Community Energy Schemes

Community renewable energy schemes, which are registered for Feed-in-Tariffs, summed and mapped by postcode districts. Click on the dot for information on the installed capacity of each technology.
Red: 0-10 kW
Yellow: 10-20 kW
Green: 20+ kW
Data source: Ofgem.


Sharing stuff and working together, part 2

More and more websites are being developed that are enabling people to share and work together. And the best are bringing people together in real life too. In Part 1, I looked at websites like LETS and Freecycle that help you share stuff and skills. In this post, I’m looking more at encouraging each other and working together on a common goal.

“I’ve got this great idea, but I need other people to help me make it happen” If We Ran the World aims to help people with good intentions and broad visions turn them into “tangible, do-able microactions that anyone and everyone can help you to do. All of us can achieve more than one of us, and everything starts with a microaction.” Its home page is an almost blank screen with the challenging… If I ran the world, I would What would you do? Then what small steps could you take to make it happen? What help would you need? And how could you help others?

“I’ll do it, but only if you do it too” PledgeBank allows users to set up pledges and then encourages other people to sign up to them. A pledge is a statement of the form ‘I will do something, if a certain number of people will help me do it’. The creator of the pledge then publicises their pledge and encourages people to sign up. We can’t be sure people will bother to carry out the pledge, but “We believe that if a person possesses a slight desire to do something, and then we help connect them to a bunch of people who also want to do the same thing, then that first person is much more likely to act.” The site provides guidance to help make your original pledge a success, and you can get a special version of PledgeBank for your organisation. Example of a successful pledge: “I will Put £100 into the fund for setting up the Healing Gardens Cooperative and to start the deposit for buying the Gardens Home house but only if 10 people connected with myself and the Retreat Centre or Gardens will do the same will do the same.” [Update: The PledgeBank website was closed in 2015.]

The rest really belonged in part 1, but anyway…

“There are too many cars on the road!” Liftshare helps people to travel more sustainably by sharing their journey. You can share a car on any journey you make, from the daily travel to work or the school run, to a one-off journey to a festival. You can even search for people to share a journey by taxi, bike or on foot.

“There’s a long waiting list for allotments, but I’m not doing anything with my garden” Landshare connects growers to people with land to share. It describes itself as “for people who: want to grow their own fruit and veg but don’t have anywhere to do it; have a spare bit of land they’re prepared to share; can help in some way – from sharing knowledge and lending tools to helping out on the plot itself; support the idea of freeing up more land for growing; are already growing and want to join in the community.” There’s a good map of Land offered, Growers and Helpers. Organisations can have their own area on the site, or you can get together with other members to form groups. [Update: Landshare has been closed too, but there are local schemes such as Dyfi Land Share in Machynlleth and Edinburgh Garden Partners. The Gardenshare scheme in Totnes is no more but the website still offers guidance to starting a local scheme.]


Sharing stuff and working together, part 1

So you want to simplify your lifestyle, and reach out to your neighbours and local community. Maybe you want to learn a new skill, or your drill has broken and you don’t want to splash out on a new one, or you have a drill gathering dust in the cupboard. Or you want to do something new, but it’s hard work to make things happen by yourself, and you would like the assurance that others share your vision or have the skills and willingness to help.

More and more websites are being developed that are enabling people to get in touch with each other. And the best are bringing people together in real life too.

“I want to share my stuff and skills with other people, and they have stuff and skills that I need too”

Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes have been around for a long time. They are local networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money. LETS use a system of community credits, so that direct exchanges do not have to be made. People earn LETS credits by providing a service, and can then spend the credits on whatever is offered by others on the scheme: for example childcare, transport, food, home repairs or the hire of tools and equipment. And the service is usually valued by time, so for example an hour of childcare will ‘cost’ the same as an hour of home repairs. Contact details for LETS in Ox, Bucks and Berks.

Ecomodo lets you “lend and borrow each other’s everyday objects, skills and spaces with confidence.” They’ve thought carefully about the ‘with confidence’: the borrower and the item is rated after each transaction; lenders can request security deposits; they offer insurance. You can create a ‘lending circle’ in your neighbourhood, so it is closely tied to real world communities. For example, Low Carbon West Oxford has a lending circle. Update 20 March 2015: Ecomodo has now closed.

Bid & Borrow is very similar, but I think less user-friendly. Again, you can create a ‘sharing network’ in your neighbourhood, and on both sites you can post a wanted ad. Companies can advertise their goods for hire, but I think this detracts, and Bid & Borrow’s local search doesn’t work well. But still, there might be something you need here that isn’t on Ecomodo. Update 22 March 2016: Bid & Borrow has apparently closed.

Finally, there’s Streetbank. It’s the simplest of the sites, which might be a benefit. There are no lending circles; you get to see people within one mile of you, and all their things. There is no mention of ‘confidence’ or charging for items, but then maybe we need to trust people more and get away from money-based transactions. And you when you register, it is a condition that you add one thing that you would be prepared to help with, lend or give away; you can’t get away with not participating.

“I’ve got all this stuff I want to get rid of, but I don’t want it just to go into landfill”

Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them. You can either offer something, or post a ‘wanted’ message. They say: “Our goal is to keep usable items out of landfills… Another benefit of using Freecycle is that it encourages us to get rid of junk that we no longer need and promote community involvement in the process.” I wanted to get rid of the white gravel in my garden, so I offered it on Freecycle. Almost immediately, someone who wanted it got in contact, and they even took it all up for me! Freecycle groups in Ox, Bucks and Berks

There are websites which offer online swapping, such as Swapshop or a section of Gumtree. But there are also lots of swapshops happening in real life. There’s often no actual swapping involved. Just bring along stuff you don’t want and/or take away someone else’s stuff you do. Community Action Groups maintain a diary of swapshops in Oxfordshire. Is there anything similar in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire?




The Big Society meets the Great Vowel Shift

The Tories dropped the Big Society into their 2010 Manifesto, but have never explained satisfactorily what they meant. Here are some possible interpretations:

Bag Society?
Encouraging unfettered consumerism, such as taking away 6 billion single-use plastic bags from supermarkets every year, and worshipping at the altar of Gucci and Hermes.

Bug Society?
Installing CCTV cameras on every street corner and at a every water cooler, to detect when ministers’ unethical activity might become embarrassing, and keep track of anyone who considers the possibility of non-violent action.

Beg Society?
Cut-cut-cutting the safety net, so the 1% have the 99% where they want them.

Bog Society?
We’re all going down the pan.


Values going viral

A recent meme going round Facebook was: “Ten years ago, we had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash and Bob Hope. Now we have No Jobs, No Cash and No Hope.”

But we do still have values.

At the Sustainability in Crisis conference, which I attended at the end of September, Tom Crompton spoke about his work on Common Cause. People don’t make decisions based on rational assessment of facts; they make decisions according to how they fit with their values and identity. Psychologists classify values as either extrinsic, which concern status and success, or intrinsic, which concern relationships and benevolence.

People don’t tend to have exclusively extrinsic or intrinsic values, but to be on a scale. Engaging one type of value tends to mean that other similar values are engaged. So, to quote from the Common Cause Handbook:

People reminded of generosity, self-direction and family, for example, have been found to be more likely to support pro-environmental policies than those reminded of financial success and status – without any mention of the environment being made.

Similarly, engaging one type of value tends to mean that opposing values are suppressed. So:

people asked to sort words related to achievement values (such as ‘ambition’ and ‘success’) from other words were less likely to volunteer their time to help a researcher (a behaviour associated with benevolence values).

This also means that we can move up and down the extrinsic-intrinsic scale. Over to George Monbiot:

The sharp rightward shift which began with Margaret Thatcher and persisted under Blair and Brown, all of whose governments emphasised the virtues of competition, the market and financial success, has changed our values… This shift [to extrinsic values] has been reinforced by advertising and the media… By generating feelings of insecurity and inadequacy – which means reducing self-acceptance – they also suppress intrinsic goals.

Therefore, if, in seeking to promote our environmental and social justice goals, we also appeal to extrinsic values, we will also reinforce those extrinsic values, further undermine intrinsic values, and make our work increasingly difficult. So we must avoid, for example, selling environmental behaviour change via ‘eco-chic’ for status-conscious people, or opportunities to make money for the bottom-line-oriented. And instead, we must align our work with the values that are likely to spur lasting change. This is much less likely to be a quick or easy process. Unfortunately, we have little time.

Another theme at the conference, picked up in the talks and discussions, was the need to accelerate – vastly accelerate – the move to a more sustainable economy, lifestyle, you name it, for the sake of the human race and the rest of the biosphere.

And I found myself contrasting the very slow diffusion of green electricity, ethical banking, sustainable anything with the almost instantaneous market saturation of the iPhone and iPad.Apple under Steve Jobs was phenomenally successful at marketing, appealing to extrinsic values of being seen to have the latest gadget and to appreciate good design.Wouldn’t it be great if green products and campaigns had the same uptake as the iPhone? But is it possible? Can a marketing campaign appeal to intrinsic values and be so phenomenally successful?

And then I remembered this TEDx video of Simon Sinek talking about “How great leaders inspire action”, and about the Why-How-What of inspiration. He uses Apple as one of his positive case studies, but he also uses Martin Luther King. Here’s what he has to say about Apple, from the video transcript (my italics):

If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message from them might sound like this. “[Points to What] We make great computers. [How] They’re beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?” Neh. And that’s how most of us communicate. That’s how most marketing is done… But it’s uninspiring.

Here’s how Apple actually communicates. “[Points to Why] Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. [How] The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. [What] We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?” Totally different right? You’re ready to buy a computer from me. All I did was reverse the order of information. What it proves to us is that people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.

And what about Martin Luther King?

In the summer of 1963, 250,000 people showed up on the mall in Washington to hear [him] speak. They sent out no invitations, and there was no website to check the date. How do you do that? Well… He didn’t go around telling people what needed to change in America. He went around and told people what he believed. “I believe. I believe. I believe,” he told people. And people who believed what he believed took his cause, and they made it their own, and they told people. And some of those people created structures to get the word out to even more people. And low and behold, 250,000 people showed up on the right day, at the right time, to hear him speak.

How many of them showed up for him? Zero. They showed up for themselves… And, by the way, he gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech.

Dr. King was appealing to intrinsic values. He was appealing for self-transcendence and justice under a higher authority. What are our intrinsic values today? What do we believe? How can we mobilise people like Martin Luther King still mobilises people? What did 10:10 do right in 2010, and why did it stall in 2011? What is the Occupy Together movement doing right? I would be happy to visit the camp outside St Paul’s, but what would make me want to stay there overnight or longer?

How can we make intrinsic values go viral?


Food #BAD11

I am a Bad Person and forgot to blog yesterday for Blog Action Day. But hopefully better late than never.

“Since 2007, Blog Action Day has focused bloggers around the world to blog about one important global topic on the same day. Past topics have included water, climate change and poverty. This year, Blog Action Day will be held on 16 October [oops!], which coincides with World Food Day, so naturally the 2011 theme is FOOD.”

So… food… an emotive subject for many. And as grain has become a commodity in modern times, and the market is controlled by just four companies, and many people don’t have access to even the most basic of human subsistence, very political too.

But I want to jot down some random thoughts around the L of the LOAF principles: Local, Animal friendly, Organic, Fairtrade.

When confronted by a bewildering array of choices – indeed a paralysing array, more politics – how do you apply these principles. For me, local trumps organic. The food mileage involved in bringing organic apples from the US or honey from Brazil is outrageous. So is the wastage of all those apples left unpicked and to rot on the ground in public spaces or private gardens.

So three cheers for Oxgrow, and their Edible Cartography project (see pic); for Abingdon Carbon Cutters and the Apple Day they held on Saturday; for all the farmers markets, farm shops and PYOs in Oxfordshire; and for people who grow their own food in gardens or allotments.

For a year until late-September, I was living alongside the Anglican Benedictine community at Mucknell Abbey near Worcester. The community moved into their new eco-monastery in November 2010, and one of the areas I was involved in was setting up the kitchen garden. It was so satisfying to see the seedlings I had planted growing, and to eat the results of my labour. And we had tomatos that tasted like tomatos, and courgettes that were sweet, and plentiful beans, chard, peppers, spinach, carrots, squash, and so on and so on. I miss it at the moment, but have been enthused for growing my own in the future. You can’t get more local than that!


I lived in Exeter before I moved to Mucknell. There are gazillions of amazing projects around local food in and around the city. Here are a few:

  • Real Food Store – shop selling local food, cafe and bakery in the city centre
  • Love Local Food – van bringing local food to the local communities
  • ECI Harvest [now closed] – encouringes people to grow food in their local community
  • Shillingford Organics – organic veg farm and veg box scheme … and hosting …
  • Exeter Growers Co-operative – involving people in the production of their own food
  • West Town Farm – organic grass-fed beef, education visits, and meat box scheme … and hosting …
  • OrganicARTS – promoting the arts and rural issues

Playing with data: more FITs

Again, the map shows data from Ofgem – total renewables capacity (in kilowatts, kW) registered under the Feed-in Tariffs scheme between 1 April 2010 and 30 September 2011. This time, I’ve focused on the domestic and community schemes, and adjusted by population of the Local Authority area so that the visual importance of each LA is not equated with its geographical area. I’ve taken estimated population resident in mid-2010 from Neighbourhood Statistics.
Dom = Domestic
Cmty = Community
CHP = Combined Heat and Power
PV = Photovoltaics (solar electricity)

See what you think.


Playing with data: FITs

This map shows data from Ofgem – total renewables capacity (in kilowatts, kW) registered under the Feed-in Tariffs scheme between 1 April 2010 and 30 September 2011, aggregated over Local Authority area. Click on the tabs at the top to show the installed capacity of the different technologies, and the different groups of installers. Slide the bar on the left to zoom in and out, and click on the map and drag it to different areas.
AD = Anaerobic Digestion
CHP = Combined Heat and Power
PV = Photovoltaics (solar electricity)

So we can see that:

  • most installed capacity is photovoltaics;
  • there is little CHP or AD that has registered for FITs (many AD installations will be too large to qualify, but the take-up of micro CHP has been disappointing);
  • there is a smattering of wind and hydro, mostly in Scotland;
  • domestic take-up has been very patchy, with distinct cool-spots around the south east, midlands, north of England and mid Scotland;
  • community schemes on the Orkneys stand out (the aggregate by LA masks smaller schemes such as on Eigg).

Of course, colouring a map in this way wrongly equates the visual importance of each LA with its geographical area, so I’m going to have a look at correcting by population.


Welcome to my new blog

My previous blog from alongside Mucknell Abbey is still available. That was about things that I observed and things that interested me. This will probably also be about things that interest me, but related to my ponderings on where next… research? consultancy? kitchen gardening? writing? web design? As one of the children in the film Africa United said: the world is my ostrich. So at the moment, I am reading lots of random stuff and seeing what sparks interest and ideas.