Planting Seeds

Just as I was starting to redesign the Off the Ground website to make it more nationally focussed, I found myself spending last week in a series of Chippenham-based events and attending meeting after meeting discussing what can be done locally to reduce waste and improve the environment.

The irony is not lost on me.

That being said, it has been fantastic to meet so many like-minded individuals, and I thought it was worth using the Off the Ground blog as a platform to amplify these ideas both for Chippenham residents and those who are looking to bring about positive change in their own communities. Because the most difficult aspect of these ideas is not financial: it’s the time and energy it takes to get something started and to keep it blooming.

“Many hands make light work” is not just a traditional saying. When it comes to any type of community project, it’s vital. In addition to having people willing to lend a hand and pitch in as required, it’s also about making connections: knowing that the friend-of-a-friend has the perfect venue or that so-and-so is experienced in fundraising. Capitalising on everyone’s social networks, previous experience, and willingness to donate a few hours means that projects can be sustainable in every sense of the word.

So while I do not have the time or bandwidth to lead on any of these potential projects, I would love to see someone pick them up and get the ball rolling. Even better: to the best of my knowledge, none of these suggestions are new and untried, so there models out there are already that can be followed.

Repair Café

The goal of these community events are three-fold: 1) they reduce waste by allowing people to repair their products rather than binning them, 2) they teach skills that can be used for a lifetime, and 3) they provide an opportunity for socialisation.

There are also three key things needed to get one going in Chippenham: 1) a venue, 2) people with know-how, and 3) tools. I have leads on the first and second points, and I’m sure we can figure out the third. At the moment, I envision something like a monthly rota of activities, one per week:

    • Electrical Repair: From fixing fuses to soldering and rewiring as needed, this is perhaps where the biggest savings can be made in reducing the waste of resources and the waste of money to purchase new products.
    • Make Do: An opportunity to upcycle products and make new creations from old. Whether it’s transforming old t-shirts into bags and cushions, or turning a charity shop find into a shabby chic masterpiece, this gives secondhand products a chance to shine again.
    • … and Mend: Non-electrical repair, especially clothing: teaching people to sew on buttons or mend a popped seam can go a long way to combatting the current disposable nature of our wardrobes.
    • Skill Swap: Allowing people to share what they do best and help others learn. For example, I could teach an enthusiastic knitter how to blog and they can show me the finer points of making a scarf.

But the great thing is that something like this is community led: it can fill whatever need that residents of Chippenham think would help cut down on waste and encourage mingling. Maybe there’s a session on repairing wooden furniture or reupholstering a chair? Or a curator from the Chippenham Museum can discuss how to repair a cracked China plate? The possibilities for repair are endless.

Additional details about starting a Repair Café can be found here, and there are also local(ish) Share and Repair workshops in Bath.

Community Refrigerator

This is a project Hubbub launched several years ago to reduce food waste and increase access to cheap, healthy food. Over 80 have been set up across the UK, so there are plenty communities to learn from.

Related to this is the Olio app, which aims to connect neighbours and help avoid food waste. I haven’t used it yet myself, but I’ve been told it’s good in areas where there are numerous users. Perhaps that’s a good incentive for all of us in SN15 to sign up? 

Library of Things

How many tools do we own that are only used for minutes each year? From pressure cleaners to hedge trimmers, the ownership model is ripe for a revolution. The official website for the London-based Library of Things organisation is here, and Share and Repair Library of Things in Bath can be viewed here.

Zero Waste Shop

Shops that encourage customers to BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) are rapidly increasing in the UK, with the goal of reducing packaging waste from dry goods, toiletries, and cleaning products. Cousin Norman’s on New Road and Allington Farm Shop are now offering refills of several products, and there are a handful of plastic-free zero waste shops in the surrounding area. I’ve been to the following stores and have found them all incredibly helpful. Please let me know if your favourite local(ish) plastic-free shop isn’t mentioned!

My vision: A full-service zero waste shop in Chippenham town centre, potentially combined with an eco-friendly café that could host repair sessions and house a community fridge. Combining all of these into one social hub in Emery Gate or along the High Street would help send the message that shopping sustainably has gone mainstream. It also taps into one of the biggest factors necessary for behaviour change: convenience. The easier it is for people to do something, the more likely they are to actually do it—what could be easier than being where residents are already shopping?

Related to this is the idea of a bottle bank: as people begin to transition from plastic to glass bottles and jars, it would be great to have a place where unneeded ones could be left and taken for free by those who have use of them. Whether someone is making their own cosmetics or needs a spare jar or two for storage, encouraging reuse rather than recycling is also important.

Retrofitting

While the other ideas on this list deal with “waste” in the sense of reducing packaging, products, or things that would otherwise be tossed out, retrofitting—increasing the energy efficiency of older homes—is something that Chippenham residents may also wish to consider to reduce energy waste.

I have personally seen the positive impact of eco open home events where householders who have installed retrofitting and other environmentally friendly technology open their doors to the community. It allows those who are curious about what’s involved and thinking about making changes to speak to householders who have already gone through the process. This peer-to-peer learning provides advice, benefits local businesses, and helps establish a new norm by showing that retrofitting isn’t scary or weird.

Having spent several years of my life researching retrofitting, I could wax lyrical for pages about how it makes houses warmer, reduces energy bills, and cuts back on CO2 emissions. However, I’ll just put a link here to Bristol Green Doors for those who are interested in checking out what’s possible.

So, there you have it: there are a lot of potential ways that Chippenham—or any community—can get involved in reducing waste and increasing wellbeing. Because that’s something that underpins all of these suggestions: volunteering, socialising, and living one’s values have been shown to increase happiness and reduce stress. Doesn’t that sound worth cultivating?

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