Author Archives: Anna Michaels

An Introduction to Transition Streets

Jim Attenborough

Transition Streets is a process designed to bring neighbours together with a view to saving them money, reducing their environmental impact and getting to know their neighbours.

This scheme was originally started in Totnes in Devon but has now spread internationally.  Visit https://www.transitionstreets.org.uk/ for more information.

The scheme works like this:

Members of the community who express an interest in the scheme are provided with letters to deliver to their neighbours to see who is interested in taking part.  Once there are 8 – 10 interested parties, neighbours come together to form a Transition Streets group in their road.  The initial meeting is facilitated by a member of Transition in Kings (TiK) in one of the members’ homes.  At this initial meeting all members are provided with a free and comprehensive workbook filled with tips, information on government grants and practical suggestions on how to reduce waste and improve efficiency.  Some of these actions are free to do, some require investment and some can be eligible for government grants.

There are seven meetings and members of the group decide for themselves when to have them – monthly/bi-monthly etc – and whether to have a break at Christmas or in August when members may be away.  Aside from the initial facilitated meeting and a wrapping up meeting at the end, there are five meetings in between, themed as follows – energy, water, food, waste and transport.

During the trial scheme that TIK ran in 2015 with thirty-four households, apart from the information in the Transition Streets handbook, there was a great deal of information passed between members of the groups – different members had experience with heating controls, solar panels, electric vehicles, applying for grants and funding, reducing energy consumption and growing food.  This was a real plus as it added to the wealth of information contained in the handbook.

Each household can save £500 a year with ease and some will save more, especially if they use the money saved to invest in further efficiency measures.  Ideally this money would be spent on local goods and services to aid the local economy.

One of the new ideas we introduced in our “version” of this scheme was a thermal-image camera survey of participants’ homes which identified missing insulation and poorly performing windows and doors.  We took pictures of problem areas and emailed them to the owners so they could look into improvements and show contractors exactly where the issues were.

Some of these groups continue to meet socially, which is no doubt helping to combat the loss of community spirit and loneliness that is a fairly constant criticism of our society, although I would say Kings Langley fares better than most in this regard, but we can still improve on this.

If you would like to take part and reduce your expenditure, get to know your neighbours better and reduce your impact on the environment, please keep an eye out for announcements regarding our new round of Transition Streets later this year.

The UK’s First Eco-Town

Lindsey March

Bicester is famous all over the world as the site of the UK’s biggest tourist attraction, Bicester Village.  The signs in Japanese that you see in London are to direct visitors there.  It offers an immersive shopping experience, designed to help you consume as much fashion as you can manage to pack into your huge suitcase.  But it may soon become as synonymous with restrained, sustainable, comfortable but also aware and proud ways of living, made possible in the Bicester Eco-Town, where residents began to move in in 2016.  The second phase will have 6,000 homes.

TiK (Transition in Kings) hosted a talk by Nicole Lazarus who told us about Bicester Eco-Town.  It follows on BedZED, a development in London which is sustainable and also a successful community, where houses sell for 10-15% above the average local price.  She worked on this project and is now the Oxfordshire programme manager for Bioregional, working with a major housing provider and the local council to build the new town, whose first phase has 393 homes, a primary school, a community centre, an eco-pub and an eco-business and retail centre.

Bioregional is the organisation through which these projects are built.    It is guided by the idea of ‘One Planet Living’ – seeking to make it easier for ordinary people to live happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness.  This idea has ten principles, covering health and happiness, equity and the local economy, culture and community, land use and wildlife, sustainable water, local and sustainable food, sustainable materials, sustainable transport, zero waste and zero carbon.  They seek to deliver ambitious but practical products and services, which bring a commercial advantage for partners.  http://www.bioregional.co.uk/

All the homes will be built to Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5, incorporating triple glazing, rainwater harvesting and water recycling.  Electricity will be generated from PV solar panels on every home.  Heat and hot water will come from a combined heat and power plant, and will eventually use heat supplied by an energy-from-waste facility.  There will be cycle and pedestrian routes, a bus stop within 400 metres of every home, live timetable updates in each house, charging points for electric vehicles and an electric car club.

As well as building the Eco-Town, Bioregional has delivered a lot of environmental and energy-saving projects to the residents of Bicester itself.

Bioregional constantly checks on what they have built to find whether their ideas have been successful or whether they need to be changed or modified, and communicates this follow-up research widely, so that any mistakes may be avoided by new eco-towns and villages.  They work on a policy level, national and international.  BedZED was initiated by Bioregional, developed by the Peabody Trust in partnership with Bioregional and designed with architects, ZEDfactory (based in BedZED) and Arup engineers.  The homes are all very highly insulated but also well ventilated, using the wind cowls on the roofs.  Fresh outside air is drawn into the building and pre-heated by outgoing stale air via heat exchangers.  There is a mini district heating system, and a large hot-water tank in each home helps to keep it warm in winter as well as storing hot water.

TiK was very lucky to have heard this very encouraging and inspiring talk from Nicole.  She has worked for Bioregional for 20 years and lived in BedZED for ten years.  With us, she had a very appreciative audience, but she often speaks to audiences of developers and other business people, who are not necessarily so receptive.  Speaking personally, I was very encouraged, while at the same time thinking, ‘Why are developers not required by law to do many of the things that BedZED were demonstrating back in 2002?’  Bioregional estimates that residents of BedZED save about £3,258 a year in transport, water and energy bills.  That would be a worthy subject for the talents of the advertising specialists, along with advertisements for the delights of Bicester Village.

The Nature of Permaculture

Nigel Crawley – Tring in Transition

Permaculture seeks to avoid the problems of unsustainable systems by working with, instead of against, Nature.  For example, current industrial agriculture is an incredibly inefficient system.  It takes ten calories of energy input (mainly from fossil fuels) to produce one calorie of food output.  This is only one example of our current high-input systems that are only possible while we have access to cheap fossil-fuel energy.

The word Permaculture is a portmanteau word originally derived from ‘Permanent Agriculture’.  Nevertheless, due to the universality of Permaculture principles and their application in the design of other human activities, it has since been expanded to ‘Permanent Culture’.

Permaculture is a system of agricultural and social design principles centred around simulating or directly utilising the patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems.  For example, sheet mulching is an agricultural no-dig gardening technique that attempts to mimic natural processes occurring within forests.

The design principles, which are the conceptual foundation of Permaculture, have been derived from the science of systems ecology and study of pre-industrial examples of sustainable land use.  Permaculture practitioners are also guided by an ethical framework of ‘Care of the Earth’, ‘Care of People’ and ‘Return of Surplus to Earth and People’.

The first use of the term ‘Permanent Agriculture’ was probably by J. Russell Smith in his book ‘Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture’.  Originally published in 1929, ‘Tree Crops’ was J. Russell Smith’s reaction to witnessing the environmental destruction caused by an industrial agriculture based on growing grains – or, as he summarised, “Forest-field-plow-desert”.  In ‘Tree Crops’ Smith advocates development of a permanent agriculture based on perennial tree crops both for livestock feed and human food.  It’s fair to say that the ideas in ‘Tree Crops’ inspired Permaculture’s early pioneers and are still extremely relevant.

However, the Permaculture movement as we know it today started with an Australian called Bill Mollison.  In 1959, while studying marsupials in their natural environment of the Tasmanian forest, Bill wrote a seminal note in his journal: “I believe that we could build systems that would function as well as this one does.”  He continued to work on his idea for the next twelve years by observing natural ecosystems and the practices of indigenous cultures.  In 1972 David Holmgren, a student of Bill Mollison’s, wrote an undergraduate thesis based on Bill’s ideas that later became the basis for the first Permaculture manual: “Permaculture One”.  Subsequently, Permaculture has spread globally due to Bill’s clever strategy of teaching the teachers via a 72-hour Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course.  The PDC is a life-changing two-week immersion in Permaculture’s whole systems view of the world.

Permaculture seeks to minimise waste, human labour, and energy input by building systems.  Forest gardening, for example, is a labour-saving three-dimensional food-growing ecosystem designed to mimic natural forests.

The focus of Permaculture design is not on each separate element, but rather on the relationships created among elements when they are placed together so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.  Within a Permaculture system the resources generated by all the elements are engineered to supply their respective needs, mimicking the complex relationships found in natural ecosystems.  When a certain threshold of this complexity is reached, new beneficial properties start to emerge from the system, such as self-regulation, feedback loops, self-organisation, and resilience. By working in this way we can create a low-input food garden where  nature takes over most of the maintenance work for us.

There are a number of unique techniques employed by Permaculture designers when assembling complex systems including: input-output analysis, zone analysis and sector analysis.  Input-output analysis looks at the outputs of elements within a design and attempts to match them to the inputs of other elements.  For example, one of the outputs from chickens is heat and a greenhouse requires heating on frosty nights.  So why not build the greenhouse around the chicken shed?.  Zones are areas around the main centre of human activity.  Elements in a design that require regular attention are placed in the zone nearest the centre and elements that require minimal attention in the zone furthest away.  A Permaculture sector is any influence arriving from off the design site that you have no direct influence over (e.g. sunlight, wind, water, etc.).  Sectors can either be caught and used, deflected/blocked or left to pass by unaffected.

Above everything, Permaculture is about protracted and thoughtful observation instead of prolonged and thoughtless action.  By slowing down and observing natural ecosystems we can learn valuable lessons that will improve our lifestyles.  After all, Nature, having done 3,500,000,000 years of Research & Development, is our best teacher.