Not another Energy Fair!
Have you noticed how some Transition events come with a “curious sense of deja vu”? As though they’ve been done by every initiative, from Ealing to East Brunswick, as though you, in your own little corner will see the same people doing the same things for the same visitors, yet again!
So I turned out last Saturday, just a little dismally, to the Friends of the Earth/Transition City Lancaster contribution to our town’s biennial One Planet festival – the Energy Fair. Ten stalls in a church hall close to the city centre. A small but steady stream of visitors came by throughout the day and all four of the short talks put on in a nearby room were full. I posted a picture and suggestion to all and sundry to get down there via Facebook. Afterwards, predictably, people told me how they didn’t see it till too late and wished they had come. And others told me confidentially how it hadn’t been well enough advertised, although the organisers I know had used every channel available that didn’t cost much.
So was it worth it – the hours of work put in by the Energy Group, their angst and disappointment when stall holders dropped out, the low turnout? Are these Transition events just the equivalent of the church Christmas Fair of yesteryear – not the way we do things in a digital age? And do they contribute to the downbeat, worthy and middle class image of Transition which prevents us from making headway with the majority of Lancaster people, who, whatever the difficulties and insufficiencies of their own lives, don’t see us as an attractive alternative?
So here are three reasons and a recommendation for everyone embarking on “yet another Energy Fair”.
Number one – people can get proper answers to their concerns and questions. Between the stall holders and those who attended we had at least six enthusiastic energy experts in the room. There were businesses with detailed knowledge of lighting and log fires, people who had broad understanding both of domestic and commercial energy usage and how it could be brought down and of how to access funds for doing just that. Where else can you get that opportunity? Some of our most satisfied customers went out saying they were now going to spend money on energy efficiency measures because they felt sure of their value. We were holding a space without pressure, in which people have time to consider and evaluate, and that’s pretty uncommon these days.
Number Two – things change. Businesses in particular are always on the lookout for something new. Ian from Alian Energy had a big range of lighting using LEDs. His work with care homes and other places that have to have 24 hour safety lighting means he has expertise in energy saving for shops, offices, schools. He reckons replacing conventional with LEDs pays back in 2 years, quicker if you have to have round the clock lighting. It’s a dimension most of us don’t notice as we go about daily life, yet most of us probably have links with businesses and institutions which should be asking the question, “Is it worth replacing some of our lighting to halve energy usage?” Stephen from Logs Direct has heard plenty from people who have had problems with chimney flues due to burning wood with too high a moisture content. His logs are fine when they leave him but they are not always stored under cover and anyway people will always want to burn wood that comes for free from elsewhere. The answer – he sells a little gadget that reads the moisture content of logs - £20. Pretty nifty – I’m sure you could easily find them on the internet, along with some evaluations of how well they work – the thing is, would I have gone looking before or after causing the damage to our flue if I hadn’t been to the stall?
Number Three – people make connections; new, sometimes unusual and unlikely connections. Tony Haslam had brought along Grochar, a biochar product which he now sells as a soil conditioner. It’s an interesting product and its ability to lock up carbon is worth looking into. The making of biochar creates heat and the materials that are used to create it can include scrap wood, brash and even manure . Which sparked an interesting discussion about whether funding the installation of biochar plant would be a suitable investment for Morecambe Bay Community Renewables. Without having Gill, a director of the co-op, in the room with Tony it wouldn’t have taken place. Peter from the LESS stall runs the Home Energy Service, a funded project, which gives free home visits and comprehensive advice on how to reduce energy use. He was around to give a talk on how the infra-red camera can be a useful tool in working out what you need to do to reduce heat loss. He came to speak to me because he wants to reach older people in the community in Morecambe particularly which led to an exchange of church contacts. Occasionally even being in a church hall can be helpful!
And my recommendation? We use the resources of the digital age - more people than me should have posted on Facebook and we could even venture into our own Twitter account and followers and arranged a retweet with other friendly networks. There were plenty of people in town that day who said, “I would have come if I’d known/remembered!” We need to be out there!
So, was it worth it? Yes it was!
Ruminating on just that question with Cherith, who helped organise, it occurred to us that creating community is one of those ever present Transition aims that we can lose sight of and the Energy Fair had done just that, for our stall holders and our visitors but also for us in taking part. And yes, they are now planning the next one!
Photographs: Energy Fair. LEDs, Moisture meter, MORE Renewables, Talking biochar, Cherith and Steve - part of the organising team (CJ)