Chichester, an eco town – an informal sustainability blueprint for other towns to follow?

The story of Eco Chichester’s sustainability journey

Eco Chi, as we call it, is a varied group of people interested in our local, national, and international environment, and how to protect and indeed enhance it. Most of us are also very concerned about the climate emergency.

Pre-dating our group were other environmental groups and looser associationsone of these being Transition Chichester (founded 2008) with its spin-offs including Eco Cinema/talks; Green Tea meetings; community orchards; community vegetable growing; quarterly swap shops where people bring unwanted items and take away what they need, with no money changing hands. Others include Chichester Organic Gardening Society (COGS), and Green Drinks (part of an international network of informal drinks meetings, out of which Transition Chichester grew). Members also belong to groups such as the local RSPB and a natural history society. Two of us are part of a national team of WI Climate Ambassadors and some of us are Quakers.

How it all began

Eco Chi was started in January 2019 because some people are unable to come to evening meetings such as for COGS or Transition. We decided on Monday meetings between 9:30-11:00ish and soon settled on a large, hospitable independent café, this being a quieter day and finishing well before their busier lunchtime service. We have no problem with people who have to arrive late or leave early. Meetings are very informal: we go round the table sharing events and what’s happening with other groups (such as tree wardens). We chip in ideas where we can. Nobody is made to feel obliged to speak if they don’t want to. Clearing our cups and teapots at the end and putting the tables back in their usual places helps keep things sweet with our friendly hosts!

After over a year we still have new people coming, which is very rewarding. For my part, I feel very pleased that such a friendly and active group has formed so quickly, and I’m very reassured that there are far more people in the area who are concerned about the environment – I thought I knew them all through Transition but apparently not! We have a very active Facebook group sharing ideas and articles, also used by people who can’t get to meetings. There is also a website with links to all sorts of resources and products.

What happened next

Activities that have arisen out of our group include a market stall on Wednesdays in the town centre, giving out information about what we and other local groups are doing; equally important is finding out about issues and other things going on from passers-by.  We also have a swap shop clothes rail. One of our members comments: “A year ago Eco Chi volunteers were getting ready for our first market stall. From memory, we thought we might have a stall once a month. By the end of the day, we had realised we needed to be there every week, and were working out how to do this (after a week’s breather to collect our thoughts!). What followed was a year of many conversations, and of new friends.” When it became impracticable to run the stall in winter we were offered the use of a small shed by a friend of Eco Chi who runs Draper’s Yard, a market of local creatives and traders, to continue spreading the word. We have also had a forum with our MP, with the promise of more to come.

One of our members runs wildflower gardening projects and has been selling alder buckthorn plants at a nominal charge to attract sulphur-coloured brimstone butterflies. She also sells chutney made from windfall fruits etc. to raise funds for her projects. Another member organised a talk by a volunteer from West Sussex County Council about the county’s recycling system which told us far more of the ins and outs of the process than most of us knew before – and we thought we knew a lot.

Action happens very quickly when someone has an idea, proving that we are not just a talking shop – although discussion is important!

During April 2019 a few members took part in the second Extinction Rebellion action in London, and following that several of us joined our newly formed Extinction Rebellion Chichester group, which has become very active. Without the contribution of Eco Chi the group would have grown much more slowly.

Most of the above is my own knowledge, opinions and feelings of the group. Now I’ll move on to a straw poll about what it means to other members .

  • From someone new to the area – “I can tune into what’s happening. I was feeling low but now feel renewed, and glad to be doing something
  • the group is an inspiration, the city is really lucky to have people fighting for things we need so desperately
  • I sense an ability to do more by getting people involved, for instance the stall had been mooted long before and now it’s happened
  • I was already well-informed and it’s so nice to come to a group where people share concerns and do something about it
  • I’ve become more active locally – I’ve joined Extinction Rebellion because of Eco Chi
  • It’s easy to be overwhelmed especially because of the General Election result and Brexit
  • I was doubtful it would take off but have been amazed by the energy in the room. It’s a  good way of networking. I would like to see Eco Chi merge more with Transition
  • I’m new to area. I used to run a plastics recycling business but the government still not listening – eg three different types of plastic are allowed used in shampoo bottles. I love the networking
  • There’s a feeling of belonging and also making individual connections
  • I’m a natural loner. I used to run an organic farm in Wales. Now I’m feeling motivated, wanting to make a contribution and meet new people. I’m a writer and happy to be poet for the group!
  • I like the two-way process, meeting people, the informality, things happening
  • We need more interaction with local areas/groups including the outlying villages [this being a largely rural and coastal area]

I invite comments from Eco Chi members, local people, and people everywhere!

Diana Morgan is an active environmentalist, member of Eco Chi, XR, Transition, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. She sells- eco-friendly products through EcoStepByStep.

 

My Earth-friendly products Crowdfunder during the Covid-19 outbreak

Stall with Vitaelux cloth

Stall

Businesses small and large are suffering during the Covid-19 crisis. There is a new initiative called Pay it Forward from Crowdfunder aimed at small businesses, charities, etc. that have seen their cashflow drop and they are waiving all their fees. Pay it Forward can be used for both products and services and is well worth considering for your business or organisation. Supporters can pledge a sum of money for a Reward (say a coffee, a meal, or a package of goods) and claim their Reward when the business reopens.

With the recent upsurge in interest in the environment, especially the overuse of single-use plastic, since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, my parent company has added a lot of new products such as shampoo and conditioner bars, bamboo coffee cups, and beeswax food wraps. A lot of local green fairs and other event have sprung up and I was looking forward to attending with my table of products (see image) but these are all on hold for the time being, together with face-to-face networking events that I would have gone to. 

I hope you’ll consider supporting my Crowdfunder! I’ll be adding new Rewards from time to time. With thanks to the The Mumpreneurs Networking Club for making members aware of this opportunity.

Click here to see my website of all products.

3 steps the UK Government must take now Parliament has voted to declare a Climate Emergency

Yesterday, 1st May 2019, the UK Parliament became the first in the world to pass a motion declaring an  “environment and climate emergency”.

This is largely a symbolic measure but let’s not doubt he enormous importance of this unexpected move. All credit to opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn for initiating the motion (Labour traditionally has not been the most environmentally aware party) and to Michael Gove (Conservative, Secretary of State for Environment) for meeting members of the Extinction Rebellion movement, who so very recently staged mass protests in London. [I’m an active Green Party member myself]

Time will tell whether or not there is anything more than greenwash in the government acceptance of the vote, but I believe they will be held to account if too little progress is made.

We are now being told what we can do to help limit climate change, and this is quite right. However they must not just say “over to you” and put all the responsibility on us. My concern right now that the government legislates, enables, and does not stand in the way of the necessary actions. Here are my most important points, that I believe the government must tackle:

  • Energy: reverse their ban on subsidies for new onshore wind projects; bring back incentives for builders and householders to install solar pv and other renewable energy; start a nationwide large-scale push to retrofit our poorest housing stock with high standard insulation and double glazing (thereby also improving health and living conditions)
  • Trees: initiate a massive tree-planting programme, using native trees for maximum carbon capture, bringing together expertise from organisations such as the Woodland Trust
  • Fossil fuels: move as far away as possible from fossil fuels, starting with revoking and rejecting any plans for more coal mines; ban any fracking of oil/gas wells, which are carbon producers as well as being a risk to our geology, landscapes, health and water supply

So that’s a start. Time for the government to put its money where its mouth is.

 

Photo credit: Victoria Hulatt, banner created by Victoria Hulatt and Jenny Cole, taken at Extinction Rebellion in London

Diana Morgan is a freelance blog post writer and eco-retailer. Having been concerned about the environment since her teens, she is one of a team of climate ambassadors for the National Federation of Women’s Institutes.

 

 

 

Strawberries

Strawberry and raspberry Pavlova

Strawberry and raspberry Pavlova

Strawberries. Everybody loves strawberries. Or do they? As a small child I didn’t like them. I can’t even remember why; I don’t believe it was the sharpness that ideally comes along with the sweetness because I loved damson jam, a regular feature of my Northern upbringing, for instance.

Then when I was about eight I was playing at a friend’s house when I was offered a bowl of strawberries. This was clearly intended as a great treat; it was after all the 1960s, with a much shorter growing season and few, if any, imports of soft fruit. I didn’t feel able to decline so I accepted a bowl and experienced a flavour explosion – what a revelation! From now on I DID love strawberries.

Except … I fell out of love with them for a while as my tastes expanded to take in raspberries (I don’t remember ever having them as a child), plums, damsons in crumbles, and foreign exotica such as peaches, nectarines, and apricots, although the latter are usually better cooked, as even the ripe fruit often disappoints when raw. Strawberries became less attractive with the rise of supermarket standardisation and refrigeration, the ubiquitous almost tasteless Elsanta variety, imports, and the much longer growing season, which made them less of a rare treat. And being environmentally aware, the food miles issue, high water inputs, the rise of pesticides & fungicides, and the visual pollution of acres of polytunnels were of great concern to me.

Yet much has happened to make me fall back in love with the strawberry in the last few years. Customers are demanding more flavour, and at least some producers have responded. Farmers markets are a good source of local, seasonal produce. Nowadays I will enjoy strawberries three or four times in the traditional season (yes, around Wimbledon!). This means, for me, eaten plain, or with lashings of double cream (NOT single, NOT whipped, NOT clotted, and definitely NOT from a spray can!) or maybe on a Pavlova or in an Eton Mess (although I prefer raspberries in that).

Newer ideas for bringing out the flavour or combining swith other ingredients are fascinating, such as with freshly milled black pepper, marinated in balsamic vinegar, or cooked with rhubarb, but I don’t feel the urge to try them. When it comes down to it, English strawberries at the height of their season, as un- messed-about-with as possible, is hard to beat!

 

Photo: (c) Diana Morgan. Taken at the Garden Museum in London at a recent day course on food writing with Diana Henry, organised by Mark Diacono of Otter Farm.

This post is based on a piece I wrote on the course.