Community is essential to human wellbeing. Real community can’t be designed from above. We have to do it ourselves. It’s about taking responsibility for doing things in your local area to build and sustain community. The instinct to be social animals can’t really be stifled. Community will always try to return.
The cost of living crisis, rising energy prices, and supply chain issues may create a context where people are more likely to conserve materials, reuse items, share things, and create circular economies. So how do we build a sense of community around practical climate solutions?
From tomorrow, communities will come together for the Great Big Green Week, the UK’s biggest ever celebration of community action to tackle climate change and protect nature. And everyone’s invited! In this blog post we’ll look at some of the events during the week in South West Wales, where you will have the opportunity to learn new skills, reconnect with nature, and develop the circular economy. You can see details of some of the events here.
Throughout the week, Climate and Community will be hosting a Camp for Climate Action. They are setting up carbon negative food growing using woodchip as a growing substrate and biochar as a soil amendment. The growing area will be an alley cropping system, long beds and perennial beds where trees and shrubs are planted next to swales (shallow, broad and vegetated channels). The site is full of wildlife and needs work to lay hedges, control bracken, dig swales for water conservation.
The camp is open to any volunteers interested in working and learning new skills, eating together and talking with one another. Most of us have lost connection with the cycle of production of daily objects. By harvesting and processing natural materials, then making useful objects with them, you can experience the entire production process, with which comes a recognition of what it takes to make things and an appreciation of the value of resources.
You can learn how to scythe! Compared to machinery, you have no pollution, no fossil fuels, less embodied energy in the manufacturing process, a longer life, less noise and soil disturbance, and wildlife have more time to get out of the way! Scythes can be used in (almost) any weather. And with a good technique, it’s good physical exercise and can be meditative and peaceful.
You can learn to restore hedges! In the past hedges protected livestock from wolves and bears. Today they provide food for humans, food and shelter for wildlife, and blossom for pollinators. They store carbon and prevent soil erosion. In cities, hedges are also better than trees at combatting pollution, because their leaves are at exhaust level, rather than up in the canopy.
You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about tools and sharpening, basketry, spoon making, and field cooking.
How far could you go? Well you could build your own home! There are real savings from self-building, as natural materials can be obtained free or at very low cost. Simon Dale did just that, and it cost him £3,000. His beautiful earth sheltered roundhouse, Berllan Dawel, sits in nine acres of rewilded forest garden and a plant nursery, all powered by off grid hydro-electricity.
Berllan Dawel is part of the Lammas Ecovillage, which aims to demonstrate a thriving example of low impact development, pointing the way for the truly sustainable rural developments of the future. Residents explore alternative models for living on the land, broadly in line with the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development policy. The homes are private, but some residents will welcome visitors who come with an open mind to learn more about low impact sustainable living. During Great Big Green Week you will have the opportunity to visit Berllan Dawel, and Hafan y Coed, where Keith Burgess specialises in plants and growing furniture.
For many people, growing your own produce, building your own home, and living a low impact lifestyle is appealing, but daunting. Only sixty three One Planet Development applications were made between 2010 and 2021, of which thirty nine were approved. However, on the whole these developments, many of which are in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, are over achieving in terms of their low impact objectives and have contributed to their communities through open days, tours and employment.
At any rate you don’t need a lot of space to grow your own produce. If you’ve got a wall, then you’ve got space for a vertical farm that can grow salad items and otherwise expensive herbs. You can pick (and donate) seeds at seed swap events. These events are important. It’s illegal to sell unusual seeds that are not on official national lists, so seed saving is a way of guaranteeing their survival.
And how about creating a community food garden?
The community of Monkton is no stranger to suffering and poverty. It’s in the lowest 5% in Britain in the index of multiple deprivation. But it’s in the top league for community power! At Dezza’s Cabin everyone skill shares at the weekly garden building club, whether it’s carpentry or cookery, healing, digging or food processing,. Recent learners teach onlookers. They are reclaiming a green future. If we want a world after fossil fuels this is where and how to start. To save the earth from being destroyed these young people will take the spirit of resilience and community shown by the gang of all ages and abilities, and none, building Parc Dezza, so that people might grow, eat and live.
Dezza’s Cabin was founded when a fourteen year old boy Dezza (Derek) hung himself at school. His mother founded Dezza’s Cabin within weeks. That was seven years ago. It now has shops and warehouses and a community centre. This is the community of Monkton’s first land claim. Many more young people have died, but a greater number have been saved by the actions of the Dezza’s Cabin volunteers.
And what else can we do to make local places work?
On September 27th, Dr Ben Reynolds, director of Urban Foundry, will share his expertise on twenty minute neighbourhoods. The goal is for cities and towns to be places that connect us to each other and what we need, where everyone can thrive without having to use a car, and quality of life is boosted for everyone. The idea is to ensure that it’s easy for people to meet most of their everyday needs by a short, convenient and pleasant twenty minute return walk. At a minimum everyday needs should include food, education, healthcare, financial services, employment, public open space, entertainment, a regular bus, tram or train service, walking and cycling infrastructure, and a mix of diverse housing types including genuinely affordable and social housing.
We’re passionate about repairing and reusing our everyday items. We believe that South West Wales must move away from our linear economy (make, use, dispose), closing the loop to conserve resources and ensure long term sustainability. A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. Because repairing and reusing means less waste is sent to landfill and we can all save money at the same time.
Repair cafes, run by The Environment Centre, The Stebonheath Centre, and the National Botanic Garden of Wales, will repair your bike, household items, gardening tools, clothes, jewellery, toys, ornaments, and even furniture.
There’s also a Zero Waste Scrap Store at The Stebonheath Centre. What have they got? Wool, ribbons, paint, material, ink, brushes, thread, papers, and lots more. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of treasures for crafters and makers!
Fancy something more creative? Join Volcano Theatre’s Climate Change Action Community Arts Festival on September 24th, where there’ll be plenty of art, music and movement! You’ll have the opportunity to make a groovy belt, and a bug hotel from recycled items. You can also donate unwanted CDs to Beyond Recycling, which Smile Plastics turn into chopping boards, soap dishes, counter tops, and even furniture! They’re also looking for DVDs, batteries, corks, broken mobile phones, and wellies.
There’ll also be repair cafes and workshops, and opportunities to make better use of unwanted or seldom used items.
Swansea Library of Things is a new low cost borrowing initiative. Instead of buying a new item that ends up never being used again, members can pay a small fee to borrow it, use it and return it when they’re done with it!
Meanwhile, Matthew’s House will be collecting your unwanted good quality waterproof coats, trousers, socks and sleeping bags, and Swansea Underground Network’s Baby Bank will allow you to donate and receive baby items with no referral or paperwork.
And don’t forget, the XR Rebel Bus Tour comes to Swansea on September 28th. They plan to move about several locations talking to people, giving out leaflets and inviting them to a People’s Assembly at the National Waterfront Museum in the evening, where you can hear Ousmane Toure from Côte d’Ivoire talk about climate justice in West Africa.
Community is essential for human wellbeing. And everyone’s invited!