Friday 30 September 2011

something to do and someone to do it with

Many years ago I trained as an Occupational Therapist. It was the perfect job for me because I absolutely loved doing stuff. My childhood was filled with evening activities and as a result I had 'Grade 5 piano' and 'was a Queens Guide' on my CV.

At a recent interview I discovered that these things are no longer held in such high esteem, however they made me what I am today so I am glad I did them. As my life progressed I grew bored of achieving and entered a new more spiritual phase in my life where it was more important to do things with people.

The creation of the Magdalen Street Celebration has been a most amazing experience of working alongside wonderful people to create 'something for everyone'. What is great about working on a project is that it is free leisure time. If you go to the gym or join a class you are paying to sit (I think this maybe frowned upon in a gym but my experience is limited) in a room of people you may not interact with. Being part of a project you get to make jokes round a table, drink tea and leave with the feeling you are making the world a better place in some small way.

Everyone takes part according to what they can do. The lovely James knows about music and has organized some great bands for the day. Karen is super organized and has made a spread sheet of all the workshops and stalls and fitted them into the empty shops in Anglia Square. Stefi is mainly bossy so we just did what she told us to do but it meant that in a bunch of lefty liberals at least someone was in charge. Andy was behind the scenes creating amazing graphics to give the celebration its yellow-black-hand print theme. I attended meetings and made jokes mainly.

Oh, and applied for funding, invited the mayor and made 100 metres of bunting (with a lot of help).

The 2nd Magdalen Street Celebration is tomorrow, Saturday 1st October, 10am-4pm, all along Magdalen Street, Norwich, NR. Click here for map and details of activities, stalls and music. line-up

Thursday 29 September 2011

Community – How Parts Become Whole - Magdalen Street Celebration

In these often suffoc-atingly material times, we so called ‘civilized’ people of the UK, with our impressive techno-logical advancements, expansive collections of gadgets, personal computers, private vehicles and our consuming obsession with owning our own pile of bricks and mortar to ensconce ourselves and our precious possessions in, locked away from others behind closed doors and gates, often respond to the idea of community with a sense of dread. To a society used to shutting ourselves away the word can hold daunting connotations.

Although we might enjoy a little company now and then, we are held back by fear and our addiction to thinking of ourselves as separate beings. Why get together with neighbours when our time is so scarce and precious, we think? If we joined a community we might have to change our routines, perhaps work fewer hours, perhaps commute less often, perhaps even give up some precious TV or internet time! How can we possibly meet people when we have social media profiles to update?!

In a society that has been based on individual gain, material wealth and consumption for so long, it may feel like a huge ask to relax the tight reins with which we constrain our lives and start to dismantle the barriers between us, in our cosy TV lit homes, and them, the people we live near to on a physical level but rarely communicate with on any other level. On the other hand, it might seem like a blessed relief!

Paradoxically, many of us secretly dream of being part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our immediate families, social or work groups. We crave the companionship, ideas and support of people who may be different from us in many ways but who also share the vast and varied experiences of our local environments. People who walk the same streets as we do, who visit the same parks, use the same local shops and services, who breath the same air and drink the same water, meet in the same pubs, attend the same churches, school and colleges and eat in the same restaurants as well as perhaps work in the same area.

These shared experiences and the issues, challenges and benefits that arise from them can be ours for the taking. All we have to do is step into it. To shift our mindsets away from ourselves as individual separate beings, ensnared in our own personal bubbles and the tangled web of stories we tell ourselves to keep us there. To, instead, embrace ourselves as a whole, part of a larger unit of beings, free to live the human story we are designed to embody.

Becoming part of our local community simply means taking and giving time to share our experiences rather than keeping them to ourselves. The extent to which we allow ourselves to shed personal barriers and embrace our oneness with the community already waiting for us, is up to us, of course. Yet, like most values in life, the more we give, the more we have to gain.

The sharing is not only cathartic but can enable us, as a community, to build on ideas, change the systems and things that could work better for us and generally improve life for us as individuals, families or households and as a functioning community. The benefits can be overwhelmingly positive – new friends, improved facilities, new ideas, shared resources and experiences, better services and the simple, often forgotten pleasure of knowing that there will always be someone to greet and be greeted by with a cheerful ‘hello’, to return our heartfelt smile and pass it on as we traverse our local streets.

One of the greatest benefits of accepting our roles as members of our local community is the opportunity to celebrate together. Whether this is at the end of a hard worked project, a recognition of passing time, marking the changing seasons or to raise awareness and resources, community celebrations can be a wonderful time to take a break from our everyday routines, slow down the pace of life and revel in all that is good and positive about our shared environment, including each other.

The 2nd annual Magdalen Street Celebration, taking place on 1st October this year, was born from a simple desire to celebrate all that is wonderful about the area. Its diverse community, wealth of creativity and passionate drive towards sustainability – making good use of what we already have.

Over the decades, the various communities of Magdalen Street and its surrounding roads have, like many communities, experienced a variety of highs and lows: the devastating effects of war-time, poorly designed architecture and planning, inefficient resources and attention as well as more positive design and planning decisions, the influx of new community groups bringing fresh culture, the determination of residents, traders and regular visitors to keep the streets alive commercially and spiritually, and the resourcefulness of newcomers and old timers alike.

Walking around Magdalen Street, peering through lovingly displayed shop windows, rummaging miles of pre-loved clothing racks, searching for treasure in a jumble of donated and recycled goodies, perusing shelves stacked high with spices and foods from around the globe, picking up fresh fish for supper, enjoying good coffee and cake whilst people watching or sharing delicious curry with friends, it is easy to see why the Magdalen Street area is so loved.

The plethora of hard working charity shops, vintage furniture and clothing emporiums, fabric and craft stores, curry houses, the antique pawnbrokers and fishmongers, well used cafes and coffee shops, music stores, health and wellbeing providers, tattoo, hair and beauty parlours, colourful galleries, pop-up art and creative spaces and the wide variety of food stores sit happily in and alongside historical buildings and sites. Beautiful flint churches, ancient remains of the city walls, secret alleyways with intriguing homes at the bottom and half-hidden courtyards all embed and enhance the magic.

Amongst this profusely rich variety, you and I wander. Using the local independent stores and services, valuing the lack of soul-less chains, exploring changes, discovering treasure, meeting new and familiar faces, getting to know each other, the people and places that make this area much more than a collection of streets and places to spend money and travel through. As we involve ourselves in Magdalen Street’s magic, we find ourselves in the heart of a community, vibrant, diverse, historical and sustainable. A community with much to offer. And we may just discover that community isn’t that scary after all!

Come help us celebrate our community on 1st October and every day after until the next time. Have fun getting to know your community better and remember to pass on that smile! x Rachel Lalchan

Photo: Pawn Shop and City Wall by Thomas Woods

Tuesday 27 September 2011

The Urbal Fix -Visions of a Green Community/City

The Urbal Fix 1 (Introduction) from TomBliss on Vimeo.

I don’t know about you, but I’m always looking for a good excuse for a party. The party on the 29th October from 7pm to 11pm in St. Thomas’ church hall, ‘Visions of a Green Community/city’, is a really good excuse to get lots of lots of green minded people together for an enjoyable evening.

I’ve been Vicar of St. Thomas’ Heigham for over four years. The day after I became Vicar an arsonist badly damaged the church hall which meant that we had to completely redecorate and re-order the hall and it has now become, again, a centre for community activity – a much loved Victorian building with its high beamed ceiling and excellent dance floor.

I have a vision for the hall being used for One World Events, Peace events, and Green events – I am passionate that we need to push ahead with Transition ideas and action, and challenge people to transition to sustainable living in creative, imaginative and fun ways.

I recently became aware of a very inspiring film made in Leeds by Tom Bliss. The Urbal Fix is a great film that clearly presents the problem of Peal Oil and of continuing to live in our world as if resources are unlimited and always going to be cheap.

I am excited by the film as is it presents solutions which are very thought provoking and full of creative energy. It involves action on all levels from Town Panning to digging up the ground to create green spaces and community gardens.

It talks about creating green corridors in cities with the example of Leeds (but entirely transferable and relevant to Norwich), about alternative energy, transport systems, food distribution and building solutions in a very creative and energetic way,

I think it will be great to have a party to show the film, discuss the ideas and to feed the energy created into local green action through Transition Norwich and other initiatives. When I became Vicar in this area of Norwich, I was delighted to be coming to an area where there are lots of people aware of environmental issues.

It would be great to harness all that green energy and idealism and to become a pioneering community. Why not come along to St. Thomas’ Church Hall on October 29th to see if we can create a green community, based locally here, but with ideas and actions that could transform our City and the wider world. Philip Young

Photo: Grapes Hill Community Garden

Monday 26 September 2011

Northern Distributor Road - It's the Ecos, Stupid

Welcome to the Outreach section of our Transition Themes Week where writers and community activists relate what is happening around the city within a Transition context. The proposed Northern Distributor Road was the key subject in one of TN's early theme groups that met to discuss Transport. Here Andrew Boswell puts this controversial scheme into a clear (and global) perspective and challenges "the shadowy world of economic hallucinations".

All last week, there was a debate in the Eastern Daily Press over whether the Government should fund the Norwich Northern Distributor Road – a £112.5m scheme on which the Council has already spent at least £15m of local people’s Council Tax. The arguments can get very technical – too complicated for many people to bother with. It’s my job to engage at that level day-to-day, and I have spent literally months poring over calculations of projected congestion levels, consultation responses, planning policy statements etc but I often feel we all just need to stand back and look at it all much more simply.

The issues really come down to what sort of future do we want – how do we want to live, work, play, eat? And crucially, what will future people feel about these fundamentals of human existence. That sounds a bit like Ecos – the root of the words economy and ecology.

What is on offer with the road proposal and the associated plans for Greater Norwich is massive housing growth in North East Norwich that is pure and simple ‘business as usual’. This was clear when the County Council’s PR offensive hit the EDP front page on 9th September with the headline “NEW BID FOR ‘£1.3bn’ ROAD”. No, I hadn’t got all my decimal points wrong on the cost of the road above – it turns out that this bigger number represents the benefits: the County are hanging their bid to Government on the road “adding £1.3bn” to the Norfolk economy. That’s £1,300,000,000 if you like lots of noughts. But has anybody at Norfolk County Council tried really defined what “economy” means?

I never tire of Satish Kumar’s wisdom having first come across him and Resurgence at the first Schumacher Lectures in Bristol in, I think, 1977 – an event that started to change my view on the world. Satish has written widely on what real economy means, here he is recently in Brazil:
The word ‘economy’ is made from two Greek words ‘ecos’ and ‘nomos’. ‘Ecos’ means the earth household and ‘nomos’ means the management of it, so I want to ask the world leaders, are you managing the earth household or are you managing only the financial capital? True wealth is not money, money is only a measure of wealth, true wealth is land, animals, forests, clean water, human communities and human intelligence. If we have lots of money but the natural capital is diminished then what good is that economy so please understand the true meaning of economy and manage it properly for all people now and future generations and create a system which is harmonious for all living beings.
However, I don’t think that is quite what the Norfolk officialdom folk mean with the £1.3bn claim. Even from the mainstream, rationale point of view, I am very sceptical, in the best sense of the word, about this claim and what it means. If you build 37,000 houses and then create lots of jobs of business parks and out-of-town retail centres for the inhabitants … and, if, the economy suddenly goes back to what it was in the last decade before 2008, and that is a big IF, then, sure, you must add something measureable to the ‘size’ of the economy. But that’s not adding something to the current economy – its actually saying if you replace Norwich over twenty years with a city like Nottingham, you have something bigger and, yes, it generates more business.

The £1.3bn claim keeps making me think of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where a computer is invented to discover the answer to the “Question of Life, The Universe and Everything” – the good old computer comes up with 42. Somehow, those folk at County Hall seem to have come up with a computer into which you pour lots of concrete, carbon emissions, lost landscapes, congestion, future human stress and found it comes up with the answer £1.3bn.

We all know too that some of this calculation involves adding up the fractions of time that a new road might shave of journeys and places a value on time - see references 8 and 9 in this article by George Monbiot for a good expose of this. Of course, this is not real money – not many people will be able to say “well, I saved 5 minutes each way of my commute since that brilliant road opened, and that’s enabled me to grow my business 50% this year”.

What is really disturbing is that the Council are still trying to tell people that all this growth, and the huge number attached to its value, will bring us a veritable land of milk and honey. In fact, they have been telling Norfolk people for years, that it is the ONLY way to the Promised Land.

Lots of big questions come to mind. The most obvious one that I don’t need to spell out for Transition and One World Column readers is ‘is it at all likely that this sort of economic growth vision will actually happen?’. Well, as I write, the latest ‘Markets plunge’ story is on all the newsfeeds, the Greeks are striking against extreme austerity measures, and all commentators are talking about a double-dip UK recession, and possible “contagion” spreading around Western European economies. And, yet, people are still thinking that this sort of business as usual model is going to continue and that it is the only vision for the future.

There is a much deeper question. Even if, our economies recover from the current situation, is this what people want? Everywhere that this sort of urban sprawl has been built, it hasn’t benefitted the local people. The main beneficiaries are the retail park owners, the likes of Tescos and B&Q, and the businesses like Aviva. For the ordinary person, high carbon transport brings lack of choice, greater conformity and greater dependence on the car leading to isolation for some people. Money is sucked out of the local economy to London, Chicago, Beijing as fast as you can say ‘N D R’.

And then there is personal happiness and fulfilment. One has to be careful with this nowadays because despite all the years of good work by the people of Bhutan and the New Economics Foundation, the Government and David Cameron have suddenly latched on this. Wellbeing and happiness are the latest words due to have their meaning corrupted like sustainability and, yes, economy.

When you look at real wellbeing and real economy in the way Satish Kumar suggests, then it is hard to see how the road and its associated way of living will bring us any closer. It might be convenient for a few often, and convenient for others occasionally, but that’s not wellbeing. And the costs of that are landscape destruction, congestion and high carbon emissions. It’s clear that carrying on trying to pursue the business as usual, growth at 3% a year, is not just going to not give us happiness and wellbeing, but its actually going cause more harm and damage.

Transition and One World readers, and many others, are already working day to day for another vision. One based upon the true meaning of economy and ecos: an ecological society based in social justice. The challenges for this century to tackle climate change and resource depletion make concrete trophies like the NDR an irrelevance to real progress as they steal vital resources from social and environmental welfare. The economy needs stability and diversity not endless growth – a steady state economy is quite possible. Many of us are already downsizing to help economic and climate stability.

By the way, if you need any convincing that a shadowy “Yes, Minister” world occupies the corridors of powers at County, check out these two links: Link 1 and Link 2.

It is important for us to challenge the shadowy world of economic hallucinations that try to take us further down a destructive path – the growth-at-all-costs machine and its cogwheels like the NDR. Over the next few weeks, it is vital that many people write to the Department of Transport and ask them not to fund this road.

The public has an opportunity to comment on the bid until October 14. Comments can be made to the DfT by emailing

If you wish to send a letter please email the campaign against the road on and we will send you some guidance notes on the key issues that we hope people will tell the DfT. The postcard image above gives some headline points too. Many thanks. Andrew

This piece was also published this week in the OneWorldColumn.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Buzzing with Excitement!

Norwich Community Bees is officially up and running - we have our first hive of bees! Erik managed to track down a full colony and yesterday morning, Colin brought it over to the Norwich Farmshare site at Postwick.

Colin thought it might upset the bees to move the frames from his hives to ours, and since the bees think it's late in the year, and upsetting them is best avoided, so he put his hive where ours was. We agreed that in spring we would put the bees in our hive and give Colin back his.

It was a proud moment when he and Erik moved the hive into place, and our bees were liberated form their locked quarters while in transit.

Unfortunately we were all a bit to close at that moment and Colin had to suddenly provide a rapid teaching session on how to comb bees out of exposed long hair. Poor Elena was stung under her eye, and had to go off to work with a rescue remedy splashed on liberally! But Colin did teach us to be relaxed about them - we will all get stung sooner or later.

Erik & the colony

Colin explains the setup

Elena and Bee with Colin

A bee in Bee's hair!

A glimpse of our bees
It's been a long journey from initial idea to finally getting the bees on site, but I'm so excited that we're now really a community beekeeping scheme at last! And it has really been a community effort, so a big thank you to everyone who's joined in the planning and doing, contributed their ideas, enthusiasm and skills. This is only just the beginning!

If you would like to know more about Norwich Community Bees, visit
Pics: Bee and Tierney

Friday 23 September 2011

LOVE foods, SOLE juices - Low Carbon Cookbook

Hello from The Nectar Cafe! This is my first blog on This Low Carbon Life, though I have been blogging for a couple of years now on my own blog, livingfoodlovinglife. Here I have been telling my tales of Local, Organic, Vegetarian and Ethical foods I like to make (LOVE foods) and how I have been sharing them with others through my workshops, retreats and now cafe. Having being loosely involved in Transition Norwich for a a while now, I was interested in the Low Carbon Cookbook group and getting involved in the meetings to discuss some of my favourite topics.. seasonal abundant goodies, and what goes with that; eating them!

The August 'Kitchen conversations' meeting and feast was held at my new little cafe on the corner of Onley street, just off the Unthank Road on the outskirts of Norwich. Here we are sourcing the most local, organically grown produce as possible, by collecting a large share from the Norwich FarmShare, travelling no more than six miles from field to shop, The rest comes from local allotments, Hughes Organics or my own garden! At the moment, I am getting three different types of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, fennel and kale from Farmshare to use in the salads and juices. I am growing lots of nasturtiums, other edible flowers such as calendula and buckwheat in my own garden, plus piles of bright red Spartan apples and delicious raspberries!

From the local allotments I am topping up with pears, beetroot, spinach and radishes, some of which is fairly traded in tea and cake! Low carbon cooking is not only about choosing organic, local and seasonal ingredients, but also the way we produce our foods and transport them, so arriving by bicycle in exchange for healthy treats seems to follow the ethics well. At the cafe, we also have the ultimate low carbon smoothie maker; the bicycle powered blender! You can literally pedal your own smoothie outside. Simply choose your fruit, pop it in the jug, jump on and pedal away until your smoothie is blended! It actually isn't as hard as it sounds, and is a sight to behold, riding an old fashioned bicycle with a blender attached on the corner of the street. It has had lots of outing recently too, visiting the Harlequin Fair, Postwick fete and a local school. Where will it travel to next?!

Another Low carbon cookbook favourite which makes a daily feature on The Nectar menu is cabbage sauerkraut, made from pounding enzyme-rich cabbage with fennel seeds until it's juices release enough to let it ferment in its own juices, and make a tangy, naturally preserved vegetable. Delicious in salads and sarnies. Our bread is baked two minutes up the road using organic flour, and we make our own gluten free crackers out of sprouted flax and buckwheat.

Every day we have a SOLE juice; the Seasonal, Organic, Local Ethical juice of the day. Last week it was fennel and apple. So yummy and aniseedy! Tomorrow it will be cucumber, pear and kale, using farmshare and allotment delights. Kale is the king of leafy greens, super high in iron. Tonight my dehydrator is full of kale-chips as I have been demonstrating in my 'Autumn Harvest' workshop at the cafe, and will be serving them up this weekend at the cafe alongside our regular salads, sandwiches, snacks and cakes. Do pop in sometime for some lovely organic lunch, check out the extensive herbal tea menu or pick up some locally made seasonal produce.

Oh and keep your eyes out for all the amazing foods growing this month! I am being lucky enough to be given lots of Puffball mushrooms this week, and have been out foraging for rosehips, wild raspberries and blackberries. The squashes at the moment are the highlight of the growing season! My first soup made with Red Kuri was just what I needed to warm the colder evenings. Today is the Autumn Equinox so we shall be moving into shorter days and longer nights as of this weekend. Let's all eat lots of warm squash soups, crumbles and embrace the darker evenings with the abundant sweet produce right now. Enjoy the Autumn harvests!

The Nectar Cafe is at 16 Onley Street. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10-5

Thursday 22 September 2011

News from Norwich FarmShare

Lots of news this month! We are very pleased to announce that Tierney, who was our assistant grower, has been promoted to Head Grower. She'll be getting support and mentoring from an experienced organic local grower, Michael Knights. We're very grateful to Michael for his help and looking forward to seeing what they can achieve between them.

The change in the seasons has been reflected in our crops already, with summer squashes giving way to winter ones: the last of the tomatoes harvested green last week to ripen on windowsills or turn into chutney and the first of our dried bean crop arriving. The borlotti beans are very beautiful: pink splashed pods of papery white with plump spotty beans nestling inside.

We've a workday on Sunday, 25th September 11am to 3pm. Bring a picnic! Everyone is welcome, so please do come along and bring friends and family. The farm is full of colour at this time of year and a lovely place to spend a few hours. You can find directions on our website.

We've been thinking about composting too. We've used up a lot of soil fertility through growing this year and we'll need to work hard to build it back up and then increase it each year. Composting efficiently will be an important part of that. We're on the lookout for keen composters to guide us in our efforts!

Our thoughts are also turning to marketing. We've done well to attract the number of members we have, but in order to be financially viable in the long term we will need more. So we're working on a strategy to keep us in the public eye. Speaking of the public eye, you might have seen us in the EDP last week- we had a good big mention in a piece on the future of farming in the region.

If you'd like to be involved in helping us with our marketing, you'd be very welcome, just drop us an email. We're looking for people to help us at every stage of the process, so whether you're interested in helping us design our strategy or you'd like to put up a poster at your workplace, we'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Life is suddenly all a Blur

It's countdown 10 days to the second annual Magdalen Street Celebration, after last year's phenomenal success. This year, Dave Rountree, drummer with Blur, is opening the day at the flyover stage at 10.15 on October 1st. Dave has readily embraced the event and understands its ethos of creativity, diversity, and sustainability.

Last Sunday, Dave, James Frost, and myself were guests on Future Radio's Platform programme. Sitting next to 2 great musicians I felt a little humbled, so I like to think I was there at least representing the sustainability aspect on this occasion!

People who promote annually recurring events always like to say that this year's is bigger and better than the last, but as the organising group has witnessed all the musicians, local groups, artists and performers come rolling in this year, it is hard not to resort to cliches.

There is so much on offer this year - have a look here and see for yourself.

But why are Transition Norwich involved in such an event, some ask? Transition work is surely about celebrating - Rob Hopkins says in his first book, transition is

...not so much a protest movement, more a party.

In the case of Magdalen Street there is more to it than this however. As the spine of the area north of the river in Norwich, it has a high proportion of social housing backing onto a street predominantly populated by local shops and businesses, with a plethora of courtyards and alleyways. 3 centuries ago when the Norwich market was located at Tombland just outside the cathedral entrance, Magdalen Street was the main trading area in Norwich.

As a whole, the City suffered with the demise of the clothe trade, but Magdalen Street has suffered further over the last 4 decades from lack of civic and business input. When it opened in 1959, Anglia Square was a magnet for planners all over the country to pore over and replicate. It is now about to be transformed again as part of the City's redevelopment area.

At the 2010 celebration many people remarked on the potential held in the space known as 'under the flyover'. Now that the completed St. Augustine's zone has been so well received locally, it would be great to see the same attention and zeal applied to the flyover area.

So on October 1st, let the celebration begin again........I'll be there wearing something suitably colourful, imbibing the atmosphere of the street and it's people, enjoying the huge range of what's on offer, then relaxing........until the planning begins for the 2012 event!

Tuesday 20 September 2011

How does Norwich face "the economic equivalent of war"?

Business Secretary Vince Cable said yesterday in a speech at the Liberal Democrat Conference that "we now face a crisis that is the economic equivalent of war". This kind of harsh analogy does not come as a surprise to me or, I would bet, to many of you. We have known for years that we cannot go back to "business as usual" and are aware that the financial crisis "never went away", but has only been hidden by bureaucrats and statisticians.

But in Norwich, business has gone on as usual over the past few months and years. The problem, as those who met at the last Economics and Livelihoods meeting established, is that business as usual for Norwich includes higher than average unemployment, underdeveloped regions of the city, and loss of many of our industries to faraway countries, or, at best, other UK cities, as well as fragmented communities. Such a business as usual cannot continue. It is not sustainable!

Over the past few months, I have been doing some research into what sorts of action might be possible in Norwich to change this trend - how we can simultaneously stimulate the local economy, create jobs, and develop Norwich's built environment in a sustainable way. With inspiration from the Transition Network Conference and the success of projects in other parts of the country, an idea for the development of this programme is beginning to form in my mind.

In the spirit of collaborative community, we, as responsible citizens, must step in and drive forward our interests, rather than rely on the initiative of others to act on our behalf. In the current spirit of government cuts, such initiative will not be taken. The inspiration for this project instead comes from Eldonian Group, of Liverpool and Sustaining Dunbar, both of which I heard about at the Transition Conference. Both are social enterprises which strive to develop towards a more sustainable future and this includes ensuring that any projects that come out of it are financially sustainable too, bringing in a return for their local community.

It is essential, in my view, that any development, as well as being economically sustainable in itself, should raise the value of the community in general (in terms of well-being, as well as economically), and should pay its contributors fairly for any work done to achieve this.

Step one of this development process to improve our city is visioning. We need to construct a shared vision of what personality and feel we want an area to have, and then can start looking at the specific actions that might bring this vision about.

Although several areas of the city have been identified as in need of development, the first that I intend to target with this project is the region of St Augustines Street, just North of the centre, where the new "gyratory" (one-way system) has paved the way (quite literally in this case!) for further development.

8/10/11: Details of a visioning session are here on the Transition Norwich news website.

Images: Vince Cable speaking at the Liberal Democrat Conference 2011 by Liberal Democrats; St Augustines Street during construction of the gyratory, by Evelyn Simak.

Monday 19 September 2011

Coming to Meet – Communications - Transition Themes Week #8

Today is the start of the national Social Reporting Project – an experiment in Transition communications that is set to run throughout the autumn. Yesterday I wrote an editor’s introduction on our new blog on the Transition Network site and each day over the next fortnight each of the 12 bloggers taking part will introduce themselves and their initiatives. Thereafter we have guest editors who will write on a chosen topic and set the theme for the following weeks. Peter Lipman (chair of the Network) is kicking off October, writing on The Big Picture, Sophy Banks (Transition Training) November, with a post on Inner Transition.

Before the project began I wanted to meet as many of the Social Reporters as I could. So during September I’ve had long conversations with people on the phone and jumped on a lot of trains. Some of our communications are about practical things to do with uploading copy, deadlines, word count and all the technical stuff you need to know about writing a blog. But mostly it was to connect with the individuals taking part and the places where they live.

What is your initiative like?

What struck me, as I met everyone in the West, in their local cafes and around their kitchen tables, as I spoke with Teen about community woodlands in the Highlands of Scotland and set up a meeting with Jo at the community plant nursery in Finsbury Park, was that even though the language of Transition and the national culture is a shared thing, the places in which we do Transition are very different. The territory shapes it entirely. Not just whether you are in a market town or bio-region or city, but what makes up the configuration of that settlement, the land that surrounds it, the feel of a place, the history of its neighbourhoods, the spirit that inhabits the streets and hills.

How, for example, the experience of conflict in Northern Ireland has created a conflict-free initiative in Omagh, how the political history of the North has formed strong livelihoods (and anti-cuts) projects and connections with other progressive groups in Lancaster, how the campaign to prevent a third runway provided the strong community backing for Transition Heathrow. How for example Ann in Wales can buy community compost for her market garden with no difficulty, but Rachel in Dursley struggles with neighbours to set up a composting scheme on her new estate. How Jay who comes from San Francisco sees the very English town of Totnes, and how Kerry, moving from an established initiative in Norwich experiences a new Transition University in Glasgow.

All these subtle differences, flavours and diversity are what an editorial platform can provide space and time for. On a blog you can feedback experiences that are impossible to express in a meeting. You can celebrate events and the people you work alongside with in a way the slickest marketing can never do. In a world addicted to busyness the ability to look back and value what we all do is often missing. Pressure from “real world” commitments can push our efforts out of sight, even though many of us feel that the big issues of peak oil and climate change, building connections and relocalising our communities are the most pressing things we need to engage in.

Our intent behind the Project is to provide a friendly and intelligent space for this reflection and appraisal, where we can pay attention to all things great and small, from the greatest metaphysical questions to the humblest vegetable on the allotment. And also a place where we can meet as Transition communicators, even though we might not know each other. To link up and show the pattern of Transition culture across the country - what it looks like, sounds like, feels like. All those invisible connections that make us a resilient people. What the future might hold if we can walk down the mountain together.

Communications feedback is also the principle behind these Transition Themes Weeks we began last year on This Low Carbon Life. As Social Reporters everyone writes as themselves, but they also write on behalf of their initiatives. During these theme weeks, we write on behalf of our groups, giving a glimpse of what is happening around the city for those who might not otherwise know.

So here are the participants in our Eighth (and a half) Week: Simeon on the Economics and Livelihoods’ community exercise, Chris on the run-up to the Magdalen Street Celebration, Elena on the harvest at Norwich FarmShare, Jo on raw food in the Low Carbon Cookbook and Jon on Norwich Community Bees’ first colony. Next week our Outreach section will also feature Andrew Boswell on the Northern Distributor Road campaign and Jeremy Bartlett on a new Urban Green Spaces project. All welcome!

Photos: Ann Owen's market garden in Wales; Jay at Totnes station; Rachel blogging in the kitchen (with cats); Ann (left) at the co-operative market stall in Machynlleth

Saturday 17 September 2011

Critical Mass

We saw a film recently where the protagonist gets knocked over and killed while riding a bike.  I won't say any more, as I hate spoilers to films & TV programmes, however, as the film finished, R turned to me and said "I don't ever want the girls to ride bikes on the road."  It wasn't a conversational opener, it was a statement of fact.  It wasn't going to happen.  Ever.

In other words, not matter how environmentally responsible I may think it is, riding bikes on the road is not going to become one of those "things we do".  Riding in the cemetary, OK, riding on roads, not OK.

Regular cyclists will no doubt disagree, but there is a perception that riding bikes on main roads is a dangerous thing to do.  While writing the School Run piece on Thursday, I saw a great cartoon where the mum puts the kids in the car, saying "it's too dangerous to walk to school, too many cars".  This is the nub of the issue - people think it's too dangerous to walk or cycle, so make it so by driving their cars.

We need a critical mass of people to walk or cycle, especially during rush-hour, to encourage traditionally non-cyclists and non-walkers to dip their toe into the water.  Until that happens, the roads will stay clogged during the school run and rush-hour times.

On a positive note, the Tour of Britain is in Norfolk today; according to the EDP's website, "participation cycling" has grown by 100,000 people in two years.  Maybe if those 100,000 and more would cycle to work, it might become more appealing for everyone else!

Friday 16 September 2011

This is not just an ordinary wall...

OK, so I don't want to play too heavily on whose wall this is, but actually, I was pretty damn impressed when I walked past this well known store in the centre of Norwich last week.

Green architecture (as in, literally, green) is something that really appeals to me - I first read about it in National Geographic a year or so ago, but I never really thought I'd see it in Norwich.  This one is truly beautiful, a real patchwork of different plants, and I'm really dying to see how it changes through the seasons.  Will it flower in the spring / summer?  What a treat for the bees that would be!  So I have to give credit where credit's due, and say well done to M&S for a really great addition to Norwich's city centre.

Another piece of fab Norwich architecture I spotted, this time in Eaton Park.  I don't know if it's real, as in genuinely usable, but it's a great idea for high-rise living for the city's bird population.  From the back bedroom at home, I can look out on the end wall of my neighbour's house.  I'd love to cover the whole of the upper part of the wall with hundreds of bird boxes just like these - it'd be like a hotel!

I haven't mentioned this to my neighbour, and I don't suppose I will, but it's a great thought - I wonder if he has the same thought about my walls...

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Simple pleasures

When you blog for three days in a row you are meant to develop a kind of theme. Well I never do normally but today I will contrast my angst of the last two days with the upsides of transitioning.

For me this is the simple pleasures that come with it all. So for this time of year there is the blackberry picking, jam making and pickling. Of course I haven't actually DONE any of these things but I know people that have so that sort of counts. I tell a lie, I did blackberry pick and got wrong with my ex for trying to steal his click and lock ( that's Tupperware to people my age) to take them home in. That is the trouble with click and lock. Its so LOUD that you can't steal it without people hearing you do it up.

Where was I? Oh yes so I was foraging on the way to work. Rather pleased with myself for grabbing a small apple from a tree on the way (between the Archant car park and the BCTV managed woodland). Unfortunately it was so sour I couldn't swallow it but had to hold it in my mouth until I got round the corner into Ber Street because several office workers had seen me pick it and I had to maintain my 'urban forager' persona.

Last week I held a lovely bunting workshop in the 4 women's centre on Colgate to help decorate the street for the Magdalen Street Celebration. We spent a lovely couple of hours cutting up 1970's duvet and discussing whether the tree outside was cherry or crab apple. There is something very relaxing about a joint task done round a table with no machinery involved.

Last week I was really pleased with myself because we had 6 lemons and 20 eggs in the fridge (don't ask) and I decided to make a lemon meringue pie.

It took about three hours and looked like something from an old sci-fi movie but was absolutely amazing and lasted nearly as long.

The other day I learnt to play happy birthday on the piano for a party. If you are thinking of doing this though do bear in mind that as the cake is brought in you will be playing in the dark!

I hope I have inspired you to some simple pleasures, I realize these are mostly about behaving like a 1950's housewife but I am sure you could do your own rugged bike mending, home brew drinking, tree climbing version.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Addicted to love

There is a song where the words go 'whenever I'm alone with you I feel young again, whenever I'm alone with you I feel fun again'. This is all very well Adele but how do you know it is really love and not just some need you are fulfilling? Perhaps even an addiction.
Well I have a love that makes me feel this way, sexy and carefree.
But should I give her up? She is rather, um, 'high maintenance'.
I have been saying I will because I know I should but everytime I plan the end I think 'not yet, just a bit longer, wait til the spring'. Is this the pre-contemplative excuse of an addict?
I spend a day without her just cycling and visiting friends. I feel relaxed.
I look for signs as to the right thing to do. I find a sign and I know it's not time yet.
She passed her MOT

Monday 12 September 2011

On being an eco-worrier

When I first got into the whole green thingy I imagined myself as protesting in trees and having a cool name like swampy. Obviously that has been taken but perhaps urban forager. However, being middle aged, middle class and generally living in fear of arrest I have only managed to be an eco-worrier.

This involves analyzing everything you do and weighing it up against cost to the planet, my health, my purse, my family and my spiritual self.

So for example, I am in my old watering hole from my youth. No longer packed with six formers but now frequented by families having a 'traditional home cooked pub lunch' printed on an impossibly large menu with a specials blackboard that is too far away for me to remember everything in one trip.

Mum has memory problems so while she and dad are still slowly reading out the starters I begin to peruse the mains and play the Green Game.

So first I think green. We have taken the car to the local pub (go back one square)

It is independent ( go forward 1 square)

Shall I have a cheese salad? This would be healthy and more environmentally friendly than meat. But what's the point of going out for a meal and having a salad?

The fish looks good. Healthy and tasty but its really expensive and dad will insist on paying and we are running out of fish in the sea.

I carry on down the menu to the 'beef and ale pie made locally with seasonal vegetables'. This looks good but still meat, mental note to come back to this.

Pasta bake. This would be veggie so more green but they are always a lottery are pasta bakes. Mum is still on the mains now but the waiter has been back twice already. I start to wonder if i shouldnt have something that mum could have if she doesnt like the curry she has chosen so we could then swap.

The waiter patiently returns, I panic and plump for the beef lasagne because I just really fancy it.( go back six spaces)

p.s in case you are thinking of going to the fox and hounds in Peterborough you will find that the picture of this girl on their website most misleading.

Saturday 10 September 2011

This is the House Transition Built

What is the house? Is it a dream we hold, a fairy palace, a shelter from the storm, perched on a hill, overlooking the sea, somewhere down a farm track or a long drive edged with lime trees? Or is it a nightmare, the haunted house, the house of childhood secrets we fear to reenter, the slum and the council estate we long to escape from, the little boxes on the hillside we are loathe to see?

This week the house is a practical place, a building in Transition, in cities and villages where property is valued more than people and everyone is assessed by their address and the colour of paint on their front door. As the Government is poised to relax planning laws that will make it easier for developers to tarmac the green fields of England, while the Green Deal gets pushed back and low-income city dwellers pushed out of the smarter neighbourhoods, our relationship with the House is changing.

No longer a place of exclusivity and security, it has become a liability. The economic downturn and soaring energy prices have made our homes the highest financial burden most of us carry. And, as we come awake to peak oil and climate change, also a burden on our conscience. To change our relationship with the environment we need not only to consume less we need a different attitude to the shelters we build and inhabit. Including those in our imaginations.

How can we create an aesthetic of downshift in a culture of aspiration?

I once spent my working days visiting people’s swanky apartments and villas for magazines like World of Interiors. I styled photographic shoots of heritage chintz curtains and designer chairs and unwittingly upheld the aesthetics of Empire. I had grown up in London’s Bayswater district in a Victorian white-fronted house, serviced by a crew of professional builders, carpenters, interior decorators, window cleaners and dailies. And yet I always longed to live in simple vernacular spaces - artist’s studios, rough Greek interiors, thatched cottages. When I sold my city flat and went travelling I got to live in a series of palm-leaf cabanas, wood cabins, yurts and adobe roundhouses and eventually settled in a cottage that resembled the one in the Kent marshes I had loved as a child. It doesn’t belong to me and yet it feels like home.

So when it came to my turn on the blog this week I wanted to look at two Transitioners’ houses that reflected this personal and contemporary downshift: a retrofitted house in Norwich owned by Stefi, one of the movers and shakers behind the Magdalen Street Celebration and the innovative CafĂ© Conversations, and a straw bale house, designed and built by John Preston and Carol Hunter from Transition Downham Market and Villages.

Transition has its foundation in permaculture and natural building. The upcoming The Transition Companion was inspired by the seminal text on environmental architecture, A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. Many Transitioners dream of cobhouses and passive houses set amongst forest gardens and friendly communities. And yet we live within old walls, constricted by planning laws, by expensive green technology and by a lack of skills in the basic arts of living. How do people work with those constrictions and yet make steps to live within their principles? I stepped out of my door to find out:

House on the edge of Mousehold Heath

Brought up in an airy 1930s suburban house in Los Angeles and having just returned from India Stefi stepped into her 1900 NR3 terrace two-up two-downer and wanted immediately to bring space and light into its narrow and dark British dimensions (it is 9 foot wide). She was influenced by two streams, she said. One was an aesthetic made of the space and light she inherited from her native California and the simplicity she found living in an Indian one-room dwelling open to the elements. The second stream to do with ecological living and energy reduction.

Inside the rooms have wooden floorboards and bare plastered walls and simple furniture ("primarily sourced from the rich pickings of Magdalen Street's dozen or more charity and antique shops! So the embodied carbon is very low"). Light has been introduced by opening up a skylight in the kitchen, making a glass front door and a device known as a solar tunnel which amplifies and bounces light into the recesses of the dark back bedroom.

“The sun tunnel costs £200 to buy, £150 to have fitted. but could be done DIY - it's an easier fit than a roof window. Even situated on a north facing roof, there is no longer any need to put on the lights in the room during the day. You need to figure out a way to shade it on summer evenings or you'll have daylight coming in until 11 pm and again at 4 am!"

Meanwhile the double-glazed K glass fronted door (£150) and large window bring both light and solar passive heat to the front room, along with its underfloor insulation (£600). The woodburner in the “winter” back room uses wood from her pollarded sycamore tree:

“While warming the rooms, I also warm water and put it in a thermos for the next morning's tea (just needs a few degrees heat up in the kettle). I can also pre-cook pulses and rice for a super-fast finish off in the pressure cooker.”

Her energy bills have fallen dramatically as a result of these steps. Inspired by Chris Hull’s model she has also installed a rainwater loo outside and is presently constructing a Japanese-style handbasin where the grey water feeds into the cistern, meaning there will be enough water in the drought times without having to use mains water. Further into the narrow, immensely long garden rainwater feeds the pond and this summer at her birthday party people brought succulents for a new sedum roof.

“This helps insulate the outhouse, improves the view over the garden, preserves the tar roof which would otherwise slowly breakdown under UV exposure. It also adds to the biodiversity of the long terraced garden, which borders on Mousehold heath and hosts many of its flora and fauna.”

The undercover materials include a recycled woollen blanket and a quality pond liner. Some things you just can't skimp on.

House in the Quarry

I met John and Carol at the Greenpeace Fair where they had just finished a set on the cycle-powered stage. John and Carol sing a sharp-witted contemporary slack rock as The John Preston Tribute Band. They are also about to finish building a straw bale house after five years hard labour. The last layers of the cob floor are being laid this week and with luck (and warm weather) they are finally moving out of their caravan and into the studio with its wood-fired stove, living roof and hand-made, hand-plastered walls, surrounded by a permaculture garden.

The derelict land John bought was in an old chalk quarry that housed a neglected but mature walnut orchard. Originally they designed and planned to build a house and a studio but soon learned that more space means more time and more money.

"Where this fits with Transition is that all these are learnable skills," John told me as we riff about busting through the mystique of the professional builder and not living in house “where the woman is trapped in a kitchen and a stupid room dominated by a TV set.”

“Oh, I thought you were a builder,” I say, dead impressed, it has to be said, by anything to do with DIY.

“I have an O level in Woodwork and Technical drawing, “ he corrects me, “And a degree in Music. I’m a music therapist. I didn't even have any interest in DIY before this misadventure.. Building is all about confidence and getting intimate with the materials. You can learn to lay bricks in a straight line, but you just won’t do it as fast as a bricklayer."

The skills to do with constructing your own house are many, not least dealing with planning permission and building regulations, along with learning about U-values and how to make your own paint (lime, borax, casein, natural pigments). What has stood them in good stead is instinct and persistence. For example where other houses built on this historical backfill of chalk have brought in massive machinery to build expensive high-impact concrete piles as foundation, John and Carol put in a simple low-impact trench (for £1500). They took a risk it would pass the geological tests.

“It’s scary building because you have to spend money. And you have to undo things if you want lovely results.”

"And you don't have the same level of energy when you are in your early 50s," added Carol ruefully and laughed.

John and Carol have deliberately worked alongside people who were prepared to teach them – from green build designers to plumbers. (“The work will show you the way” as one Polish builder told them). Everything in the house has been installed with peak oil and carbon emissions in mind, which is how we ended up sitting in the rain discussing oil-based insulation materials and sourcing ecologically-sound door frames from Estonia, while everyone else was in the tea tent eating cake. Ah, Transition!

Straw bale under construction at Stokes Ferry; hand-made paints on plaster; Stefi's house; rainwater system; skylit kitchen; sedum roof; the Studio almost complete; building the walls; laying the cob floor; talking green build at the Greenpeace Fair.

Friday 9 September 2011

Opening Up

The TN bloggers below demonstrate the same level of determination that I have witnessed in many a householder over the years. It’s a certain steely look that comes into the eyes when a fuel bill drops through the letter box and a quiet satisfaction in seeing the bottom line gradually reduce, month after month.

This, of course, comes after the homeowner has been busy improving the energy efficiency of his home, often with the meticulous rigour of a scientist. Watch out for a certain obsession with thermostats and energy monitors and an ability to sense a draught at a 100 paces that would have bypassed us lesser mortals.

But I take my hat off to these pioneers. For although they do it for their own conscience, self-sufficiency and, eventually, their pocket, they lead the way for the rest of us. The research they have done, the lessons they’ve learn't and the contacts they’ve made, can give us all the confidence to follow their lead. Which is why, every September, CPRE Norfolk politely asks these homeowners if they would open up their doors so that hundreds of strangers can come by and ask their advice. And wonderfully…they do!

Here’s the link to the event - you need to book, so don’t delay. There are all sorts of homes taking part, throughout the county, including terraced houses, farmhouses, bungalows, cottages, barn conversions and off-grid smallholdings. You can see examples of solid wall insulation, wood burners, cob and straw bale building, as well as many types of renewable energy technologies in action. We’ve also included a few pioneering business premises and community buildings for those looking to invest in other areas of their life.

Although the Green Buildings in Norfolk – Open Days event was the first of these ‘open eco-home’ style events in the country, similar schemes have now sprung up in places such as Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, North London and Stroud. Surveys from around the country show time and again that these events lead to action, giving people that extra bit of confidence to spend money or do things differently to save energy. To quote a statistic, 83% of visitors said that after attending events in Norfolk, they then went on to apply measures to their own home or to change their energy usage habits. Pretty impressive!

It is this kind of evidence that has made the Government look seriously at how open eco-home events could link with the ‘Green Deal’, the nationwide scheme to be launched next year, whereby all householders in Britain will be able to access funding to apply energy-efficiency measures to their own homes. The Sustainable Energy Academy (SEA) has also now launched a network of SuperHomes - existing homes which have already reduced their carbon emissions by 60% and will be regularly open for visits all year round. I imagine some of the homes featured on this blog will be well on the way to that kind of statistic ... I can hear the calculations taking place as I write.

See you on the Open Days - James Frost

Thursday 8 September 2011

Welsh Sheep in the Suffolk Cottage Loft

When Chris decided to lead this week of posts on buildings in transition, my primary reason for signing up was because there were 18 rolls of Welsh Black Mountain sheepswool loft insulation lining up in the hall upstairs and crowding out the spare room. And looking like they might be there for a while longer yet.

So I thought if I have to write about it I’ll make sure we get them up into the loft. Which is what we did yesterday afternoon.

I live with Charlotte in a rented late 19th century tied Suffolk cottage, originally a two-up-two-down with an upstairs sunroom and a conservatory added a decade ago.

There is double glazing on the windows, oil-fired central heating and a woodburning stove in the downstairs front room. Until yesterday there were a few inches of fibreglass insulation in the loft. There is no cavity wall insulation - the house is too old (1884).

Before I get to the laying of the wool (sounds almost like a ceremony, doesn’t it? The Laying of the Wool) I’d like to give some context.

I first got involved with Transition Towns in 2008, and experienced more than one Peak Oil moment. Then in 2009 several of us in Transition Norwich decided to reduce our personal carbon emissions to half the national average over the coming year. Using a selection of carbon calculators we decided on a figure of 4,500 tonnes. Each month we would meet to examine a different aspect of our energy consumption and how we could practically reduce it: household (we brought our bills to show each other), transport (car, train and plane), food, waste and ‘stuff’ (including clothes).

I’ve written before on this blog how this year of living differently radically altered my approach to energy use. First by paying attention to what I was using. And secondly doing it as part of a committed group working together.

The first thing we did in our house was decide on a drastic reduction of our oil-powered central heating use. This was September. The house gets cold in the winter and we watched the thermostat steadily drop after November down to single figures, whilst we piled on more and more layers of clothes. We used the log fire several times a week.

The winter of 2009/10 was cold and it was quite tough. That’s where being part of TN-2’s Strangers’ Circle (so named because it was made up of Transition Norwich people living outside the city) made all the difference. It kept our spirits up. There were those meetings to look forward to.

By last Winter the year was up and the group no longer meeting. Charlotte and I reduced our central heating use even more and it was easier. I think we must have toughened up as our bodies got used to colder conditions. Overheated buildings both private and public began to feel stuffy and airless to me. I also began to cut logs from local dead elms for the log fire. It would be nice to find a low carbon, low cost way of getting the thermostat into double figures, though.

Back to this year and the Welsh Black Mountain sheepswool. At July's All Under One Roof environmental day in Bungay, we picked up an application form for the council's Greener Homes DIY scheme and put in our "wish list" of some sheepswool for the loft and a second rainwater butt. Under the scheme insulation (hemp, sheep's wool or recycled plastic) and other items such as draught excluders were free of charge though you had to pick them up and install them yourself.

And this is where Eloise and the Old Post Office Van came in. Eloise picked Charlotte up in Bungay on the 18th August and they packed in the water butt and the 18 rolls of insulation and brought them here to Reydon.

It took about an hour to roll out the insulation in the (empty) loft, which went straight on top of the old fibreglass stuff. It was much easier to do than I had imagined (I'd been thinking complicated scenarios with builders). And Lesley from Sustainable Bungay had recently done hers and said it wasn't difficult.

Warning: Proper masks of the correct grade should be worn over the face (handkerchiefs will not do, Lesley told me) - we got ours from the local ironmongers, they cost about £1 each. This is not because of the sheepswool, which is perfectly safe, but because the old fibreglass insulation is not good to breathe in.

Now all we have to do is wait until winter and see if our house's woolly hat will keep us warmer (though the cat preferred the pre-loft situation).

Back of the cottage; chopping wood; insulation in the corridor and getting ready for action; Charlotte Lays the Wool; Eloise and The Red Van; cat keeps warm on the sheep's wool.