We’re up bright and early as Clare and Paul are off away on holiday but before they go I get to see their lovely garden which is a haven and just show s what can be done with a suburban housing estate plot. The back south facing fence is heavy with ripe grapes giving lie to the idea of many that you cannot grow such things in our climate, and the lawn is a rich delicious mix of deep green and lush clover and rye grass that is short and hugs the ground and never needs mowing. And did it cost a fortune to plant? No, it did not, they simply stopped mowing the lawn they had bought the house with, kept chickens, and waited. Eventually the original grass disappeared and what grew in its stead, naturally, was clover and rye. Clover is of course nitrogen rich and feeds the soil, and rye does send up shoots with seeds sometimes, but the chickens love these seeds and chew them off. A no cost, practical lawn that both feeds the chickens that give them eggs, and feeds the soil that grows their fruit and veg. It is a delight to be in a space that is nature governed and not human controlled and see any element of hard work or damage to the environment disappear as if by magic.
Over breakfast of homemade gooseberry jam and homemade bread I hear Clare’s tales of the textile group in Stroud. One of the projects they have not yet made happen is the fields of hemp they would like so they can start weaving their own fabric for clothes. One of the reasons for this is the licence to be able to grow hemp in our country is expensive even though the variety of hemp used for cloth and rope making is not the same as the one used for getting high, and even though growing hemp used to be a recognised trade in this country; I remember the young man struggling to make a living that I met on the way to Southampton who told me it was his grandfather’s trade and common in Dorset at that time, and lament the short sighted way in which we have allowed ourselves to be governed. The textile group are not deterred though and continue to be on the look out for anyone with land who’d like to get involved with a grow hemp to make cloth project.
Clare also feels that clothing from nettle fibre would be a good thing to experiment with, and we extol the virtues of this common but versatile plant considered weed and pest by many, who have never tasted the delicious tea, the nutritious mineral rich soup in Spring, and experienced the benefits of rubbing it into arthritic joints and the relief it brings.
Paul and Clare tell me about the wood pellet bricks they buy to help feed their wood burner. They are made locally by the inmates of the prison and given out free to old people’s homes and other community centres and sold cheaply to local shops (www.wooduwaste.com ). The wood used to make the briquettes is produced from the waste wood that comes from the furniture the prison makes.
As we leave Stonehouse, for Paul to drop me back off where I started from, at the Star Anise Cafe, Paul points out their roof full of PV and solar panels. They are benefitting from the feed in tariff but are also concerned because since the feed in tariff came in to force people have started putting photo voltaics on their roofs to take advantage of the financial rewards, and have stopped buying solar panels to heat their water because they do not get a financial reward for this. This, says Paul, is making it difficult for the solar power companies to stay in business. It is no real surprise to find that when money is given as an incentive to change behaviour it does not work out the way it was intended; when people’s focus is aimed towards cash their moral sense usually goes flying out of the window. What is surprising is how many official bodies still seem to think this is a valid way of doing things. Were official bodies to be up front about the real situation our planet faces, and asked people to do their upmost to pull together to make a difference, for our children and grandchildren’s future literally depended on it, I think the response would be quite different.
I saw in Brazil a few years ago how when the government had mismanaged the electricity supply and there wasn’t going to be enough to go round they went on national radio and TV and said as much. They also reduced the bills of all who helped the situation by reducing their electricity consumption, so there was a financial benefit in helping, but everyone knew why they were doing it, and I remember how it felt to be involved in saving the electricity supply for us all; it was fun to participate and every time you remembered to turn out a light you’d comment on it and wonder how much you were saving, so yes, there were comments about how the government had mismanaged things, again, but politicians are expected to get things wrong in Brazil, and people know it’s down to themselves basically to ensure things keep ticking along. Were our government to get beyond the fear they feel at admitting things will have to very different, and tell everyone what is coming and how they can get involved to make a difference then the response as a whole would be positive, for people like to know they are important, that their actions count, not that they are disempowered and have to wait for “them” whoever “they” are, to do something to save the situation.
Of course the other thing that comes to light with the feed in tariff is that it serves to widen the gap between rich and poor even more. Those who have savings and can buy the equipment get financial rewards; those that cannot have to get into debt to do it, even if the equipment is installed for free and the people “pay back” their loan by giving up their return on the energy they have produced, it means they are no better off, whilst those that could buy the equipment are making money on it! Whose short sighted thinking was that, I wonder? When the several month long Brazilian electricity cut back scheme happened people got money back on their bill for every single measure of electric they had saved so it didn’t matter if they were wealthy or they weren’t, it was each saving they made that got them a discount, so there was no profit to be made, only savings for savings.
Once back in Stroud I pay my 20p for a copy of this week’s “Stroud Life”. The top story is about a recent local festival celebrating a local hero, Jenner, for the eradication of small pox. The paper is full of pictures of happy people doing things of benefit to the community and having fun doing it.
I take a stroll around Stroud market and pick up a copy of the ingenious Stroud market recipe book. Every regular stall in the market has put, in addition to an advert describing what it is they bring to the market, a favourite recipe of theirs. My favourite is a recipe for green, yellow, or red soup, a basic recipe that can be changed simply by adding a quantity of particular coloured vegetables to the ingredients, encouraging the use of veg and of trying out different ones.
I read too in a leaflet distributed around the town, about Stroud Food and Drink festival that is in conjunction with a local Walking festival too and so the first fortnight of September is packed with loads of good ideas for healthy walking and local food and I notice how Transition Stroud ideas and projects are everywhere, throughout the leaflet, including the Open Eco Homes day, and the Stroud pound project.
I spend most of my morning in Star Anise where I can check e mails and organise the next bit of my journey, and have a vegan lunch.
Next I visit the Stroud Valleys Project shop and see information about the car pool the Transitioners told me about. I hear that the shop is community owned and run and all money taken goes towards putting on events to promote biodiversity awareness raising. There are eco products and books for sale including a lot of information on biodynamic gardening which I have discovered has its headquarters here in Stroud.
In the afternoon I set off to walk to Nailsworth along the cycle path, which everyone has recommended but no one can direct me well as to how to get on it because of the new road works. I do eventually get on it after a stressful start not helped by it not matching with what is on my OS map until I get well clear of the town. Once on it however, it is a lovely walk, along which Anthony the storyteller rings me with new that Radio Stroud would like to interview me.
I get to the wonderful Ruskin Mill (..), home to Nathan fantastic apothecary (…) where I am to meet Fiona to walk to her home in Horsley, and we have a lovely walk through gorgeous gardens, and radio Stroud have not called and we assume they have changed their minds but then they call and apologise for being late but that there is a snake in the canal!
I sit down amongst the sunflowers and sweetpeas in Ruskin Mill’s gardens and we talk about my walk and the places I have been and encourage people to join in, and then Fiona and I walk on to her lovely cottage in Horsley. There is a bring and share meal for anyone we met at last night’s gathering who wanted to come and we end up as 8 people eating lovely homemade food and having great conversations.
I talk about my time living in Brazil and the time the boa constrictor that passed through my garden and how excited I was and took photos till she turned and glared at me and I knew enough was enough and left her alone. We learn that the snake that was thrown in the canal is a boa constrictor and feel concerned for it for won’t it be cold in the canal? We marvel at the level of disconnect present in our society that people could do such things and not have the capacity to follow through the impact of their actions.
We talk about the Stroud Pound and how some businesses won’t join the scheme because there are strings attached for it has been set up to be a sustainable business and requires those that join to become members. This is different to the Totnes pound which was set up as an awareness raising project and still has one pound equal to one pound sterling. It will be interesting to see where these different local currencies go in the future and how they develop.
One of Fiona’s neighbours, a landscape gardener, talks about his concerns, for every time he mows a lawn it uses oil, and wonders if people realise that their gardening is not actually good for the environment, and how they will respond when they find out, and I think about all the different kinds of gardening there are, all of which use less resources than conventional gardening, all of which grow food more abundantly, all of which are less hard work, less time consuming, better for the environment and more fun; permaculture techniques like no dig, and raised beds, and forest gardening.
We hear news of Transition Bristol from Helen,wose daughter lives there, of the many successful transition streets that have sprung up including Montpelier Transition where at a recent open day they anded out brown bgs of runner beans with a list of all their contact details written dwn the bag. Now there’s a lovely idea worth sharing.
We talk about story and how Helen felt inspired after last night’s storytelling to rewrite the stone soup story to be local to Stroud. Anthony and I talk about “Tales to Sustain” and I tell him I have been asked to write a chapter and he tells me he is to be one of the editors. Small world!
We all have a discussion about Big Society and whether or not we think it is a good thing. Opinions are divided but it is interesting to air our views. Personally I think it is a golden opportunity, though some are concerned that it will take funding away from voluntary sectors and are frightened by what the consequences might be. Change always brings fear of the unknown, and we talk about positive visioining and the power of intention and there are mixed about this too; some think we manifest what we truly believe and others do not.
We all enjoy the evening and the opportunity to discuss and talk and share as friends, to air our views, try them out, and think them through some more, to be given a new angle, to consider a new perspective.
I am presented with a 5 Stroud pound note to take onto the next town as a gift and in the hope that when they come to visit to spend it they will meet transition Stroud folk and ideas can be shared.
When I go to bed Fiona, Anthony and Kristie are still eagerly discussing the next storytelling evening at Star Anise, and I smile, a new tradition is born.