Tuesday 14 September 2010

The inspiring people and projects of the UK

Today I would like to share with you some of the amazing people I met on my travels and some of the exciting projects I got to visit.

The brilliant thing about cycling around, in big groups, wearing copious hi viz, with your bike fully loaded and pulling a bike trailer is that it gives people an excuse to talk to you. I talked to more ‘strangers’ on the street on this tour than I think I have in the rest of my lifetime and it was great! Having an excuse to start talking to someone about what you’re up to and seeing their amazement and excitement when you explain what your doing is one of my favourite parts of the whole tour. And then hearing what they are doing, when they last went cycling and how they are growing their own lettuce (and the free tea and cake that sometimes results from the conversations!) is so heartening. I really miss that random connection to people now that the tour is over and I am almost tempted to get my bike loaded back up and to cycle through Norwich just so people can ask me what I’m doing! There are so many people out there doing their little bit.

As we cycled up the country we were lucky enough to discover many inspiring projects along the way. In Bristol we were given a ‘permaculture tour’ of the city, visiting the GroFun allotment, which aims to inspire people to start growing veg in their own gardens and through the ‘many hands’ scheme, everyone involved helps each other out with bigger jobs when they need it, so you are not on your own! Next we went to Eastside Roots, the permaculture gardening and community centre, where you can purchase lots of different plants produced along permaculture principles, share skills, learn about permaculture and just enjoy the atmosphere and the composting toilet.

We also had a cycle around an eco-community with houses constructed out of all kinds of exciting things, such as cob or strawbales, and had a look into a commercially viable city farm, all very exciting.

But the highlight of the day was meeting the legendary Mike Feingold, permaculture guru, and having a look round his community orchard and allotment. Mike, as can be seen from his photo, is a fantastic character and we thoroughly enjoyed learning about the principles of permaculture through the cycle of uses you can get from just one cauliflower stalk (fed to a goat, goat poo is eaten by your worms which your chickens can then eat and their poo makes a good tree fertiliser, so then you get very virtuous apples!) and eating pakoras made from all kinds of exciting ingredients like hop tips and radish pods. We had a tour around his fantastic community orchard that has over 60 varieties of fruit trees and good root stock. You get taught to graft your own fruit trees and then you graft some for the orchard and they provide a fantastic resource for community projects and guerrilla gardeners around Bristol. The whole thing is a fantastic example of permaculture with a huge array of companion plants and ingenious solutions. So that is a selection of many of the great things happening in Bristol.

Slightly further up the country we stayed at the Peace house in Coventry. It started as a housing cooperative and has developed into a peace and environment centre, providing a night shelter for Asylum seekers and a hub for many fantastic campaigns and projects. It also has an amazing second hand bike workshop where an army of volunteers renovate secondhand bikes and then sell them to the community at low prices to encourage cycling. They consequently have the most amazing collection of secondhand bike parts and I spent an entire day in their workshop being helped to change various parts of my bike!

The final place I am going to talk about is Newcastle which has the Star and Shadow cinema. This cinema is run entirely by volunteers working on anarchist principles. So everything from the projecting, to manning the bar, to printing the programme, to the cleaning is done by volunteers and all decisions are made by those who are present at the time. When we were there it was being renovated, once again entirely through volunteers and skill sharing and they very kindly put on a private film showing for us after a tour around the place. Absolutely fantastic.

My other star place in Newcastle was the Cycle Centre UK bike shop, who persevered until they got the old gear cable out that was stuck in my gears and then gave me a tandem gear cable for free as I was doing good for the community. Then the next day when we were leaving and my bike rack snapped clean in two (good times!) they sold me a discounted display rack and fitted it for free. Community spirit is definitely alive and well and the good people of the British Isles are forging ahead with many inspirational grassroot activities. Of course there are many other projects and people that we came across on our way that I haven’t had the space to mention, but this fantastic selection offers food for thought and I now have an urge to set up a secondhand bike workshop, cooperative gardening workforce, anarchist cinema and much more in Norwich, so if anyone wants to join in…

Photos: where are we going? (Beth Sissons), cheeky tea and cake with an end to end van (Sarah Hunn), Group photo at the GroFun allotment (Sam White), Ecohousing (Laura Kim), Mike Feingold (Mike Snyder), the Peace house (Beth Sissions) and the star and shodow cinema (their website).

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