Category Archives: Community action

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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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”.

Swiss voters embrace shift to renewables and ban new nuclear plants

Reuter journalists Michael Shields and John Miller reported from Zurich that Swiss voters have backed the government’s plan to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy, ban new nuclear plants and help to bail out struggling utilities in a binding referendum.

The Swiss initiative mirrors efforts elsewhere in Europe to reduce dependence on nuclear power, partly sparked by Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany aims to phase out nuclear power by 2022, while Austria banned it decades ago. “The results shows the population wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants,” Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said:

“The law will boost domestic renewable energy, cut fossil fuel use and reduce reliance on foreign supplies”.

Leuthard said the package would cost the average family 40 francs more a year, based on a higher grid surcharge to fund renewable subsidies. Under the law, 480 million francs will be raised annually from electricity users to fund investment in wind, solar and hydro power. An additional 450 million francs will be set aside from an existing fossil fuels tax to help cut energy use in buildings by 43 percent by 2035 compared with 2000 levels.

Solar and wind now account for less than 5% of Switzerland’s energy output, compared with 60% for hydro and 35% for nuclear. Under the new law, power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources would rise to at least 11,400 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2035 from 2,831 GWh now.

Most parties and environmentalists hailed the result. “The voting public has … paved the way for a future that builds on sustainability, renewable energies and energy efficiency. Today’s decision is good for the climate, the environment, our jobs, the Swiss economy and the whole population,” the Social Democrats said.

The growing number of American visitors to this site (left) will contrast this decision with the stance of Myron Ebell, who led President Donald Trump’s transition team for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He recently complained that the new administration is moving too slowly to unravel climate change regulations.

 

Visitors from 10 countries came to this site in May. Noting the Slovenian contacts we were pleased to read that the European Commission has agreed to finance a grid-integration project between Slovenia and Croatia through the Connecting Europe Facility. It will improve the links between the electricity grids of Slovenia and Croatia, and drive renewable energy development across the region, allowing smaller power producers to participate in the local market, and including storage solutions in order to stabilize security of energy supply. Source: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2017/05/22/eu-supports-integration-of-renewables-between-croatia-and-slovenia-with-e40-million/

 

 

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What went right? January to March 2017

From political upheaval to natural disasters, the first three months of 2017 have seen many challenges. But behind the headlines, there are signs of progress and possibility. Here are 20 of our favourites

  1. China is planning a national park three times larger than Yellowstone in the US, to help boost the wild population of giant panda. It will link 67 existing reserves to make mating easier
  2. A seven per cent annual drop in teenage suicide attempts among US high school students is linked to the legislation of same-sex marriage, say researchers
  3. More than 30 million people in Kerala, India, will given access to free WiFi after the state declared it a basic human right
  4. El Salvador became the first country in the world to ban metal mining
  5. Clean energy jobs in the US now outnumber jobs in oil and gas by five to one
  6. Denmark announced it has reduced food waste by 25 per cent in five years
  7. Experts revealed that 86 per cent of new power in Europe came from renewable energy sources in 2016 with wind energy overtaking coal as the largest form of power capacity
  8. The world’s largest fund manager, BlackRock, has warned it will vote out directors of companies who fail to address the risks posed to their businesses by climate change
  9. A teenager is on track to plant a trillion trees. Felix Finkbeiner, 19, who began his tree-planting quest when he was nine, founded environmental group Plant for the Planet. It has overseen the planting of more than 14bn trees in 130 countries and aims to plant 1tn – 150 trees for every person on Earth
  10. The value of UK ethical markets grew to almost double that of tobacco, new research suggests

Read on here for the other ten points; https://www.positive.news/2017/society/media/26491/went-right-jan-mar-2017/?mc_cid=e55ab60695&mc_eid=99a7ecd039

 

 

 

Lambeth patients, doctors, nurses and local residents create food-growing NHS gardens

A food co-operative set up by a GP surgery is helping patients to grow food in Lambeth, one of London’s most deprived boroughs. Set up in 2013, the Lambeth GP Food Co-op includes patients, doctors, nurses and local residents who created a network of food-growing NHS gardens.

On 23 March, it launched a new venture with Stockwell GPs – building gardens at their surgeries. The initiative – inspired by the work of food co-ops across the UK and abroad – started at three GP practices, with initial funding of £160,000 from the clinical commissioning group and Lambeth Council.

As part of the project, 11 GP surgeries across the borough have turned unused outdoor space into gardens where patients can grow fruit and vegetables. The produce is sold in King’s College Hospital via a market stall, a joint venture with Medirest, the hospital’s catering supplier.

Preparing the raised grow-boxes used for growing food near Lambeth surgeries. Read more here.

As well as helping patients with long-term health conditions, the co-op aims to influence food procurement within the NHS, serving both an economic and a therapeutic purpose. Its long-term aim is to encourage NHS hospitals to buy locally sourced food by drawing on community capacity to grow food in an urban environment, engaging patients in the management of the co-op. The patient group makes decisions on what is planted, what happens to the produce, when meetings are held and whether they should get involved in other food-growing activities.

The benefits of gardens and gardening on health are highlighted in a report by the King’s Fund. These include reductions in depression and anxiety, improved social functioning and wider effects, including opportunities for vocational development.

 

 

 

 

Germany’s people-powered energy and American micro-grids

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Source (2013): https://ilsr.org/germanys-63000-megawatts-renewable-energy-locally-owned/

A 2015 National Geographic article with the most remarkable photographs: Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future … led to the ISLR article written earlier this month.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ISLR) informs readers that its mission is to provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development. To this end, ILSR works with citizens, activists, policymakers and entrepreneurs to design systems, policies and enterprises that meet local or regional needs; to maximize human, material, natural and financial resources; and to ensure that the benefits of these systems and resources accrue to all local citizens.

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Instead of expanding or connecting to the national energy grid, some companies, municipalities, and individuals are creating miniature grids of their own that can operate independently – “microgrids” – providing options for groups that want lower energy bills, more control over where their energy comes from, or a level of reliability that the grid cannot provide.

The costs are high and they are economically viable for only a limited set of situations. As Karlee Weinmann, ISLR Energy Democracy Initiative Research Associate pointed out, however, the cost of new technology invariably falls as it is adopted: “The cost of materials, installation, and maintenance for the components that make up a microgrid are going down, so the value proposition for a microgrid increases in turn. The general viability of microgrid projects is also reinforced through replication, like anything else, so the more that various stakeholders test the technology, prove its value, and improve upon it, the easier it is to justify buying in . . . As we see it, the future of the grid will be far more decentralized than the system we have now. Rather than paying a far off utility for electricity, which in many cases comes from problematic, dirty sources, customers’ money can stay closer to home.”

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Hurricane Sandy, which cut power to 8.5 million people, one million of whom went without power for a week, was cited by the ILSR report Mighty Microgrids as one of the key motivators of regional investment in microgrids. While up to 60% of backup diesel generators failed in medical centers and other essential facilities, Princeton University’s 20 MW microgrid kept the campus operational in island mode for three days while a connection to the grid was being restored.…

Regulations governing interconnection processes can also hinder microgrid adoption, particularly because these regulations vary from state to state. Opposition from utility companies is often a factor that makes the regulatory environment hostile or resistant to positive change. In an ideal world, a national standard would be adopted.

Richardson concludes: “Perhaps in the future, microgrids will be a common feature of communities . . . connected by the larger grid and selling electricity to each other as necessary. For now, they represent a useful tool for businesses and communities that need reliability that the grid can’t offer or that can leverage scale to reduce energy costs”.