Category Archives: Community action

News from the Mayor of Lewisham

Almost one year ago, Damien Egan (sixth from the left) was elected mayor of Lewisham by local residents, after standing on a bold and radical manifesto making over 100 pledges. Earlier this month he recorded some of the recent steps forward.

Lewisham has some of the country’s best early years services; its primary schools are among London’s leaders and now its secondary schools are beginning to see improvements. The council is spearheading Lewisham Learning, a borough-wide schools partnership, funded by schools and the council coming together. As Lewisham’s GCSE results are improving faster than the national average, more parents are choosing a Lewisham school as the first choice for their children.

Lewisham’s parks were ranked last year as being the best in the capital by Parks for London. Beckenham Place Park, south-east London’s largest park, has been regenerated and has become a thriving green space. It will also be home to south London’s first wild swimming pond from this summer.

Though there have been huge cuts to police budgets and youth services and crime is an increasing concern, Lewisham council has been able to support four local youth projects with their £282,000 bid from the Greater London Authority.

A Conservative justice minister visited the borough’s Youth Offending Service as an example of best practice and praised the trauma-informed approach that had improved outcomes for young people and in their local elections manifesto, the Brighton and Hove Liberal Democrats cited the borough’s support for homeless people.

Almost a decade of austerity has hit local government hard, but a difference is still being made in the borough by delivering ambitious policies, big and small, that are transforming our communities. Nearly a year later after Damian Egan was elected there has been significant progress:

  • council services have been brought in-house,
  • 50 agency staff have been given permanent contracts and we are working to get that number up to 100,
  • £37m has been secured to deliver 384 new council homes,
  • 28 new sites have been identified for social housing,
  • three more innovative pop-up housing developments have been confirmed, lifting 112 homeless families out of emergency accommodation,
  • Lewisham is the first council to start to address obesity by banning junk food advertising
  • and their first annual Modern Slavery statement has been published.

The borough is one of the most diverse in the world, home to people from all backgrounds, with a history of embracing new communities and those fleeing violence. It is now becoming a Sanctuary Borough, protecting the rights of all migrants, asylum seekers and refugees and the first of 100 new refugee families is expected to arrive by summer.

 

 

 

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“ECOaction” in Banda

“ECOaction” in Banda was founded in 2012 by Reagan Kandole.  This waste management education project is engaging young people and the rest of the community in collecting waste and creating employment opportunities through reusing and recycling waste. In the capital city of Uganda, Kampala 730,000 tons of waste is produced every day and, at present, only an estimated 1% is recycled.

ECOaction’s goals are:

  • to address high unemployment and the increase in bio and human waste;
  • to stress the benefit of an eco-friendly society beyond trash, where empowered and responsible citizens live in harmony with their environment;
  • to engage the community in environmentally beneficial livelihood activities, increasing community events and activities that can improve the environmental situation and
  • to increase opportunities in welding/carpentry/and using many kinds of waste apron plastics aim to recycle/reduced/reuse.

To this end waste management workshops are conducted and biodegradable and non degradable waste is recycled.

ECOaction’s products include: children’s playgrounds, telephone kiosks, chicken feeders, bathrooms, shelters, bins, chairs, green houses, aprons from plastic, waste composting and public art installations.

Karen Kana visited the project in 2017, meeting single mothers, children, men and some twenty youths from the wider community – over a hundred in all – who are creating a centre from recycled materials, engaging in urban gardening, briquette making from biodegradable waste, composting and exploring other income-generating activities. The community is also working on a project with Uganda Christian University in Mukono to create greenhouses from recycled plastic bottles to improve urban gardening and nutrition.

Project coordinator David Turner writes: “We are going to partner with CYEN, a UK based NGO which has been involved in youth social enterprise projects for last 5 years and want to expand their social enterprise environmental intervention by working with our project”. CYEN’s Ugandan NGO, ChrysalisUganda will be hosting one of our large recycled plastic collection bins and we plan that young social entrepreneurs from their Butterfly project will be learning the techniques of recycling plastic, as part of their training programme.

“We also hope to remove local children from the backbreaking plastic bottle collecting, by incentivizing their parents to recycle higher value bottles, which will enable them to earn more and use this money to pay for their child’s education,” says Ben Parkinson, Director of ChrysalisUganda, who work to reduce child labour in Kampala:

“Companies estimate that only 4% of their bottles come back for re-use and surely we need to address this by improving the amount that recyclers are paid for the bottles or finding some way to subsidise this.  Bottle picking is known as the least well paid work, where adults cannot find even enough for their children’s school fees.  Ecoaction Banda have evolved products which could help address this imbalance.”

 

 

 

 

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In December Ireland became the first country in the world to divest public funding from fossil fuels

The July news that Ireland was set to become the first country in the world to divest public money from fossil fuel assets following a landmark vote in the Dáil was widely reported.

Ireland was to become the first country to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies, after a bill was passed with all-party support in the lower house of parliament on Thursday (12 July). €318m (£282m) shares in 150 coal, oil, peat and gas companies will be sold ‘as soon as practicable’ ­– probably within five years.

Thomas Pringle, the independent member of parliament who introduced the bill, said: “Ireland by divesting is sending a clear message that the Irish public and the international community are ready to think and act beyond narrow short term vested interests.”

The New York Times added that the vote in the Irish Parliament follows a recommendation by Norway’s central bank in late 2017 for its $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund to drop its oil company investments and that the Church of England has voted to sell its assets in fossil fuel companies that have not “aligned their business investment plans with the Paris Agreement” to reduce global warming.

In December Ireland became the first country in the world to divest public funding from fossil fuels

We all heard the July news that Ireland might divest, but the September stage attracted little attention – indeed the December news was only found here after a deliberate search.

The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, the country’s sovereign fund (the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund), is now committed to divesting its holdings of fossil fuel companies within five years and to make no future investments in the industry, in order “to precipitate a timely decarbonisation process in line with Ireland’s climate change commitments under Article 2 of the Paris Agreement”.

Eamonn Ryan Green Party MP speaks on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFSUKMIVsPU

The bill was signed into law by the President of Ireland Michael Daniel Higgins on December 17th 2018.

 

 

 

 

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Olive Picking in Palestine – Keeping Hope Alive

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A reader returned from Palestine after taking part in the Olive Picking Programme organised by the YMCA and YWCA of East Jerusalem. This Joint Advocacy Initiative was from 13th to 22nd October.

On an earlier visit she helped to plant olive trees

She writes:

It was such a wonderful experience that I feel like sharing some of it with my friends and fellow activists in the UK and further afield.

The Olive Picking Programme offers an opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Palestine living in the West Bank who are under Israeli military occupation. All aspects of their daily life are controlled, which include access to their own fields. Palestinian farmers often depend upon their olive harvest for their livelihood and it is essential for them to have access to their fields to tend their trees, plant new saplings, and harvest their crops in time.

The presence of internationals deter Israeli settlers from intimidating Palestinian farmers and preventing them from reaching their fields, harming them whilst they are at work, or destroying their property. This also applies to Israeli soldiers who are known to act in this manner. The programme offers help particularly to families who are vulnerable in this respect. Joining it is a tangible way of showing solidarity with the people of Palestine and is a great encouragement to them in their struggle for justice.

This year’s programme consisted of four mornings and one whole day of working in the fields. We had all been issued with sun hats and T shirts bearing the programme’s logo, and most of us had also brought our own light, gardening gloves. Thus equipped, two batches, each of a goodly company of 55 or more internationals from about 20 counties, set off from our hotel or host families at 8am. Before leaving we had to load our bus with ladders, plastic sheets, buckets and plenty of drinking water. By 9 am we reached our field which was in the vicinity of Bethlehem area. We had to unload our equipment and on some occasions walk some distance as the road was not suitable for the bus to drive all the way.

The owners welcomed us and showed us trees which needed harvesting. Our first task was to spread huge plastic sheets around the base of each tree. Then we set to work, attacking the trees at the front of the field and working our way towards the end. As many as eight or ten of us would work on one tree, starting from the lower branches and then working towards the higher ones. Each branch was thickly covered with plump green or dark purple olives, the purple ones being the ripe ones. We were asked to pick them all. It was wonderful to slide our fingers down a branch and see the olives falling effortlessly on to the plastic sheet, with a rhythmic clop-clopping sound.  Some trees were very dusty and a dusty cloud assailed us as we worked. Where the crop was thick, it took almost half an hour for one person to work on a single section, with six or seven others working around different branches. There were others who diligently collected the fallen fruit into buckets and emptied them into huge sacks which would eventually be taken to the local press. As the lower branches were stripped, the higher ones were reached by ladders and some climbed up where the ladders fell short. I confined myself to working on the lower branches, moving on to another tree when one was done.

There was a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation as we worked together, and at intervals stopped for coffee which came around provided by the owners. We worked until 1 pm when lunch was announced, which was more than welcome. Lunch was provided by the host farmer’s family and was usually a simple dish of rice cooked with lentils – absolutely delicious, salad and yoghourt and plenty of beverages. Only on one day did we work after lunch. Our best pickings in a single field amounted to 100 kg of olives. An average tree produces about 9 kg of olives yielding 2 litres of oil. Most of the oil produced is for family or local consumption and not for export. Trade restrictions imposed by the Israeli government make it difficult to do so.

On our half days, we visited places which gave us a better understanding of what life under military occupation is like.  One of our most moving visits was to the Bedouin community of Khan Al-Ahmar which has been in the news. This Bedouin community is semi-nomadic and has been living on its land for generations and centuries. Yet, the Israeli government has issued an order to demolish the school which serves its children. There were Palestinian as well as Israeli human rights activists keeping a 24 hour vigil to prevent its demolition. It was a privilege to meet and talk to these dedicated men and women. The demolition has not gone ahead, although it could go ahead at any time. There were visits to Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron, not in the usual touristy fashion, but with a view to highlighting our awareness of life under occupation for its residents.

We had one free day with a choice of visit to either Ramallah, Jericho, or Nablus and people were free to arrange their own programme. I opted to visit my friend of nine years standing in Ramallah and it was a joy to see her twin sons now 5 years old, and the latest addition, a son nearly two years old who I had not seen before.

Evening meals were at our own hotel or with host families, and were followed by a talk or a documentary film. They covered topics such as the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and information about various organisations working for justice and the rights of Palestinian people. Truth to tell, we were often exhausted by the end of the day, but it cannot be denied that they gave us valuable opportunities to learn more about the struggle of the Palestinian people to live in freedom and with dignity and ways of supporting their struggle from our own countries.

On the last evening, we had a splendid meal in a local restaurant, accompanied by folk dancing in which our active participants joined. There was a great sense of comradeship, and of having shared a meaningful experience which would stay with us for a long time. There was sadness too, knowing that the local Palestinian people still had to face the harsh realities of life under military occupation. But we knew that we were leaving with a heightened awareness of these realities.

 Email addresses were exchanged, and goodbyes were said as people had to leave later that night or early next day. I am sure that in one way or the other, each one of us had been touched and many were returning with a renewed resolve for working for justice and freedom for the brave people of Palestine, back in their own countries.

For more information about the Olive Harvesting and Olive Planting Programme, visit their website: http://www.jai-pal.org/en/campaigns/olive-tree-campaign/olive-picking-program. For alternative tours visit their website on www.atg.ps

 

 

 

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As government cuts affect public transport in Witney, a community transport co-operative is set up

A year ago there was a post on this site about the residents of Hawes who launched their 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.

On 20 July 2016, Oxfordshire county council scrapped all subsidies for bus services and 54 routes stopped altogether while many more were reduced. Dozens of villages in Oxfordshire had no bus service at all.

Witney’s town service had been run by Stagecoach before the subsidies were cut and The Guardian reported that local Labour councillor Laura Price who saw the strength of the opposition to losing the bus service and the distress it was going to cause, began to wonder what could be done.

Laura Price says: “This is about real localism – us doing things for our community who would otherwise be abandoned.”

‘Frantic tin-rattling’ raised £18,000 that bought an old bus and at the start of 2017 West Oxfordshire Community Transport co-operative was set up. People paying £1 become voting members, drivers get a proper living wage, and profits are reinvested in the business.

Like the Hawes initiative, after 16 months it not only breaks even, it’s expanding. The fleet has gone from one to four buses (none less than 10 years old). The town service runs “like a Swiss watch”. Other villages petitioned the co-operative to run a service for them and this February it began running a 210 service to Chipping Norton.

 

 

 

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News from the Environmental Law Foundation

The Environmental Law Foundation Ltd is a charity which promotes the collective, good decision-making which is at the very heart of civilised, democratic and stable societies.

It does this by providing free information and advice on environmental issues to individuals and communities via its in-house and university-based law clinics, and via its network of specialist environmental lawyers and technical experts.

ELF exists primarily to help socially and economically disadvantaged communities which want to address their concerns but lack the resources or information to do so. All, however, are welcome to enquire.

This message from the Environmental Law Foundation focussed on:

  • National Planning Policy Framework Review
  • Third defeat for government on air quality
  • Environmental Crime in Europe

It included information about ELF’s assistance to a residents’ association in Farringdon which represents vulnerable social housing tenants. ELF helped the association to make their case at a Public Inquiry into the proposed building of a 180 room Whitbread run hotel and commercial area by Endurance Land.

The Catherine Griffiths and Clerkenwell Community Tenants’ and Residents’ Association (chair and members left) claimed developers are “land grabbing” Clerkenwell, and the site should be used for “useful” shops and affordable housing.

They felt that the proposals would have significant effects on an already stressed community where development was forcing the indigenous community out. There were serious concerns over the proposed loading area on traffic flows, significant light impacts of building a high rise building and the serious impacts on local historical assets, including the Finsbury Health Centre a Grade 1 Listed Building.

ELF member barrister Jonathan Metzer and Charlotte Gilmartin at 1 Crown Office Row, appeared on behalf of the group who had Rule 6 (main party) status. They led evidence from two expert witnesses and two lay witnesses. They acted pro bono through the Environmental Law Foundation, on the instruction of Emma Montlake. The inquiry lasted 7 days.

 

 

“In these troubled times, our big picture perspective helps to energise and inspire”

This invitation to the Economics of Happiness conference in Bristol, October 19-21 comes from Helena Norberg-Hodge (ISEC/Local Futures)

ISEC is working in collaboration with Happy City and the former mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson.

Jonathan Dimbleby will be chairing.

 

 

 

 

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