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… 😉
Something is wrong, and you want to make it right. You start talking to your partner or spouse, then one day your neighbours join in the conversation too. Together you arrange a film screening in the village and print out 1000 leaflets to tell your community about the public meeting. What can happen next is life changing.
Gamlingay Environmental Action Group started in this way, and once people are working together amazing things can happen. The village is located a few mile East of Bedford. It has it’s own community owned wind turbine, who’s profits go back to the village. There are 80 new allotments, and a habitat area because the group was able to successfully negotiate with a developer. Residents can get advice on green living and lowering their energy use. There is an annual bike ride and Green Day.
The village previously only had 8 allotments and there was a waiting list of around 40 people, but the new 80 allotments are now almost all taken! And if you find you need to spend a penny down on the allotment, how about this for a stylish toilet?
The other surprising thing about Gamlingay given the size of the village, is the Eco Hub. The amazing community centre is used for sports, dance, theatre, events, as a library and for computer access. The volunteers give their time to keep the centre thriving. The previous centre was badly degraded, leaking energy out and water in. In the few years since the new sustainable building was built, incorporating much of the old structure, it has become a real centre for the community, rather than just a single use venue for hire.
Located near Gamlingay is Sandy, where the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has it’s headquarters, and part of the success of the village has been the number of people who live in the area who care about the environment. Taking that first step though, to talk to our neighbours, to reach out, is how it all begins.
Sometimes you ask and you find, other times you just have to relax and let things happen. As rain started the aptly named George and Pilgrim pub sheltered me, where by chance I met the amazing Earl at the bar. He’s been a long time member of the Green Party and has started a local energy cooperative called Avalon Community Energy (ACE Ltd). When I heard that I laughed and said “Wonderful! I’ve been looking for you all day, do you want to sit down?”
Despite a long term disability, Earl has been working with others in his community to bring about a renewable energy park. The plan which they are currently seeking funding for is to combine a number of energy generating aspects that support each other. An anaerobic digestor (converting biological waste into gas), a wind turbine, solar panels and aquaponics (cultivating fish). The beauty of the system is that the different aspects support each other. A modern battery that we are all familiar with is made of acids and toxic chemicals, but a battery is really anything that will store energy. The approach ACE want to take is to use the wind turbine to pump water into a raised reservoir to store the energy. The water an then be released through a turbine when energy is needed. The fish tanks generate nutrients from the fish poo which then flows to feed a hydroponics (growing plants in water) area. Solar panels will be on the roofs of the chicken sheds, who’s waste will feed the anaerobic digestor. It may all sound a little complicated, but then if you tried to describe a foodchain it might sound a little complicated too. In natural systems one ‘waste’ becomes something else’s food, and it is these principles that ACE is trying to emulate.
The group was fortunate to be able to seek out local expertise in finance, energy and organising. There is a lot of support available at the moment for community groups who want to set up an energy cooperative, so if you are interested in the idea find a local energy cooperative to advise you and check out the Center for Sustainable Energy.
A couple of days ago I was walking through the woods when I came accross a beautiful shire horse, all harnessed up. It turned out that he was being used to drag Sitka Spruce trees out from the wood to increase bidiversity and for use in a biomass boiler! The man conducting the operation was John Williams who was well aware of the value of maintaining traditional practices.
We’ll have more of a use for these horses as fossil fuels decline with peak oil.
You can see the horse in action here.
Then just yesterday I met Jonathan who runs a gorgeous B&B called Higher Bidicott Farm, where he farms with horses and has done all his life! He trains around three working horses a month for other people so that they can be used on other farms too.
The latest report from the IPCC (Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change) is out.
The summary can be viewed here.
Key points raised are the threat to human life and the widespread consequences that will effect everyone on the planet. We are in this boat together, and it is sinking. The message is loud and clear that business as usual will kill us.
It is time for culture change not climate change.
If you are taking action, share your experiences with us. If you’d like to join with others to help you act we’d love to help. There are solutions everywhere we look. Our generation has a closing window of opportunity to protect life.