Eco-warriors are galvanising communities in the Tees Valley and helping spread the green message to the masses. Kelley Price reports from the environmental front line
TRANSITION communities – those that have committed to reducing global warming and living a life less dependent on oil – are springing up all over the world, including here, in our corner of an increasingly energy conscious globe. They recognise we are on the cusp of “peak oil” – the point at which oil extraction reaches its maximum output. Once the world hits this point, our oil ration will nosedive by 3% every year leaving us with half of what we started with by 2030.
The transition movement owes its growing success to some basic psychology: the human desire to feel a sense of belonging, and an irresistible urge to keep up with the Joneses. These together, pioneers are finding, are enough to galvanise a village, town or even an entire city into being more eco-friendly.
Anyone following recent goings-on in Radio 4’s long-running serial The Archers, will be familiar with the concept, which aims to prove that a small community pulling together can help the world from falling apart.
Home energy improvements, green travel and long-term sustainability are all high on its and other transition communities’ wish-lists to reduce their collective carbon footprint and create a better place to live for future generations.
Character Lynda correct spelling - wrong on email Snell’s lessons in llama-wool spinning aside, the experience of the fictional Ambridge community is not dissimilar to that of Sadberge, near Darlington, which has already earned the Low-Carbon Community label from the Energy Saving Trust, while Marske, also in Tees Valley, is being led in its embryonic bid for transition by Bydales School, which grasped the green nettle following the opening of a new eco-friendly school house two years ago.
Among the projects at Bydales School is an energy-generating wind turbine, a wetland area and a weather station. The school has also worked with Wilton-based Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) to power part of the new building using cutting-edge hydrogen and fuel cell technology.
Mike McNulty, from the Environment Agency, has helped spearhead the Bydales School project in his capacity as a school governor. He claims the award-winning project explores the snowball effect of an entire community coming together – and has proved it can work.
He said: “Once people start working together, things happen. General awareness-raising only goes so far, and there’s evidence to prove it. The dynamics of group interaction are what’s needed. A movement develops and people become more competitive, supportive and motivational. A school is at the heart of the community so it’s the perfect hub. We wanted Bydales to be a real-life exemplar.”
Totnes in Devon is a small town leading a big revolution. It became one of the first transition towns in the UK, even going so far as to introduce its own currency. Following a pilot, 10,000 Totnes Pounds were printed and are accepted in local shops to prevent wealth leaking out to the wider economy.
Closer to home, Sadberge hasn’t declared economic UDI yet, but it has been nominated for December’s Calor Village of the Year in addition to winning the Energy Saving Trust accolade.
Now other villages are approaching Sadberge Parish Council for tips on how they can get the buy-in of their own communities.
It started with a village survey several years ago, which drew a 70% response rate, proving that residents were interested in improving their area from the outset. Earlier this year, around 120 people – almost a third of those living there – had a home energy check to highlight the ways in which they were wasting energy.
Habit-changing eco eyes – small gadgets fitted to home electricity meters that give an instant measurement of the watts used when a light or appliance is switched on – were subsequentally installed by many of them.
Sadberge resident Alastair Mackenzie, who has been instrumental in driving the campaign forward, says the key to success lay within the community itself.
“For a largely commuter area, there is a strong sense of community in Sadberge,” he says. “It’s vital to have the buy-in of as many people as possible. We are certainly not telling people what to do, we are getting them on board by giving them something fun – a gadget, a toy – and the message is getting through.”
Alan Jones, North East manager of the Energy Saving Trust advice centre, which has just appointed two more North East areas to its Low Carbon Community Project – West Rainton in County Durham and Belford in Northumberland – says the project is an excellent way of spreading the word about energy saving possibilities.
“The EST is able to add value with our impartial expert skills in the most accessible manner, when and where the community feels it’s necessary.”
According to transitions community guru, Rob Hopkins, author of The Transition Handbook, the idea of transition towns has caught people’s imagination.
“All we have been able to do before is protest, lobby or campaign for change. Now we want to give people the tools to be self-sufficient and withstand the kind of shock that a reduction in oil would bring. We don’t have all the answers, but the amount of momentum and energy created by the project is amazing.”
Transition town ideas from the UK and Ireland
Kinsale, Ireland A freecycle system has been introduced in the town – nothing to do with bikes, but a means of passing on unwanted belongings for free to others instead of dumping them. Totnes, Devon
Totnes has introduced its own currency – the Totnes Pound – that can only be exchanged in shops within the town. The system helps the town’s economy by stopping wealth leaking outside.
The town has developed the Ivybridge bag, made from 100% recyclable off-cuts from a local bed manufacturer.
The town has set up a Community Time Bank – for every hour a person gives towards helping the transition cause, they can claim an hour of someone else’s time.