I start my day late after a much needed lie in and finally come downstairs and start my blog catch up; I have had no opportunity these past few days to get near either internet, or time to myself to write, and now I have both. The sign above the desk reads
“Be yourself. There is something you can do better than any other. Listen to the inward voice and follow that”
A transition saying indeed; one the Big Society should perhaps adopt.
I read 2 year old Zephyr a story at his request, and then together we look at pictures of yesterday’s garden day on my netbook and he remembers it and wants to go back.
I leave the picturesque village of Bathford and take a beautiful walk through gorgeous wooded valley side, heading ever south towards Bradford on Avon until I am met by Liz Stephen’s and Freezie the dinosaur dog, my childhood name for lurchers and greyhounds; my favourite kind of dogs. Freezie is a lurcher and very friendly.
As we walk towards the town we pass Quoins, the organic vineyard owned by two active members of the Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon group I have come to meet. Allan Chubb comes out and invites us to have a look around and we do, up and down the avenues of lush green, and then dark grapes, almost ready to be harvested. It will be their fourth season and they have already won a silver award for their produce.
On arrive in Bradford on Avon Liz gives me elderflower cordial and vegan chocolate cake and then we set out to the AGM of Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon, where I am to tell my tale in the West Barn of the ancient Barton farm in the centre of town, a restored complex opened by Prince Charles...who flew in by helicopter!
We cross the river Avon, see the sights the lovely old buildings throughout the town, the old narrow streets and tiny alleyways, and the new, mixed and affordable housing development which will have hydro power from the river. The development has been created around an old factory sight on the town centre river bank, a project that has been twenty years in the gestation, till every could be sure it was to built in keeping with the beautiful old stone town. Liz points out the various attractive cafes as we walk through town, including the Cooperative Cafe, where I will be able to use the internet, and the ancient post office.
I attend my first ever AGM, which is dealt with quickly, and enjoy the good food and local wine including Quoins, and another very local wine, Avonmouth, who have won a silver award too this year.
There is a call for volunteers for the many projects and events the group are involved in including the local arts festival and the 10:10 day in October, and the newly formed CIC (Community Interest Company), Jane Laurie, Martin and Mike, explain their function as an arm of the group able to process large grants legally and people active in Climate Friendly Bradford on Avon are invited to join this group at their next meeting in November.
I tell my tales, present the Gloucester lavender and the Stroud pounds, and receive two beautiful books; one of Bradford on Avon’s amazing Millennium Tapestry, the tale of Bradford over the past 1000 years embroidered into tableaux in one hundred year sections, of which the people are truly and rightly proud, and which I can visit in the church, and “Changing Seasons” their own publication, brainchild of the group’s vice chair Rowena Quantrill, just published and full of poems and reflections of local people in response to climate change. I receive the first ever copy, hot off the press, and look forward to reading some of the contributions later. The millennium book is passed round to be signed by all present who want to, including the Lady Mayor, Isabel Martindale, and the books are put into a Climate Friendly cloth bag to be taken on to the next place. It is a beautiful, thoughtful gift, not too heavy, the volumes are small and slender, and perfectly describing the history of Bradford in picture, and the present reality we are facing and locals’ responses in words. I feel touched to be the emissary.
Whilst at this meeting of maybe thirty folk, I listen to as many tales as are forthcoming, and announce, at Liz’s suggestion, that I shall be at the Cooperative Cafe during the week to hear any other takes people feel should make it into the book.
I hear from Richard Craft, re elected chairman of the group, of the 2050 campaign, and receive a sticker. This campaign is Bradford on Avon’s pledge, after the failure of last year’s talks at Copenhagen, to make Bradford on Avon carbon neutral by 2050. I love the empowerment of this; the politicians couldn’t agree to do it, but individual settlements all across the globe can, they are lighter, less weighted down by promises and alliances and threats than governments, and thus more autonomous. If we are to make changes to our current system we won’t accomplish it by using the structure of our present system, but by doing things differently.
I hear too of the Transport group that had been in a lull but are now to reform. I speak to Jerry Smith and hear of the challenge of the town, the bridge over the Avon, and the lorries that ignore the weight restriction and come through the town as a short cut, driven by their sat navs. Bradford on Avon welcome visitors, but find the volume of traffic they experience too high for their narrow streets, for it is not just visitors that come but people driving through the town to use the bridge as a short cut.
At the back of the hall I read the sign up sheets for the groups and projects requesting help; the transport group, the Hippos and Hosepipe water awareness raising day, and the Tree group in which Liz is an active member. As she walked me into town she pointed out the hedgerow they helped regenerate, and the areas where tree planting has happened, sometimes with Wiltshire County Council as partners as when they planted 800 deciduous trees in a nearby country park.
I meet Ruth Walton (www.ruthwalton.co.uk ) who is a founder member of the group that have been working towards a community garden for the past couple of years. They have followed all the legal and funding structures so that now they have finally got their piece of land to the stage of having been recently ploughed and the next job is to plant green manure for over winter. Planting will begin in the Spring, and they will get funding to pay a manager who has knowledge of the best way of working the land. They have been seeking expert advice over the time that they have been preparing for the project to begin and have been flummoxed by the different and conflicting advice that local land owners and farmers have been giving them. I suggest that maybe when they start working the land they will learn for themselves what works for their land, and quietly to myself I lament that we have come so far from our knowledge of the land that we think we need experts to tell us what is needed. Once upon a time we would have observed our land and known what it needed.
Ruth and I make arrangements for me to visit the land, and the other community garden, already started up and in production, by a Climate Friendly member, J-J, the very next day.
I meet Vivian, of the local Fair Trade group, who talks of the close links between the two groups in the town and I share how many transition groups across the land are recognising this need to network with other groups in their areas, sharing ideas, and publicizing one another’s events.
I have chats with lots of the regular members of the group, there is Freddy Walker, an very active elderly lady, Jane Laurie, partner in Quions, Gill Brooks, Joyce Hitchcock, Christine Jennings, Diane Teare, and Isabel Martindale, the mayor, who tells me about her involvement in the cooperative who set up the cooperative cafe. It was the very first organic, fair-trade, vegetarian cafe to come to Bradford, run initially by a group of 8 of whom 4 still remain active. Isabel used to grow all the vegetables on her allotment and was one of the cooks. On the walk home she tells me she has been inspired by the tale of my walk and her up and coming cycle around Canada, to collect pictures of their bridges over rivers, she thinks now could become an expedition to visit all their organic vegetarian cafes and take gifts between them. So, the group joke, if she is gone for longer than they had anticipated, and cycles more miles than she had though to do, they will know whose fault it is!
A lot of photos are taken and a lot of conversations happen, and a good night is had by all. We have been thrilled by the synchronicity of my arrival on the night of the AGM.
Jill, Diane, Liz and I walk home through the streets chattering and are home in no time. Jill and I talk about how it is that she dabbles and sometimes feels guilty she doesn’t do more, and yet she tells me she helps cater for events, helps out at awareness raising stalls, and we remember that we are all good at different things and that we are all needed.
Liz and I chat on into the night, about river power and hydro, puzzling over how one river can power many hydro projects and why the Avon is flowing so slowly these days. We come to the conclusion that though the water is used many times it is returned to the river and so this shouldn’t affect the flow further downstream. We don’t know why the Avon is flowing so slowly it is nearly stopped, but then we have had little rain this year. We talk too about the skill range in Bradford on Avon, it has many academics, and does a lot of talking, and Liz feels they might benefit from more do-ers, and we discuss how skill sharing with neighbouring towns might be helpful to both, for they are good at fund raising, something quite terrifyingly daunting to some groups.
I talk about my hopes for a giant community walk in 2012, where we can all walk our regions, linking up all the groups we know about, sharing skills and stories, and meet up at the borders of our regions for great story telling gatherings. But more about that when I am home and have time to describe my idea more fully.
I settle into my new home for the next few days and enjoy Freezie’s eager companionship and Liz’s practical friendly hospitality and think how happy I am to have chosen to return to Bradford on Avon, a favourite town of mine.