Most emergencies you’re likely to encounter are simple domestic ones. If you lock yourself out, you’ll need a locksmith. Here’s some simple precautions to take, and a few things to try first.
Sometimes things may get more serious. Suppose you’re snowed in and can’t get to work? Take a look at this guide to your legal position – as both an employee and an employer. Is your area at risk from flooding? What should you do?
Do you know how to turn your utilities off safely? You can protect your home better if you understand these basic principles.
If your area is hit by an emergency, you will either be evacuated or isolated from one or more mains services. There’s a whole section in the Resilience Handbook about coping with both situations, but here’s some quick tips:-
Keep a camping stove and a portable heater; if you don’t have room for the latter, some hot water bottles at least. A large flask is also useful. Have a store of food and water – its size depends on how much suitable space you have.
In the UK, the National Health Service and the Government websites will be used for emergency announcements; you could bookmark them. Announcements can also be made on local radio – it’s a challenge to list all the local radio stations in the UK, but Wikipedia have had a go!
If you’re evacuated, you’ll need a grab bag; keep this ready packed and check it once every few months. American preppers are always good for practical survival tips; here’s instructions for assembling a first aid kit.
On the subject of medicines – always take your medications and a copy of the prescription with you in an evacuation! You may expect to be gone for only a couple of hours, but these situations have a habit of escalating; pack for at least one night away.
There are many ways you can contribute to forming a resilient society, but keeping a grab bag ready is only a small chore. There may not be much time to escape a flood, so people who are ready to go are really helpful. If you’ve packed some useful things to share – a deck of cards, some sweets, a spare torch – things can go much better during the long wait at the evacuation centre.
And, if there’s never an emergency….take your grab bag out on a camping adventure and see how it works for real!
Earth Hour is an annual event which celebrates a global network committed to creating a sustainable world. It’s organised by the World Wildlife Fund, and began as a ‘lights out’ event in Sydney, Australia in 2007.
The idea is for people, organisations and businesses to turn off all non-essential lights, and other electrical devices, for one hour. The hour begins at 8.30pm local time, so the effect ripples around the world. City landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Shard, participate now, as well as millions of individuals.
Some people organise whole events around the occasion, and one such is Earth Hour Chard where I was booked to talk about Resilience. Their first event had been a magnificent street fair, betrayed by a bitterly cold March wind. They’d hired the Guildhall this time, for a whole day’s programme of activities supported by a cafe, bar and numerous stalls.
I arrived early; the kids’ activities were in full swing. Everyone was busy, so after I unloaded and parked, I took a walk to the museum.
In a county of farming communities, Chard always stood out as a factory town. The textile industry was important, particularly machine made lace for net curtains and clothing. As outlined in the Resilience Handbook, the presence of machinery in the area encouraged a support network of craftspeople. These skills were then available to inventors.
It was in Chard, in 1848, that John Stringfellow’s Aerial Steam Carriage first showed that engine powered flight was possible. Other major advances credited to the town include the development of articulated artificial limbs and of X-ray photography. Today, it’s the home of the Henry vacuum cleaner.
I strolled down Fore Street, admiring the remaining old countryside architecture, the thatched houses and diamond pane windows, arriving back in time for the judging of the colouring in competition. I hastened over to the Phoenix Hotel; the talks were being held there while the Guildhall was set up for the evening event.
I’d decided to create a new talk, outlining how the Resilience Project came into being through a fusion of Transition’s Energy Descent Action Plan and local emergency planning, with decades of experience in living off-grid thrown in. Jason Hawkes covered ecological footprints and housing; Kate Handley talked on local food.
We packed up in time for the music; a selection of bands often seen at off-grid festivals, compèred by Tracey West, publisher extraordinaire. Simon West manned their Word Forest Organisation stall on the top floor, where the poetry slam was going on.
It was a very entertaining evening, networking and enjoying quality performances. We didn’t turn off the lights in the venue for Earth Hour – a health and safety issue – but at least the people attending had turned theirs off!
Although Chard is poorly served by public transport, it’s worth a visit. I found some charming hotels with reasonable prices, though in the event I stayed with one of the organisers. Check for parking, as this may be a local issue.
Sadly, the nearby Wildlife park at Cricket St Thomas has closed and is now on the Heritage at Risk register.
Although Somerset escaped the blizzards from the East at the start of last week, we were nailed by the storm front coming up from the South for the weekend. Thursday morning, a light but relentless snow began to drift around the lanes. By early afternoon, there was a state of emergency declared in the county and most roads were impassable as the winds rose and the snow piled high.
The starlings huddled in their bare tree like frozen clumps of leaf, then were obscured from view entirely as dark came early. I can’t imagine how they made it back to their reedy homes in the marshlands. Late in the night, a freezing rain fell, which covered the fluffy snowdrifts with a layer of sharp-edged ice. This weather was out to get you.
Our parish was quite lightly affected – we have no main roads or other major transport links to look after. The few vehicles that braved our lane were in the service of utility maintenance. Apart from some low gas pressure, our supplies remained intact. Many other areas lost power or water.
The tractor cleared our lane quite early on Friday, but the main road was barely functional. My intrepid young lodgers walked the four miles into Glastonbury town, where the situation was about the same. The tyre tracks were in danger of freezing into black ice at any point; temperatures took a sharp dive after sunset.
The River Brue was frozen.
School was most definitely out!
Everything seemed to just freeze in place for the day on Friday; there was a major incident declared for the county. People dealt well with not going out, allowing service providers and those who’d been caught away from home priority in using the roads.
There wasn’t any point in making strenuous efforts to clear the snow away. There’s nearly twelve hours of sunlight a day at this time of year. Once the maverick weather had blown over, natural solar power would do the trick, and so it proved on Saturday. The kids had hardly time to borrow a sledge before the snow was all gone!
It’s been seven years since our corner of the Shire had anything more than a light dusting of snow. On Sunday, I was reminded of one of the reasons I wrote the Resilience Handbook.
This is a typical supermarket in Mid-Somerset, two days after the emergency was over. There’s no fresh food at all (except a tray of celeriac, which no-one knows how to cook). Will this remind Glastonbury Town Council that allotments have their uses after all? This snowfall occurred in March, on the edge of Spring. It could have been a whole different story if it was in December.
“Local emergency responders will always have to prioritise those in greatest need during an emergency, focusing their efforts where life is in danger. There will be times when individuals and communities are affected by an emergency but are not in any immediate danger and will have to look after themselves and each other for a period until any necessary external assistance can be provided.”
from the Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience (Cabinet Office March 2011)
Back to normal next week with a bit of luck….the seed swap and the freecycle day were both cancelled, and I’ve missed the potato days now. Luckily I can pay a visit to the organisers, at the Walled Garden in nearby East Pennard to see what exotic varieties they have left!
The Somerset Levels are flat, and barely above sea level. Most of the land is drained now, to form cattle pastures, but it used to be a mix of swamp, wet woodland and bog. The value of the latter is now becoming appreciated for its role in flood control. Towntree Farm is decades ahead of the game!
In the 1970s, farmer Chris Burnett began a visionary landscaping project on the family farm. Starting small, with a pond outside the farmhouse, he used the spoil to form a lawn, then landscaped a neighbouring field in a similar fashion.
The left over soil made pathways this time, and the pond soon attracted a breeding pair of swans. Encouraged by this, Chris dug out a seven and a half acre pond, specially designed for water birds. It’s quite shallow, which allows a good growth of reeds.
He planted the new high ground with trees and plants, both wild and cultivated. Once these became established, hundreds of migratory birds began to visit, and he has hopes of attracting a pair of cranes soon.
In 1987, ‘Capability’ Chris – as he had become known – was persuaded to open the 22 acre Nature Garden to the public. He celebrated this by making a ‘Peace Arch’ at the entrance from the car park, which is covered with climbing roses in summer.
Following the yellow arrows, the curious visitor traverses the winding paths. It’s not just the peaceful atmosphere and nature that bring people here, though. The trail is dotted with statues and sculptures, left to gradually merge with the wild.
As the path meanders, bordered by ditches, you can see inaccessible alcoves. Further on, the twists and turns suddenly bring you out into that very clearing!
There are benches made of stone slabs, or of dozens of horseshoes welded together.
I don’t know what the huge dead flowers behind this chair are; I’ll have to return later in the year and see them growing. Their leaves are the size of umbrellas!
The decaying greenhouse lends an apocalyptic air to the place, along with the greening statues.
I’m definitely coming back in the summer for a picnic in those shady groves! If you’d like to visit Towntree Farm, and marvel at how much difference one man can make, there are instructions here.
Compared to a grass pasture of the same size, the Nature Garden clearly holds a lot more water. This is restrained by the natural features re-created here, protecting land further downstream during times of flood.
The Towntree Farm project has always been a hobby, laid out simply for the delight in nature. Using permaculture and forest gardening principles, other such gardens could justify their existence with some financial return.
Things were very quiet after I returned from China. It rained a lot in Somerset, even when it snowed over the rest of Britain.
Although we’re continuing to work on the allotments, Glastonbury Town Council has promised the government they will sell the land to developers. I expect there will be letters to the Gazette. The Resilience Handbook Community section covers the basics of setting up a local organisation – you never know when you might be ambushed by outside forces!
Consequently, the Resilience Garden will be coming out of its fallow period, so plenty of work ahead there. I wanted to see how it would perform for edibles if left alone for a whole season. The leeks did well, and the self seeded broccoli has given a steady harvest of green leaves. I did plant out some courgettes and squash in the summer; their huge leaves and sprawling vines were a great weed suppressant.
It’s the Chinese Year of the Earth Dog now – I wonder if that’s auspicious for digging? I got the bus to Bristol, to meet up with my friend Val from Swansea, for the New Year celebrations at the Wai Yee Hong Chinese supermarket. They lay on a stage, host a street food market, and hire the Lion Dancers.
The supermarket itself is entertaining enough for a visit. The gaudy labels sometimes condescend to have a English translation stuck over them, but there’s still enough mystery for shopping to be something of a lucky dip. The range of exotic fruits – tinned, dried, crystallised, salted – and the unique cuts of pork….
….anyway this is getting to sound like an advert. Be careful though – I ended up in China itself after my first New Year Lion Dance here!
My intrepid publishers at Magic Oxygen are on an expedition to Kenya. They’ve been funding tree planting and building school classrooms in Kundeni, initially through an annual literary prize. Now they’ve formed a charity, the Word Forest Organisation, to further these projects.
They’ll be back in time to host the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Giving in Lyme Regis on March 31st – I’ll be there to answer questions about resilience – then add the finishing touches to ‘Recipes for Resilience’.
Routine life provides a backdrop to exciting travel adventures in the way that a simple chain highlights the jewels strung on it.
However, there are mysteries to be discovered in ordinary settings and one of these, pictured above, is the legendary Town Tree Farm…..
Our last day began with a trip to the Temple of Heaven, a large pagoda. The bus dropped us as near as possible – parking is very difficult in Beijing – and we walked through an adult exercise park.
Retired people could get cheap season tickets; it was quite a community gathering. Further in, groups of elders played cards and board games with great excitement, and a small choir practised in the park. The ‘maybe later’ marketeers added ping pong bats and feathered shuttlecocks to their repertoire here.
This Temple has been used since Neolithic times, to hold sacrifices for a good harvest. Bamboo scrolls and brass compasses on sale here may hint at record keeping and feng shui functions too, but we couldn’t understand much of the information. The artwork was marvellous though.
We scrambled back on to the bus before its parking time expired and stopped off at the Chinese Medicine Academy for a foot massage. This was partly to give their students practise and partly in the hope we’d buy something. If you want to take Chinese medicines out of the country, you need a certificate from the prescribing doctor.
Finally we arrived at Tiananmen Square. It was smaller than Linda had expected, and less crowded than I’d thought. There were red flags, neat soldiers and police, impressive buildings all around.
From there, we entered the Forbidden City at last. It’s vast; the guides warned us to keep up with the flag, as we had a lot of ground to cover, and the bus was meeting us at the far end.
The courtyards were huge. I could imagine the officials waiting in throngs for their instructions, standing in the cold dry wind. I hoped they let them go inside if it snowed!
Our guide lectured us on the various structures, their purpose and history. The roof decorations on the pavillions represented the Emperor riding on a rooster followed by nine dragons; this was considered to be a fortunate emblem.
There were a number of large metal cauldrons throughout the city. These were for firefighting; charcoal could be lit under them so they didn’t freeze in winter. Their stone stands, and most other surfaces, banisters and doorways were all intricately carved, often with a dragon motif.
We crossed the second large courtyard, Harmony Square, and climbed the steps to the Palace of the Supreme Harmony, where the Dragon Throne sits. The prospect of actually setting eyes on this legendary artefact had excited me more than anything else about the trip!
Tourists weren’t allowed to enter this palace, but you could join the small crowd around the doorways to view the Throne inside, and take a picture obstructed by a pillar. Already used to the rules about not photographing the Buddha statues, I didn’t see this as an imposition. Given the effort required only a few decades ago to get this close, I felt a short glimpse was enough of a privilege!
There were many Chinese tourists patiently waiting for their turn, so we didn’t linger. We had a better view of the metal ball hanging over the throne, which falls on any would-be usurper. It’s said that some Emperors shifted their seat a little to the side!
We turned off to the side through the next courtyard, to view the charming Western Palaces. These used to accommodate the second wives and concubines of the Emperor, including the Empress Cixi. A long alleyway linked a number of little courtyards surrounded by wooden houses, which now hosted various exhibitions.
Time was pressing, the light was failing. There were many more exhibits. Some, like the clocks and jewellery were extra; however the ticket office was closed by the time we got there. To really see a place this vast and historical, you’d need a full day and a guide book.
Dusk was falling on our last day in China. As we reached the Imperial Gardens, we had to hurry. Loud music began to sound, like a scene from ‘Inception’. Barriers were coming down around us, our group had to look sharp not to be separated.
We walked quite a distance to the bus, past the moat surrounding the Forbidden City, past the ‘maybe laters’ with their fake Rolex, past street vendors selling red sticky things on sticks, to a street corner where the bus driver hastened us aboard.
As we climbed on, we were serenaded by an old couple busking with a traditional stringed instrument, almost like a farewell to China.
You certainly cover a lot of ground on an RSD trip, and face some interesting challenges! As an independent traveller, I find them invaluable for getting to know somewhere I’d struggle to make my own arrangements to visit. Linda and I had already been on their tour of Turkey, and we may yet follow through on our independent plans to spend a week visiting Troy and the hot spas in more detail, if the political situation improves there.
In China, almost everywhere we went could do with another, longer visit. Our favourites would be a week in Shanghai, another river cruise, and a whole day in the Forbidden City. A Great Wall hike sounds lovely, as long as it’s warmer, and we’d like to spend some time in the South too.
We felt a bit nervous about this adventure, and most of the time were probably well out of our depth. Our tour guide, Kevin, shepherded us around diligently though, despite the British tendency to irrational overconfidence in a totally strange country. We always feel that being polite gets you a long way, and this does appear to be true in China.
It ‘d be quite hard to make any but the simplest travel arrangements yourself. You have to give the addresses you plan to stay at on your visa application form, and may have to make bookings on the phone with someone who doesn’t understand English very well.
However, the resilient traveller loves a challenge!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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