Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Tuesday 9th February 10 Visit to The Earth Centre

Up early as had to get a train at 9.30am. So by 9 I was on my bike and heading towards the station and I managed to get the 9.27 which allowed me to get a train which delivered me to Conisbrough soon after 10am. The meeting was due to start at 11am.

I wandered over the bridge over the River Don towards the main site and when I was coming back there was another chap wandering across, he turned out to be another John from York, a Union man, and involved at one time with Remploy. We chatted and waited for others to turn up, which they did. Also the 3 core members of We Love The Earth Centre arrived... they hadn't managed to get the required information into the facilitating organisation, the Rapid Technology Transfer Group or RTTG, so unfortunately none of them were in the visiting group.

At about 11.15 we all had our visitor badges and the selected group went across the bridge again and entered the site. We first went to the Conference Centre. This is a building based on cages of rocks called gabions, and is based on nice curves... it's a more or less circular structure, with a large stainless steel woodstove in the lobby area, a circular main room and a series of other side rooms. The gabion walls were perhaps a little difficult on the eye... I would try to soften them with hangings. I liked the re-used radiators mounted on the walls, it was a nice feature. This building seems perfectly usable and seemed in good condition.

Then to the main open area between the galleries and the restaurant, much of which is covered by a huge area of photovoltaic panels, which I learned are still generating but aren't connected to the national grid, which seems like madness as they must generate thousands of pounds worth each year. We had a quick look around the deserted restaurant, last used by the war-gamers who hire the site from time to time.

Then into the huge building which is The Gallery, which was once an exhibition centre showcasing information and ideas about our planet, animals and plants, ecosystems, energy, all sorts of things, but looking very dated and one comment was that some of the arty exhibits are a bit pretentious. This building has a huge gas heating system and a really good kiddies play area, lots of climbing and crawling through wooden structures... what a waste!

One of the visitors, John O'Callaghan (another John!!!) was very excited to find the remains of the Mongolian Yurt and some Mongolian horse bridles.

My favourite area was next; the water/sewage treatment plant called 'The Living Machine'. This has been kept working and the fish and aquatic plants are still alive, although the exterior of the building is in poor condition, as it has been damaged by birds pecking, and water sitting on the plastic membrane. Near this were the gardens, with lots of fruit trees and obviously reasonably fertile ground. But all very overgrown, with hawthorns and birch seeded into it, ivy and brambles.. reverting to scrub and if left, woodland.

Then we walked down to the river, which is canalised and is navigable from the Humber to Sheffield. The Earth Centre site has a landing, although the regular floods have given it a deep layer of silt (and vegetation, of course), and alongside the river are stands of willow which really need to be coppiced.

So we made our way out and in a convoy of cars (and I was in John H's van) we managed to find our way to our hosts for the afternoon, Senior Architectural Systems, based in Denaby.

We had a good lunch... filled rolls, quiche, orange juice, and Mike Marchant was introduced by his RTTG partner, Bill Robertson.

SAS make aluminium and wood windows, as far as I can work out. I'm not sure if Mike works for them too, and my question about the relationship between SAS and RTTG wasn't clearly answered. But it was clear that both Bill and Mike care deeply about environmental and social issues, and have started a venture called MiUni, where (I think) a company suggests areas where they could improve on sustainability issues and then a 2 or 3 days syllabus is created and then a mobile classroom is taken to the business park or company premises to act as a space for
learning. (I think this is the set-up!) The third member of RTTG is a younger chap, Mark Ducker, who is involved in promoting recycling and might be connected to a company called Sustainable Energy Connections, though I can't find any mention of this...and, music to my ears, he's interested in fuel poverty and I chatted with him about woodstoves afterwards.

So Mike told us about RTTG, and that they had already had some success when a company they were connected with (probably JCB) had developed a cab for their diggers which was so safe for the operative, so soundproof and break-proof, that the door was difficult to close. (maybe the cab was airtight?) So the RTTG put the company in touch with another company which was able to present a solution immediately. Now digger drivers can have a quiet and safe working environment AND close the door on their cab easily!

The RTTG do not yet have a plan for what they could offer to The Earth Centre site. This meeting was the first of a collective plan, which would need to be
1) productive, in terms of revenue, learning, the economy and jobs;
2) inclusive, with different technologies, occupations and communities all considered and involved;
3) open to different ideas, expertise, interests and ways of communication;
and 4) highly regarded in it's activities, research and development.

Then the 20 or so attendees introduced themselves, and were asked to say what they thought they could bring to the table, what they could offer, or what their vision was for the site.

John Wilson from Remploy was a bit new to this sort of thing but he anted the needs of disabled people to be taken into account, and employment opportunities for disabled and older people.
Ben from CO2 Sense, involved in promoting glass recycling said he had no particular vision but that obviously CO2 Sense and Yorkshire Forward were happy to contribute ideas, expertise and possibly funding to any appropriate development.
David Wilde from Groundwork Dearne Valley, whom I met a few years ago when he was presenting a day's course on Education for Sustainable Development wondered about a new headquarters for the organisation.
Bernd Hoermann, from the sustainable development department of Sheffield City Council was generally enthusiastic about what the Earth Centre was and what it could be.
John O'Callaghan disclosed his ecoactivist roots and his passion for sustainable solutions, and offered the services of his company Techead.
Joanne Wehrle from Dearne Valley Eco Vision was representing a key partner.
Phil Walker and his nameless friend wanted to use the site for American car displays... and although the process is supposed to be inclusive, this is one of the things which wouldn't fit with the vision I have of The Earth Centre site!
Jayne Evans from Beta Technology has connections with DEFRA and European links too.
Lee Brooks has had the bright idea of showing schools and other groups how to recycle aluminium drinks cans using a small scale smelter and die-casting system, and this relatively new project is called 'Casting Innovations'.
Mike Reid was one of the original Earth Centre team, before the second stage was built with the many millions of pounds of Millennium money. He seems to be a proponent of the low tech and person-centred approach, and is, like me, a big fan of what the Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth have done. He is involved in Pedal Ready which looks like a good project.
Sue Crockford is a film-maker and champion of the underdog, and has had a long career of working with and documenting community struggles.
Faye Leo is with MET UK who provide training, and she has a special interest in renewable and repair technologies.
Marcus O'Hagan was a volunteer with the Earth Centre in it's first format, before the Millennium funding 'destroyed it'. He is responsible for the wharf on the River Don which would enable boats to be used as a transport option to and from the site.
Sally Walker from Native Architects, specialist in sustainable buildings (and friend of Imelda from BlueFish Regeneration who brought me down for the last We Love The Earth Centre meeting, who was unable to be here today)
Tracey Fairfax of the Yorkshire Ambulance Service, who run training and first aid courses, would be interested in using the existing facilities.
Kirsty Chamberlain, a teacher at Abbey special school which has sustainability at the heart of everything it does.
Hannah Booth from Natural England, Liz Reeve from the Don Gorge Community Group and Dan Hall from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, all interested in the woodlands and SSSis which are in the Don Valley.
Steve Hinton from QED Consulting.

These introductions served to start several interesting conversations and will help the people who wish to help the RTTG write their business plan get it broad enough to be considered by the Council when they decide who is to have the job of co-ordinating the redevelopment.

I was one of the last to go as I wanted to chat with several delegates, and then walked back to the station with John Wilson. Good conversations on the train all the way home...

I got home just after 6pm and knew I'd been invited to attend a Fishergate Ward Committee meeting to 'speak to' a couple of funding bids that Anna had put in for York in Transition events.
So 40 mins after I got in, I went out again!

But soon after I arrived, I was told that Ivana was also there to do just that, so I cycled home again.

Simon was visiting when I got back home, he'd found some Oyster mushrooms and had brought me some, and was collecting the Suma Order which arrived today.

A late evening typing up most of today's stuff. Didn't finish it though... will be finished tomorrow!

1 comment:

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