Reclaim the Power

As fossil fuels become harder to get and more dangerous to burn there is a push to exploit ever more extreme forms of energy. Fracking is one of a number of controversial ‘extreme energies’ that the current governement is pushing and local communities are resisting. Reclaim the Power is a grassroots organisation that comes together to oppose climate change. People volunteer their time to work together and this 14th-20th August will see an action camp in Blackpool.

The camp is an opportunity to oppose extreme energy, to network with other people who care and to learn new skills. If you’d like to go, save the dates in your diary and head to Blackpool. Check the facebook page as the final site location will be revealed at the last minute!

See you there 🙂


Incredible edible

Incredible Edible is now a phrase that you could find labeling projects around the world, but the first one was in a small town called Todmorden…

Incredible Edible grow food around the town in public places for anyone to take and eat. Usually the group doesn’t ask permission but simply finds an area that is derelict, or unloved and plants it up. Gardening without permission is known as Guerrilla Gardening. Incredible Edible Todmorden has really put the town on the map, leading to thousands of visitors a year from around the world for ‘vegetable tourism’. The group asks for donations for tours and to give you an idea of the scale of their success, last year, after they had taken all the money they needed for the project and to expand, they had £10,000 left over which they donated to other community projects. Every single one of them is a volunteer and has signed an agreement that they will receive no personal benefit from the project.

Space to create

During my time in Sheffield I saw a lot of new spaces which have been created in just the last couple of years year. The empty buildings are where there is space to create. It’s where the start up businesses try out, where the broke bands practice, where people can do things differently. As well as going it alone and finding a building there are several projects in Sheffield to share space and facilitate others to create.

Regather trading co-operative offers rooms and a kitchen to small groups and businesses to help strengthen a local economy. They run a vege box scheme and support the Sheffield Organic Growers. I met Johnny in the kitchen working on his delicious Savvy Spreads.

In the centre of town it seems it would be difficult to find space to operate but Union St is to be a co-working space for work and collaboration without high entry costs.

Hagglers Corner provides small spaces for different businesses, from picture framing to yoga, sewing to journalism.

Meanwhile, the show must go on

Meanwhile leases can enable fantastic projects to get off the ground in unused spaces. Normally a business or group has tenancy rights which enable them to keep renting a space, but when a landlord wants to develop a property they may be wary of allowing someone to occupy it who might then be difficult to remove. A meanwhile lease grants the tenant use of the space in the meantime before it is developed.


Tour de Buzz meets Tour de France

By shear luck, I was passing a point in the Tour de France route before crossing the peaks to Manchester. Thankfully I was prepared for it, having watched Amelie, who compares it to her love life: “You wait for hours and it’s all over in seconds”!

The corporate sponsorship and commercialism didn’t sit well with me, but the Tour de France was originally a way for people to see the world beyond their town. My favourite part was the reclaiming of the streets from cars. Many of the normally busy roads were closed and children and adults were chalking messages on them. Cyclists were cycling the route and I was able to skip (a version of with my big pack) down the empty streets imagining a world without cars.

Ay up! Th’as like a pack o’ wippets!

To talk and rally round

Public talks are a great way to learn about an issue and find other people who care in a non-intimidating environment. A variation on talks is a rally where people gather in a public space to hear speakers and to express their view publicly.

In Manchester I went to a TTIP talk which was part of a national speakers tour. There’s something very reassuring about a room full of other people who care without anything being demanded of you.

The four speakers each had a different angle on TTIP and there were lots of information and leaflets to give you a more in-depth understanding than any newspaper would cover.

The following day as part of the National Day of Action on TTIP there was a rally in central Market Street, complete with costumes and stilt wearing ‘CEOs’.



Action against TTIP

stop_ttipWith only four days left on the TTIP consultation I’ll be focusing on TTIP activity whilst in Manchester ending with a march on Saturday.

If you would like to take action here are some resources for you. My previous post about TTIP has a link to complete your comments to the EU, but there are other ways to continue to oppose it too.

Pass it on.

What the heck is TTIP?!

If you haven’t heard of TTIP, you’re going to want to hear this. If you have heard of TTIP, here’s a chance to do something about it by participating in a consultation which ends of the 13th of July.

When I first heard about TTIP I was hit with a despairing sinking feeling, so apologies for being the bearer of bad news. TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It is a proposed trade deal which would undermine our democracy and allow corporations to sue our government for passing legislation which harmed their interests, for example environment, health, human rights or nationalisation. To those of you thinking “but they can’t do that!” I need to mention that Canada and China have already signed just such a trade deal. I was in Canada when they signed it and was horrified to see most Canadians had no idea it was happening until it was too late. I do not believe our government has the authority to sign away our rights, but whether they have or not, they are intending to do so.

Friends of the Earth has produced a factsheet which you can see here, but further amendments have also been made on the submissions page here. The consultation can be completed here. You can put whatever you like in each of the boxes, I emphasised that I was opposed to the deal in its entirety. Your comments must be your own as they will disregard any that appear to be duplicates. Some example comments from my awesome bro are below.

PLEASE share this widely and have your say before the deadline. Whatever other awesome things you are working on for our society TTIP would affect them all so make this your second campaign. 

“The TTIP, in particular the Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement, will reduce member nations sovereign ability to legislate in accordance with the needs and wishes of their people; this is in conflict with the fundamental principles of a democratic state.
I believe that no process of dispute resolution, especially ones of the significance covered by the TTIP, should be carried out secretly and with either no or an inadequate right of appeal.
The TTIP will create substantial costs for taxpayers of member states with the risk of inadequate information being provided to allow for scrutiny of these costs.
The ISDP allows for decisions that can affect member state legislation to be made by individuals who are unelected and not accountable to the citizens of member states.
It provides investors with equal rights, in some respects, to member states governments, even though investors are unelected and not not act in the public interest.”

Sheffield, the largest village in England

It appears that people in Sheffield know each other and I don’t just mean the odd neighbour. The impression I get is that all over the city there are people bumping into people they know. Sheffield has the honour of having one of the highest rates of graduates settling in the city after their studies, a low crime rate and has the most trees of any English city. If you picture Sheffield and an industrial wasteland, allow me to update you.

The centre of Sheffield has gleaming modern buildings next to historic beauty, fountain filled squares and tree lined public spaces. Don’t get me wrong,  hundreds of old industrial buildings remain, some derelict, some reclaimed and thriving, but the Sheffield of 2014 is a varied patchwork of life. There are many hills in Sheffield and each area has a distinctive character which helps you to feel orientated. Many of the old miners houses have a shared yard which means you have to get to know your neighbour, and chats over the laundry lines are frequent.

Barney from Regather is one of the many students who decided to stay on after their studies. An experimental archeologist, he told me of the importance to show people the work that goes into making an object. One project he’s involved with is to make a bicycle from scratch all the way from the iron ore.

I’m convinced it changes your perspective. It gives you more of an appreciation and you are less likely to throw it away. When people see all the effort that goes into making it, it reconnects people with the making. We’re so used to just picking something up that’s pre-made.

Another graduate I met who’s stayed in town is Joe from the center and local produce store New Roots. Many students volunteer at the shop, hold meetings in the ‘Speakeasy’, practice music there or help with the vege box scheme. Now in the summer with the students on holiday they are seeking more helping hands so if you’re in the area check them out.



The Sumac center and Peoples Kitchen

When asking ‘what should we visit in Nottingham?’ many people mentioned the Sumac center.

The center is a member of the Radical Routes cooperative network and has become an increasingly important part of the community. The events, activities and facilities provide the space for people to make positive changes. The popular Peoples Kitchen night was happening when we arrived. Volunteers cook up a feast and people can come and eat a delicious two course meal for just £3.50! The money raised is then donated to a good cause. This feast was in aid of the free English lessons that are offered to women at the Sumac Center.

We got chatting to a fantastic couple over dinner and the hours flew by, I can’t think of a better way to enhance your community and have a wonderful night. Thank you so much to all the volunteers who gave their time to the benefit of all.


Radical Routes

Freeing ourselves to find a better future can have many different strands but access to housing and ethical work is a key component. Radical Routes is a network of primarily housing co-operatives all over the country that allow people to collectively own a home and live co-operatively. I visited a housing co-op in Nottingham to see how they lived.

Radical Routes is about people taking control of their own housing, work, education and leisure activities. People set up co-ops to manage these activities themselves, removing the need for managers, owners, bosses or landlords.

10 people live in Ned’s housing co-op so I was expecting some horror scenes of student style living. I as very pleasantly surprised to discover a clean home with bulk ordered food, shared meals and creative spaces. Communal living is always a function of the people living together but it was lovely to see a house where like-minded people are able to live cooperatively. Seven principles of a co-operative were hanging from a tea towel in the kitchen, bikes were in the workshop and ethical books were covering the shelves.

Radical Roots also runs an ethical investment scheme called Rootstock which lends to co-operatives on the basis of mutual support. It’s exciting to see the growing number of co-operatives where people are coming together to take power over their living, and the way that Radical Routes is helping to support that movement. There are so many ways that we can work together to live more in harmony with our ethics. Let’s celebrate taking the radical route of co-operation.



Independant midwives

You’re only born once. It is a life changing significant time for any family and power and control of that time has social consequences. We have made huge advances in reducing the mortality rate of mothers, but with the industrialisation of birth, the humanity and social significance is increasingly sidelined. It has become common language to describe the doctor as delivering a baby rather than the mother.

Independant midwives are currently illegal. They have been made so because the law ruled that you could not be a midwife without insurance, yet no insurer underwrites them. Meeting Annette from the East of England Midwives was an eye opening experience. The range of knowledge and wisdom that can be explored during your pregnancy and how other people can help you. It is a time when you appraise your life, and your future life. How do I want to live? How do I want to bring up my child? There is huge power in these questions. Many women discover a new motivation for self care when they know they are to create another life. Annette is passionate about helping other women and their giving them choices to be healthy during and after pregnancy.

For women to regain power over such a critical time in their lives they need access to choices and information. It is for women to decide how they wish to face this time, not for others to tell them.  The voice of women has been muted in our patriarchal society, it can not remain so if we are to face and solve the challenges at hand.

An introduction to Permaculture

Last week I did a two day Introduction to Permaculture course, and like everyone else I’ve met so far, LOVED IT! The wholesome and positive ideas that permaculture presents are a great way to build a stronger happier future and as you hear them, you find yourself going “well of course… yes that’s obvious… why didn’t I think that before!”. Permaculture comes from permanent agriculture and is a way of thinking and designing to live in a sustainable way and regenerate land and people.

Hannah Thorogood has been teaching permaculture for 10 years and for the last three years has been creating her home on land in Lincolnshire. The Inkpot was originally a conventionally pesticide sprayed rapeseed field which was then sown with one type of grass. In the years since Hannah and her family bought the land it has been transformed with a variety of grasses, wildflowers, new trees and vegetables. Building up the health of the land is a gradual process and it’s not finished yet.

We are working on a 20 year vision for the land and our decisions need to follow 7 generational thinking – it needs to be a ‘good’ decision for the next 7 generations.

When most governments only think a few years ahead permaculture is a radically different perspective. So what are the ethics of permaculture?

  • Care for the Earth
  • Care of people
  • Setting limits to population and consumption – fair share

All sounds good so far, so what are the principles from which to work?

  • Work with nature not against it
  • The problem is the solution – those dandelions? Eat them.
  • Make the least change for the greatest possible effect
  • The yield of a system is limited by your imagination
  • Everything gardens, every species has an effect on it’s environment. Need to weed and till the land? Chickens can do that.

Bringing a system back to balance requires slow small changes so sometimes you might just be observing and doing nothing. There is a hierarchy of intervention that permaculture describes, so you only move down the list if the first options do not work.

  • Do nothing and observe
  • Biological intervention using plants and animals
  • Mechanical or physical intervention
  • Chemical as a last resort

In permaculture everything comes back to soil, that’s the real wealth. Your account can be in the black as much as you like but everything come back to the soil.

When designing a system there are 12 design principles to help guide you, and each can be applied to a human system as well as a land one. Have a think through the implications for a community if they started to live their lives with these principles in mind, it’s a nice image.

  • Use edges and value the marginal
  • Observe and interact
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
  • Design from patterns to details (e.g. use the patterns of nature for guidance)
  • Catch and store energy (I love the idea of how could we store the positive energy of people)
  • Obtain a yeild
  • Creatively use and respond to change
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Produce no waste
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use small and slow solutions

As with any overall principles when you start to see them applied things get really interesting.  A two day course has given me a taster, but the positive message of permaculture is one that I delight in seeing put into practice. It’s a journey not a destination and I look forward to meeting more people on this beautiful journey.








An unusual allotment

St Ann’s Allotment in Nottingham is one of the few remaining Victorian hedged allotments, which means that unlike a normal allotment, each plot is private with a hedge around it. Known as detached city gardens, the 600 plots create a huge variety of uses, and looking through the keyholes of the different coloured and shaped gates there is a sense of expectation – what will you find next?

One of the things I found was Eco Works where they run community events and host groups such as Framework, who work with vulnerable adults. Eco works run a vege box scheme and help people connect with the land to promote health and equality.

The heritage allotments were nearly demolished for housing in the 1990’s after years of dereliction, but when some of the plot holders discovered the council’s intention they launched a campaign to get the allotments listed heritage status.  Forming STAA Ltd they ere able to get the allotments Grade II listing and fundraise for their restoration. With help from heritage lottery funding, they have turned the fate of the site around. Looking at the place no and all the community good that is coming out of it is a powerful reminder that if ordinary people do not act to preserve and protect their communities, it will not happen. If we want a better future we have to create it.

Renewable energy at the city farm

Heeley City Farm has the varied and cute farm animals that the word ‘farm’ might conjurer in your mind, but it also has an eco home where they are demonstrating renewable energy technologies. First, a few cute animals, because what is life without a little awwwwww.

Within the demonstration home there are solar thermal water heaters, underground heat source pumps, wool insulation and light tubes. ‘Solar thermal water heaters’ is the simple beauty of using the sun to heat black pipes filled with water, saving energy without any complex technology. Underground heat source pumps work by pumping water through pipes in the ground to extract and concentrate the heat.




Little mesters and keeping it local

Yes I do have spelling problems but no I haven’t misspelt that, mesters. Mester is a Sheffield term for artisans who used to work in small rented spaces and collaborate on craft projects. Take an umbrella handle. One specialist might carve and prepare the horn or bone, another polish it and another fix it to the umbrella. The mesters of days gone by would hire space next to each other in a workshop and collaborate to produce their products.

Regather is a co-operative that provides space for people to collaborate, run events and access local food. The Regather vegebox scheme allows local farms to supply to residents.

At Hagglers Corner they provide space for 14 different businesses to thrive. From picture framing to yoga, from a seamstress to a cafe, Hagglers Corner brings together exciting new businesses and helps to build the local economy.

Airy Fairy is just one of the many wonderful independent stores and cafes which gives the area of Sharrow it’s character. At the back of the shop is a welcoming cafe with a wood burning stove and a beautiful courtyard garden.

While the fantastic Mr Pickles Yorkshire Food Emporium is keeping it local…