Growing Community by Sharing the Harvest

Transition Glastonbury emerged “in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring”.   I recall a number of different people coming to see me, over a week or two in the summer of 2006, all excited about “what’s going on in Totnes!

TGLOGOhighres-In 2006, Glastonbury’s community was a receptive and fertile place for the new ‘Transition Town’ concept, which was founded on the principles of Permaculture, with the key aim of addressing two issues:
1) what response – if any – can we as communities make to tackle climate change?
2) how do we prepare for a future where the world’s finite fossil fuels become exhausted… ?

There was already a ‘Climate Action Now’ group, and my own organising work had led to the development of the ‘Glastonbury United’ campaign, which was about getting more people registered to vote and more engagement with local politics.

Transition Towns: From oil dependency to local resilience
Transition Towns: ‘From oil dependency to local resilience’

Key to Transition was the idea of ‘local resilience’ – the ability of a community to cope with ‘shock’; the shock of increasingly unpredictable, more extreme weather conditions; the inevitable shock of living through the depletion of oil, and the unavoidable ‘energy descent’ that would follow.

By 2007, two prominent Transitioners, community activist Linda Hull and straw-bale house pioneer Caroline Barry, had been elected onto the Town Council under the ‘Glastonbury United’ banner, and a vibrant Transition Glastonbury was engrossed in an attempt to fathom a fundamental, Maslowian question: “could Glastonbury feed itself?

Volunteers were mapping local food production in a 30 mile radius of the town – to establish just how resilient Glastonbury could be if the oil supply was turned off; if transport systems broke down; if we had to rely solely on local producers to feed 9,000 local people…

At the same time, all the local food suppliers, cafés, and retailers were asked where they sourced their products…

‘A Celebration of Local Food’ - Transition Glastonbury 2008
‘A Celebration of Local Food’ – Transition Glastonbury 2008

The results were analysed, collated, and Glastonbury’s local food directory ‘A Celebration of Local Food’ was published.

The answer to the question, “could Glastonbury feed itself?” was a bit of a shock for all concerned; for – although there were certainly a good number of meat and dairy producers in the vicinity of the town, and Sharpham Park could provide enough grains – the local farms were not producing anywhere near enough vegetables to meet the needs of the town…  Indeed, the nearest vegetable producer of any size was over 20 miles away!

It became very clear that Glastonbury needed to begin to ‘grow its own’, and people started to set up food initiatives in earnest, with one of the first being ‘Torganics’, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at Paddington Farm, just north-east of the Tor.

Over the years, other great initiatives have grown, including Healing Gardens Co-operative, Incredible Edible Somerset, Feed Avalon, and Glastonbury’s annual Harvest Show!

The latest is Plotgate Community Supported Agriculture (Plotgate CSA) – a new co-operative aiming to “grow local food for local people, and sharing the fun of farming.”

L-R: Corganiser Jon Cousins, Alex Lawrie of SCS CIC, with Amy Willoughby and Dan Britton from Plotgate CSA
L-R: Corganiser Jon Cousins, Alex Lawrie of SCS CIC, with Amy Willoughby and Dan Britton from Plotgate CSA

On Saturday, 12th March, Plotgate will be formally launching its business with an evening of “informing and enthusing about fresh, local and seasonal vegetables that are sustainably produced and ecologically enhancing” – to be held at Barton St David Village Hall, just outside Glastonbury.

Supported by the Just Growth Programme, Plotgate CSA will be using Community Shares to raise finance for their venture.  Their pioneer share offer opens on the evening of the launch; providing an opportunity for local people to join the CSA and invest in the project.

To find out more, please visit Plotgate’s website, or e-mail: plotgate.csa@gmail.com

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Community Shares are ACE

Avalon Community Energy's first public meeting, August 2013
Avalon Community Energy’s first public meeting, August 2013

In August 2013, a public meeting was held at Glastonbury Town Hall by members of our community who wanted to get organised over re-localising energy production.

As a CO, I supported the group who coordinated the meeting, and I helped facilitate the community engagement and consultation – listening to what those present loved about renewable energy, their concerns, their visions for local energy projects, and their ideas for the future.

The event attracted a good-sized audience, who heard from two keynote speakers:  SCS’s Alex Lawrie – who explained how to set up a Community Energy Co-operative – and Robin Mewes – who gave a presentation about Wedmore Community Power, and how they raised over a £1,000,000 through the issue of ‘Community Shares’.

The first public meeting in August 2013.

The public meeting asked the question: “Do you think Glastonbury should generate its own source of renewable energy?
The answer was a resounding “YES!

I continued to be involved, and over the following months, Avalon Community Energy (ACE) Limited – registered as a Community Benefit Society, number 31969-R – started to build its membership; listening to the wider community; expanding its base to the West Mendip district, including Wells, Shepton Mallet, and Street, in addition to Glastonbury and the surrounding rural areas. The founding directors being Graham Lucas, Madeleine Milnes, Chris Briton, Earl Bramley-Howard, Alyson Black, Owen Saward, and… I found myself being elected the Chair!

Parallel to the board of directors, a ‘Breakthrough Technology’ group developed out of the community engagement and consultation – meeting regularly to explore the potential of new energy generation devices, cutting-edge research, and alternative technological solutions.

In the spring of 2014, an ACE website was created, and we put together a number of funding bids and possible projects – based on the feedback and suggestions coming from our community.

ACE made a successful application to the Cooperative Enterprise Hub for funding to secure development support, and also received a £20k grant from the Rural Community Energy Fund – part of the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) – to conduct a feasibility study on our potential projects.

Early in 2015 – following the completion of the feasibility study, conducted by Communities For Renewables – two roof-top Solar PV projects were identified: Brookside Academy and Evercreech Junction industrial estate.  Detailed plans were made, and the group prepared to raise funds using Community Shares.

A Share Offer Document was produced during the summer of 2015, and a Pioneer Share Offer was launched to raise £150k.  A video supporting the offer was filmed and edited by local resident Kitty Treacy.

The Share Offer closed on 27th November 2015, with supporters and members of the community investing £184k into the project – £34k over the original target!

As I write, ACE is waiting for the Ofgem pre-registration of the Evercreech Junction project, which will install 173kW of solar PV over 6-8 rooftops on the industrial estate; and Ofgem’s pre-accreditation of the Brookside Academy project’s 88kW solar PV installation on the roof of the school.

 

To find out more about Avalon Community Energy please visit the website, or follow ACE on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.