Hawes: as government sheds commitments, ‘we are going to provide for ourselves’

As large-scale cuts in public expenditure began to ‘bite’, the 2010 Conservative manifesto presented the Big Society as its flagship policy, later endorsed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition. The Big Society Network was formed, owned by The Society Network Foundation charity. It had £2 million from the National Lottery and public-sector grants. However in July 2014, the Charity Commission investigated alleged misuse of funds by the network; it went into administration and was wound up. David Cameron did not use the term in public after 2013 and the phrase ceased to be used in government statements.

Years earlier the people of Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales were realising this vision, because, as John Blackie, a district and county councillor explained: “Here we say (to government), ‘If you aren’t going to provide for us, we are going to provide for ourselves’”.

Necessity has been the mother of invention.

Hawes: 1137 population, 683 dwellings

The Wensleydale line and Hawes railway station had closed in 1959. Then both police houses closed. Last year one of the town’s two banks left, leaving Hawes with a single branch open three days a week. “One of the big issues here is that we are losing young families; if we lose services we lose families,” Mr Blackie said. Four local schools in the Upper Dales are only half full, he added.

In 1992, Dairy Crest, its biggest employer, sold the Wensleydale Creamery, featured in the 1989 Wallace & Gromit film: ‘A Grand Day Out’.

Four of the creamery’s managers and a local businessman bought the enterprise and revived it. More than 200 people now work there and it produces 4,000 tonnes of cheese a year.

Since then the business has gone from strength to strength and a new dairy was built there in 2014.

In 1997, the community opened the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, in a place where people could get access to council services and pay rents and rates five days a week. Before this, a council clerk visited Hawes one day each week.

Over the years they began to run their library, post office and police station. The police moved in, using a room in the community centre which moved to a new site in 2005, bringing the library with them and opening it five days a week instead of two. These local services would have shut down if locals hadn’t volunteered to run them ‘on their own terms’. The town has a retained Fire Station, crewed by firefighters who provide on-call cover from home or their place of work.

After years of dwindling bus services the community launched its own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.

After the village was hit by Post Office cutbacks, the Northern Echo reported in 2014 that the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership had voted to run a post office at the Community Office, a sorting office in the town’s business park and outreach services in Askrigg and Bainbridge. The move followed the retirement of Hawes postmaster whose departure left residents facing a 17-mile drive to the nearest post office. Councillor Blackie said he would also aim to relaunch post office services in some of the 11 villages where sub-post offices had closed over the past 17 years.

Their latest enterprise (October 2017) is taking a three-year lease of the petrol station which was closing down. They hope to install a 24-hour self-service pump and an electric charging point and – one day – to buy the site, offering community shares. It is the first in the country to be run by its community, (part-time staff and volunteers) not for profit but to save local people from making a 36-mile round trip along narrow roads to the nearest filling station open full time. Hawes is so remote that they qualify for a government rebate of 5p per litre to keep the prices down.

Many readers will wish them well as, next year, the partnership plans to buy two plots of land to build affordable homes for rent in perpetuity . . .

and as the Wensleydale Railway Association plans to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to to join the Settle-Carlisle Railway at Garsdale, re-opening the station in Hawes.

 

 

 

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Readers from the Cotswolds to London could help London Waterkeeper

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London Waterkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global federation campaigning for fishable, drinkable and swimmable water.

London Waterkeeper defends rivers and challenges polluters. All of London’s rivers are failing – damaged by road run-off and sewage. London Waterkeeper seeks to use the law to target polluters, highlight pollution where it happens and outline the solutions needed to make rivers healthy.

      The 15th anniversary video featuring London Waterkeeper is here.

The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) has worked with London Waterkeeper (LW) since it was first approached for assistance in 2016. LW recently launched a campaign to persuade Thames Water to notify the public when its sewers spill into the Thames – from the Cotswolds to London. Thames Water is subject to the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) 2004 which require such bodies to make environmental information they hold available to the public by electronic means.

Currently very little information about Thames’ pollution is publicly available. The river is used by people for rowing, kayaking, paddle boarding and swimming but they don’t know when they risk coming into contact with sewage. Information about any form of pollution from the Cotswolds to the capital should be sent to A Thames Fit To Swim.

London Waterkeeper has asked Thames Water to tell them when its sewers overflow but they also need public input via this link to help to make the Thames swimmable one day.

Hogsmill Sewage Works (Kingston-on-Thames) – an incident due to misconnection 

London Waterkeeper’s aims:

  • to acquire information in order to see where greater investment is needed to protect the river,
  • to encourage Thames Water to put information about all pollution incidents on its website ‘as is expected in the 21st Century’.

                        Copenhagen Harbour Bath

Information helped Copenhagen to make its waters ‘swimmable’. Read an inspiring account here. They created urban beaches and harbour swimming pools which are now the most popular open spaces. Read another account in the Ecologist.

 

 

 

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Environmentally friendly concrete – the Roman or French model?

As was widely reported in July, a research team led by Paulo Monteiro (professor of civil and environmental engineering) of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, had been analyzing samples from a 2,000-year-old Roman concrete breakwater to determine why Roman seawater concrete is so durable, how its manufacture was more environmentally sound, and how to adapt those characteristics to modern concrete production.

“It’s not that modern concrete isn’t good. It’s so good we use 19 billion tons of it a year,” Monteiro said in a 2013 news release. “The problem is that manufacturing Portland cement accounts for seven percent of the carbon dioxide that industry puts into the air.”

Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete found in 2,000-year-old Roman piers, massive breakwaters, Trajans Markets (below) and the Pantheon in Rome, was superior to most modern concrete in durability.

Phys.org™ a leading web-based science, research and technology news service, updated this news in a July article. Ms Jackson and her colleagues found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion: when seawater percolated through the concrete in breakwaters and in piers, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and allowed new minerals to grow from the highly alkaline leached fluids.

Marie Jackson says that the mineral intergrowths between the aggregate and the mortar prevent cracks from lengthening, while the surfaces of nonreactive aggregates in Portland cement only help cracks propagate farther. The results are published in American Mineralogist.

As ‘tufo’ volcanic rocks (tuff), common in and around Rome, are not found in many parts of the world, the team is experimenting with substitutions. A more immediate innovation, we suggest, would be further use of the ancient and durable French hemcrete or hempcrete (isochanvre) in Europe. For more information go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hempcrete.

 

 

 

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Fair Isle’s community group gains support for extending its renewable energy supply

Fair Isle was bought by the National Trust for Scotland in 1954 from George Waterston, the founder of the bird observatory. It is 24 miles south of Shetland, surrounded by rich fishing waters. Most of the islanders live in the crofts on the southern half of the island (below).

Fair Isle’s fifty-five residents hope to develop the three-mile long island’s infrastructure to sustain and attract more people to live here in the most remote place in the British Isles, inhabited since the Bronze Age. Its distinctive knitwear has a worldwide reputation – see: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/fair-isle-knitting-patterns/

As powerful winds mean that Fair Isle is often plunged into darkness, with blackouts usually striking at the most inopportune moments, a community group, the Fair Isle Electricity Company, is leading plans to install three 60kW wind turbines, a 50kW solar array and battery storage. This scheme will bring round-the-clock electricity to the island and help to bolster its dwindling population.

Existing wind-power will be extended to the north of the three-mile-long island, enabling grid connections to the water treatment works, the airstrip, North Haven harbour and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, after securing £2.6 million in funding.

  • Earlier this year the company was awarded capital funding of more than £1 million through the Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme (LCITP).
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) agreed to contribute £250,000 to the renewable energy project
  • There was a lottery grant of £600,000.
  • The scheme has received £250,000 from Shetland Islands Council
  • and £245,000 from the National Trust for Scotland (which owns Fair Isle).
  • Scottish Water gave £208,000.
  • The island’s bird observatory donated £100,000.
  • The Fair Isle Electricity Company is contributing £20,000.

The island houses a series of high-technology relay stations (left)  carrying vital TV, radio, telephone and military communication links between Shetland, Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

A Fair Isle resident, David Wheeler, a former meteorologist who worked on the introduction of the original wind power system, said continuity of supply would transform domestic life on Fair Isle. “It’s the little changes to our lives that will make a difference, like the television no longer cutting off when the snooker is on or the washing machine shutting down in the middle of the cycle with the clothes still inside. They’re small issues but they do matter.”

Robert Mitchell, director of the Fair Isle Electricity Company, said the project would bring new employment opportunities to the island and sustain existing jobs. “Having a constant electricity source may help to attract more people. This ambitious project is the first step in ensuring that the community of Fair Isle continues to thrive.”

Sources include:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/scotland/mood-is-electric-as-long-suffering-islanders-anticipate-24-hour-power-6hc52bgtl

http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/14946-fair-isle-moves-closer-to-round-the-clock-power

http://www.shetland.org/plan/areas/fair-isle

 

 

 

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Fintech startups – Bethnal Green Ventures: Paul Miller

Our attention has been drawn to  a recent article by Paul Miller, partner at Bethnal Green Ventures.

He recalls that in the midst of the financial turmoil of 2008 BGV decided to try something new. They brought together technologists and engineers with people who worked at the sharp end of social and environmental problems in ‘social innovation camps’.

The fintech startup scene had yet to emerge and whole swathes of society, low-income households, people dependent on care, former prisoners, migrant workers, homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers had been poorly served by traditional financial institutions.

In a report, Access to Financial Services in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority painted a bleak picture of how well the existing financial services companies are rising to the challenge. Paul says: “Fast forward almost ten years and a lot has changed. Now there is a huge startup scene in the UK and the tech for good community has mushroomed with thousands of people putting their technology skills to use, solving problems in health, education, the environment and democracy”.

The FT reports that Bethnal Green Ventures is another early stage UK investor backing tech innovators addressing social problems.

Since 2012, the company has helped launch more than 90 “tech for good” ventures through a twice-yearly accelerator programme. Funded by Nesta and Nominet Trust — the company’s founding partners — as well as the UK Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund, these three-month programmes offer start-ups a £20,000 investment as well as mentoring in return for 6% equity.

Investments include Dr Doctor’s appointment management service, which claims to save the NHS more than £1.2m a year by reducing the number of patients failing to attend medical appointments, and Open Utility, which plans to allow people to buy excess solar power from their neighbours instead of power stations.

Bethnal Green Ventures holds meetings every few months for nearly 6,000 members, many of them working at banks or advertising agencies, but with an interest in donating their time to social projects at the weekend. Paul Miller, chief executive of Bethnal Green Ventures, says it has so far doubled the estimated market value of its investments.

Paul continues: “At Bethnal Green Ventures we want to invest in these new ventures tackling financial inclusion and income inequality. We’re interested in ideas that could:

  • Enable excluded people to gain access to a bank account in the first place. There are an estimated 1.5 million ‘unbanked’ people in the UK and evidence suggests that some groups of people are more likely to experience difficulties proving their identity and/or their address in order to open an account. There’s no need to change the know your customer rules but new services are needed to help people identify themselves in a way that is realistic in their circumstances.
  • Provide fair access to credit. We’re interested in new business models that help reduce risk (both real and perceived) in lending to groups that have found it hard to get loans in the past.
  • Create high quality financial advice extended to previously excluded groups. The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be offered financial planning advice, augmenting the assets of those who are already financially secure. There’s an opportunity to provide financial education and advice into new markets at low cost.
  • Provide access to benefits and insurance that are relevant to the modern world of work. With the rise of the gig economy and changing patterns of work people need new ways of protecting themselves for when things go wrong or their circumstances change”.

He ends: “If the fintech sector is to avoid the social pariah fate of the financial services sector following the 2008 crisis, it needs to take creating a positive social impact seriously. It’s not just about ‘doing good’, we believe that it presents a brilliant business opportunity as well”.

Entrepreneurs want to tackle air pollution, easing pressure on congested roads and crowded public transport  

Adam Forrest reports that some entrepreneurs are realising the untapped potential of rivers in major cities. They envisage passenger vessels becoming a daily means of travel for residents. This would ease the pressure on congested roads and crowded public transport and help to tackle air pollution.

‘Water taxis are already plying in several British cities, including Glasgow, Spalding, Lancaster, Leeds and Manchester.

In London, MBNA Thames Clippers is building a service for daily commuters (above), using Transport for London’s system which allows Londoners to hop on and off boats by swiping their Oyster and contactless cards. It carried 4 million passengers in 2016.

Far lower emissions than road vehicles and aiming to reduce them still further

MBNA claims its retrofitted catamarans have cut particulate emissions by 50% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 40% – but the boats are still powered by diesel.

Forrest adds: “Boat operators face some major challenges. They have to be able to scale up their services to carry larger numbers of passengers, as well as trying to reduce the environmental impact of boats dependent on high-polluting diesel fuel”.

Change is on its way

  • In Hamburg, HADAG has added a hybrid-powered ferry to its fleet crossing the Elbe river, using both diesel and electric power sources.
  • In Southampton, a company called REAPsystems has developed a hybrid system for water taxi boats, one able to switch easily between a fuel engine and electric motor. The company will take their hybrid water taxi boat to Venice next year, where a hotel operator will run it on a passenger route through the canals and out to the airport throughout the summer.
  • A member of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, Antoon Van Coillie, intends to convert his large continental barges to hydrogen fuel.
  • A team at Birmingham University (Project Leader Professor Rex Harris) has constructed a hydrogen-powered canal boat, tried and tested, which is undergoing further modifications.

As David Bailey, who forwarded the link to Forrest’s article, tweeted whilst working in Venice:

https://twitter.com/dgbailey/status/855495899115638784/photo/1

A minute percentage of passengers and freight are currently carried by water – but as Atkins Global (see their project ‘showcase’) asked earlier: with the rising cost and environmental burden of road transport, could UK businesses (and we add, public transport) follow Europe’s example and turn back to the water?

 

 

 

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‘Daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of rivers in Sheffield

After blogging about Sheffield residents – and many in Mumbai – protesting against the felling of urban trees by Amey, better news comes from David Bailey (right). He draws attention to an article by David Cox, about ‘daylighting’ or ‘deculverting’ of urban rivers – the source of much of the following information.

Simon Ogden, chair of the Sheffield Waterways Strategy Group, recalls that the city’s rivers were used originally for water power, then for steelworking and waste disposal and finally built over and turned into sewers, commenting “That’s about as low as a river can get.”

Sheffield rivers, the Porter, Sheaf and Don rivers spend most of their urban life underground. The Porter flows between buildings, in culverts and below the surface in tunnels. It sometimes surfaces on its way to the Ponds area and, as it approaches Sheffield Railway Station (left), joins the River Sheaf under the station.

‘Daylighting’ rivers can be a more practical and cost-effective alternative to many of the UK’s Victorian-era culverts that are difficult to maintain. Last year, in central Sheffield, a culvert over the River Porter collapsed, causing part of a car park to completely cave in.

In a once-neglected corner of Sheffield’s cultural industries quarter, where music, film and science-based businesses flourish, there is now a green oasis – a “pocket park”- among housing blocks and a derelict industrial site A small amphitheatre slopes down to the banks of the river Porter, where wild trout spawn in spring and students from the technical college picnic and paddle.

Two years ago, the park did not exist. There was just a crumbling car park with the River Porter seen briefly before it disappeared into a culvert.

Simon Ogden describes the long-standing ambition of the WSG to reconnect the city centre with its waterways – the canal, Rivers Don Porter and Sheaf.

One proposal – called ‘Putting the Sheaf back into Sheffield’, featured on the BBC’s One Show – involves taking the roof off an underground culvert and bringing the waterway back into the open, surrounded by grass, flowers, trees. The bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund was not successful but ‘pocket’ parks are being created through the council’s’ City Centre Breathing Spaces programme’, using money contributed under planning rules by developers.

Climate change has been one of the major driving factors for large-scale investment in river daylighting projects

Planners hope to utilise the passive cooling provided by rivers to help combat the urban heat island effect, and most of all, increase flood protection. Funding the ‘daylighting’ of the Porter in Matilda Street and Nursery Street has been combined with the Environment Agency Local Levy which aims to cover the cost of flood defences.

“We’ve been experiencing more flash floods in recent years,” says Ogden from Sheffield council. “So we need to keep the water in the river and make more space for it. Culverts act as a kind of choke on the river, so any blockages or sudden increased rainfall forces the water out onto the streets.” He continues:

“A culvert was removed over a stretch of the brook hidden beneath a car park, and riverbed material was redistributed and stabilised using boulders and reclaimed wood. Habitats have been created for fish with help from the Trout in the Town organisation, walls made of gritstone slowly release rainwater into the brook and the park has been designed to flood in extreme weather”.

News of a Rochdale project follows.

Cox’s article also has references to work in Auckland, to Seoul’s artificial waterway that joined up with the underground river at formed 3.6 mile-long water corridor now acts as a major flood-relief channel, transforming an area of Seoul previously renowned for crime and to Zurich, where urban river restoration has been common practice and daylighting – known as the “Bachkonzept” or the “stream concept”, is has been ‘enshrined in law’  

 

 

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