Category Archives: People power

Canadian doctors ask for pay rise to be redirected to other health-care workers

Peter Rakobowchuk reported from Montreal in the Canadian Star this week that more than 250 doctors and residents in Quebec have asked the provincial government to backtrack on plans to give them and other physicians substantial pay hikes, saying the money should be spent on the front lines of the health system.

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette says he’s ready to take some of the money out of the doctors’ hands, adding ambiguously, “If they feel they are overpaid, they can leave the money on the table and I guarantee you I can make good use of it”. He is working with Quebec nurses to deal with issues like overtime and nurse-to-patient ratios. He said it was agreed to revisit working conditions under an “historic” collective agreement that was reached two years ago.

An open letter, signed by general practitioners, specialists and residents, says the increases are particularly shocking given that other health-care workers such as nurses and orderlies face difficult working conditions.

A Facebook post by a young nurse named Emilie Ricard was shared more than 56,000 times after the woman from the Eastern Townships posted a picture of herself in tears, giving a sarcastic thumbs-up after a night shift in which she said she had to care for more than 70 patients alone.

In a radio interview (translated) one example she gave was “For example, a patient sounds because he wants to go to the bathroom, but we do not have time. He gets up and falls. When you explain that to the family, […] they understand, but why should they understand? It’s not normal”.

Isabelle Leblanc, president of the group who sent the letter, said in an interview that nurses, orderlies and other employees in the health-care system are working under awful conditions and with excessive workloads. She added that there is only a specific amount of money available to the Health Department and “the more you give to the physicians, the less you give to workers or to improve access (to the system) . . . We think it’s going to help patients a lot more if the money is injected in the system, and not into the pockets of the physicians.”

 

 

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Tenino’s wooden currency

A growing number of communities (Brixton, Totnes, Bristol) now use scrip (a community currency or loyalty programme) as a way to keep business activity local and increase community resilience to economic shocks we look at one of many historical precedents

In 1931, during the depression, the Citizens Bank in the small U.S. town of Tenino, Washington, closed its doors after running completely out of money. As it only had one bank there was no longer any cash currency available for the exchange of goods and services.

The Chamber of Commerce received permission from Congress to begin printing their own money. A committee was formed that included the town’s physician, Dr. Wichman, dentist Dr. Meyer, and Don Major, the publisher of the local newspaper the Thurston County Independent. After a few attempts with paper money, the Chamber decided to make currency out of wood, which was readily available.

Major began printing pieces of temporary currency on thin, 1/80th-of-an-inch-thick pieces of “slicewood,” two strips of spruce, laminated, with a piece of paper in the middle. He started with 25¢ denominations, and later produced somewhat larger amounts, including 50¢ and $1.

A number of other cities and towns across the U.S. ended up printing scrip notes or IOUs on slips of paper. Even after the Depression had finally abated, Tenino’s tradition of wooden money survived. The town continued to print souvenir and commemorative bills, usually annually, to meet the demands of collectors. Word of the wooden money spread quickly, and soon requests from currency collectors across the country poured in.

The Tenino Depot Museum, which now houses the original press, holds a number of “request letters” from people who would write to Tenino to see if they could get their hands on the unique currency. Loren Ackerman has been running the original printing press since the 1990s, when he took it over from the previous caretakers after they grew too old to operate it safely. “Running the press is… how should I put it… not OSHA-approved,” he says. “If you slip at all, you’re going to bite your fingers.” As he fires up the machine, he shares the history of the wooden money.

Recently printed wooden money can be bought at local businesses. Anyone can walk in to a local ‘50s style café, Scotty B’s. and buy wooden money in denominations of $1, $5, or $10, to keep as a souvenir, or spend in town. It can be used at most of the local businesses as legal tender, as intended in 1931.

Ackerman has taught one of his sons to use the press so that the tradition can continue when the time comes.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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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”.

 

 

 

Residents in one of Britain’s formerly most run-down areas now run a housing association, their library and swimming pool

The BBC noted in 2010 that during the 1970s and 1980s, the post-war Castle Vale estate, dominated by tower blocks, became known for poverty and crime. Residents in Castle Vale established a housing association with power and responsibility given to local people. The housing association has helped to lower crime levels, demolish and rebuild 2,275 houses and address health and unemployment concerns.

The area underwent a 12-year regeneration in the 1990s, with 32 of the 34 tower blocks demolished, new homes built and a new retail area created. Read more here. http://old.mycommunity.org.uk/stories/castle-vale-community-housing-association-working-with-stockland-green-opportunities/

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Now the Castle Vale estate in Birmingham is pioneering a new way of running services that councils can no longer afford, due to government cuts. Ray Goodwin, chief executive of the tenants and residents’ alliance, said: “People came together and said this is taking away our community and we are not prepared to accept that.” Read the BBC’s update published on Wednesday 23rd November here.

castle-vale-poolLocal residents’ groups have taken over the swimming pool and the library which were in danger of being closed. Read on here. A resident posted on Facebook: “You keep doing articles in the Tyburn Mail about the swimming pool on castle vale saying how it’s been saved by the community and for the community. I think you need to do an article about its lack of opening times. Half term and it’s only open for a few hours in the week for the public and what about the residents of Castle Vale who work and want to use it when they finish. Guess what it’s shut.” He needs to volunteer to help as 40 others are doing.

castlevale-libraryThe library employs one member of staff and about 40 volunteers look after the library and pool. Volunteer Amanda Cutler was behind a 6,500-signature to save it. She said: “One of the lifeguards came to me one day and said it was closing down. I said it’s not happening and I got a petition together myself. Luckily, we’ve done it, so we’re really pleased.“ Later, facing further cuts, in 2014 the residents pulled together to save their library from closure. A cinema and theatre for the community are also planned. Read on here.

They are now being asked to show other local communities how they can rescue council services threatened by cuts.

 

 

 

Innovation, resilience and co-operation in war-torn Syria

In 2010 it was reported that the Syrian Ministry of Higher Education had launched programmes on renewable energy to be studied at the faculties of electrical, mechanic and technical engineering and in the institutes and postgraduate programs. Research and training energy centers had been established in Damascus, Aleppo, Tishreen and al-Baath universities.

However the progress of these programmes have been adversely affected by four years of air strikes, street battles and sieges.

damascus          Above: a street without electricity in Douma, northeast of Damascus

Now, though the widespread infrastructure damage in the areas around the capital Damascus means that thousands of Syrians have no more than a few hours of power a day, a resourceful, resilient spirit is enabling many survivors to cope with only a few hours of power a day by modifying their way of life and innovating.

Almost all Syrians have switched to using longer lasting LED lights which are cheaper than candles and can be powered with a car battery. In the war affected areas, people go to bed early and most now wash their clothes by hand, having sold machines and refrigerators.

Some are also finding ways to make their own power, using solar panels, fuel made from plastic bags and even bicycle-powered batteries. 

syrian solar panelsIn southern Syria, many shops sell solar power panels for $20-$200 and some are used in shelters at a refugee camp in Aleppo. Omar al-Golani, a media activist in the town of Kwdana, said that even the poorest will try to borrow money to buy them, or sell their food rations. In May, Rami al-Sayyed told the Financial Times that he and many of his neighbours started generating electricity by pedalling bicycles about three years ago. He would pedal his bike for two hours every day to charge his laptop.

A few Syrians are also using wind energy, reports Khaled Issa, from Idlib. They buy fans, or make their own, and place them on the roof.

Most Syrians save fuel for farming equipment, generators that power shops and hospitals, or machines used to dig victims out of bomb sites. Since late 2013, in the besieged suburbs around Damascus, people have collected and burnt plastic bags and the cooled liquid plastic produced can be made into a substitute for diesel or kerosene.

Rami al-Sayyed points out that the shortages have brought about moments of community spirit. Some of his neighbours came together to put up a bicycle and take turns to pedal in order to watch new TV programmes released during Ramadan.