Chair’s Report to the AGM – November 2018

RECS – Renewable Energy Community Schemes with Flood Prevention + Other Benefits: Our Atkins consultants, Andy Gill + Marcus Huband, continued working with us + MCC, NRW, AONB, Gwent Wildlife Trust, Long Forest, the Woodland Trust + others, culminating in the presentation of the final report at a very well attended meeting in June. All the right people were there, + there was great commitment to taking the project forward. NRW + MCC Flood Prevention + Gwent Wildlife Trust decided to proceed with a pilot project at Kingswood, an area that had exercised the mind of Roger Hoggins who has for some time been concerned about the problems that will inevitably result from the construction of a new housing development.

So, in October 2018 there was an initial walk-about at Kingswood.  Those attending included MCC (Flood Prevention, Rights of Way, and Countryside), NRW (Water Courses, and Forestry), AONB (NFM), GWT + others, all guided by Marcus Huband (Atkins).  It was inspiring + exciting.  Never before had so many different interests been brought together.  Never before had there been such an opportunity to understand how one activity impinges on another.  As an example, we discovered that an expensive problem for Forestry was the disposal of wood with no commercial value; however, securing this wood into large ‘woody bundles’ + placing the bundles in appropriate places provided a very cheap solution to ‘slowing the flow’ + aiding flood prevention. It needed the input of others + the experience of our Atkins consultant to come up with all this.  There is great eagerness to have more such sessions as each site is unique with its own particular set of problems + solutions, + more experience is needed in order to successfully establish this new collaborative way of working which, even in our first session, came up with innovative + economically attractive solutions to problems that RECS seeks to address.  It’s worth going on at length about this – because, though the process is now developing a momentum of its own, it was started entirely as a Transition Monmouth idea.

We are also working to produce a request for funding to the Welsh Government for work around Monmouth. In the suburbs, the recommendations generally fall into the category of SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems) – stuff like tree planting, wildflower meadows, rain gardens, permeable surfaces. Our approach to this is community based, working with the schools + community groups. For this we are commissioning a range of leaflets for three groups: primary schools, GCSE pupils, + households. It would have been so good to have leaflets to give out when we had working parties so the volunteers could take them away + understand why they were doing our stuff. For children, these leaflets should of course also be suitable as teaching aids. We are in the process of working out quite how much time we still need from Atkins to implement some of their proposals, + also to pinpoint specific sites for inclusion in the LDP.

Food Sense: Our project which aims to link food poverty/social isolation on the one hand with waste/excess food on the other has attracted a wide range of members + other community groups. Much of our energy was devoted to producing 1,092 free packed lunches (in plastic-free packaging of course) for children attending the Summer Play scheme at Overmonnow School; this was an amazing coming together of the community in our effort to help alleviate food poverty in the holidays. We have worked throughout with Mike Moran (MCC) + are confident that he will apply for the WG SHEP (School Holidays Enrichment Programme) next year for Monmouth. We were aware + had been alerted by the Food Bank, HomeStart + others of school holiday hunger, + feared that with the roll out of Universal Credit starting in June, the problem would be worse than usual. In the meantime, having tried unsuccessfully for many months to connect with the supermarkets about the food they send for recycling, all of a sudden they have all started producing crates of bread on almost a daily basis. We are scrabbling round to set up a distribution network! Community lunches (donate what you like) are now happening on a weekly basis, we are looking for a suitable location for a community cupboard, + are generally getting out to the community with projects such as these – most heartening! A new one for us was apple juicing (with equipment kindly lent to us by Ned Heywood of Transition Chepstow) on 13 October, + the possibility of a community pub + soup kitchen (full roast dinner) on Christmas Day.

Local food: Sad that the whole Food Assembly movement has folded, but the farm shop at Square Farm continues to expand. Apart from veg fresh off the fields + meat, dairy, local jams, chutneys + the like, it also now operates a refill scheme for detergents, + dry goods such as rice, lentils etc. Although the Old Lands CSA folded, the little shop at Dingestow Court is well stocked each week (+ is open every day) with produce from the walled garden + all the basics, some from a refill scheme. A new Chamber of Commerce ‘Buy Local’ initiative is welcomed.

Woodland Project at Claypatch Woods: Monthly working parties, as well as other parties, continue with the aim of creating a pond, firepit, etc. There is also a new Bee Friendly Wyesham group to create wildflower areas + plant trees/shrubs – considerable overlap in the membership of the two groups, + great for implementing SuDS.

Plastic Free Monmouth: Started in January, we now have a vibrant group run by an efficient Gang of Five + around 80 others on our email list + 292 followers on a very lively Facebook page. We have been working with the schools (including all five private ones), businesses, community groups etc, + following a film showing on 4 November of Albatross, we expect to have qualified as achieving Plastic Free status. Well, that will be great, but the work needs to continue to just get rid of all that awful + unnecessary single use plastic. We did it with carrier bags – an 87% drop in usage + permanently changed behaviour – + it only took five years – so now for all the other stuff. And it’s so good that we are not alone. We have much enjoyed working with similar groups in other towns, + much appreciate the support from MCC. We await with trepidation to see permanently altered behaviour on MCC property + by MCC Officers.

Children’s Playground on Chippenham Mead: The long + painful + frustrating struggle finally paid off – we are having a playground on a lovely site away from air + noise pollution, with mature trees + a bund which is ideal for the start of a zip wire. Common-sense prevailed – why was it so difficult? Now for the implementation!

Herb Garden by the bus station: This has looked good this year, largely due to the work put in by Diane. It is an ideal site for a noticeboard to promote TM. It is in any case needed to explain what has been done + why – particularly why it is untidy during the summer as we wait for the seeds to ripen. We will look out for opportunities to take this forward through Community Champions, Nature Isn’t Neat etc.

Shared space: We had for some time, through Monmouth Partnership Forum, been looking at ways of making the town centre more pedestrian friendly – but decided in the end that it was a job for a professional. It was 1 May 2007 when we first got Ben Hamilton-Baillie along to tell us about shared space – a great turnout including Roger Hoggins + Dave Harris. Ben produced a fine plan but, we’re not sure why – did MCC concentrate on Chepstow + Abergavenny? – nothing to date until at last – next January our pinch point in Monnow Street is to be implemented, followed by Agincourt Square within a couple of years. The ducks, at last, are in a row + Roger just has to get final approval from his masters.

iNeed Festival: iNeed supports refugees + we were fortunate they chose Monmouth for their festival this year – 500 refugees from South Wales + 500 local residents. It operated on the basis that everything was free of charge – entry, food, music, activities; well, refugees don’t necessarily have the money to pay for their children to have their faces painted. We supported it as best we could + much enjoyed doing so. There was no support from Monmouth Town Council on the basis that they didn’t see what was in it for the town! We have some good Councillors who didn’t see it that way, knuckled down + did what they could.

Nature Isn’t Neat: We are working (we were brought in at a late stage as partners) with Monmouth Town Council + Bees for Development on this RDP funded project which provides two days a week of Alison Howard’s time starting August 2018. Little progress to date, + we are concerned at the lack of willingness to involve the community, let alone comply with the FGA. Strong input from the Transition members of the group is beginning to have a productive influence; it may turn out well. We will continue to try to influence.

Other stuff: The coffee mornings, Swap Shops, Food Bank support (we pay for a fresh fruit + veg delivery each week) continue. It’s clear we have an ever-increasing ability to work with an ever-increasing number of community groups.

The Wider Context: While our members on the whole are interested in rolling up their sleeves + doing things, there is also the need to consider the wider context – so we continued with our discussion evenings. Topics to date include electric vehicles, the Internet of Things + how to use data to make better environmental decisions, carbon consciousness + carbon saving (a project at Aberystwyth University) – plenty more on the menu as well as film shows.

Ann Eggleton