The 11th of a Different September

Wendy Jennings (Clapham Sustainability Group)

Clapham (pictured) is a happening place. Driving in on Saturday, I was politely brought to a halt by lime-jacketed marshals clearing the road for flash-past competitors crouched over their handlebars in a high-speed cycle race. But I hadn’t come for the cycle race; I was heading for the Village Hall and the Sustainability Group’s event to share information about greener ways of heating your home, of cherishing your garden, and of taking to the road.

When I joined the little crowd round the door into the hall, Julian Smith, the local MP, was being questioned about what his Government hadn’t done. It was hard not to feel that little of the practically positive could be done until the politician left the room. But once he had, it was.

The room itself had been carefully laid out. Round the central spreading of chairs, (several with a friendly underlay of discarded coffee mugs and cake plates from the early-arrivals’ elevenses), display tables against the walls invited us to go deeper into ways of drawing wildlife into our gardens, of re-thinking our transport options, of trying different techniques of composting, of discovering valuable uses for local sheep fleece. All of it was carefully designed to draw in the eye and the mind, with little ‘how to’ drawings, and ‘would you’ questions, and bright, fact-packed leaflets.

Tucked into its own corner was a rather different local resource: the community apple press, waiting, in the care of George Greenbank, to be borrowed by those with a taste for DIY cider. And on the end wall, facing the chairs, was a projection screen and a little arena for the designated speakers.

All but two of these were neighbours and villagers who’d offered to come and share their experience of living with a particular greener solution to household energy provision, and even one of the professionals, it turned out, lived nearby.

I think it was this, more than anything else, which gave the event its telling strength. There was anything but a lack of meticulously-researched factual detail given by each speaker, but talking to people who knew them well, they could be as open about the drawbacks as they were about the benefits of their chosen system, could share the unexpected that you only discover when you live with something, (like an Air Source Heat Pump’s inevitable raising of bedroom temperature), and with their known and trusted friendliness, they made utterly comfortable a non-stop flow of down-to-earth questions and answers. When David Todd, a professional installer of heat pumps and PV solar panels, in the course of a hugely informative (and at moments enjoyably humorous) account of his work, chose to dismiss photovoltaic roof tiles as ‘rubbish’, I was suddenly aware of how much we missed by not hearing from a villager who lived under them; such tiles being one of the greener technologies not represented in the room.

I’m sure each speaker could provide a close-up of detail for anyone wanting to follow up a particular energy system; any choice, it became clear, needed to take into account the carbon involved in the technology’s production and delivery. Ken Pearce, talking about his family’s experience of ten years of solar panels, had summarised the relevant facts into an immaculate one-sheet hand-out. Tony Horsewill, who followed him to describe life with a retro-fitted Air

Source Heat Pump, was in no doubt that its low-energy performance benefitted the planet, but made no secret of its reliance on increasingly high-cost electricity and the difficulty of finding people who could service it. A member of the splendidly-titled Rotters’ Group came next, to both depress us with the appalling statistics of food waste, and cheer us with news of a new Waste Recovery Park which sorts mass rubbish into re-usable metal, food to go to an anaerobic digester, and plenty else for incineration into steam that can be turned into electricity.

It was Edward Sexton’s turn next, to tell us about the wood pellet boiler installed several years ago by his father. His account was supported by Ellen Bargh who works for a wood pellet company, and who revealed yet another snare for the unwary who might source cheaper wood pellets from Russia or China, only to find they had crumbled by the time they reached British hoppers.

Slick this event was not: a recalcitrant microphone saw to that, but directed by Brian Christian’s warm and unobtrusively efficient handling, amply fuelled by the delicious coffee and cake of St James’ Church people, and put together with such care and thoughtfulness by Jill Buckler, Maggie McSherry and their team, it became an event that went far wider and deeper than the sum of its parts. If Julian Smith had been able to stay, and able to listen, I think he would have heard a small, rural community, energised more by caring than by cost, doing its level best to contribute to a future we could all be glad about.

Yes: Clapham is a happening place.

This article first appeared in the October edition of the Clapham & District Newsletter (and in the October ACE Newsletter)

 

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