There’s lots going on in transition in Sidmouth, I was told in Exeter, and they were not wrong! What a vibrant active group!
Diverse is how they describe their members …and that includes networking out and connecting to many of the other active community groups in the attractive town nestling between 2 hills with the little river Sid running through it. There is even a place where the river goes right across the road – which was impassable today with a torrent of mud filled brown water gushing across it at a fair old speed.
My host is Kerry a bright well spoken mum who manages to hold down a full time council job as well as being very active in transition. She is one of the main people who make the monthly community market happen, & Julie is an amazingly witty gardener and trainee bee keeper. Their quick fire repertoire in their strikingly different accents and expressing their different world experience has kept me engrossed in the doings of Sidmouth for hours. Michael runs a not for profit green products shop http://www.kaieteur.uk.com/ in the centre of town which is also full of very healthy looking fruit saplings.
Whilst we were going into the shop a boy came out totally engrossed in a solar powered wooden helicopter toy and several people came in to browse and ask about the various products. All sorts of different types of people come into the shop. All the profits go towards getting and planting trees. I have been given a carefully wrapped sea buckthorn and charged with planting it in a beautiful place along the coast tomorrow. I feel great responsibility and honour. Sea buck thorn, I learn, has orange berries that have more vitamin C content for their size than an orange. It is nitrogen fixing, likes the sea air, and is recommended for everyone as an indispensable tree.
Vision Group for Sidmouth, (or VGS as they call themselves), are full of ideas….which they implement immediately. This morning Kerry & I meet Pete and Jean and John down at the piece of land the group are just about to acquire. This is a real success story. Just a couple of weeks ago the group met in the pub where they normally hold their meetings to talk about a community garden. They had come across Hog Co http://www.hogco-devonrcc.org.uk/index.asp?todo=done&pageid=178006 who help community groups get land from local landowners for community growing projects. As the meeting was coming to an end Pete went off downstairs for a jar or two with his friends and got talking to a local farmer. Result: a piece of land available to rent for a community garden!
It’s a lovely piece of land. Surrounded by trees that could be laid as a growing hedge, including hazel, SW facing and gently sloping, it is a very attractive bottom corner end of a large field that has been left untouched. The farmer has cleared it and the group begin to discuss what they will do there. They do have one problem – that of Japanese knot weed. This is so invasive it is almost impossible to get rid of. Apparently it is edible though Vision Group for Sidmouth are not too sure they are quite ready to explore that particular avenue! They discuss yearly knotweed clearing parties followed by bonfires and beer. Whatever they end up doing I am sure they will get it shifted without too much ado.
I am thrilled by Kerry’s enthusiastic accounts of the monthly community market. They started out using their local St John’s ambulance hall which they really like. Julie and Jean both help out and the food group provide cakes and snacks for donation. The stalls sell local food and crafts. Sidmouth council didn’t agree to a farmers market in Sidmouth but Vision for Sidmouth just got on and started their market which has grown and grown – they have now run 7 and have had to move to a bigger hall!
Not only is this a really popular event in Sidmouth but it generates funds too – averaging around £70 a time! Some of that goes to furthering the group’s projects, and some they donate to charities. Kerry says it is also a great place to do awareness raising –she produces short information sheets about various pertinent topics that folk can read as they sit and eat their home baked cake. The next theme will be information about each of the local producers represented at the market saying why it is good to buy from them.
I am inspired!
What else do Sidmouth do? They have a small garden share project underway, though they’d like advice about how to get more people on board, are planning a more active social calendar to include a quiz night and a fancy dress event on the theme of make your own recycled costumes, and they engage with other groups, such as Sidmouth in Bloom, finding ways in which they can mutually benefit one another. They, as do tt Exeter, believe that transition should not be a group that works in isolation but one that works to meet and interact with the other community initiatives in the locale to see how they can support one another. What a healthy and positive group to meet – and, with their active outspoken chair Robert, super efficient secretary Jeremy, (whom I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting but heard all about) retired but active gardeners Jean & John, earthy humourous Julie, passionate Michael , go for it teacher and long distance walker Pete, and unstoppable bubbly Kerry at their core – a model of how very different types of people can work together harmoniously with a common goal.
Go for it VGS – Diversity & Vision in Action!
I leave Sidmouth feeling like I am leaving good friends behind, having been tempted to try apple juice with ginger wine, and carrying with me a sea buckthorn and a whistle …for, Julie says, in case I drop my mobile over a cliff top!