Category Archives: People power

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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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.

 

 

Re-branded: DECC, the Department for Extreme Climate Change

The walls of the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were whitewashed on the first day of the Paris climate conference in November of last year ‘to expose the department’s hypocrisy’ and black paint was used to rebrand it the ‘Department for Extreme Climate Change’.

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Today news came via an Ekklesia link, that on Tuesday, 31st of May, the five activists, members of the Climate Change Action Group, were ordered to pay £340 each at Hammersmith Magistrates Court. The defendants, who represented themselves, did not dispute their presence at the scene or the actions attributed to them, but argued that they had a ‘lawful excuse’ under section 5 of the Criminal Damage Act.

DECC was not fined.

amber ruddTheir letter, which was handed in to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd (left), made many powerful points, all of which may be read here. In a preamble, they declared: 

“Climate change is not one in a number of issues to be addressed. A stable climate is a fundamental need on which the maintenance of our civilisation and the earth’s abundant life relies. There will be no economy, health or security to speak of on the planet towards which we are currently heading”.

Edited extract from list of actions June-Sept 2015

In 2009 G20 countries, including the UK, pledged to phase out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies. But on the 19 March 2015: George Osborne announces £1 billion worth of subsidies for North Sea Oil, on top of a whole series of previous measures, including support for further exploration:

16 June: The European Union says the UK is set to miss its EU target of generating 15 per cent of its energy (not just electricity) by renewable methods, despite being set one of the lowest targets of all EU countries.

17 June: On the evening of the Big Climate Lobby on the 17th June, when thousands met with their MPs to ask them to put climate as a priority, you announced the first of your ‘cut-the-green-crap’ policies, that new onshore wind farms (the cheapest form of renewable energy) will be excluded from a subsidy scheme from 1 April 2016, a year earlier than planned.

25 June: The UK says it will sell off up to 70% of its Green Bank, set up to lend money to risky green schemes such as wind farms that couldn’t raise cash elsewhere. The sell-off means it may no longer focus on risky green schemes, and most of the profits will not go to taxpayers. By contrast, a similar US scheme is set to make $5 billion profit for taxpayers on $30 billion-worth of loans. Companies it helped include Tesla Motors, which paid back its loan early.

30 June: The Committee on Climate Change warns that the UK is not on course to meet targets after 2020. Its recommendations include taking action to encourage long-term investment in low-carbon energy, such as by extending existing short-term schemes to a 10-year timescale.

ruth jarmanRuth Jarman, one of the five members of the Christian Climate Action demonstration, who are deeply concerned about climate change and its impact on God’s creation, the lives of people now the world over, and future generations, said:

“We do not agree with today’s judgement. The point of the law is to maintain justice, stability and order. Climate change threatens all these things so fundamentally that the law should be used to defend those who are trying to stop climate change, not those who are creating it. We think DECC should have been in the dock, not us. The department speaks fine words, but with its actions scuppers any possibility of global action to tackle climate change.”

Michael Northcott, Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh reminds us that without such acts in the history of the United Kingdom, the vote would not have been conferred on non-land owning citizens, nor on women and slavery, or forced child labour in our factories would not have ended:

“The actions of these protestors were a non-violent and peaceable way to expose the hypocrisy of current UK government energy policies. The UK has the potential still to lead the world towards the new sustainable energy economy that the climate crisis calls for and this type of action is essential to the democratic process in the UK.”

 

Harlaw hydro is now generating clean energy

In an earlier post it was reported that Ribble Valley members of Transition Town Clitheroe aimed to develop greater community resilience to cope with reduced future availability of fossil fuels and to adapt to climate change. They floated a community share offer in 2013 to raise money to generate community-owned clean energy on the River Calder.

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The Scottish Farmer has now added news of another hydro project based at the Harlaw reservoir (above), outside Balerno, near Edinburgh, first mentioned on this site in 2013. The organisers found an upgrade of the existing micro-hydro scheme at Harlaw Reservoir a positive experience and are keen to share the benefits of such an investment, particularly as part of a community project.

The project aimed to provide an independent green energy source and income for the local community. Chairman and director of the community group, Martin Petty recalls that a village trust had been established to help the community and the hydro project was proposed. After a consultation, a co-op which offered shares in the project was set up. A feasibility study in 2010 confirmed that it was a practical and profitable proposition and after four years of planning, meetings and obtaining approvals, the group were in a position to build the project in July, 2014. Work started in September, 2014, and was completed in August, 2015, with the formal opening by the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, Fergus Ewing, taking place on September 1, 2015.

Harlaw Hydro Ltd is now known as a bona fide co-operative society (BENCOM) and it is registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, rather than as a company under the Companies Act. The society has seven directors and 250 shareholders, who together raised nearly £400,000.The profits generated by selling power to the grid will be used to sustain the scheme in the first place, pay the shareholders a dividend, and then benefit the local community.

harlaw pump house

The 95kW system will take water from the dam’s penstocks (reservoir dam outflows), returning flow to the dam discharge channel prior to it, forming Bavelaw Burn. A new turbine house (above) is located to the north east of the discharge channel, at the foot of the reservoir dam, immediately south of the disused building.The scheme will generate approximately 260,000kWh of green electricity per year – enough for approximately 100 average houses – saving 129 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The project was the first in Scotland of its type and Mr Petty feels it has set an example to other communities: “Communities across Scotland have been energised by this project, and they’ve come to us as a point of advice, and now a number of others are doing the same as us. It’s great to see, and it’s great to be that point of contact.”

Commenting on the project, Mr Petty added: “We were lucky to have a great group of people on the engineer team, which was luckily made up of men who are all, or have been, engineers. The team included a mechanical, charted civil and electrical engineers, as well as a geologist and an architect, all of whom worked on a voluntary basis, so we were really lucky with that.”

Interesting article about pumped storage systems in Scotland: http://www.scotsrenewables.com/blog/distributionandstorage/pumped-storage-hydro-in-scotland/