to work. Somerset turns its attention to the next festival on the calendar. The Christmas lights can be safely strung across the streets and the fourth year of our Buy Local for Xmas campaign begins!

buy local for xmas

Support your local crafters – the community needs to encourage their skills. Make your gifts budget count, they’re relying on you!

Diary October 2015

The Resilience Handbook has been out in print for a busy two months now. Distributing and promoting has taken up most of my time – learning to sell books from a standing start! I’m just about to go on tour, heading north through the scary urbanisation of the Midlands to Hebden Bridge for the Food Sovereignty gathering.

poster for Food Sovereignty

I’m planning to stay on and revisit the wonderful people at Incredible Edible Todmorden nearby – I hear their aquaculture project is thriving. Then, taking the North Wales Expressway which I hear so much about on the traffic news, off to explore Welsh bookshops ending up with a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. I hope the weather holds!

No wonder we obsess about the weather in Britain. I’ve had to pack for wet cold, dry cold, unseasonable warmth and days of torrential rain. I could get all or none of these during a ten day walkabout! I’m afraid I drew the line at taking a spade to dig myself out of snowdrifts, as my neighbour advised, though that may turn out to be a false economy.

Packing wasn’t the only weather challenge this autumn. There were two weeks of cold wet weather at the end of August. My optimistic crops of sweetcorn and chickpeas went mouldy where they stood. The slugs multiplied alarmingly, not even bothering to crawl into hiding during the long wet days.

Once things dried out somewhat, I had to clear up the wreckage and deal with Mollusc World Domination. I replaced the stone slab garden bed paths with oven shelves and bits of fireguard; metal grids providing no shelter for them, nor for Ant City. I’m normally quite tolerant of ants, but this year they managed to destroy an entire courgette crop and most of the broad beans with their bug farms. Chemical warfare, however, is just not on the agenda.

The elderberry harvest in early September was upset by this weather; it took far more trips to collect enough for the crucial anti-flu syrup and we may not have a full winter’s supply. Elder trees can exert a great deal of influence over their flowers. They will hold them back as buds during rainy days, then open them like sudden umbrellas as soon as the sun comes out. Much the same applies to their berry clusters.

My friend’s bees didn’t produce enough honey to see themselves over the winter, so they will have to be fed by humans. I don’t know if this was the weather. Perhaps they are on strike against pesticides.

Right. Departure delayed to let the high winds abate, but not for too long or I’ll get entangled in Rush Hour. I just have to check out Knit for the Planet – who are the Woolly Angels? – and pack some wool….