Cambridge in Transition

Our first visit to Cambridge was a beautiful amble which critically for me, included an icecream. Strangely similar to Oxford in some of it’s beautiful old college architecture, yet the buildings of Cambridge are generally lower, not more than two stories. The river Cam runs through Cambridge and young men will try to persuade you to come on a punt along the river (a low long boat that you push along with a pole).

The Transition group in Cambridge is thriving, with many different groups and events. We were fortunate enough to spend time with many different people involved with Transition in Cambridge, but it was Anna who really brought it alive. She walked out to meet us as we came in to town and she was full pelt on different projects. Just that weekend was the fantastic Repair Cafe where people could bring all sorts of items to be repaired.

The Cambridge Hub meanwhile provides a focus where students can get help to protect the environment and take positive action for society.

Cambridge Carbon Footprint (CCF) is another active and hugely influential group of people for change in Cambridge.

A very respectable no-water closet

Near Northmoor Lock on the river Thames we came across Barefoot Campsites, with picnic tables, yurts, small sheds, and two very presentable composting toilets made by Free Range Designs. A common concern with composting toilets is that they might be considered unpleasant to use but I suspect these will please and surprise many a person.

ACE cooperative in Glastonbury

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.

Why Transition with your community?

Maddie Milns works with her local community in Wells to move away from using fossil fuels, in a group called Transition Wells. Maddie explains why she came to do this work.

There are lots of ways that you can work with your community but Maddie came to find that Transition was a really good option for her.

If you would like to see if there is a Transition group near you, or perhaps start one, visit Transition Network.

Horses for courses

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.

A passion for transport

By accident I stumbled accross E & TVR. These mysterious letters signify the Exeter and Teign Valley Railway. A railway that was dismantled not because it was unprofitable or because it was unused, but as part of a government policy which happened decades before I was born. Colin Burges has made it his lifes passion to campaign for a reinstatement of railways, especially those that are largely still intact. He sees a future where cars are off the road and people and goods are back on the rails.

The E&TVR visitors center is a whimsical and sometimes darkly funny look at his love of the railway and desire for a more environmentally conscious transport policy – the thing that caught my eye was a crushed car labelled “The only green car”! I spent the night in the beautiful minature railway car, Tadpole, which was lovingly made by Colin and normally sleeps children whilst adults often book the larger Toad. As well as the restored line, loading yard, and information hut there is also a small rail car that children can take rides in. Located next to a beautiful river, it’s a very peaceful spot.

If you are nearby I would heartily recommend learning from the displays and from the very knowledgeable Colin himself. I give you fair warning though, don’t expect an ‘easy ride’ if you arrive by car! 🙂

Introducing Totnes

The first days in Totnes have been incredible, pictures and videos will be up soon but here’s a taster of this amazing town.

These days Totnes is usually best know as the home of Transition – a process for moving your community towards a positive future away from fossil fuels. Transition Network now includes groups around the world and their website is a fantastic resource of “how to”s and inspiration.

Oddly the first thing I noticed on the way to Steph Bradley’s beautiful cottage are that the verges in the areas around Totnes have a wider range of plant species than I’m used to – Devon council has taken the enlightened step of not cutting them and leaving them for the bees and other life.

The town itself is a beautiful tourist location with a castle, dozens of independent traders, gurgling river, rare breeds farm and steam train. I like to do a ‘smile test’ in places and see how many people smile back and how long it takes them. Totnes is a big 9\10 on my totally random measure – most are already smiling at you!

Rob Burbea resident Buddist meditation teacher at Gaia House shared some of his thoughts on meditation and climate change as well as introducing us to DANCE (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement). It is wonderful for me when I see a spiritual respect for our existence being translated into how we live in the world. More on this wonderful aspect will be in the documentary of the Buzz Tour.

The people and organisations of Totnes have engaged with positive change to such an extent that despite the towns small size there are several environmental event going on every day! The South Devon Green Living magazine Reconnect is an astonishing collection of news and views, many of the achievements right here in Totnes.

One event we were able to attend was the Community Conversation organised by Schumacher College. With key words like ‘Exploration’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Subversive thinking’ groups made a collage on the theme, discussing the issues it raised.  Schumacher College offers courses on sustainable living by using active participatory learning – doing rather than listening. Their courses focus on three systemic areas of our society – economics, design and food. If you are thinking you need some learning to help you move forward, their courses would be a great choice.

The Community Conversation draws allies together and one of the interesting people I met was Josh from Network of Wellbeing where they support putting wellbeing into practice.