Stamford Tales 22-23rd October
My first time in Lincolnshire. I’m very excited, I’m in the lovely town of Stamford
for their great Unleashing, which started off on Monday and has been going all week with a day each on Waste, Energy, Transport, Education, and Food, representing Transition Stamford’s 5 working groups. Tonight we watched “The Power of Community”, http://www.powerofcommunity.org/cm/index.php the inspirational film that shows how Cuba transitioned from oil dependency in the 90s, and then some 50 people stayed on for an open question and answer session around Transition and what’s happening around the globe, and what’s happening here in Transition Town Stamford.
It is a lovely mix of folk, from the market town of Stamford itself, to neighbouring Peterborough, my lovely hosts from my stay in Oundle, Alan and Eleanor Rayden, visitors from Oxford, and a range of ages, though one of the youngest there, in his twenties, stands up to ask where all the young people are, and I have a sense of déjà vu – this question was what first got me involved in Transition – in a public open space event in Totnes, and I knew this was something I could get involved in. That of course is the beauty of Transition; there’s room for everyone to step forward and utilise their skills for the good of all.
The questions and answers come thick and fast and it’s delightful to witness the interest and enthusiasm coming from those gathered. What emerges from the collective genius of the evening is
“how about a car free day in Stamford”
pretty swiftly followed by a suggestion for a countrywide car free day. The idea is quickly seeded and the buzz in the room is lively. By the end of the session people are jumping up to sign on to the email lists to get involved in TTS and it feels like a real community effort is about to take Stamford. The people I talk to afterwards are excited and full of life, they are taken by the sense of community they saw in the film, and the sense of fun they heard about in my tales of walking around the transition towns.
Transition Stamford have been going for about 18 months. They have monthly open meetings where they have an agenda for the business at hand, and where new people can get involved. They also have regular working group meetings. Projects they have got going are a Transition allotment, with plans to bid for the 2 adjoining plots then there is space for more people to get involved, links to local orchards, and a very active schools programme. The group meet at the local school, New College, and have recently won a bid for lottery funding with which to further their education work and support the work of the group generally. This comes as a relief to John, and Val Harvey, founder members, who lent some of their own money to enable this Unleashing event to take place.
They have close links with the Stamford Fair Trade group though one of their members, George, and through them have been able to secure use of the popular Arts Centre building in the centre of historic Stamford, free of charge for their Unleashing week. In the Gallery where the “In Transition” film is running throughout the day, are the working groups’ stalls, packed full of useful information and both inspirational and thought provoking quotes:
“The work of the Transition Town Movement is really important.” Ed Milliband
“20 years ago there were 15 major oil fields in the world, today there are only 4 left”
“In one hour the sun produces more energy to the earth than humans used in 2002”
The film tonight is shown in the arts cinema and afterwards we gather back in the Gallery where there is a bar serving the local brewer’s carbon neutral beer and local wines and cordials supplied free of charge by Adnams themselves to support the launch.
During the questions and answers we hear how the young barman, a scout leader, was told off recently by a community support officer for riding his bike in the High Street, and this was followed by a whole flurry of impassioned responses to the town’s present lack of provision for cyclists; there are no cycle racks anywhere to be found. I can see that the Transition Transport group, whom my host for the night, ecologist, Deborah Proctor, has been telling me is their smallest group, is about to get a swell in their numbers.
Transition Stamford are thrilled by the numbers attending their event this evening, which even had the support of two town councillors. When the closing the roads for the day enthusiasm was in full swing one of the Oxford contingent has advice to give
“get the council on board”
When they tried to do something similar in Oxford they had failed because the council didn’t accept the proposal. I think back to Lucy Neal’s fantastic effort to get Tooting Bec High Road closed for their Pre Unleashing Carnival and am delighted to see the councillors here smile and say they think the problem might lie with getting the highways division to accept the proposal but it is evident that they know who to talk to and will be supportive.
In the milling around afterwards there is enthusiasm all round and the young man who asked about engaging young people comes up with his parents to talk to me and to tell me that, prompted perhaps by the lady in the audience’s comment
why don’t you sign up yourself?”
has signed up to join in and is in full enthusiastic mode, and the lady who spoke to me before the Q&A who only heard of transition today through seeing the posters in town advertising the launch has signed up too
“It’s an idea whose time has come” she says
How right she is, and what a time to live in!
Deborah comes to tell me the local scouts club leader has come to suggest a joint camping project with the young people and so far the only drawback is the lack of a toilet on site - have a compost loo building workshop first, I suggest and the idea is received with enthusiasm.
The next day we are all back at the Arts Centre for the trade fair in the ballroom. The MP Nick Boles comes along to meet the group and when I am introduced to him he remembers me blogging about my walk and tells a tale he’d like to appear
His favourite novel is “the Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, and a quote he likes to use from it when meeting folk who are quite set in their ways that goes something like this
“If you’d like things to stay the same, you need to change things absolutely!”
I spend the next little while until the mayor’s expected visit at 1 o’clock talking to stall holders and learning all about the technology now available to assist us in our learning to save resources and yet still take care of ourselves. First stop is James Woodward, of Energy Now www.energynow.co.uk , who gives me great advice about PV panels, and I get up close to my very first panel and am amazed at how tough they are. What I am most surprised by is that the panels don’t have to be on rooftops, but can be laid along the ground, so long as they are mounted at the right angle, useful to know if you happen to live in a listed building as I do and English Heritage won’t entertain them on your roof.
In return I explain what “peak oil” is, again recalling how we must be so careful about our bandying around of Transition Speak. James is clearly very much a keen supporter of the transition group, believes passionately in what he does, and yet this term had up until now been meaningless to him.
Next I meet Jack-Elam services who supply air driven air pumps that are PV compatible and generate heat like the back of a refrigerator, using the same process but in reverse. This is new technology to me, a bit pricy at a minimum of £4000, but with 25 years of guaranteed heat. Also new to me is the hybrid, a car that can equally well run off electricity as it can off oil, and what is interesting is that the company, Toyota, give a very clear overview in their brochure (www.fleetworldgroup.co.uk ) of the end of cheap oil, and the need for diverse solutions to the world’s energy supplies.
I spend some time chatting to John, secretary of TTS, and he reels of his list of new ideas that have been born from this week’s event. From last night’s Car free day to getting a free saving energy supplement in the local paper, there are many, many new things to follow up. Dyane tells me with excitement that she has met a local woman who can come and give a talk on peat free gardening, and tells me of her own passion for urban gardening.
The mayor, postman and councillor David Brailsford arrives, and tells me the tale of how when he first became a Stamford postman he did all his deliveries by bicycle. Then the sorting office got moved to Peterborough and now he has to go by van every day. The TTS group
are delighted to get a question and answer session with David, and are given a wealth of useful information; who not to bother talking to, and who would be able to help them achieve their goals. The big question; how to get the much desired cycle racks into Stamford. By the time David leaves Val has a whole list of people to talk to in her notebook, and new cycle racks seem almost in the bag.
Jane walks me to the station, through the exquisitely lovely medieval streets of Stamford, passed by in the Industrial Revolution, and retaining the charm of an English town as they all once were before the Victorians thought they were making improvements and destroyed so much of our heritage. We pass churches, and old stone buildings, some with tudor facades. On my arrival on Friday Deborah had told me about the Meadows, protected public space on the banks of the river, both flood plains and entertainment grounds, we walk across them once more to gain the train station on the other side of the lovely river Welland. As we walk we talk, Jane excitedly about my suggestion that the group have a celebratory shared meal to nourish each other after all their hard work. Under the current regime of threatened redundancies Jane and her colleagues have worked tirelessly to make this event happen, and I am once more in awe of our capacity to keep going for the common good, in spite of personal challenges.
Dyane has come up with food for thought; how would it be if big companies and employers gave employees paid time off every month to do Big Society work...
I board my train buzzing with new ideas, new information, memories of new friends made, and a love affair with yet another English town to dream about. I wish I had time to walk home, time to reflect on all these new experiences, impressions, ideas. I have come back off my sabbatical changed, no longer do I place any value on rushing, trying to pack in more than will truly fit in a day, but with a body clock set on Slow; slow, considered, meaningful, and with time to spend listening to others.