24 Jun

True ‘Davids’ and ‘Goliaths’ from Kendal to Hull

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Nelson Mandela.

Through this tour I cycled across the north of England, following a belt of land that changed the world through the Industrial Revolution. This was the land of ‘dark satanic mills’ in cities like Preston, Manchester and Huddersfield. Other cities like Liverpool and Lancaster were major trading posts of the British Empire with links to the Slave Trade. This region was fuelled, largely, by coal which was mined in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

This belt is also rich in its history of people who believed that a better, fairer world was possible. Lancashire is the home of the Rochdale Pioneers who formed an early co-operative in 1844. In 1863 the North of England Co-operative Society, made up of 300 co-operatives in Yorkshire and Lancashire was formed.

In Manchester I performed less than one hundred yards from the site of the Peterloo Massacre, where the army attacked 60,000 peaceful protesters, killing 18 people. Manchester was central to Chartism (calling for votes for the people) and the first rally took place – attended by 250, 000 people- on Kersal Moor in 1838.

The trade union movement and labour movement was, and is, strong in this part of the country. I passed through the Yorkshire coalfield where the Miners’ Strike was being fought exactly thirty years earlier.

The tour will end in Hull, home to William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish the Slave Trade in the 1790s and 1800s.

On this tour I wanted to witness the ‘Goliaths’ that I pass on the route: the places where drilling and mining are taking place as well as the places where coal – and, more recently, industrial biomass- are being burned to generate electricity.

Fiddler's Ferry power station from the Transpennine Trail

Fiddler’s Ferry power station from the Transpennine Trail

But I also wanted pay tribute to, and, where possible, meet some of the ‘Davids’- people directly challenging the fossil fuel industry and people living a life that is having a lower impact on the planet and their environment- and frequently with other benefits too! I visited eco-housing villages, anti-fracking protest camps, community wind and hydro projects, community allotments and wildlife gardens, transition towns and campaigning groups.

Of course, I don’t want to ‘co-opt’ these groups and individuals. Some will share my concerns about climate change, others are concerned about local environmental impacts or about developing their community. They are all, however, taking action in ways which in some ways improves their environment.

Here are their stories:

Thursday 10th April: Sprint Mill and South Lakes Action on Climate Change Towards Transition

The first performance of ‘Giants’ took place in Sprint Mill at Burneside, near Kendal. This is a beautiful nineteenth century water mill and smallholding. Its owners, Edward and Romola are committed to living in a way that is living alongside nature instead of trampling it. They have a small-holding with an orchard and keep livestock and bees. They also develop the biodiversity of the area through managing wildflower meadows and woodland coppicing.

Sprint Mill also celebrates traditional rural crafts like green wood working and old fashioned hand-powered machinery. It has also been the showcase for the works of several artists and craftspeople. Edward himself creates beautiful artworks using natural and industrial materials like sliced basket willow and chopped bale string, sawdust, river and goat de-barked ash branches. Sprint Mill is a place of peace. It felt like a place where the visitor might come away refreshed and inspired to tread a little more lightly on the earth.

Edward kindly gave me a catalogue of an exhibition of his art work. Its title was ‘Another world?’ It made me think of the words ofArundhati Roy: Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.’

Sprint Mill

Sprint Mill

My other partner for the performance was South Lakes Action on Climate Change Towards Transition. http://slacc.org.uk/ I don’t know of any group that combines campaigning with projects more typically associated with transition town groups. It is currently campaigning on fracking, supporting Killington Wind Energy project and promoting cycling. South Lakes Action on Climate Change Towards Transition has had its own book club, run energy saving fairs, celebrated active travel and developed a Sustainable Garden Award as part of the Kendal in Bloom competition.

It seems like a group that has great strength through diversity.

Friday 11th April Lancaster Co-housinghttp://www.lancastercohousing.org.uk/

The energy we use for our homes is responsible for one third of the UK’s carbon emissions so one way we can address climate change is through our homes. I stayed the night at Lancaster Co-housing. This is a housing project in a beautiful location on the banks of the River Lune in Halton, near Lancaster. The houses have been built to passivhaus standard, resulting in a 90% reduction in fuel bills. They are south facing, have high levels of insulation and airtightness as well as mechanical ventilation and heat recovery.

But it doesn’t stop there. The project combines individual houses with shared communal facilities (such as laundry and social space). This has social and environmental benefits. Vegetarian or vegan meals are produced and it is a car free environment. My host explained that hydro power will be installed in the future.

This seems a wonderful compromise between fully communal living and the totally separate lives that most people live in their neighbourhood. Not only are there more connections and less loneliness, but it is more sustainable too.


Lancaster Co-housing on the banks of the River Lune

Lancaster Co-housing on the banks of the River Lune

Monday 14th April. Barton Moss camp.

When I visited Barton Moss Community Protection camp protesters were preparing for packing up the camp. Exploratory drilling was just about finished and so, for the time being, it would soon be time to move on. As I was there the news came through that the camp had been nominated for the Observer Ethical Award.

The Barton Moss Community Protection camp has stood on the verge on Barton Moss Lane in Salford since November. It has protested against the exploratory drilling that I-GAS is undertaking in search of methane deposits, with the potential for coal bed methane extraction. This might or might not involve fracking.

Each day the protesters or ‘protectors’ have walked in the lorries delivering equipment and walked out the same lorries as they exit. Policing of the protest by Greater Manchester Police has been controversial and several claims against them are going through the legal system. The camp has also witnessed numerous direct action blockades, usually taking the form of ‘lock ons’ in the road to prevent access of lorries.

What did they achieve? Some might say that I-GAS did not fall behind its schedule of finishing by March. Others might say that this schedule, itself, might have been estimated to allow for protests and that, without them, the work would have been finished much more quickly. It has certainly raised awareness of the risks of fracking and coal bed methane and, presumably, further deterred investors. Some of the protectors are moving on to new anti-fracking protest camps, either Upton in Cheshire or Daneshill in Nottinghamshire.

With protectors at Barton Moss camp

With protectors at Barton Moss camp


Tuesday 15th April High Torrs community hydro project. http://www.torrshydro.org/

Torrs Hydro is a community energy project in New Mills, Derbyshire. The group’s secretary, Jan, showed me around the site in the beautiful gorge below the town centre. The leaflet that she gave me opens with the sentence, “Torrs Hydro New Mills is an example of the power of communities to take action and begin to address the challenges that climate change presents to us all.” Jan showed me the reverse Archimedes screw turbine (named ‘Archie’ by local school children). The water from the River Sett is held by the turbine, gravity pulls it down and the turbine is rotated, producing clean electricity. Most of the electricity is bought by the local Co-operative Food Superstore, with the remainder being sold to the national grid.

'Archy' the reverse Archimedes screw that generates the electricity

‘Archie’ the reverse Archimedes screw that generates the electricity

The turbine is designed to produce around a quarter of a million units (Kwh) of electricity over a typical year. This is equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of around 50 typical British homes and saves over 150 tonnes of CO2 emissions compared with conventional electricity generation.

The project is community funded and owned (through share ownership). Future profits will fund a community grants programme.

With Jan a Torrs Hydro

With Jan at Torrs Hydro

Jan explained to me the wider benefits locally and beyond. The project is regularly visited by local school groups and by those planning similar schemes across the country. Although Jan says that the Torrs Hydro scheme is not perfect in terms of design or position, they have a useful role in advising and inspiring others.

Thursday 17th April Stop Opencast Sharlston, near Wakefield.

‘Coal built Sharlston but now it wants to kill it’. These are the words of Parish councillor George Balaam and member of Stop Opencast at Sharlston (SOS) reported in the Wakefield Express just over two weeks before the Giants tour began. http://www.wakefieldexpress.co.uk/news/local-news/coal-built-sharlston-but-now-it-wants-to-kill-it-opencast-mine-is-too-much-too-soon-for-village-1-6514753 By the time I met with George Balaam in person, the planning application –by UK Coal- had been turned down.

Sharlston is an ex- pit village. At New Sharlston you can see the monument to the mine that was closed in 1993.

I hadn’t realised the scale of the proposed opencast coal project until George showed me round. It would have been 138 hectares in size and would have come within 100 metres of houses on Crossley Street. George explained that the application was turned down on health grounds. He said that campaigners had highlighted the risks of air pollution, continuous noise and extra traffic. George also spoke of the history of the area, telling me how sections of a road we travelled on were Roman and Saxon.

Sharlston: George in front of the land saved from open cast mining

Sharlston: George in front of the land saved from open cast mining

Local residents opposed the application by organising the SOS group, holding meetings, writing letters of objection and speaking at the planning meeting.

There’s still a chance of an appeal by UK Coal. George and other campaigners plan to do a survey of the village to be able to judge the level of respiratory problems. The Stop Opencast at Sharlston is staying together and George Balaam is keen to find ways to bring the community together.

Saturday 19th April Longley Community Wind project. http://www.hott.org.uk/

At Longley Farm near Hade Edge, Holmfirth, stands the UK’s first commercial wind turbine. It was installed in 1986. Now at the end of its life, it may be replaced by a community wind turbine. Longley Farm and Holmfirth Transition Town (HoTT) are jointly organising the project which is currently going through the planning process. If successful it will provide enough electricity to meet the equivalent needs of forty houses. The revenue from the generation is hoped to provide up to £ 50,000 per year for community projects.  Here’s coverage in the local newspaper, the Huddersfield Examiner: http://www.examiner.co.uk/news/west-yorkshire-news/its-world-longley-farm-launch-6473929


Gianys Tour 2014

Janet from Holmfirth Transition Town at Longley wind turbine and site of proposed community wind turbine.

Sunday 20th April Growing Newsome www.growingnewsome.org.uk 

Even on Easter Sunday, the Growing Newsome volunteers were at work on the community allotment at Ashenhurst. Growing Newsome has existed since 2009. Apart from the ongoing work on the allotment, looking after planters in Newsome village and beds at the nearby Stirley Farm, Growing Newsome organises numerous events throughout the year. These include a Potato Day (where you can buy your seeds potatoes), a Plant Swap day in May and an autumn event. Diane Sims from the group says that Growing Newsome is all about “making connections between people by growing food and eating together. It is a community of people connected through food.”

She adds, “We started by describing ourselves as a growing project but now we describe it as making connections between people though food.”

Growing Newsome volunteers working on the community allotment

Growing Newsome volunteers working on the community allotment

Thursday 24th April Inglehome, Hull. http://inglehome.co.uk/

For my final night of the tour I stayed in ‘Inglehome’ an ‘eco home’. My hosts Richard and Isy had bought an ordinary terraced house in Hull and ‘retrofitted’ it to high standards of efficiency. They put insulation in the external walls and under the floors, while increasing the amount in the loft, installed solar PV and solar thermal and they now use an air source heat pump and a wood burning stove. They went from emitting 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and spending £1,500 per year on utility bills to having zero net energy bills, zero net greenhouse gas emissions and receiving £1,400 per year for the energy they generate.

Richard explaining insulation

Richard explaining insulation

Their ‘Inglehome’ website states that one third of UK carbon emissions comes from the energy we use in our homes and adds that the UK’s housing stock is one of the less efficient in Europe.

Although it’s a long term project, Richard tells me that they will make back their money after several years- the exact number changes according to energy prices and rates of green incentives. In the meantime, Richard and Isy use it to ‘spread the message’ about one form of environmental action people can take. They organise open days and do talks to explain the project. It’s not the only form of action- Richard himself is heavily involved in the Yorkshire East Greenpeace Group and in Hull and East Yorkshire Against Fracking http://notofracking.blogspot.co.uk/ – but it’s part of the mix.

30 Apr

The Giants Tour – part two

The Giants Tour has just finished – after eleven performance bookings, one puncture, one crash (more on this later) and several hundred miles of cycling.  The tour was planned around the Easter holidays taking place in the middle and being spent at home- in Huddersfield.  Part Two of the tour took in Doncaster, York and Hull.
Easter Monday was a day for cycling as I had a booking for ‘Giant Killers’ in Thorne Library in the far north of Doncaster. Apart from the first five miles and the last eight miles, my route followed the Transpennine Trail.  Much of the route in this part of the country passes through the Yorkshire Coalfield with many links to the Giants project.  At Harlington I passed a huge pit wheel monument to Barnburgh Colliery. My more detailed reflections on passing nearby on the ‘Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ tour can be read here http://meltingice2013.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/lost-in-the-coalfield-day-three-of-the-tour/

Giants Barnburgh Colliery monument

Barnburgh colliery pit wheel monument.

At Mexborough I passed what was once the Earth Centre. The Earth Centre was originally a community project built on old coal mines and then became a flagship environmental Millennium project. It was built largely of reclaimed materials, included growing projects and featured Europe’s largest flat-foot photovoltaic installation, a 1,300m2 canopy containing 250 photovoltaic panels – generating 80,000 KW of electricity per year. Sadly, it closed in 2004 and after being briefly occupied by environmentalists, eventually became a children’s activity centre.

The ex-Earth Centre, Mexborough

The ex-Earth Centre, Mexborough

The performance of ‘Giant Killers’ at Doncaster Children’s Library went well. The performance of songs accompanied by the ukulele went down particularly well there!

Playing the ukulele in Thorne Library, Doncaster.

Playing the ukulele in Thorne Library, Doncaster.

Unfortunately, disaster struck just outside Thorne. It had been raining and I lost control on a railway crossing where the rails had become as slippery as ice. After flying briefly through the air I landed in the road. A passing driver helped me with my bike. I cycled on another twenty miles or so to Snaith with a growing sense of foreboding. The pain in many parts of my body was subsiding, but one particular place- the base of my left hand- was agony. I couldn’t use my thumb at all. Snaith became the end of the ‘Giants’ cycle tour. A lift in a car to York got me to the hospital. An x-ray scan was unable to detect a fractured scaphoid but I was encouraged to return after ten days to be re-x-rayed as scaphoid fractures are frequently invisible until then. The train took me on the last leg of the journey to Hull.

I wanted to arrive early in Hull to do sightseeing- particularly the William Wilberforce Museum which celebrates the life of the man who – with many others- brought about the vote ending the slave trade in 1807. The struggle for a safe climate has often been compared to the struggle against slavery, perhaps most eloquently by Polly Higgins, international barrister who has proposed to the United Nations that Ecocide be the fifth Crime Against Peace.

“Maybe sometimes we need crisis to focus our minds and recognise that what we’re doing is ultimately unsustainable and untenable morally. We’ve done it before in history and we’ll do it again. The abolition of slavery was really the recognition of the moral imperative trumping the economic imperative. When William Wilberforce came along and fought for the abolition of the slave trade, his big thing was that it’s not about closing down companies; it’s about giving them the legislative framework so that they can reinvent themselves in the other direction.
One of the key people in this was Charles Grant, who was one of the biggest businessmen of the day. He agreed with Wilberforce and spoke out and said, ‘morally this is wrong, full stop’. When he did that from a business perspective, two things happened. Government didn’t just listen, it took action, because hearing it from business is very important. But he also gave permission for other business leaders to stand up and demonstrate that same bold moral courage and leadership. This is what we’re lacking today – the ability to dare to be great – to stand up and say this has to stop, it’s not working”

Polly Higgins http://www.triodos.co.uk/en/about-triodos/news-and-media/colour-of-money/polly-higgins-ecocide-interview-from-the-colour-of-money/

Three giants in Hull: the back of the Gandhi statue, seen from Nelson Mandela Garden, at the rear of the William Wilberforce Musuem

Three giants in Hull: the back of the Gandhi statue, seen from Nelson Mandela Garden, at the rear of the William Wilberforce Musuem

My first performance in Hull was at Pearson Park Wildlife Garden. The Wildlife Garden is run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and is an attractive corner of Pearson Park in Hull. They grow vegetables and wildflowers, keep bees and run educational activities. There is an amphitheatre where I performed. This was the only performance of the tour where I performed outside. I tried to make use of the environment, space and natural features, as I had in Sprint Mill near Kendal. For one story, ‘The Two  Headed Giant of Rotuma’ we went on a tour of the garden, following the route of the brother and the sister into their garden and through the forest. The sun set during the performance and tea lights were lit to create atmosphere.

Starting the show at Pearson Park Wildlife Garden

Starting the show at Pearson Park Wildlife Garden

After a pleasant night’s sleep in Inglehome http://inglehome.co.uk/, a low carbon home, all the more impressive because it is an ordinary terrace house, I prepared for the final performance: the children’s show ‘Giant Killers’. Here there was a large and lively audience who had waited patiently after a fire alarm delayed the event. The children were good fun and enjoyed acting out moments from the stories although the songs- due to the hand injury- had to be sung acapella.

Last show done! With June from Hull Children's Library

Last show done! With June from Hull Children’s Library

And then it was home! Thank you to all the partners, funders, hosts, audiences, parents (including mine) and helpers! Who knows where Giants will be performed next?

22 Apr

The Giants Tour: part one

The Giants Tour: Part one: Kendal to Wakefield (10th April-17th April).
The Giants tour has begun!  I have cycled for eight days from Kendal to Wakefield, telling giant tales and engaging with climate change.  I’ve had some wonderful audiences and met inspiring people on the way.
The tour opened on Thursday 10th April with a performance of ‘Giant Killers’, the children’s show at Kendal Library followed by a performance of ‘Giants’. This took place at the beautiful Sprint Mill, two miles out of Kendal.  The audience was engaged, involved and supportive.  It was also large and thanks go to South Lakes Action on Climate Change Towards Transition for their promotion of the event. One of the highlights of the performance was including elements from the mill in the performance. Edward’s ‘Spannerphone’, a sort of xylophone made out of spanners, helped to create the soundtrack to two stories.  A besom broom became a prop for the telling of the ‘Six Sisters and the Giant’.

Giants tour 2014 Sprint Mill

Sprint Mill: The clock ticks on the fossil fuel companies.

The route has been cycle friendly and a pleasure to complete. From Kendal I followed National Cycle Route 6 to Lancaster and Preston, then cut west to Southport. From there I have –with one or two diversions- followed the Transpennine Trail through Liverpool, Manchester and Yorkshire. Route 6 was delightful: not only are the roads quiet and safe, like any route, once you’re on it, you can relax. All you need to do is keep an eye out for the route markers.

Giants Tour 2014

Route 6 Woods north of Lancaster

The Transpennine trail is based mainly on a series of old disused railway routes. I think Liverpool won the prize for clear signposts all the way into the centre.  On the way to Manchester I followed the walk along the Mersey, went inland, crossed Sefton Park, skirted Calderstones Park, passed through Childwall and Halewood before approaching Widnes and open country.

Giants Toyr 2014

At the start of the Transpennine Trail, Southport.

The tour has seen performances at Lancaster’s Storey Centre, Manchester’s Friends Meeting House, Birstall Library in Kirklees and the Orangery in Wakefield.  All were different but enjoyable and all the time the piece developed and changed, partly as a result of people’s feedback.  In Lancaster there was a humorous atmosphere, almost like stand up. In Manchester the audience were great but I felt tired, having cycled from Liverpool that morning.  One gentleman arrived one hour early and waited quietly whilst thumbing through a four inch thick copy of the IPCC report. Birstall library in Kirklees has ‘clients’ who are really interested in storytelling performances. It was there that I began my last tour of a piece called ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ and it was great to see familiar faces.  A ten year old boy told me there that my singing was the worst part of the performance and so at the Orangery in Wakefield the performance was faster-paced and without its songs.

Giants tour 2014

Birstall Library: Playing the ever-popular singing bowl.

Then there have been the people I have met on the way.  I wanted to connect with, and celebrate people who are ‘taking on the giant’ of climate change in their own ways. Many of these people put me up for the night. I met Edward and Romola at Sprint Mill, living in a way that is sustainable and low impact and talked to Chris about the work of South Lakes Action on Climate Change Towards Transition. At Lancaster I stayed at Lancaster co-housing, an attractive an low carbon community on the banks of the Lune in Halton. In Preston I stayed with students David and Bradley, involved in their local Greenpeace Group and, in David’s case, engaged as a ‘Green hero’ a the local branch of Lush. My Manchester hosts were Pete and Cat, a lovely couple involved in Manchester Friends of the Earth. I also visited Barton Moss anti-fracking camp, just before it was about to be packed away due to the end of exploratory drilling. From Manchester I left the trail for some miles in order to visit a community hydro project at New Mills in Derbyshire.  In my home town I met with Janet from Holmfirth Transition Town at the site of the new community wind power project and the people involved in the Growing Newsome food project.  In Sharlston near Wakefield, I was shown around the vast area of a recent open cast coal application, turned down by the council only two weeks earlier. Soon, I will put a separate post about these people and projects.

Gianys Tour 2014

Janet from Holmfirth Transition Town at Longley wind turbine and site of proposed community wind turbine.

All in all, it’s been a great start! I’ve been lucky with the weather, have only got lost a few times and only had one puncture!  The story has developed and, of course, the journey itself has been a story with many interesting characters. From here, after the Easter break I head out east and will end at Hull.

Giants Tour 2014

Looking out over the Pennines with Holme Moss behind me.

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