Giving new energy to local currency

There are many different ways to operate a local currency and many different aspects that can be changed to help the economy function. A local currency can only be used locally, thus keeping money in the town rather than bleeding it out to corporations. The currency’s will often deliberately devalue over time (demurrage) to encourage people to spend it and keep it circulating. The Stroud Pound was a local currency for Stroud and the Five Valleys area, but after a few years the currency declined in use. Yesterday the local group working on the currency were kind enough to let me sit in on their planning meeting about the relaunch of the currency as the Teasel.

The group are currently in the process of growing their team with a view to relaunching the currency next year. Coming up on October 17th in Stroud is an exciting Medieval banquet night where revelers can learn about local currencies and hear speakers from other successful local currency schemes.

An innovative approach they are investigating is to link the currency with renewable electricity.

Cam and Dursley in Transition

To return to projects and visit people again has a wonderful relaxing deja vu. The memories from last year are often so clear – the places and people having been captured in my notebook, on camera and as unusual special memories. So to see the progress at the community garden in Dursley was a lovely experience. Last year the garden was a concrete pad with rubble, and a whole series of dreams and diagrams.

Now there are planter boxes made from recycled crates, a shed, a polytunnel, fruit trees, flower beds and poles for a performance stage area to be built.

Frome and an iron age month

Although last year’s Buzz Tour did not pass through Frome, I made a visit there this year because it is a place where a lot of environmental activity seems to be happening. I’ve heard Frome described as being in the same family of towns as Brighton, Totnes and Bristol, and interestingly there seems to be a certain movement of people between them.

In 2011 Independents For Frome formed, aiming to transcend party political disputes and reengage democracy by fielding independent candidates for all wards. The independents had a landslide victory and the council is still independent-led now, with the Green Party stepping down last election in order not to divide the vote.

welsh mill hubAt the Welsh Mill Hub I discovered Edventure Frome, a school for community enterprise, helping young people to get projects off the ground. To top the day off, after showing the documentary I met Jane at the pub who was preparing to live for a month by iron age technology. This will be the second time Jane has undertaken such a project with a group. They tan their own leather, make tools, light fire by friction and live using only technology available during the iron age.

“The hardest part was leaving,” Jane told me, “I can’t wait to get back!” Jane does not have a website for the project as she believes in face to face verbal communication, but later this year she will be doing a TED talk in Totnes, at which point I will grab it off the internet and share it with you!

What bees like

11752093_686502058149249_6071243100509987930_nVanessa has some fascinating insights about bees. A natural beekeeper for many years, Vanessa focuses on the natural ecology and well being of the bees and encourages not just honeybees but many other species including solitary bees. She does not prevent her honeybees from swarming as she views it as an important part of their life cycle for maintaining their health. Instead she anticipates where bees may swarm to and provides lots of baited hives for them to move to.

When a swarm leaves a hive, interestingly they take almost no varroa mites with them. When bees are stressed by the use of chemicals, frequent hive opening or being fed sugar syrup instead of eating their own honey, they can become unhealthy and susceptible to disease. When they do get ill the hive can become dirty and attract varroa mites. Vanessa’s latest hive, a sun hive,  is intended to mimic the natural preferred habitat for honeybees.

“Bees like to be up high,” Vanessa told me, “if you see a swarm naturally they’ll almost always be much higher up in a tree where it’s less damp, rather than on the ground for our convenience.” Then there is the shape – honeybees prefer round spaces and the queen will naturally gravitate towards the top of the hive, so the sun hive allows that to happen by not using a queen excluder.

“If you make a bee hotel with cardboard tubes for solitary bees, they like it to be somewhere fairly shaded and not too damp,” said Vanessa. “The thing to remember is that this is where eggs will be.”

Vanessa was dismayed that beekeeping clothing on the market is very expensive and made in sweatshops so she also now runs a business, Buzz, selling beekeeping supplies which she has carefully sourced herself.

An ACE share offer and an aquaponics tour

11705206_686502154815906_2939721522165209860_nA year on from when I first interviewed the Avalon Community Energy (ACE) group, they’ve made some great progress. Their proposal for a local renewable energy park now has a site, which will have an anaerobic digester, and this weekend they launched their share offer so local people can now invest in the project. Starting with solar panels, the group will be gradually expanding and installing different renewable technologies and food production so that they compliment each other and form a resilient and diverse range of energy generation for the local area. 11742694_686502898149165_5809825283601924136_n

As part of the future plans for ACE, the group is considering aquaponics so I joined Maddy from ACE on a tour of bioaqua farm, where co-founder Antonio was generous enough to share his time and advice with us. I asked Antonio about the difference in nutrient content between hydroponics (plants in a water based system) and aquaponics where the plant nutrients in the water system come from fish which are farmed on the site. 
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