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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Dongria

     

    [TRACK 1]

    TONY WRIGHT:

    This is Tony Wright, 27th of July 2011 and I’m talking to Dongria in her home in Hebden Bridge....and can you tell me your full name and where and when you born?

    DONGRIA: I’m called Dongria Kondh, although I have changed my name in the last year to that, and I was born in 1955 in....I’m not quite sure where I was born, somewhere in the south of England because I was adopted, and so my origins are shrouded in mystery.

    TW:

    I see.

    DK: I was actually adopted by.....slightly ironically, by a guy who worked in a nuclear power station, and I wondered to myself whether...whether they were a bit more careless about radiation in those days, and that’s probably how I might have ended up getting adopted.

    TW:

    I see. Why did you change your name? If that’s alright to ask.

    DK: Well it is actually.....although I’m getting slightly bored of telling people [laughing] about it, but.....for the past few years I’ve been involved with Climate Camp, and last year Climate Camp went up to the Royal Bank of Scotland and....which is.... taxpayer owned and investing in loads of dodgy stuff like mining in the Arctic....oil...tar sands....but one of the things the RBS was investing in was a firm called Vedanta in India, who wanted to put a huge bauxite mine on the tribal lands of the Dongria Kondh, and so to get my kind of Spartacus I am Dongria Kondh, so I changed my name for the action that I did at the Royal Bank of Scotland; I superglued myself to the....to the sort of main....part of the main office. [laughing]

    TW:

    Right.

    DK: So anyway I’ve...I might die in my original name and so I will keep this name until the tribal lands are safe from this mine.

    TW:

    What was your original name then?

    DK: Penny Eastwood.

    TW:

    Was this your adopted parents’ name then?

    Dongria 28-07-11

    DK: Yes I don’t know where....I don’t know....I don’t know what my true biological parents were called or anything about them.

    TW:

    So did you....were you brought up then in the south of England?

    DK: I was brought up in the south of England and I had quite a posh upbringing.

    TW:

    Right.....and what was that like....as a child?

    DK: I had a very nice childhood really you know, nobodies going to complain about being around ponies and things like that [laughing] it was fine, and....I went to boarding school but I was a bit of a rebel and....boarding school was near Glastonbury so I used to escape to.....to go with the hippies on Glastonbury Tor and stuff – sneak out at night!

    TW:

    Very good. How did you come about to be in Hebden then?

    DK: ......confluence of reasons......I.......I was going to do Peace Studies, well I did do Peace Studies at Bradford and......at that time I’d been living in Liverpool and so my partner, my then partner also got a job at Calrec which is in Hebden, and I was moving to Bradford University and so this seemed to be the right place to go. That was 1987.

    TW:

    Right. What was it like in Hebden back then?

    DK: ........well.......Broughton Street......where I was.....for the first year when living there, I actually did know everybody on the street, and also there were hardly any cars on the street so we used to be able to.....put out the washing line so the children could play badminton in the street and......yeah that was good, but then gradually cars moved in and the children’s play space was squeezed out, but by then my kids were sort of grown up so they had a very nice childhood......in the street.

    TW:

    Right. I want to talk to you about Treesponsibility because I don’t really know how it began, but I do know that you were one of the main instigators in starting it. Could you tell me how it began?

    DK: I suppose probably go back to the.......to the Peace Studies thing, because for my dissertation in Peace Studies.....this was in 1990, I.....decided to look into the international politics of climate change, and so kind of I got climate change quite

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    early, I was....I understand what was going on quite early and.......obviously trying to talk to people about climate and engage people about climate, it’s a very big thing and it’s very easy for people to sort of go in denial and....it’s a bit depressing, sort of handing out to people depressing leaflets about depressing things that might happen, so.......that was my thinking, that was where I came from, and at the same time as I was kind of in this sort of head state, there was a Hebden Bridge Woodlands Group forming and......one night, I woke up in the middle of the night with the idea of Treesponsibility, with the word Treesponsibility in my head and kind of got the idea of combining the climate awareness stuff with the tree stuff, because that’s kind of a positive thing so it was sort of trying to engage people with something positive so that they’d be more likely to listen to the good things I had to impart. [laughing]

    TW:

    Right, so that’s how the idea came, but how did you organise it, I mean what was your......kind of like motivation for getting it together sort of thing?

    DK: ........well......how did we organise it?......Well in the same way as everything gets organised really; we had meetings and got people off the ground, we got the Council on board quite early because it was the time of Agenda 21, you know, that was kind of supposed to be the.....the big environmental thing then, you don’t hear much about Agenda 21 any more, but that’s what it was at that time, and so......then putting in for grants obviously and doing the background work of....of getting it up, and then....we launched it at Riverside School on the 9th of March 1998.....and we planted what we thought was a lilac and which became known as the Launch Lilac, but it’s recently turned out to be some form of ornamental willow- we were told it was a lilac tree, somebody gave us this tree and [laughing] but there is the tree still in the yard at Riverside School, it’s a little.....it’s got a little wall round it.

    TW:

    Right. Who else....sorry, who else is involved beside yourself?

    DK: Well in the early days.....we had....I think the group at one stage in the early days was up to I think twenty-one people, I’m not gonna run off all their names, but then I sort of gradually whittled its way down to a kind of core group that kept going and now we’ve got a core group of nine which is a kind of nice size – nine very committed people who come to meetings and do everything, and....of those nine people......seven get some form of income from it, not very much income, but some.....but then....I’ll tell a bit of the story because after the....after the launch, sort of a year after the launch, the basic initial idea was that people could take responsibility for their own carbon emissions – coming out and planting trees – so that there was kind of a way that they could put in....put in train the mechanism to recycle their own carbon back down into the atmosphere, and we.......in the first year and a half, we....we actually wrote a book about, a little book about how we set it up and everything, and with climate information and all sorts of things woven through, but there’s.....an interesting story about the book because.....in June 2000, the book was at the printer’s on a pallet and that was the day when Hebden Bridge had the big flood, it was really – I don’t know, I don’t know if you were here

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    TW:

    I was yeah.

    DK: Yeah, and....the book was just three inches above the water.....the water level....the bottom of the pallet, half way up was under water, so....but then of course we realised that we’d been concentrating on carbon and we hadn’t actually been thinking of the impact of climate on this valley, and so that was kind of a wake up call because you know, you can think about climate changing.

    TW:

    So you’d gone from the global to the particular kind of idea in a way.

    DK: Absolutely, because.....you know, and we realised that actually tree planting could be quite significant about helping to.....to slow the run-off, channel it into the area where

    TW:

    Sure, yeah.

    DK: Well trees help prevent erosion, that’s one thing, and obviously you don’t want all the soil to be flowing down into the rivers because that’s going to sort of silt them up, so that’s one thing. They also suck up water in their trunks; trees are approximately half water, they also put their......roots down into the ground and that helps the water to filter down into the aquifers rather than just running straight off, so they can be quite significant and when we first did it we were really using our intuition that that would be a good thing, but after that, over the years, there has been more scientific stuff to prove that actually trees do have that role, and so since then we’ve been kind of aiming to plant five hectares a year, keep batting away at it because.....we think that if we turn it, make it a twenty-five year project and try to....be quite strategic about where we’re putting the trees from the flooding point of view, then you know, we will have made some sort of an impact at a valid scale.

    TW:

    Right. In the beginning you said there was like a Woodland Group. What did the Woodland Group do in particular then?

    DK: Well the woodland group sort of morphed into Treesponsibility; the Woodland Group was coming from a tree perspective and

    TW:

    But did you like grow your own trees from acorns or what?

    DK: We did; we started and we did have....for a while we did have a tree nursery and we did grow thousands of trees, but actually in the end, that was really labour intensive in the.....in the summer months, and we really found that it stretched our resources a bit

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    too much, so we, we now buy our trees in, because we are planting....well last year we planted.....about twenty-two thousand trees, so

    TW:

    What kind of trees?

    DK: British broad leaf trees, mostly....oak, birch, ash, rowan, shrubs like hazel, hawthorn, holly....sure I’ve missed some out.....willow, alder, a lot of alder in some of the rough patches.....and a few orchards as well, but now most of the orchard role is being taken over by the Calder Local Orchard Group, which we work with as well, so.....

    TW:

    So, how do you go about targeting areas to plant the trees?

    DK: Well......the.....what we’re particularly looking for from the point of view of flood reduction is steep valley sides, or eroded land. We have to be quite careful where we’re putting trees and things like that because there’s various issues like rare birds – you’ve to be careful – also you don’t really want to plant on top of peat moorland, you know, I mean, because peat is....peat is actually a huge carbon store, there’s much more carbon stored in peat than in trees, but it’s also very at risk because a lot of UK peat.....peat moorlands, I think is eighty per cent degraded.

    TW:

    Right How degraded?

    DK: I don’t know, I haven’t got that statistic in my head, but

    TW:

    I don’t mean by numbers really, but I mean by usage or....how is it degraded?

    DK: Oh how is it degraded....well.....shall I talk about the bit that I know about most?

    TW:

    Yeah.

    DK: One of the....well one of our new projects as well is called The Source, and...we’re trying to do ecological restoration close to....within three miles of the source of the River Calder, and that area there, let’s see what we’ve had.....over-grazing....tipping, open cast mining....mining, still get iron pyrite in the water from the old mines......quarrying, pretty much everything that could be chucked at a landscape has been chucked at that particular landscape, and so kind of one of my....one of my ambitions is to manage to......get that – I’d like to get that area to be healthy again before I die – whether or not I manage it I’m not sure, but...

    TW:

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    Is it Lancashire that’s the source?

    DK: The source is just over the border in Lancashire, but I mean

    TW:

    Is that on the Burnley Road, out that way?

    DK: Yes.......Ratten Clough......Ratten Clough is officially the source but then there’s another one that’s going down..... Midgelden Brook which goes down the Bacup Road, and then there’s Walsden Water; they’re the three main tributaries, you know

    TW:

    They turn into the Calder?

    DK: Yeah all those three......turn into the Calder, and we had sort of.....well I was....led to that area in.....well after.....after we’d thought about flooding and we’d started our After the Flood, the Forest project [chuckling] then that was quite close to the source of the river, the first big site that we got, and I don’t know if you ever go up

    TW:

    I have seen it, yeah, I’ve seen it.

    DK: And we were working away on that site, and we found out that just over the brow of the hill they wanted to do a massive new open cast mine, so we had a huge battle to....to stop that, which we won and....

    TW:

    That’s really good.

    DK: Yeah, and that’s three quarters of a million tons of carbon that didn’t go up into the atmosphere so I’m quite proud of that, but....it’s quite difficult liaising with landowners. This bit here is a bit sensitive......maybe this bit’s not for the website....but it’s quite difficult liaising with...

    TW:

    If you don’t wanna say it just don’t say it.

    DK: Well some people just want to get as much money as they can out of their land.

    TW:

    Yeah, well which is kind of a reasonable thing to wanna do I suppose, if you’re a capitalist, that’s the way they go isn’t it? [laughing] So, I mean.....do you work with the Council then, because the Council owns an awful lot of land around here.

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    DK: They don’t own as much as you might think.

    TW:

    Oh really?

    DK: We are working with the Council. One of the....one of the sites that we’re hoping to plant next year is Sandy Gate which isn’t so much of a flooding site – it’s an allotment site – and so that’s gonna be orchard trees and...

    TW:

    On the field?

    DK: Yes

    TW:

    Above, right.

    DK: Yes, but there’s gonna be allotments there, and......there’ll be a little bit of wood just to extend that wood but not going right down to the road, and that’s....we’ve worked together with the Council on that. They’ve got a new Woodlands Officer at the Council who’s very good and we work with her as much as we can, and....the other thing that....quite a lot of people in Treesponsibility are interested in is woodland management because there’s a lot of under managed woodland which actually would be more biodiverse or thriving if it was managed, and that can be a sort of fuel supply as well for local people, you know, using the wood.

    TW:

    Right....right.

    DK: That’s another climate dimension – the thing about trees, they’ve got a lot of climate dimensions.

    TW:

    I mean at one time didn’t you grow sort of hazel and willow....for making withies for people to use in various ways?

    DK: We’ve still got hazel and stuff..... with also a slightly different hat, a coppicer’s hat on.....we’re still doing coppicing in Nut Wood but to be fair, we make more money from doing educational work than the actual products that we’re getting out of the wood because we do things with.....since 2006 we’ve been doing loads of work with schools. We bring them out tree planting, but we also take them out to woodland and they can see the other part of the process of how trees can get coppiced and the different stages of.....all that.

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    TW:

    So it’s educational for the kids. I mean, how young do you start them?

    DK: I like working with the Year 5s. I don’t know who you’re working with [laughing] but teenagers are rotten! No they’re not really, not if you are a teenager – you’re fine, you’re fine and good! But particularly with tree planting, the Year 5 and Year 6 really take it....really do a great job...they seem to be the kids that are getting the best out of it.

    TW:

    Oh right, that’s good. I know someone who works for the Council in the.....in the parks and the woodland, whatever it’s called these days, and he was telling me ages ago about all the beech trees, how the beech trees aren’t indigenous so there’s a kind of twenty-five year plan in Calderdale to gradually cut down all the beeches because they think they erode...

    DK: Beeches do, because they’ve got.....they take out the under storey. If you go to the woodland....what’s that at the back of Hebden, over the other side? Near Fairfield?

    TW:

    There’ s....

    DK: What’s that wood called?

    TW:

    It’s Crow Wood.

    DK: Crow Wood. If you go there you will see that in action because there’s just no under storey, but the thing is if you’re coppicing and bringing light into the woodland, actually that is boosting up the.....you know, the under storey.

    TW:

    Yeah. I was just wondering whether...I mean I don’t know....how and when the Council are going to decide when to cut down the beech trees because they’re massive big things and it would probably cost a lot of money, but I was wondering whether if you’ve got a kind of maybe an arrangement with them that once they start cutting down the beeches you could start planting in, you know, new varieties to kind of keep the land intact.

    DK: Well it’s actually not me, but other people in Treesponsibility who are doing more of that work with the Council. You need to talk to Keith or Nora who are both in Treesponsibility, and both are also in another group called Back Bark; everybody in Hebden has got loads of different hats, but they’re working in that and they’re doing quite a lot of work with the Council.

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    TW:

    Oh that’s good, that’s really good. You told me a few minutes ago, all of these different types of trees that you actually plant. Is there a kind of hierarchy of.....need shall we say, for trees that grow quicker, for there to be a certain amount of....a certain kind of tree and then other ones that may be slow growing so you get a mix

    DK: Yeah there is. If you’re going on to....you don’t necessarily plant what you want to end up with in the end. To begin with, all....this is on poor ground....you would be putting things like a lot of alder and some birch, things that will tolerate sort of....shady, rotten soil, and then as they grow up, you’d start inter-planting with oak and the.....slower growing species. Alder are great because you plant an alder and then very soon it’s quite big, but....whereas oaks are much, much slower

    TW:

    So it’s not just going out planting trees then, it’s....you have to in effect manage it over the years so that as soon as the birch are a certain height, or however old they might be, then you kind of like thin them out and start putting in

    DK: Well this is what we want to do, but actually we don’t own any land ourselves, I mean, the work of Treesponsibility.....most of the work is background work and it comes under...we talk about the three-legged wooden stool, and the three legs of the stool are getting money in- massive bit of the job, getting the land in, because we don’t own the land; we’ve no land, we have to engage landowners, and the third leg of the stool is getting people to come and do the planting, and the seat of the stool is the climate education bit, but with respect to that question about how the long-term management, obviously we have to do everything with the consent of landowners, so we haven’t got any, you know, we haven’t got any......the main......we’d like....we’d like to try and get ourselves to be the woodland grant agents and then we’d get a woodland grant scheme and we’d get a ten year contract, and if we can do that, that’s our favourite to do because that means that we’ve got an ongoing attachment to that land for ten years, and then we hopefully will have formed a good working relationship with the landowner and we’ll get more....we’ll then shade on and start getting the woodland management grants and start bringing it in that....but we haven’t got the....we can’t say that’s definitely going to happen because it’s not our land and we have to just manage to do things by consent, and engage all the people who own the land in the project.

    TW:

    Right. Sounds very frustrating. [laughing]

    DK: We’ve got loads of really excellent landowners we work with. Sometimes it can be frustrating to go and plant something and the landowners let the neighbour graze their sheep for example, where we’ve planted and all our trees get eaten, but you have to develop patience.

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    TW:

    Yeah. I’m just.....one thing springs to mind and I don’t know how relevant it is to be quite honest. Talking about the tops which are all peat, well, the reason they’re all peat is because there were once trees there, I mean thousands of years ago, and I know it’s a kind of endangered environment these days. Is there not some sort of scheme where you could actually start to plant trees up there again; not wholesale but just little pockets shall we say, have little woods that might be useful for, you know, a variety of plants or animals or birds or something, so actually begin to create a kind of new...sort of environment?

    DK: Well I think the best thing for the tops is probably to....sort out the inappropriate drainage because there actually is more carbon in peat than in trees, and one of the things about, this new project called The Source, which wouldn’t just be tree planting, it would be things like gulley blocking, moorland restoration, just....to try and actually....stop...most of our moorlands are a carbon source; they’re continually emitting carbon and I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago about carbon, and I’ve one of these statistics lodged in my brain, tha....if we lost five per cent of our moorland area, that would be equivalent to a year’s total emissions from this country, so really....and three per cent of the land surface of the globe is......is peat moorland, and that holds as much carbon as the atmosphere does, so it’s very significant.

    TW:

    How does it escape then?

    DK: Well....I think....I think the two main things.....I mean obviously apart from physically mining and industry and all things, there’s.....the main way it comes down off the moors is through something called dissolved organic carbon I think, DOC, and over the.....past.....well....ever since we’ve been here, but people dig drainage ditches and gradually all the peat sort of leaches down, and you can see like when you get floods, you know, you get

    TW:

    It’s all orange.

    DK: Yes, you know, it all leaches down. Part of that is because of the way that....the poor drainage, well, the.....not the poor drainage but the too good drainage if you see what...but they’ve dug all these ditches, so what we’d like to do is....and what I’m fund raising for at the moment, is to.....for us to be able to block all these....these gullies, and then the land then would hold more carbon, it would also hold more water as well, because one of the main risks to peat lands is of course fire, as we’re going to get more drought, you know, drought times, because the two sort of extremes, we get extremes of drought but then you get heavy rainfall events, both of which are bad, but like on Ilkley Moor last year, it was a massive fire, that’s one way that a lot of carbon gets out from the peat moors into the....into the atmosphere, and the third thing – so there’s the drainage, the changing climate itself, the third issue is.....air pollution, sort of from probably you know, the time before the Clean Air Act and things like that,

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    that had quite a bad effect on moors because moors.....mosses and things can be quite tolerant of pollution and once your mosses start dying back, you get bare ground and then....and then it gets devegetated......so.....

    TW:

    Right. So if you blocked up the drainage, what would actually......the moorland, it’s sort of heather around here mostly, heather and bilberry and fern I suppose, and if that started to hold a lot more water, how would it.....what would actually grow there then – the same plants or what....how would it change?

    DK: Yeah I think so......to be a honest I do know more about trees, you know, I have been to this conference but the.....yeah, I think so because if you go to a sort of like, a good....bog it will probably have heather on it – Kinder Scout and places like that – covered in heather aren’t they?

    TW:

    Yes. There are.....well I don’t know....they have a very bad reputation, British Waterways, don’t they....I was just wondering whether you’ve approached them to kind of like become.....part of a supplier for them to actually plant trees around waterways to help in the flood aspect of it?

    DK: The people who would be more likely to do that, and actually some......it’s not the waterways, not the canal companies, but actually the water companies

    TW:

    Oh right.

    DK: And...over the hill in Lancashire, the water company there, I can’t quite remember their names, not Yorkshire Water, but they’ve actually been doing these moorland restoration projects right there, but unfortunately it’s also the river which is the bit where we want to go; there aren’t any Yorkshire Water....you know, there aren’t any that....but obviously the water companies aren’t interested because one of the things that they’re particularly interested in is this DOC, this dissolved organic carbon, which is actually a major problem for them in.....guaranteeing water quality, so there are.....there are things that....that can be done there, and there are some other groups who are fairly close to here who are doing moorland restoration; there’s Moors for Life....who I’ve got, and they’re doing something in Ripponden, in the Ripponden area which is a really good thing, and we’ve also got Yorkshire Peat Partnership who are doing something on Midgley Moor, so there are people doing stuff and that is good, but we could always have more and I would like.....I would like some of that moor to be near the source of the river.

    TW:

    Yeah. There’s the....what are they called......Anthony Rae works for them – is it Calder Future....who work on the rivers as well; they do.....they do all kinds of projects don’t they, to do with the rivers. I just wondered whether....if they’d asked you to do anything for them.

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    DK: No, we invited them to come in on The Source partnership but Anthony was doing another bid at the time, so he was not in on that, but we have got various lots of partners in; we’ve got the Council in, we’ve got Pennine Prospects, we’ve got the Cauldron Carmid’s Trust.....The Wildlife Group.....you know, so we are sort of building.....hopefully.

    TW:

    Right. So you’re kind of concentrating on the Upper Calder Valley basically. Do you go down the valley at all, through....through Halifax and Brighouse.

    DK: We have done.....if you go to Halifax there’s a big site called Brackenbeds, that was a Council site; we....we didn’t do all of it but we were involved with that planting, it was back in our early days, September 1998.....so...and we have planted further afield....I suppose I’m a bit selfish, you know, [laughing]....but also, having....having a sort of focus on the Upper Calder Valley, it does mean we that we can kind of probably end up with a strategic effect in our local area.

    TW:

    Because any effect you have here will kind of pass along the river really won’t it.

    DK: Yeah.

    TW:

    If you keep it well here, do it well here, there won’t be as many problems further downstream so to speak.

    DK: Yeah.

    TW:

    Right.....right, that’s good. Where do you buy your trees?

    DK: Well we buy them from a tree nursery in Scotland....really on price. They’re very nice, Alba Trees.

    TW:

    Right. Do they deliver them then or do you have to go and collect?

    DK: Well they deliver, but they also at the end of the year, if they’ve got any leftovers, they....they say they’ve got some spares and we have a little holiday up in Scotland and we take the van up and stay over in Dunbar, very nice place to visit Dunbar, and.....yeah, that’s it.

    TW:

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    Right. Do you store them all in Nut Wood then?

    DK: No we’ve got a little....a little bit of land up.....which we rent up Bents Farm, up Horsehold, bit further up than Horsehold.....but also we try and store it on the sites.....so that we try and get it so that all the trees for each site are on each site

    TW:

    Where they’re gonna actually be planted.

    DK: Yeah where they’re actually gonna be planted.

    TW:

    Well that saves a lot of....moving about really doesn’t it?

    DK: Yeah we’re trying to minimise the amount of faff .

    TW:

    So....I mean I know you have this sort of....long term.....kind of idea of just making it better and better. Are there any specific like projects over this year and next year that you’re actually gonna try and get going?

    DK: Well there’s Sandy Gate.

    TW:

    Yeah.

    DK: We are....crossing our fingers that we can get some funding for The Source, so it’s a question of......what we.....what we’ve got to do for the next....probably six months is to do some really on the ground survey work.

    TW:

    Right.

    DK: We were thinking that maybe some of the secondary schools or maybe even some universities might.....might be interested in sending the students out to help with that, so we’re going to get ourselves sort of trained, so we’re gonna to be going looking at peat depths.....measuring gullies, making restoration plans and doing all the technical work in advance, which then hopefully will support the funding bid....touch wood, touch wood.

    TW:

    Well it sounds a great idea, I think it does, yeah. Right......I just.... I suppose I’ll get a little bit off the subject.....there’s a lot of.....groups shall we say in Hebden Bridge

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    and the Upper Valley really who are interested in sort of ecological or environmental concerns, like there’s the whole Transition Town kind of thing and there’s the Yorkshire Group that you talked about. Is there....is anybody just sort of doing it independently or is there a kind of....do you get together and talk about strategies and stuff like that?

    DK: There are a lot of groups. There’s a huge amount of social engagement in Hebden Bridge. Trying to get everybody under one umbrella is a bit like herding cats, because people work with what they....you know, people....in the end, if you’re doing things voluntarily people do what they want to do, you know, and they won’t....they won’t want somebody else to say, ‘well strategically that’s less important’ – they would never want to do that – and I think that’s part of the territory, I think you’ve just got to...you know....I.....I suppose I used to have a faith in the idea of sort of like the Transition Town idea of bringing a sort of energy, present plan and getting people to sign up in it, but.....in a way I think my philosophy is more to do with muddling along in the right direction.

    TW:

    Right.

    DK: You know....I’m so sick of having done strategy, you know, and at regional level; we went into the Regional Spatial Strategy and Treesponsibility, also sort of danced to all these consultations and, you know, Regional Forestry Strategy, then a new government comes in, all the strategies are thrown out, doesn’t matter....oh, I just don’t think I can do strategies any more, I just kind of.....I think if people are sort of working together and liaising, and sort of bundling along doing what they’re doing at the same time, I think that’s probably the most that you can.....can hope for really.

    TW

    Right.

    DK: Because you could have the most brilliant plan in the world, for example, I mean Transition Town is doing this stuff to try and....promote the local economy, but you’ve got two new supermarkets eyeing up Todmorden, so I mean you’ve got all that economic differentials and economic power, you know, politics enters the equation as well and......life’s complicated!

    TW:

    Yes, yes indeed......so within Treesponsibility then, there’s like nine core members. Do you.....each have a kind of role within the organisation then, or is there just.....do you talk about it, and someone says ‘oh I’ll do that’ or is there a kind of delineation of it all?

    DK: Well Keith is our site supreme...... Barbara does the.....the admin and keeps us all in order.....I’m sort of kind of the development worker type.....Christina books the....the children and so she’s the sort of school liaison person, so there are roles

    Dongria28-07-11Page 14

    within......within it. Bear looks after the vehicles, you know, so we...but we do mess in and it’s.....most people can.....understand enough of what somebody else is doing to be able to do it, I mean we have....we’ve got a development group and.....we have, you know, management meetings as well, so it’s not....it’s not actually brilliant...there’s two privileges of being, well they aren’t privileges, there’s two things about being a Treesponsibility member: One is that you.....you are guaranteed to go to meetings, so you know, and if people don’t turn up at the meetings, I think it’s three meetings, they would stop being a member; they would lapse from being a member. The second thing is that we are....we are unlimited; we’re not a limited organisation....and so we all jointly accept liability for the....for the project, and there are various reasons about....that....the idea about it is....that capitalism works on particular things; it’s the idea of having limited liability and also shareholders as well, so that.....you can, it’s basically all about externalising its cost and externalising its responsibility, so actually being unlimited means....no, we are actually taking full responsibility for what we do, we’re not externalising it.....you know, and it also does mean that we actually do have to run.....run it correctly and get all, you know....make sure the finances, you know....make sure that we’re doing things right, so it’s discipline as well.

    TW:

    Right.

    DK: And also kind of I like, in a slightly hippy-dippy way, I like the idea of being unlimited.....it’s kind of...

    TW:

    Yeah....I’m just curious. Is there anything that I haven’t asked, that maybe there’s some aspect of it that you’d like to sort of talk about that I haven’t mentioned?

    DK: No I think.....I think we’ve pretty much....covered.....covered the ground.

    TW:

    Okay.....have you seen an impact then on the work that you’ve done, cos you’ve been doing it what....for about.....what thirteen years is it now?

    DK: Ah, there is something, I forgot something, yes.....we.....now that we’re....now that we’re going into the sort of.....economic weird zone with all these economic crises around, we.....we’re trying to diversify the way that we get our money, so one of the things that we’re doing now is we’re having an annual walk, so people can walk up the valley going through all the Treesponsibility sites that we’ve done before, and.....so some of.....some of the woodlands are pretty good now.....so that’s nice because when you first plant trees they look.....they look a bit measly; they aren’t that big and they never grow much in the first year or even the first couple of years and then suddenly whoosh.....so.....so yeah, we’ve got woodlands that like woodlands now, so that’s.....that’s good, and probably the tallest tree that I planted is about thirty foot now or something like that.....that was before the beginning of Treesponsibility, but yes, we have got some....you know, real woodlands that look good, and so we’re

    Dongria28-07-11Page 15

    linking the walk that goes from Hebden....goes from Nut Wood and up the other side of the valley and then......across from Todmorden over to...

    TW:

    It’s a long walk then isn’t it?

    DK: It’s a sixteen mile walk, but.....but we thought then people could do it as a sponsored walk and also people can come and look at the sites.

    TW:

    Right....right, that’s a good idea.

    DK On the 25th of September if you get [laughing].....if you get this before then!

    TW:

    Okay......just to slightly follow up, just talking in general then, not just about Treesponsibility but.....Hebden Bridge and the Upper Valley.....how has it changed do you think over the last, you know, ten or fifteen, twenty years.....because it will have.....the way it’s changed will have....affected sort of the work that you do in some ways I suppose, cos there seems to be more traffic so you would think....it’s going to be harder for you to actually do anything because there’s so much traffic. Have you noticed, you know, the change in the last twenty years in Hebden Bridge?

    DK: Well......there is a lot of traffic......there’s a lot of tourists; I don’t mind people coming to visit. I’d far rather people came to visit Hebden Bridge then flew away to the other side of the world, you know, any day, and.....I think that a lot of things are constant, I think one of the really brilliant things about Hebden is the level of social engagement that there actually is in the town; I think it really is extremely unusual for that......and......and....I think it......people always moan and say ‘oh it’s worse than it used to be’ you know, and la la la la, but I think there’s loads of really good....good things about Hebden, and it was, of course if you go back in time it was a tourist destination; they used to come in charabancs....you know, and go.....that little cabin, you know that little cabin, the Cabin Café, that cabin used to be up Hardcastle Crags in the...

    TW:

    Wasn’t it part of.....Dawson City? Wasn’t it part of that?

    DK: I think so yeah, I’m not sure, but.....but anyway, so....so it always.....it always has been a bit of a tourist place, and I don’t mind that really, you know, I know some people are a bit....snotty about it, but, you know....and it’s not the worst thing; I think the main thing that’s an issue in Hebden is the house prices, even though country wide, you know, we look quite cheap you know, compared with the south, but.....I think.....I’m not quite sure the statistic....something like ninety per cent of people.....who would like to be first time buyers couldn’t afford to you know, in terms of the amount of wages that are done locally, I think that’s very damaging for

    Dongria28-07-11Page 16

    the town actually, that is the main thing, because when I moved to Hebden it was....it was really very cheap. It hadn’t finished being steam cleaned, they were, you know, when I first came to Hebden which is before I lived in it, doing the Pennine Way and the whole town was black because....because none of the....the industrial soot had been scrubbed off the houses and.....and of course to make the town more attractive, then that attracts rich people; as you make the town nice and do nice things, then there’s always a down side to the up side, that that makes it....hard for local....local people who are born here to stay here and, you know, those that, you know, I can’t talk, I’m an off-comer, I mean......I wasn’t born here...I mean I was very lucky with my house, in the sense of my mother died; she lived down south and I was able to buy a small, with my inheritance, I was able to buy a small back-to-back, which I’ve always used to good effect because that gave me the liberty to be able to live on a very small income and do good stuff that I wanted to, which not everybody has that opportunity to do, because they’re so busy being.....having to pay mortgages and, you know, if they’re that lucky, or rent, you know as well, so I would say that that is the biggest issue for the town, you know, these days.

    TW:

    Yeah I would agree that is one of the biggest ones....right well in that case, if there’s nothing else, I’d just like to say thank you very much for talking to me.

    DK: Thank you.

    TW:

    That’s alright, yes, okay we’ll turn that off.

    [END OF TRACK ONE]

    Read more

  • Interviews and Storytelling: Bear

     

    [TRACK 1]

    This is Tony Wright, it’s the eighteenth of April 2011, I’m talking to Bear in the Zion Co-op and could you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

    STEVEN GIBSON: Right. My full name is Steven Richard Gibson and I’m from Essex. I was born in Essex on the 7th November 1957.

    TW:

    Whereabouts in Essex?

    SG: Chelmsford, County Town of Essex.

    TW:

    Chelmsford, right. And what was it like growing up there?

    SG: Well I suppose it was okay, I mean I’ve no great attachment to it.......since moving to Hebden Bridge I’ve just found a love of the place here and I’ve no intention of going back, frankly. I go down there to visit relatives every year but apart from that....it’s pretty enough in parts, but.....

    TW:

    What did you do down there?

    SG: Oh I had a whole host of jobs which varied from...I’m fifty-three now, I left school at sixteen and did all kinds of dead-end things down there...petrol pump attendant, hod carrying.....you name it, working in shops, factories, lathe turning.......I eventually became a self-employed builder which is what I’ve been doing for donkey’s years

    TW:

    How did you come about to come up here then?

    SG: I lived in London at the time that I was moving up here. I actually came here to do a building job for some people who’d been my customers while I was in London. They’d moved up here and asked me to come and work on the house, so I agreed, came here and really like the place so I just stayed here.

    TW:

    Right. When was that?

    SG: 2003, About this time of year about, Easter time-ish.

    TW:

    What is it that you like about this place that you like then?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    1

    SG: Well it’s more a case of what’s not to like really.......it’s very friendly, very picturesque, grand walking country.....small town, I like the smallness of the town, I hate large towns like Chelmsford and London, they’re just great sprawling masses of concrete and tarmac, there’s room to breathe here basically, everyone’s friendly, good beer.....everything’s good.

    TW:

    Right. Do you feel like you’ve been accepted by local people?

    SG: Oh absolutely, yeah, no question. I feel right at home here.

    TW:

    Right. So how’s the mix of like born and bred people to what they call the off- cumdens...the interaction between the two different kinds.....what’s your experience of that?

    SG: Haven’t really experienced any kind of interaction based on those......whatever it is......maybe I’m too thick skinned or something.....I don’t feel any part of hostility or anything from anyone who is a born and bred local. I realise that there are lots of what they’re calling off, off-cumdens here and we probably outnumber them [chuckling] so they’re in a minority really, that’s what they’ve got to moan about! [laughing]

    TW:

    You live in this Housing Co-operative. How did you get involved with Zion then?

    SG: When I came to town I was working in somebody’s house just round the corner from here actually, and I started checking out all the different pubs in town you know, to see which one I was gonna settle on as my local.....you know, I kind of got into going to the Stubbing Wharf and one or two of the people who lived here at the time went in there, so I started to meet people that lived here already and word was getting out that I was actually a builder, so they needed some building work doing and they employed me to come and do a job here. That was my big intro into this building really. Subsequent to that I actually started going out with Christina who lives here as one of the founder members and we kind of half lived here in her room and half lived in a house that I was at that point renting in Midgley, and when somebody moved out here I just took their place and moved in.

    TW:

    Right. How do you think this place will develop over the coming years as a Co-operative? How do you think it will change? Or will it just stay the same?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    2

    SG: Nothing ever stays the same. Originally there were eight or nine members here and only two of the original residents are still here, and that’s in eight years I think, so we don’t expect it to always remain the same; there’s a constant turnover of people – not a rapid turnover, but you know, people move on in their lives, but I expect the ethos to remain the same, you know, that we’re a Co-op which is...we work on Co-operative principles you know, with.....you know, a Co-op is a group of people working together for the benefit of that group really, so in our case it’s to provide ourselves with a social housing project in which we are both the landlord and the tenant.....so that aspect I don’t see changing......as I say the membership of course will change over time as it has been....the dynamics of the people within it are usually pretty good, obviously we’ve just kind of operated like a big family really so there will be differences of opinion of things sometimes but they always get resolved......but you know I can’t speak about the future with too much certainty. The benefit of the set up that we have really is that......we have control of the building and we.....therefore are the landlords and we get to decide who comes in and fills any vacancies, so basically we’ve got a head start over other tenants in a more conventional sense because those tenants have new house mates imposed on them by their landlord, but we actually get to be a self-selecting community really.

    TW:

    Right. I noticed you’re rebuilding....you’ve taken up all the flags and you’re redoing the floor in the room next to this one because you had some dry rot. It’s quite an undertaking that, and it looks like you’re doing all the work yourself, well amongst you. Is there a kind of.....a skill base that people need to become members or is that just a kind of idealistic way of looking at it?

    SG: No, no....that is a bit of an idealistic way of looking at it. Like I said, I’ve been a builder for many years so you know it kind of falls to me to be responsible for knowing what’s going on from a maintenance point of view and over-seeing any work, so you know, I am able to do the majority of the work. We did get specialist people in to deal with the dry rot so that we could get a guarantee with the treatment for it, but.....outside of that you know, we were able to carry out all the other work, in fact it’s necessary because it’s hellish expensive getting a firm in to do this work, so muggins here is the.....[chuckling] chief humper of things, mixer of concrete etc.

    TW:

    Right. I’d like to kind of move on to the other work that you do which is with Tree Responsibility

    SG: Treesponsibility.

    TW:

    Sorry, Treesponsibility, beg your pardon. SG: That’s quite alright. TW: What role do you play in that organisation then?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    3

    SG: I don’t have an official role like a manager or anything like that. I’m just one of the workers.....everybody does a bit of everything really. There are groups within it; it’s only a small organisation – it’s got a management committee of nine people....a sort of core working group of actual workers who are all in a management committee of six of us.....or seven, I don’t know, six or seven of us actually do the majority of the work and we all have to kind of muck in with all the different roles really.

    TW:

    And what type of work do you do with them? I mean, everybody involved does different kind of work I assume and what are those?

    SG: Well I mean, I could explain what Treesponsibility does I suppose

    TW:

    Yeah alright.

    SG: Treesponsibility’s a climate action group and it works to raise awareness amongst people about the impact of climate change and how we can live sustainably.....and mitigate our contribution to climate change.....we do this generally through organising voluntary tree plantings and work in the schools, so we....we host weekend tree planting events for adults where groups...sometimes we’ll organise it ourselves and advertise it so people just come on an individual basis or the family can come or something, and just join in with whoever else comes. We accommodate them in a hostel which we hire - feed them, drive them about to the planting site and generally look after them, and give them a good experience of a weekend planting trees and interacting with each other and us, and just generally sort of noodling away about climate change and sustainability issues. Other groups book to come or they book us to host for them – we have some regular groups like Earth First.....Manchester Students Gardening and Permaculture Society and others who....just book us to come and have like a get away weekend for their entire group, it might be a wedding party or a birthday event, so yeah, those people come and plant trees for us. We aim to plant five hectares of new woodland every year and......we’ve got reasons for planting trees which are....flood mitigation, so we’ve got steep sided valleys in this area which catch a hell of a lot of water when it rains hard and because we believe that climate change is actually happening and we believe we’re gonna get heavier, more sustained incidences of heavy rain which is likely to increase incidents of flooding in the area, so we like to plant lots of trees on the steep valley sides which help to slow the run-off and prevent erosion, and just keep some of the water out of the bottom of the valley when it rains hard, so that’s our current main focus for planting. We also plan to increase woodland cover and increase biodiversity – provide wildlife corridors

    TW:

    I was gonna ask about the actual type of trees that you plant. Are the different kinds of trees for different types of uses, shall we say?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    4

    SG: Yeah, well we plant all native broadleaf trees, we don’t plant really many evergreens, only if someone particularly asks us to plant on their land, they specifically ask us to plant evergreens we would do that, but generally all our trees are indigenous broadleaf species.

    TW:

    Where do you get the trees from?

    SG: We buy them from a supplier who grows them specially in Scotland, called Alba Trees. We just get crates and crates of about ten thousand plus a year.

    TW:

    Are you into woodland management then as well?

    SG: On the fringes of it really. We’re more about creating woodland than maintaining it at the moment, although we do recognise that’s gonna be a large part of our work in the coming years, and we’ve got kind of a sister group called Knott Wood Coppices who manage a....well, a wood nearby called Knott Wood

    TW:

    What work do they do then?

    SG: Generally coppicing and keeping the place tidy......just making sure that some of the weed species such as.....sycamore, bit by bit are removed and plant more native species in their place because the sycamores and biggish trees are kind of overtaking the local species

    TW:

    Is that just in Knott Wood or do they do that through the Upper Valley?

    SG: No, no no, they just have permission to manage Knott Wood for its own....but we do realise that you know, we are gonna be probably more involved in managing some of the woodlands that we plant in future years because....apparently we get money from funders you know, kind of like though Government sort of funding and the Lottery funding etc to do projects that we do, so....realising that you know, that it is kind of not sustainable forever and ever to keep relying on funding, we will be needing to take on you know, the ability to generate our own funds so management if probably a way of doing that

    TW:

    So you work with private individuals like farmers as well as council land.....how does that work?

    SG:

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    5

    Yeah, well we don’t own any land at all and all the land that we plant on is offered to us by the owners. It’s a kind of trade-off really because we get land to plant on which allows us to do our flood protection and that education etc......and of course the landowner then has the benefit of owning the woodland that they create. We create.....two types of woodland really at the moment. One is a kind of recreated natural woodland....where the trees are relatively spaced out and we also do coppicing in woodland as well where they are much more densely packed which is for future firewood you know, sort of to prevent burning fossil fuels, so if a landowner wants coppice woodland they basically end up with a never ending supply of free firewood on their land

    TW:

    Right, not a bad plan. So this idea of having alternative energy. Is that part of the ethos of Treesponsibility, or is that an add-on, or is it actually built into the kind of fabric of what you do?

    SG: No, it’s pretty much built into the fabric now. I mean, I wasn’t in Treesponsibility at the very outset. I’ve only been a member for the last three years and although they were doing coppicing woodland when I did join, I mean that I did know that that hasn’t been going since the very beginning.....in 1998 it started.......so you know like every project it’s an evolving project...sorry I’ve forgotten what your question was now....oh, was it part of the ethos to use alternative fuels...yeah, I mean now it is, definitely.

    TW:

    Right, okay. I’m just curious. You lived most of your life in London in an urban environment doing jobs along that sort of line of things, and you say you came up here and just sort of fell in love with it. How did that come about, I mean, why didn’t you fall in love with Epping Forest....what was it about this area that you kind of liked?

    SG: Well as I say, it’s kind of what’s not to like – everything about it is just good really [laughing]. It’s extremely picturesque, I mean I have lived in other parts of the country as well for brief periods. I lived in Stroud in Gloucestershire for a short period of time which is very similar to here you know, its stone buildings, valleys....Stroud’s at the heart of five valleys. The only difference really in the two areas is the hills and walks are sort of softly rounded down there and a bit more jaggedy up here really. I like the openness of the countryside, I like the variety of.....if you go for a walk in a very short space of time, you can be walking through streets, through woodland, out in the open hillside, out on the moors, on the tops, you can be crossing a tumbling streams or walking for miles on open flat moor land. The variety is amazing. Absolutely laced with footpaths. I like the wooded valleys personally you know, walking in Hardcastle Crags and Colden Clough, really, really beautiful landscape

    TW:

    That sort of explains why you like the sort of the landscape and your feeling for it. How did it come about then, having being a builder for so many years, you’re now

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    6

    doing something quite different. You’re planting trees, doing educational work and that sort of thing, how did that switch over happen?

    SG: Again, it’s just an evolution really you know, life moves on, circumstances move on and new things present themselves. You know, I grumble and moan about being a builder. I’ve been doing it far too long. I didn’t choose to be a builder in the first place, it kind of chose me because of the circumstances when I started it, but.....working for Treesponsibility is....the opportunity to work for Treesponsibility came up after I’d been doing volunteer work with them for a little while and it was a perfect opportunity to get out of being a builder really.

    TW:

    So you were looking for something anyway but you weren’t really sure what, but you just wanted to get out of what you were in.

    SG: Yeah. I mean I’d never.....I would never have thought I would go about planting trees you know, until...when I moved to here and.....Christina my partner was a long- standing member of Treesponsibility so I kind of got involved via her really and....just kind of morphed into it really.

    TW:

    Very good. You’re part of the Transition Town sort of movement if I can call it that. What does that actually mean to you then? What is a Transition Town?

    SG: A Transition Town or a Transition Initiative is a group of people or an area – it can be a town, street, a hamlet......where the residents are working together to reduce their impact on climate change and to recognise that.....the future effects of peak oil and to build resilience into the town to combat the effects of that....if that makes any sense. We expect the price of oil particularly, well fossil fuels in general, will rocket as supplies dwindle and demand increases world wide, and the effect of that is going to push the price of everything up and to make things less available and less affordable, so we believe we should recognise this now rather than wait for it to happen to us, and take steps to increase our resilience to it so that it doesn’t slap us in the face when we’re not expecting it and leave us disadvantaged. It’s a kind of two pronged thing really. One is to reduce our effect, our actual contribution to climate change and the second is to build in a resilience to the effects of peak oil. So, examples of that are growing more food locally, not being reliant on imports and to encourage.....the you know, to encourage Government even to recognise the fact that we’re vulnerable to food security issues because we rely so heavily as a net importer of food you know, when we actually have the capacity to grow all our own food, so food’s one example, but generally it is about localising everything really and taking responsibility for our own welfare and well-being, so there’s food, energy. We’d like to try and increase the local supply of energy with things like water power, solar power, wind power etc

    TW: Are there any projects on those lines that you’d like to get involved with or are involved with?

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    7

    SG: Well I am involved in the energy group, with the Transition Town group locally here. We are working on a project to install some hydro power equipment into Hebden Water and a dam near the cricket ground.....

    TW:

    Is that gonna be like a generator?

    SG: Yeah, a generator. There’s a....because there’s so much water running around here in all these valleys, it’s amazing how much water there is actually flowing in this area of course, as you know it was once hugely water powered you know, there were mills everywhere so there is a lot of infrastructure already in place which really just needs repairing to enable more modern methods of generating power from water to take place.

    TW:

    Might stop for a second

    OTHER PERSON: (another coop member who was helping Bear rebuild a floor) Did you say the level of its second spikes needs to be a hundred and seventeen lower than the top of the other ones?

    SG: Yes.

    OTHER PERSON: Okay.

    TW:

    This generator up Hebden Water then, up by the cricket ground – are you actually gonna have it in the river and then where is the electricity gonna feed to? Is it just into the National Grid or is there a group of people down there that would benefit from it?

    SG: Well, assuming it actually happens because I mean it’s hellish expensive – we applied for a grant for about £120,000 to do this recently, but which we haven’t actually got, but there may be alternative ways we can raise money, and it would work by taking water out of the river using the existing leat, which used to feed the mill pond at what’s called Dodd Bottom and then installing the generator at that point so that water actually returns to the river at that point.....the electricity that’s generated will be fed into the grid via a nearby house

    TW:

    How much do you think you can generate?

    SG: I think it’s a fifteen kilowatt generator.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    8

    TW:

    Oh right. And how long would that last for before you would have to kind of re- service it to upgrade it shall we say?

    SG: I think...well I’m not really an expert on the technicals of it, but we’ve had some work done by an expert on it who has suggested to us that about every ten years a set of bearings or something like that would need doing, but the actual generating equipment should last up to about fifty years. Currently the Government......has set up a feeding tariff mechanism so that people can actually earn money or people can have equipment that generates money and there’s a guaranteed return from the National Grid which has to buy in stuff, which is fixed for about twenty years so the money that that generates would be used to fund future sustainability projects in the area, so for example insulating hard to heat homes thereby reducing energy consumption, providing some local employment and also helping to set up other sort of sustainability, particularly in energy products that might come along.

    TW:

    So you say this idea that you’ve got in building that generator and using the old goits as it were, can you see that as a model that can then be used again and again through different valleys

    SG: Oh it already is you know, I mean we won’t be the first person to have done this, you know, there are other examples around the country of it, they’re bigger ones as well you know.

    TW:

    So what kind of financial impact would they have – do you know anything about that?

    SG: Not really......

    TW:

    I mean it costs one hundred and twenty grand to set one of these up and you’ve got a twenty year income coming from that by putting electricity into the grid. Is it the fact that it costs one hundred and twenty thousand which is a lot of money when you look twenty years ahead, or is it the amount that you actually get back to kind of cover that cost and then some to help do new projects so it becomes a sustainability project – project shall we say rather than income

    SG: It sounds to me the question you are asking is would the hundred and twenty grand get repaid in income basically

    TW:

    Yeah, I’m trying to....you see I think it’s probably a very good deal, but I mean I haven’t really looked into it. I just wondered whether you’ve looked into that side of it so that....because you were saying that if you did set it up you’d get an income from

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page

    9

    what you produce and you’d use that towards other projects. I was just wondering....is that the only way you’d like to do it....I mean I was just thinking about whether private people would want to do this sort of thing that lived on the river, and how they would go about you know, giving back to the community shall we say.

    SG: Well obviously I can’t really speak on behalf of other private individuals......there are other groups that have tried installing hydro power things in the area and they tended to come unstuck you know, with it being community groups, when they’ve identified a piece of land with water running through with the right whatever it needs to be, and the landowner might say ‘yeah that sounds good profit and then when they start looking into the amounts they go ‘well actually I think I should have that funding really’ so the projects end up not going ahead......so I don’t know what the answer to your question is really, but in this particular instance there’s been an issue with that piece of land in the past where a developer wanted to come along, chop all the trees down that had grown over the area, over the years since it had been disused and put a new housing development down there and......the incident....

    TW:

    Below Windsor View

    SG: Below Windsor View, now known as the Chainsaw Tuesday incident [laughing] when the developer engaged a whole load of people to come along with chainsaws and start cutting down the trees and the local people all went down to defend the trees and basically drove them out again, and some of those people......who are the residents there put some money together to buy the land to prevent that from happening again, and we’ve got....we’ve been negotiating with those people who currently own the land to have this project on their land and they’re in agreement with it, and in agreement with our aims to use it for future sustainability projects, so we’re pretty sure that we’re not gonna have that problem of somebody going ‘oh actually’ you know ‘let’s have the money in my bank’ [laughing]

    TW:

    Yeah that’s very good. Have you heard about the plan that David Fletcher has for doing a generator for Bridge Mill along there? Have you seen any of the plans or heard anything about that?

    SG: I haven’t seen the plans but....the funding streak that we put in our bid for was actually one of very many for this particular pot of money and David Fletcher’s was another competing bid, so neither of us has actually got this particular funding pot for our project, but of course as part of the Transition Town group, of course completely support what he wants to do there because you know, even though it’s not our project we wish it well because it’s gonna be providing energy from renewables and taking that building which......which is a great building and houses seventeen small businesses I believe as well and is run as a not-for-profit organisation, if that comes off grid and is a model sustainability and education facility as well, we can only wish it well.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 10

    TW:

    Right. I mean I believe there is about three hundred or so, probably more, sort of Transition Towns or Transition Town projects or initiatives or whatever they’re called. What kind of networking do you do with other groups about the various projects that are going on? How do you keep in touch?

    SG: Well to be honest not nearly enough. It’s aspirational of course to be fully integrated with all of these people but the reality is that we’re all voluntary work people here and....it’s just a mammoth.....sort of mammoth work for those of us who want to sort of run the organisation if you like....I’m the Secretary

    TW:

    How many people are in the group in Hebden

    SG: The group is divided into sub-groups and there’s probably fifty or more people involved in total.

    TW:

    Oh right. Quite a lot of people then.

    SG: Yeah, we’ve got a committee of......twelve....eleven or twelve people which is a representative from each of those groups plus some permanent members like the Secretary, Treasurer, Membership Secretary.

    TW:

    What are the sub-groups? I mean presumably they’re focused on.....I mean there’s one on energy and would there be one on growing food, I mean what kind of groups are there?

    SG: Yeah we’ve got two there. Energy, food; the food group’s been running a project recently. They want to start a community supported agriculture project here in the valley and to get organic food, veg box scheme, all grown within three miles of Hebden Bridge. That’s the aim, and over previous months.....over the previous...five months.....four or five months, something like that, they’ve been running a veg box scheme where they’ve been buying veg in from an organic supplier in Hipperholme which is probably ten miles away, something like that.....and it’s all been run by volunteers so there’s no wages to pay, no rent because it’s distributed from the local church, so all profits from that are being stored up to help set up the local food project. So what’s that....energy, food....transport......obviously transport is a big contributor to global warming so you know, we want to get people out of cars and on to public transport, bicycles and on foot....so the transport group’s got a new project to be announced at this week’s main meeting actually which is about getting people out of cars and on to bikes so that’s quite a multi-faceted project.....there’s a waste group – waste and consumer culture – which their most recent project actually only happened last weekend which was a Give Away Free day, whereby people were encouraged to find things they didn’t want and put them outside their house with a big

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 11

    sign saying ‘Free – please take it’ to keep the stuff out of landfill and stop people just wasting those products which are really perfectly valuable and useful and serviceable and stop them from buying new ones to replace them, so it keeps stuff out of landfill....I did rather well out of that myself. I got a new frame tent out of it [laughing]

    TW:

    Very good...very good!

    SG: .....so what other groups....education......it’s about talking to schools and......any parties, it’s generally about raising awareness you know, about the issues....so what’s that, that’s four isn’t it......there’s a health group.....there is....I can’t think what the others are of the top of my head......I’ll come back to that

    TW:

    Yeah, okay.

    SG: There are others......

    TW:

    Right.....I want to talk really about....a bit more about this idea of Hebden Bridge being the kind of place that accommodates all the different things that you’ve been going on about, you know, Treesponsibility, the housing Co-op, doing the Transition Town things – all sort of alternative ways of looking at life shall we say. What do you think it is about Hebden Bridge that all this has kind of come together and is happening?

    SG: Well my understanding of how Hebden Bridge has developed you know, in the last sort of fifty years or so, forty or fifty years, is it used to be a thriving sort of textile town you know, mills.....you know, it’s the heart of the industrial revolution area isn’t it really? Lots of mills and lots of employment and then of course the Indian sub- continent became the place to outsource work to....you know, mills started closing as imports became cheaper, people got laid off and a lot of people moved away and from what I’m told you know, the place was a kind of rather grubby, dirty, black ex- industrial town that didn’t have much going for it really and the prices of houses were falling and people just moved away, and.....the people that came in to fill those were kind of like the hippy types from the sixties who came and realised that it was actually a rather attractive place and the housing was cheap, and so we had quite an influx here of....they’d had been the first off-cumdens wouldn’t they....of a sort of more alternative types of people really – more arty, more musical, more laid back than the previous occupants might have been and so you know, I mean there are lots of sort of second generation hippy types around here, it’s still a very arty sort of place. The likes of David Fletcher who you’ve mentioned earlier have done a great deal to sort of do preservation work in the town and encourage tourism and.....so you know all of these things have contributed to making the town what it is today which is just sort of thriving, vibrant, artistic....and not everybody looking to make a fast buck really.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 12

    TW:

    Do you think the local Council, Calderdale Council, have been useful in any kind of way in sustaining, well, bringing about this sort of lifestyle change and that sort of thing?

    SG: Well I suppose they must have, I mean the Council generally is there to serve the people isn’t it? They’re elected by the local people to run the town, so....I mean I know that the Council in years gone by had a lot of the buildings cleaned up after all the mills stopped running and churning out soot you know, they had a lot of buildings cleaned up and they improved the facilities for people you know, parks etc......nowadays you know, are more clued up nowadays than they used to be about the workings of Councils. Since I’ve been working with the Transition Town group really, I’ve had more of an education about that and I realise that the Councils are actually very keen on the same sort of things as us really you know, they want clean, safe environments for people to live and work in which aren’t polluting, which...sustainability of course is a big buzz thing now anyway from National Government which is like pushed down to the Local Government levels to implement, so yeah, I would say so, they are very much into sustainability you know, we have contact with.....quite good contacts with Hebden Royd Town Council and different projects that are going on you know, we have contacts with Calderdale Council in different departments, the Leader of the Council, Janet Battye, is very supportive of us and what we’re trying to do. She’s gonna be coming to our next meeting I believe.

    TW:

    Right. So they support like allotment schemes and maybe even this energy scheme that you’re talking about. Can they come up with some finance for you or some sort of funding or knowledge or actual space that they might be able to hand over to you?

    SG: Yeah well I mean it was actually to Calderdale Council with Yorkshire Forward, no it’s Calderdale Forward, that we did apply for our funding, although I can’t actually blame them for not funding us because there were over a hundred applications for this pot of £2,500,000 which they had available so obviously there would be a lot of bids that weren’t successful, but yeah, I mean, talk about allotments, I’m actually on the Local Council’s Allotments Committee as well and that’s.....that’s come about because I went as representative to Treesponsibility to support an allotments scheme that was being proposed that all the residents locally were objecting to and it looked like it was gonna fold, so I went along and joined in with that and.....we managed to you know, look at all the problems that the residents were raising and get over all those problems and now it looks like that’s going ahead, but the status of that one at the moment is that we’re waiting to get land asset transfer over to the local Council

    TW:

    Is that up Sandy Gate?

    SG: Yes, although the Allotments Scheme is now designed to go up on the Dodnaze Estate at the end of that field.

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 13

    TW:

    Yeah. It’s flatter access isn’t it?

    SG: Yes, it’s flatter access, it overcomes all the problems of the original scheme which had it all down the bottom at Sandy Gate which was mostly to do with traffic issues and overlooking issues, that’s valid reasons to object.

    TW:

    Right. So you work for Treesponsibility, you’re part of the Transition Town and you do the Allotment things, you do the work here at the housing Co-operative. How does all that fit together then within your lifestyle, let’s say over the next ten years, your sort of, your life plan of action shall we say, which is gonna become....are they all gonna diffuse to one big thing or are you....is any particular one gonna become more important than the other thing?

    SG: Well I think they are diffusing into one big thing which is my lifestyle really and my lifestyle does encompass all of these things now...I’ve got quite an education since I came to Hebden Bridge about lots of things you know, mean your life’s changed enormously since I’ve been here and for the better I’d say definitely, so you know I mean, I haven’t sort of plunged into all these projects all at once you know, I’ve gone into one and then you know, something that raises my level of awareness of something else and I kind of like drifted into that as well and it just kind of works really you know, it’s just an evolving process you know, obviously I don’t earn a lot of money doing it but living in a housing co-op, you don’t need to earn a lot of money. The rents are cheap and it’s secure housing so you’re not likely to you know, like become homeless. Because I’m not earning much money, so long as I don’t drink too much beer, I don’t have too much money. laughs

    TW:

    So do you see yourself then as becoming more and more of an activist than just kind of looking after your own patch. Are you actually becoming more and more out there in a kind of political sense almost?

    SG: Yeah. I’ve been involved in some sort of direct action projects you know, in the country, I’ve been involved with Climate Camp, a camp for climate action which has just recently ceased to exist in that format but since it began by camping out sort of by Drax power station a few years back, I’ve been involved with that you know, with organising it as well as just attending......my most recent activist activity was October, the year before last, the last major thing anyway, a group of us descended on Didcot Power Station in the middle of the night and climbed up the chimney and camped out there for a few days to try and stop it from burning fossil fuels again and raising awareness.

    TW:

    I may just have to turn this off until after the teas made. SG: OK

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 14

    TW: You were just talking about the Hebden Bridge Partnership. What do they actually do?

    SG: Hebden Bridge Partnership is......basically a group of people who represent various organisations and so on in the town and it’s to further the interests of the town and its people really, so.....there are representatives of business, representatives of community groups etc so I attend it as representative of the Transition Town group and there’ll be the other people there from for instance Colne Wildlife Trust type thingies and the police are represented on there and the local Council and.....Calderdale Council.

    TW:

    Are they an information trading thing or do they actually create activities in support of the town or discuss issues and then make laws or by-laws?

    SG: They don’t make law or bye-laws or anything like that, they don’t really have powers to do those things like that. I suppose we like to think we represent a good slice of the local community so we can have some influence, so the.....group might write to people for example to lobby for something to be done etc, but of course it’s a networking exercise as well you know, so the different groups that are represented there you know can draw support from each other to help them to develop and further the interest you know, like David Fletcher’s there representing Pennine Heritage and.....well that’s about all I can say about that sort of really you know. I don’t have too.....apart of going to the meetings you know, I don’t have a lot of involvement in the running of that group because there’s too much to do as well as trying to live a life of leisure, you know, my own leisure and time and earning some money as well to live.

    TW:

    Well, I’ll just ask one last question really, and it’s is there anything you would like to say yourself about Hebden Bridge or the area, or how you think the things that you are involved in can be kind of useful for other people? Is there anything that you would like to say that I haven’t asked about?

    SG: Well....my....to be honest I don’t think there is anything that I would like to add that you haven’t asked me on that sort of thing.....obviously I want Hebden Bridge to continue to grow as a place where people want to come and visit because of its beauty and its current culture.....I suppose I see it as potentially influential on other towns and from a sustainability point of view....our energy group is trying to start a project to become the greenest town in the country from an electricity supplier’s point of view where we want to get a project together to get as many people together to sign up as possible – everybody would be the ideal to sign up to energy suppliers that only produce electricity from renewables, so I mean if that comes about then that hopefully would have an enormous influence on the remainder of this country......but no, I just

    Steven Richard Gibson trans Page 15

    want to continue to try and live sustainably myself and encourage others to do that through the activities and groups I’m involved in.

    TW:

    Okay, great, well thank you very much

    SG: Pleasure.

    [END OF TRACK 1]

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About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

Get in touch

Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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