Tag Archives: community

February Diary 2017

It’s been a busy year so far! The astrologers say there may be a short respite in early autumn, but otherwise things promise to be relentlessly hectic.

I’ve set aside the time from January to April to finish my book about food resilience. It’s based around the seasons; it became quite disorientating, writing about the warmth of May when it was January outside.

I took a break, wrote an essay for the Nine Dots Prize then went up North on a brief networking mission. I stayed at the splendid Hebden Bridge hostel – used as a refugee centre during the 2015 floods – and spent a day in nearby Todmorden.

The Incredible Aquagarden was running a course that day, which was lucky. I caught the morning session, on soil science. It was interesting to compare the teaching styles with those of our local Feed Avalon organisation.

The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside
The Incredible Aquagarden from the outside

I met up with Estelle Brown from Incredible Edible Todmorden at lunchtime for a quick tour of their edible landmarks. The medicinal herb beds beside the canal had survived inundation, though nearby buildings had suffered badly. Pollinators’ Avenue, originally a temporary installation, was still going. The locals were fending off a planned retail centre on the site, having a perfectly good market next door.

A new mural in Todmorden
A new mural in Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
the iconic police station vegetable beds, Todmorden
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
People hang old teapots in trees to encourage robins to nest; the boat on the canal is just strange
Pollinators' Avenue
Pollinators’ Avenue

Although it was chilly and getting dark, I trekked back through the amazing park to the Aquagarden for the last part of their course. This dealt with aquaponics itself; I was able to thoroughly explore the process by viewing their demonstration equipment, complete with pet fish. This aquagarden is evolving into an educational centre, unlike the one at Mark, in Somerset, which is a commercial operation.

The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
The fish tank and vegetable bed in the Todmorden aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden
Spring courses at the Incredible Aquagarden

At the end, I was presented with a set of hydroponic pots to take home – and, fortunately, a lift to the railway station. You’ve no idea what a novelty local trains are to someone from Mid-Somerset!

There was some time the next day to visit Hebden Bridge before we left. The Bookcase is open again – you can buy the Resilience Handbook there now! The comic book store is back too, though there is still a scattering of boarded windows in the main street. The water level overtopped defences based on previous floods by several feet.

At the old mill, the Archimedes screw survived, though it was a near thing. Everyone had flood stories, but the millkeeper’s tale highlighted an unforeseen hazard. Tree branches caught on a bridge just upstream, creating a dam which suddenly burst, hurling a tidal wave at their mill house. Only the window glass held back this surge; fortunately it wasn’t broken by the debris. Riverside properties in similar situations could consider adding metal grids to their flood protection strategies.

Archimedes screw
The Archimedes screw generates all the electricity for the mill building. You can see some heat exchange pipes in the water at the right of this picture, which provide some of the heating. 75% of the energy harvested at the mill is resold to the Grid.

Back to Somerset, night driving in the rain through relentless traffic. It was worse than my last visit; yet more housing was planned in the area. Is there some kind of crazy motorway Jenga going on – a game to see how much traffic you can pile into a system before it collapses?

And so back to the writing desk…an icy rain sweeps the garden as I imagine the chore of watering plants in hot summer sunshine, whilst browsing on fresh raspberries…

Worried about  global uncertainty?  Buy yourself a Resilience Handbook and start learning the power of community resilience!  We need informed debates centred  around practical, ground level solutions.

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Some tips to reduce mould in your house

In the interests of networking, an important part of resilience, I keep in touch with Green Wedmore. This is an active and effective community group out on the Levels. When I discovered they were involved with a plan to conduct an energy survey of the area, I was keen to join in. I’d qualified as an energy assessor some years ago, but the project which sponsored me fell through before I got any practical experience.

Last Saturday, we had an Energy Essentials Training day, presented by the lovely Lisa Evans of the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol. Although I found a lot of the material familiar, it reminded me how important this information is to people.

Cold and damp are bad enough, but it’s the resulting mould that’s really unpleasant. It looks awful, stains clothes and ruins furniture. The spores of black mould can cause health problems; even touching it can provoke an allergic reaction.

Sometimes it’s not enough to wrap up warm. My daughter and her friends, in their new basement flat by the river, were faced with electric storage heaters. Not certain how they worked, and alarmed at the cost, they didn’t use them. Well insulated, the flat wasn’t particularly cold, but by December their walls and furniture were covered in mould!

black mould

You can search online for instructions if your new home has an unfamiliar heating system. If you’ve got a problem with damp, here’s a few tips…

If you have an empty room which you’re not heating, keep the door closed. Steam from the bathroom and kitchen doesn’t stay there, but wanders through the house looking for a cold surface to condense on. Move the furniture away from outside walls, and check behind it regularly. Narrow gaps and poor air circulation encourage mould; open the windows on sunny winter days.

After a shower, close the bathroom door and open a window, if you have one; let the water vapour escape. Otherwise, use extractor fans. They’re usually under 30 watts, so cheap to run. Make sure your tumble drier is vented to the outside.

Do you have a loft? If you go into the roof space, having found out about safety precautions first, there’s often a gap where the end of the roof meets the floor. Sometimes you can even see daylight through it. This gap is crucial to the overall ventilation of many houses. If it’s blocked by insulating material, you may get a problem with damp.

There’s lots more useful advice on the internet. Don’t just live with a dangerous condition like damp; do some research and find out what you can do about it!

People used to interact with their homes far more than many do today. Learn about yours – where does the power comes from, where does the water go? What’s your score in the Housing section of the Resilience Handbook? Which action should you do next?

Remember the free assessment PDF can be found at the end of the Learning Resilience page on this site.

An Interesting Meeting

I attended an Avalon Community Energy meeting on Monday. We were admiring the new solar panels they’d arranged to be installed at a local school. Despite the continual obstacles thrown in the path of this worthy project by central government, everyone was civil to the visiting MP.

He made a short speech, indicating more sympathy for renewables than we were accustomed to hear. He regretted that taxpayers’ money had to be spent along lines informed by good business practice; later he deplored the competitiveness between various renewables providers. If business models could run a country, politics would never have happened in the first place.

The he said something really startling. We were moving away from centralised power distribution, he said. We could be building the last generation of large power stations.

Moving towards local control of the power supply is a key pillar of resilience. As control cannot be achieved without generation, renewables represent the only way forward for resilient communities. Sourcing energy in this way also leads to a more distributed network with fantastic resilience. Emergency heating, lighting and cooking facilities could be maintained in every household! Large scale power cuts would be a thing of the past.

Moving away from centralised power generation wasn’t anywhere near the top of my ‘Realistic Things to Achieve’ list. It was just a vague pipe dream, an ‘if only people would realise the importance’ idea, facing decades of struggle even to get on the agenda!

Energy groups such as ACE need to move in from the pioneer fringes and occupy the centre ground for communities to take advantage of this unexpected trend. To seize opportunity, an organised group has to be in place, poised and ready, with a sound business plan backed by an informed community. Is there such a group in your area? If not, why not?

Take back your power.

waterwheel-1

The Resilience Handbook outlines how you can form a community group in your area. More information can be found through the links on this page.

It can be a very slow process, getting a community to work together. Encourage yourself with a resilience plan; find out more in the Handbook

Resilience in Iceland

My trip to Iceland was a journey through the island’s past. I was well acquainted with the Sagas, set in the period just after Settlement, from about 900 to 1050 AD, which described a prosperous landscape. I knew that deforestation quickly became a problem and Icelanders avoided the fate of their relatives in Greenland by a very small margin.*

One of my first stops was the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik. This museum has been built over an excavated longhouse from the Saga days. Its inhabitants enjoyed Iron Age luxury in their spacious ‘hvoll’ surrounded by natural abundance.

Following the prosperity of the early days came the Little Ice Age which began in the 1300s and lasted nearly six centuries. The trees cut for firewood, building and smelting iron didn’t grow back. The topsoil was lost and barley cultivation ceased. The fjords filled with ice; the fishing boats rotted on the strand with no wood for repairs.

There wasn’t even enough firewood to boil seawater for salt, essential for preserving food through the long winters. Luckily cows were able to survive, presumably living on seaweed and lichens like the people, and there was plenty of whey left over from butter making. The Icelanders expanded traditional techniques of preserving meat in lactic acid.

There was no clay for making pots, no iron to repair pans. People used the volcanic springs to steam food wrapped in cloth, dug pits in hot sand. Icelandic cuisine became desperately inventive.

The climate change was compounded by hostile political conditions and by the Black Death in 1402. The population fell from 60,000 to 20,000. Then there was the Skaftáreldar eruption in 1783, which poisoned large areas of grassland.

As Europe began to prosper again, there was a market for the fine woollen goods from Iceland – the sheep had survived too, and just as well as there were no fibre crops for cloth or ropes. Finally permitted to prosper from their own trade, the Icelanders invested in boats. Their fishing fleet was revived; technology trickled in from the Industrial Revolution.

Then electricity was invented! Icelanders swiftly caught on to the potential of renewable and volcanic energies. Huge greenhouses now provide all the vegetables they need for domestic consumption, and extensive reforestation is progressing. Recycling is taken seriously. So is trashing the countryside with off road vehicles.

You’ll find a great respect for the land among Icelanders. It nearly killed them. If you visit this paragon of resilience, don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. Hire locals to show you around, especially in winter!

 

*There’s a poignant description of the fate of one group of Greenland Vikings in ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond.  This is one of the recommended books in the Resilience Handbook…reading is a good activity in the winter!

There’s still time to order a signed copy of the Resilience Handbook before Xmas – email me after you’ve placed your order if you want it signed to another name!

Wells Food Festival

It was a glorious autumn day, dry and sunny. The rows and swirls of colourful stalls filled the grassy spaces around the ancient stone walls of the Bishop’s Palace, spilled over into the antique Recreation Ground next door, surrounded its bandstand and carried on down the lane, where our Food For Thought marquee was.

The venue looked splendid, thanks to the lovely Laura and the Wells food group team. It was decorated with vintage bunting, lit by electric chandeliers! After an early set-up, there was a little time to wander among the booths outside admiring the huge variety of local produce on sale.

My advice – go there hungry, and with plenty of spare cash! I couldn’t resist the Gilbert and Swayne chocolates, each one a tiny work of art. Some huge chunks of fudge for another birthday present – I sampled the Marmite flavour, which was not at all awful. Then it was time for the show to begin and the 15,000 visitors to start exploring.

We were so busy that I didn’t manage to photograph the enormously entertaining Human Fruit Machine, nor even get to the cordon bleu cookery on a budget demonstrations at the far end of our tent. I spent the whole day chatting about food resilience to a stream of fascinating people. I learned that people in London still don’t have much to do with their neighbours, that mountain sheep in Snowdonia have their own culture passed down over generations. We discussed Tyre Gardening with pictures and I gave away all my ‘fourteen day stores’ recipes/ingredients leaflets.

It was a great day out, an excellent start to the Wells Festivals season!

Thanks to Sean and Elliot, the visiting chefs from the Ale and Oyster, Ventnor for the leftover pasta dough from the workshops – I managed to cook real pasta for the first time back at home!

Knowing that you have fourteen days’ supply of food gives you confidence in a situation where supplies are interrupted, or you can’t use the roads. You may not be flooded yourself, but the way to the shops could become difficult. Give the emergency services space and stay in, living well from your stores!

They’re also useful for unexpected dinner guests – and for those who suddenly announce they are vegan!

Recipe list and ingredients for 14 day food store  – download the leaflet 

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

morsecodeletters

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!

Resilience Soup

Watching ‘The Island with Bear Grylls’, it appears that apathy caused by culture shock can lead seamlessly to exhaustion from lack of food calories. Part of a Resilience Plan is to keep a small store of tinned and dried supplies. I recommend keeping enough for three weeks, if you have the space.

Inspired to inspect my own collection, I found it was a bit haphazard and resolved to organise it. Counting calories and working out recipes…. I’ll have to write another book.

The stores have to be rotated as sell by dates are reached. Check through them every three months, take out anything that needs used before the next check, rearrange and restock. Never store food you don’t like. Storage conditions are often far from ideal; lofts suffer from stifling summer heat and freezing winters. You couldn’t store butter, for example.

If you ever need to rely on your stores, it’s useful to do some menu planning. Here’s one recipe..

Resilient Lentil Soup

A large pan. This recipe is easier to make in larger amounts. A tablespoon of cooking oil, some tamari (soy sauce). If you have any fresh meat or onion type vegetables to add, chop them up and lightly fry them.

If you are lucky, you may have some stock; otherwise add hot water and a couple of stock cubes. Add about four ounces [112g] of dried red lentils. Don’t pre-soak them.

How much liquid? Depends how many people you want to feed; this recipe is enough to fill four bowls. Remember the lentils will soak up some of it. If you have any root vegetables, put them in now. Grated carrot is nice.

Stir. Bring it to a low boil, then turn the heat right down and let it simmer. Mind it doesn’t stick; pans with thick bottoms are best for this work. Stir in four teaspoons of instant gravy mix and a quarter 130g tube of tomato puree. Keep an eye on the sticking as the soup thickens. You can add more water at any point.

Add any green leafy veg, shredded, just before the end. The soup is done when the lentils are soft, but can be kept simmering to wait for people for as long as you care to keep stirring it.

This soup really needs to be kept in a cold place to last over two meals, so it’s best made fresh and left overs eaten early the next day. Without the added fresh food, this recipe provides an unimpressive 550 calories* between four. If you’re completely unable to access any other ingredients, increase the lentils.

lentil soup calories
*all calculations are strictly back-of-the -envelope

However, what of your neighbours who don’t have stores? Remember, freezers depend on electricity. Could they help you forage to add to the meal? Bacon goes very well with this recipe; it may be available after less thoroughly preserved meats have spoiled.

A basic soup provides an expandable framework for a variety of fresh food.

Resilience.

There’s quite a lot to it.

May Day in Glastonbury

May Day – known by ‘rustics and dwellers on the heath’ as Beltane – has been a big celebration in Glastonbury for many years. People begin to gather around the Market Cross in late morning. Some are garlanded, or painted green and festooned with foliage. Singers and drummers arrive, the druids and bards in their regalia.

At exactly the right time, the rune carved Maypole is lifted onto the shoulders of the Men of Glastonbury, who felled and trimmed the tree it came from. They carry it up the High Street to the place where the Red and White Springs meet, on Chalice Lane. A merry throng follows them; children, elderly wizards leaning on their staffs, local politicians, gardeners, mechanics….

Everyone pauses at the Springs, to drink and mingle, to hear the next episode of the Summer story being told. Outside there is dancing in the sun, but in the dark pillared cavern of the Wellhouse there is an eerie, otherwordly atmosphere. The reflections of dozens of candles ripple in the flowing water, illuminating strange icons, masked and horned, in shadowy alcoves.

The place echoes with a wordless singing. No-one is performing. It is the separate voices of the people wandering gently around the maze of pools, each lifting up their voice in a single note as they pass through.

The occasional traffic becomes impatient, and the motley crowd moves on to Bushy Coombe. The hole for the Maypole is already waiting – dug by the Women of Glastonbury, of course. A huge circle froms around the May Queen with her consort and entourage. The chief druid steps forward and calls upon the elements, personified by costumed celebrants. The Green Men ready themselves to lift the pole as the Queen attaches the ribboned crown.

“I like your pole,” she says to the King.

“It’s a very long one,” he replies slyly.

Up goes the Maypole, wedged securely in place. A brief instruction on the dance follows but, since everyone is welcome to have a go, it is soon a round of happy chaos. One of the bards sees to the loose ends, while the others prepare to close the ceremony. They dismiss the elements with thanks; the Royal Pair retire to their willow bower to dispense honey cakes and mead.

Gradually the participants drift away, heading home in their bright clothes like windblown confetti, to the wonder of passing tourists.