Many thanks to Jane Gray who has written this very detailed account of her recent activities supporting the town of Lockerbie (a small low income town in south-west Scotland) to explore ways of responding to high fuel and energy prices, food security and local resilience.
By Jane Gray
Lockerbie is a small rural town in Dumfries and Galloway with a population of around 5,600 people. Perhaps best known as ‘the place the plane came down’, it has had a hard time shaking off the legacy of the Lockerbie Air Disaster. The greater problem, as with many rural communities, is the gradual centralisation of power and resources and the steady haemorrhaging of services and finance away from small communities. Rural areas are – and always have been – politically ‘soft’, without the critical mass of people to make them of any particular interest for a political and service delivery model which measures return on investment (ROI) before well-being.
The main economic sectors in the area are agriculture, manufacturing and services – the local Council is the largest employer in the region, with the NHS a close second.
The 2001 census data for the town shows that Lockerbie has:
- 28% of the population aged 60 and over
- a third of the population living alone
- 32% renting their property from a social landlord
- 28% with no car or van
- 20% with a limiting long term illness
- 10% having never worked
- 44% of households where no-one has qualifications or is in full time education – the Scottish average is 33%.
But these figures are just the standard measures of marginalisation and fail to see the people underneath the statistics. Rural disadvantage – at least in Scotland – has a very different face to the better understood models of urban deprivation.
Statistical and research analysis of deprivation is generally focused on geographical areas. But these provide flawed ways of measuring, much less understanding, rural poverty and deprivation. These are as much an issue, but unlike the ‘ghettoisation’ of poverty that characteristics urban areas, rural disadvantage is more scattered, more diffuse, with individuals and households being poor, not necessarily geographical areas.
Rural disadvantage in Dumfries and Galloway has been typified as ‘poverty with a view’.
A study by Mark Shucksmith – admittedly from 1990, though there is no evidence that the situation has improved – characterised the elderly, low paid and unemployed as being the most vulnerable to rural poverty. Other vulnerable sectors include young people aged 16-17 and those with special needs. Indices of rural deprivation are slightly different from urban deprivation and are characterised by:
- very low incomes;
- overcrowded accommodation;
- the higher cost of living in rural areas;
- low benefit take up and difficulty in accessing benefits advice;
- the absence of affordable child care provision creating barriers to education, employment and inclusion;
- access to transport – related to both limited availability of public transport and the higher cost of maintaining a car in rural areas which represents a disproportionate drain on low income households.
Moffat is a small rural town about 15 miles away from Lockerbie, which has been engaging with Transition since 2007. Through our involvement with Transition Scotland Support, we offered to find a ‘disadvantaged’ (though I am uncomfortable with the term) rural community in Dumfries and Galloway which would be willing to look at Transition and consider whether the model and process was relevant and meaningful to their community.
We already had connections with members of Dryfe TARA – the tenants and residents association for the Lockerbie area – and approached them to see if they would be interested in hosting an event. Geographically, it made sense to be working with a community close by, both in practical terms of making the meetings and also to start to piece together a ‘bio-region’ in the area – connecting a number of local Transitioning communities. Dryfe TARA are seen as one of the most successful of the 13 TARAs in the region, yet had spent many years trying to get a single project off the ground, meeting many obstructions from the ‘powers that be’. They were concerned about how long it would take to tackle what really needed to happen to get Lockerbie back on its feet.
Initial meetings with a small group from Dryfe TARA proved how engaged they already were with issues of high fuel and energy prices, food security and local resilience – though they were rarely referred to in these terms – ‘resilience’ has now been hijacked by the agencies in the region, as it has been more generally. The group agreed to host an event and were active in all aspects of planning, promoting and organising.
The Lockerbie Listening event was held on 26th February, 2011. 30 people from the local community turned up – which was both welcome and a relief, because there is a real concern in the community about apathy and lack of engagement. The day was facilitated by Eva Schonveld and Emily Watts from Transition Scotland Support. The event ran for three hours and took the form of a mini visioning/community mapping event.
Eva gave an introduction to Transition, focusing particularly on Peak Oil, bringing the issue right back to real life through an interesting and amazingly complex diagram of the industrialisation that underpins our daily bread. Fuel prices really resonate with rural communities here – as I write, diesel (which is the fuel of choice in rural areas) costs £1.41 a litre.
The community then considered what was good about Lockerbie, what was less good, and what was their vision for the future around a number of generic transition themes – economy, food, energy, waste, transport. What was interesting was the high level of focus around the local economy – certainly it threw up the largest number of issues, an energetic and creative debate and some great project ideas.
Encouragingly, when the date of the follow-on meeting was announced and most people were unable to make it, many asked for the date to be changed to one that they could make.
We held a meeting to feedback to the community and to discuss a way forward on 16th March 2011. 10 members of the community attended (4 sent apologies), one of whom had not attended the first event. There is a willingness to see if Lockerbie Listening can provide an effective vehicle for the sustainable regeneration of the town.
We have agreed to work on a few ‘quick hit’ projects to demonstrate that this group can both make things happen and make a difference. These have yet to be agreed, but the group is looking at the provision of allotments and possibly (though I may be over-hyping this) a ‘Love Lockerbie’ campaign to promote local shops and increase pride in the town – we even had interest in Guerrilla Gardening and SeedBoms! An organising group from the community, with support from Lets Live Local when required, will meet soon to firm up the project ideas and think about how the project will be run and structured.
It’s been encouraging so far to see how easily the community have engaged with Transition issues. There is a problem with the language of Transition – we were told off at an early stage by a retired school teacher for using what is fairly common language among people involved in Transition, but was seen as frightening and off-putting by local people. We are learning the lesson and speaking to what and where the local people are – the issue of resource use, energy supply and market security are real to most people, but we work within the parameters of high fuel prices, the rising cost of food, worries about being able to afford to heat the home.
We will, I suspect, require some early success to keep the project going. This is a community that feels it has had to battle long and hard for just about every resource or project it has secured – there is clear ‘volunteering fatigue’ and a lack of wider engagement. The key will be unpicking the blocks and resistance the community (and most other communities in the region) have met from officers within the agencies that operate in the region.
Above everything, and at the heart of my personal connection with Transition, is the feeling that these are great people to be with and to work with – funny, tenacious, capable, generous, real. What’s happening in Lockerbie feels special and important – and not just because it’s healing the wounds left from when ‘the plane came down’.
Lets Live Local