Changing the course of a stream

Scotswood Natural Community Garden sits within one of the most deprived areas in Newcastle. They frequently suffer vandalism and theft yet for twenty years they have relentlessly worked to alter the course of peoples lives in Scotswood for the better. The vegetables get dug up, they replant them, the solar panel gets stolen, they lock things away out of hours, but all the time the garden grows, groups come, and lives are changed.

Walking around the two and a half acre site with permaculture gardens, a pond, bee hives, shelters and woodland it’s incredible to learn that originally it was a bare grass playing field. Over the decades the series of people involved with the land have created, enhanced and maintained a beautiful heart of energy for the community, despite all the flow of sadness around. Children, unemployed and refugees have all found another choice here, a flow going in a different direction that they have a chance to join.

It takes a lot of energy and strength to maintain a course against a bigger flow. The path that all those involved with at  Scotswood have carved over the years is truly beautiful. Long may it flow.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The joy of finding what you weren’t looking for

When you order a book on Amazon they give less money to the producer, they also pay no UK tax and the money ends up in the US. When you visit a local independent bookstore you can discover books you never knew you were looking for (as well as get Harry Potter). Five leaves is one of those places, with comfy stools dotted around inviting you to sit and explore. The shop staff pride themselves on making available a wider range of ideas and high quality books than a standard chain store.

 

 

A green hub and a green house

The greenhouse in Norwich is a café, a bookstore, a gallery, a house, a shop and an information hub. The dappled shade in the courtyard garden is provided by clever solar panels. Above the shop lives one of the original 12 students, who 20 year on, is still running the space to provide an example of positive solutions. The flat is one of Englands Superhomes, which are very energy efficient and serve as an example to help others. The Greenhouse is a particularly useful example because it is a listed building which they had to retrofit. The vast majority of the UK housing stock would need to be retrofitted to make them more sustainable, we won’t be able to build new houses, as it would release far far more carbon. There are currently more houses in the UK than we need, the difficulty is a large number of them have been bought as investments and are vacant. The centre of London is a sad example of this. So we can’t keep building on the little nature habitat land we have left to feed the ever more hungry monster of the housing market. Retrofitting is therefore a vital part of the culture change we need to be able to lower our carbon emissions. As to how we change our culture to avoid our homes being at the whim of the investment market, we’ll leave that for later… 😉

Educating to learn

Acorns learning at Oakwood Denbury is an outdoor leaning center run by a family. Steph and I arrived to find an outdoor fire, a long table with food and friends celebrating with their children. I won’t tell you too much about the center but rather invite you to go and experience it. With food growing and an equal weight on emotional literacy as well as numeracy. Sharona one of the founders shared this with us:

We’re all on a journey as humans. I really felt alone but now there’s a feeling that we’re in this mass community.

The site certainly had a rocky journey getting going because of difficulties getting planning permission, despite the fantastic work they do. But they recieved nearly a hundred letters of support including from Satish Kumar and Schumacher College. Steve tells me:

We’re still putting our head above the parapet just by being here. People have been frightened by it.

Looking at the beautiful wooden teaching huts, the growing plants and the circle of wooden stools the madness of such fear is apparent.

Embercombe is located near High Ashton and is more about your inner transformation than the practical skills you will learn, although there are sustainable skills to explore. The large site runs a wide range of programs for different groups and ages and through their volunteer program people come to live on the site for several months and change their lives. I spoke with the founder Mac about those who come to Embercombe. More information will be in the final documentary after the tour. The key emphasis has been on the inner changes to enable people to act, which in these times has now become so important.

Speaking with some of the volunteers it’s clear that their time here has been amazing ,challenging and life changing.

It’s really good at opening your eyes to what you do and who you are.

A place where you can really BE, with genuine people who reflect you back.