After a hiatus of six months, four members of Peterborough in Transition met on 6th
March to discuss plans to revive the group and consider new projects. We met at 6.30pm in the Brewery Tap, not long before the regular Monday night session of Handmade in Peterborough.
We discussed various ideas, including lobbying the council and asking questions at full council meetings, helping in each other’s gardens, organising a “Green Drinks” evening, and taking part in the National Plant Monitoring Scheme. A plan to hold a series of evening meetings with a bring and share meal based on the “One Planet Living” themes underlying Peterborough’s Environment Capital Action Plan was outlined. Two of the four at the meeting, Clare and Danette, were planning to go along to the Big Green Energy Show in Stamford the following evening; you can read Danette’s report on the show here. Finally, we agreed that we would meet up again in the Wortley Almshouses on Monday 11th April again at 6.30pm. It would be great to see a few more people next time.
We’ve also established a facebook group called “PinT Revitalisers” where we can share ideas and opportunities. Slightly disappointingly, only thirteen people have joined this so far, though our facebook page has well over 450 likes, and there are still close to 250 people on our mailing list.
On Tuesday 8th March, Clare and and I visited the Sustainable Stamford, Stamford Transition Town Bright Green Energy Show 2016. Events were held across the week, though we were only able to attend the Tuesday night film screenings, but it was well worth a visit. A number of films were shown, some depicting what other Transition Towns have achieved. There were community owned energy generation projects in Fintry, Lewes, and South East London. One had created an investment model for the public to get involved and support the project; another had partnered with an energy company to part own a bigger project. Projects included both solar and wind energy generation. Two films looked at helping people on an individual basis, by draught busting for those in need, and helping people become more sustainable with their energy needs in an isolated town. The longest film was about Germany’s plan to become a market leader in the renewables sector, and was very informative, detailing the science behind different types of renewables, and giving a wider context to what can sometimes be an overwhelming topic. Denmark is also working hard to become a market leader, and plans to be entirely renewable, combining various technologies to collectively support its needs for power, heat and transport. It was encouraging and inspiring, giving us ideas of what we could do both now and in the future.
There was an informative exhibition, detailing many ways to reduce energy consumption, from changing light bulbs to adding loft insulation, and explaining the different types of renewable energy generation, ending with tips on what people can do now for free. This exhibition was supported by various organisations, who had stalls showcasing their products, including a lighting company selling LED lights and an energy company selling heat pumps, many of which produced case studies of projects they have worked on. I will bring the exhibition booklet, with copies of the exhibition boards, to our next meeting.
We were also able to talk with members of the Stamford group, discussing their successful projects, but also the challenges they have faced. They have created subgroups around themes, the energy group having compiled the information for the Bright Green Energy Show 2016. They also have groups focusing on waste, food, transport, and education. They have learned from bitter experience that each subgroup needs to have a key enthusiastic member to maintain momentum, and they offered to support us by sharing ideas and learning.
At the last monthly meeting, on September 6th, it was agreed by those present that Peterborough in Transition was in crisis. Over the last year there has been a decline in the number of people attending meetings on a regular basis, and despite some recent successes (our May Day celebration, and the Carbon Conversations group) there has been a loss of energy and purpose, in large part due to the fact that many of those who have given the most time and energy to PinT over the last few years can no longer do so. In some cases this is because people are now concentrating their efforts on The Green Backyard; in others it is because they have increased work or family commitments. There are no longer enough people willing and able to facilitate our monthly meeting or take minutes for it, nor are we able to start new projects as most of those coming to meetings are already very busy. All these factors conspire together to make it difficult to attract new regular members to the group.
It was therefore agreed by those present that our monthly meetings would be suspended for the time being. Perhaps we need to take a break for a few months, until more of us are once again able to commit to coming to meetings on a regular basis and have more time to take the group forward. Perhaps we need to change the time and format of our meetings. However, there was a consensus at the meeting that PinT needs to gain a new vision, and come up with some project ideas that are both achievable and give some energy and purpose to the group if it is to be worth continuing Peterborough in Transition’s existence. It remains to be seen whether there are enough of us willing to commit to coming to our proposed “Visioning Day” for this to happen.
If you are interested in helping to ensure that Peterborough in Transition does have a future, or have ideas for our Visioning Day and you are willing to help ensure the day does take place, then please get in touch with us via our regular email address. Currently, the plan is to devise a survey that will enable us to see what what appetite there is for the group’s continued existence, and, if this does exist, to hold the Visioning Day some time early next year.
We kicked off by sharing our food plans. Lots of useful ideas here: avoiding aluminium cans; getting a single, reusable water bottle rather than buying new bottles all the time (much more economical as well as better for the environment); cutting down on cheese, milk and other dairy (whose carbon footprint can be enormous).
Then the heart of the evening’s conversation was about consumption: what we buy and why. We shared thoughts on things that meant a lot to us: sentimental, emotional and practical value seemed to come up again and again. We competed to see who had the most out-of-date phone. We also reflected on the connections between wealth and attitudes towards materialism (some people felt that somehow, perversely, it’s easier to be frugal when you’re better off). We also had a fascinating discussion over how far we see the money we earn as ‘ours’ – is it ours to do whatever we want with? Or should we see ourselves as ‘stewards’ of money, with a social responsibility to spend it wisely and in socially constructive ways?
Finally we touched upon the difficulties of communicating climate change to other people. We felt schools ought to offer much more coverage in their curriculum. But that’s just a starting point. This issue will be discussed more in session six….
The theme for session four was food, always a favourite topic in these meetings.
We began by sharing some personal stories about food and what it means to us. Interestingly, many of our fondest memories came from experiences eating simple, local food, from home-made pizza using ingredients in the garden, to eating kimchi in Korea. It was a reminder that food is about so much more than what we put in our mouths – it’s something that connects us with our local environment and the people around us.
This led nicely into our next activity where we reflected on the wider meaning of food. Our conversation showed how food is connected with so many other aspects of our lives, from family relationships (sometimes tense, sometimes harmonious) to the vicissitudes of our emotional lives, to how our kitchens are designed. It really is something that shapes, and is shaped by, so many aspects of our lives.
Then we did the main activity of the evening: a game where we had to figure out the carbon footprint of all sorts of different foods, according to the different stages in their life-cycle (production, processing, packaging and transportation). The task of thinking about all the complicated elements that go into food production was fascinating in itself and highlighted how energy-intensive our food system is.
So what did we take away from the evening? Well, the obvious choice to keep our carbon emissions down is to eat fresh and eat local. But also to be vigilent! As one person pointed out, it’s all well and good going to a locally-owned restaurant. But if you order New Zealand lamb with Peruvian asparagus that somewhat defeats the point! Although it might seem difficult, we need to think about making smart decisions about our food choices everywhere we go The good news however, is that with practice, it soon becomes second nature.