Chair’s report to Transition Monmouth AGM 2019

I have been honoured to chair Transition Monmouth over the past year and to work alongside so many warm, committed and talented people. This annual report is longer than usual as I want to give new members a more comprehensive overview of who we are, the projects we support and what we have achieved over the last year.

Transition Monmouth was begun 12 years ago by Vivien Mitchell and others.  It is part of the international Transition Network movement www.transitionnetwork.org which aims to combat climate change by building resilient communities and developing local sustainable projects. Over the years many people have been involved and made significant contributions to many different projects. At this time our main projects are Food Sense, Plastic Free Monmouth, Wyesham Community Woodland, RECS flood prevention project, the Pollinator Garden, Nature Isn’t Neat and the Community Orchard.

Evolution

Late 2018 and early 2019 saw some changes to our committee. We bade farewell to Ann Eggleton as Chair and to John Payne as Notes Secretary. We welcomed in myself, Karin Chandler, as new Chair. Bryan Miller was voted in again as Deputy Chair with Vivien Mitchell remaining Treasurer, Admin and Newsletter Editor. In the early part of 2019 we welcomed Jill Cantor on board as Notes Secretary. We began the new year by reviewing and celebrating all the achievements of the previous year with the aid of post-it notes and flipchart paper, before moving on to explorations and plans for the future.

We agreed to re-shape the way we ran our meetings in 2019. Each Transition project was allocated a ‘showcase slot’ at one meeting a year. The rationale behind this was to keep our monthly meetings shorter and snappier and to allow a good amount of time to both celebrate and discuss each project in turn. This new approach was voted in unanimously by all and has been successful.

We also began a new style of working by ‘checking in’ at the start of each meeting, as recommended by the Transition Handbook. This has given us a chance to make new members more welcome and strengthen and deepen our relationships with one another by allowing an opportunity to share more of our lives.

Summary of the Year

What a year we’ve had! 2019 has seen more action on preventing and adapting to climate change than perhaps ever before. Public awareness is now very high with the focus of public discussion shifting away from “is climate change real?” towards “what should we be doing about climate change?”

Along with others, including the Climate Change Champions, Monmouth Youth Strike 4 Climate and Abergavenny & North Monmouthshire XR, we lobbied Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) to declare a climate emergency. Monmouth Town Council declared a climate emergency first in May 2019, shortly followed by MCC. From MTC’s declaration ACE Monmouth (Action on Climate Emergency) was born and began engaging with the wider community in Monmouth to identify actions that the council and the community can be taking. Since MCC’s declaration, they have been developing climate emergency plans and consulting with the Climate Change Champions group. Transition Monmouth has been pushing for things to happen on this scale for years and we are delighted to have reached this point.

We have also been really busy with our own projects. Plastic Free Monmouth made an excellent start to the new year by celebrating Monmouth achieving Plastic Free Town status. Wyesham Community Woodland, Food Sense and our Pollinator Garden go from strength to strength. Our RECS flood prevention project sadly ended abruptly due to its funding being pulled, but all the mapping and feasibility work that was done can still hopefully be picked up again in the future if more funding is secured. After a slow start Nature isn’t Neat is slowly starting to bear fruit. Interest in the Community Orchard project has grown this year, with a successful Wassail and pruning/tidy up event.

We have also enjoyed several vibrant community events this year – two Big Swaps, where we expanded the idea of just swapping plants and seeds to swapping other items too, encouraging people to reduce and reuse. We even pushed the boat out at the last Swap and served home-made autumn soup along with free bread from Food Sense. This was one of our most successful fundraisers ever.

We also purchased apple pressing equipment (Monmouth Town Council generously supporting us with a grant to cover half the cost) and held three apple pressing events in different parts of Monmouth and its surrounds. We relaunched our Discussion Forums, watching a TED talk together as a starting point. Responding to feedback, we did this at a weekend, so that Transitioners with children could come along too. We haven’t managed any more than one Forum this year, but can perhaps be excused, as it’s been an exceptionally busy year for us all!

We’ve attracted new people to Transition and our Facebook group membership keeps growing slowly.  Vivien Mitchell’s monthly email newsletters continue to be a triumph, as they are the glue that keeps us all connected and informed.  Let’s have a closer look at the year in more detail now:

January

We had a great start to the new year with plenty going on, with planning for February and March events.  We also held our first ever Wassail in the community orchard.

Wassail

We had so much fun, despite the shivery weather! Approximately 70 people gathered in the Orchard, warmed by hot apple juice and apple cake baked by our team of bakers. We wassailed the apple trees, making lots of noise to scare away the bad spirits and serenading the trees with traditional wassail songs. The icing on the cake was a Mari Lwyd (a hobby horse skull mounted on a pole and carried by a person hidden under a sackcloth – a traditional South Wales folk custom) from Brecon turning up as a surprise to join us. We made a good sum of money from donations towards the apple pressing equipment we were hoping to buy later on in the year. Our thanks go to Charles Boase for donating the apple juice.

Trip to Avonmouth Suez Recycling Plant

Some of our members enjoyed a trip to Suez organised by Sue Parkinson from MCC. It was a challenge finding safety boots in the right sizes for everyone, but it was well worth the effort. The trip was both fascinating and disturbing in equal measure, with the sheer scale and stench of the recycling remaining imprinted on the brain and nose. We enjoyed a buffet lunch after the tour and had lots of opportunity to ask questions and network with Transitioners from Abergavenny and Chepstow.

RECS, our flood prevention project – showcase report

At our January meeting, Vivien Mitchell reported back on RECS (Renewable Energy Community Schemes) flood prevention project. The project was initiated by us in January 2016.  It was funded by the Rural Development Programme and  had widespread support from agencies including Natural Resources Wales, Monmouthshire County Council, Renew Wales, Gwent Wildlife Trust, Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Gwent Wildlife Trust, Monmouth Partnership Forum, Woodland Trust, Long Forest and local schools.  We employed Atkins Consultants to do a widespread mapping and feasibility study of the local area.

The project was not only aimed at preventing local flooding by natural means, but also had other benefits including managing woodlands in order to produce more wood products (renewable energy) while at the same time reducing forestry and other costs.  Not just that, but the measures were also planned to help improve biodiversity and maintain rights of way.

Six sites were considered for the next stage of the project and it was decided to use Kingswood as a pilot.  Unfortunately, our request for renewed funding was refused on what we believe were spurious grounds. Given the recent flooding in the area, this seems extremely short-sighted.

February

All the focus this month was on pulling off a high-profile awards ceremony to celebrate Monmouth becoming a Plastic Free Town.

Plastic Free Monmouth Awards Ceremony

This was an exciting moment for Plastic Free Monmouth which we had been working towards for a year. Our town was deemed to be a Plastic Free Town by a Surfers Against Sewage accreditation scheme in late 2018.  This meant that a designated proportion of businesses, community groups and spaces and schools had made a commitment to swapping previous disposable plastic items for more sustainable choices.

The Plastic Free Business Champions awarded at the ceremony were MonTeas, Monmouthshire Beacon, Milking Solutions, Green and Jenks, Chillipepper Signs, Marches Deli, Square Farm Shop, Wyedean Healthfoods, Savoy Theatre and ATC Floors and Doors. The schools we celebrated were Overmonnow Primary School, Osbaston Church School, Kymin View Primary School and all the Schools in the Haberdasher’s Group. Community spaces were Ty Price Community Hall, The Monmouth Priory, The Bridges and Rockfield Park Community Centre. Local community groups include Wyesham Women’s Institute, Agincourt Women’s Institute, Litter Response Team, Transition Monmouth & Rotary Community Champions.

We enjoyed a wonderful plastic-free, vegan buffet prepared by Dilly Boase at the ceremony and the opportunity to celebrate this fantastic achievement of our town.

March

March marked the start of an extremely busy period for Transition. We facilitated two workshops at Shire Hall, run by external consultants to explore what a future Monmouth affected by climate change might look like and how we could put plans in place to tackle it. We also gathered together on a cold but bright day in the orchard for a picnic and tidy up of the fruit trees. We also had a stall at the Community Engagement Stall at Monmouth Comprehensive School

Pollinator Garden – showcase report

At our March meeting, Diane Booker gave us a really interesting showcase report about the pollinator garden (formally known as the herb garden) by the bus station in central Monmouth. The garden is approximately 58 square meters, originally set up by pupils from the Attik Youth Club as the ‘Henry V Garden’. Guerrilla gardening by Transitioners commenced in 2015, when weeds – mostly thistles and bindweed were cleared. Since then, we have continued weeding, putting in additional plants, rearranging the rocks to the front of the plot and putting in a woodchip pathway through the garden. There are brick walls on two sides and the bus shelter provides shelter on another side, leaving the area open at the front.

There are a number of small trees/shrubs-rowan, damson, bay, fig, hawthorn, rosemary and herbs (mint, chives, fennel, marjoram, lavender, evening primrose, golden feverfew, sage).  Diane asked for some help from other Transitioners with pruning, taking cuttings away to be composted and with collecting woodchip from the allotments, as well as with acquiring some new plants. Members of Transition were pleased to help with these things. Since this report, we have acquired a new lectern style notice board for the garden.

Climate Ready Gwent Workshops

The first event was aimed at the general public and the second at policy makers, including Monmouthshire County Council, Natural Resources Wales, the Fire Service, Gwent Police, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Gwent Wildlife Trust and others who will be instrumental in managing the consequences of climate impacts on the town.

The aim was visioning the effects of climate change on Monmouth, influencing the policy makers and developing action plans for adaptation. Both workshops were well-attended and enjoyable. They captured useful testomonies as well as helping to expand awareness of the issues.

Orchard pruning day and picnic

We had a good number of people turning up to help prune and tidy up the apple trees in the Community Orchard by the Monmouth allotments.  We removed defunct tree guards and wiring and gave the trees a good old prune under the guidance of a local ecologist. The children enjoyed the Food Sense pastries and joined in with the pruning.

Community Engagement Event

This Monmouth networking event had previously been postponed due to snow.  We gave our display board a make-over in honour of the event and redistributed lots of bread from the Food Sense project. Plastic Free Monmouth and Wyesham Community Woodland project also had stalls, so Transition projects were well-represented. It was a fun, lively event and provided a good opportunity for us all to see the new rebuilt Monmouth Comprehensive School.

April

April was busy too. It was great to to see everyone at the Big Swap event and to be introduced to the Rockfield Community Garden.

Food Sense – showcase report

At our April meeting, Kate Rees reported back to us on Food Sense – a Transition Monmouth food surplus distribution scheme which has been running since 2018. Waste food which is about to go out of date in local supermarkets is redistributed in the community by a team of volunteers.

The project was incubated in 2017 when Transition questioned whether anything could be done locally, to reduce food waste and help cut carbon emissions caused by food waste. The excess food is used to address the ever-increasing problems of food poverty and social isolation.

The food comes from Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and the Co-op. It goes to Bridges Social Circles; the Family Learning Unit in Overmonnow; Busy Bees Nursery at Kymin View; Kymin View School; Early Years Nursery in Llandogo; Monmouth library and to various people in need in Monmouth. The project is currently running really well. Since Kate gave us this update we have found out Food Sense has received the Highly Commended GAVO (Gwent Association of Voluntary Organisations) Award in the Groups category, for the second year running, so congratulations all round!

The Big Swap

We held this event at Rockfield Community Centre.  We chose this venue as we wanted to spread our events across Monmouth in different venues to help extend Transition’s reach. Clothes, books, toys and bric-a-brac were all swapped as well as plants. We all enjoyed tours of Rockfield Community Garden, a new shared garden space for local residents. The event was successful – we all swapped merrily away, ate cake and chatted lots.

Youth Strike 4 Climate – first Monmouth strike

This wasn’t technically a Transition event, but many of us supported it by stewarding, creating publicity and mentoring the children.  My children set it up with their peers, inspired by Greta and the strike we attended in Cardiff in January. Hundreds of students from Monmouth Comprehensive School joined the strike. They marched down Monnow Street, stopping traffic and occupied the Overmonnow petrol station before marching to Osbaston. The youth organisers went on to organise and lead several other strikes in Monmouth in 2019, which really raised awareness and discussion in the town. I am so proud of our young people for stepping up.

July

Wyesham Community Woodland Project – showcase report

For our July meeting, we headed to Claypatch Woods in Wyesham to enjoy a relaxed and informal meeting showcasing the Wyesham Woodland project in situ.

Richard Garner gave us a very informative talk. He with his wife Kirsty, was the main driving force behind turning this area from an uncared for, semi rubbish dump, into a useable woodland, complete with fire pit, places for adventure and den building, an open area, paths and proper drainage.  This venture has involved the local community and others from further afield and has taken impressive amounts of organising.  It is of huge benefit for the community, both in terms of providing a semi wild space for people to meet and play, but also by bringing people together to care for their local woodland. Richard took us on a tour of the woodland and explained the long-term plans for the area, including managed tree felling and building a pond. Monmouth Community Choir also sang to friends and family under the parachute by the fire pit and this turned out to be a beautiful start to their relationship with Transition Monmouth.

Rewilding Discussion Forum

We held this event at Rockfield Community Centre. This venue was chosen due to its proximity to the park, so that families with children could attend (and keep their children happy at the same time). We tried a different format and watched a TED talk about Rewilding by George Monbiot. We then followed this with an informal group discussion. It was an issue that few of us know much about, so proved very enlightening.

September

After a summer break we hit the ground running, with three apple pressing events and a packed agenda at this month’s meeting.

Happy Birthday to us!

We turned 12 years old in September – what a milestone.

Apple Pressing events

We held three apple pressing events this month using our very own newly purchased apple press and scratter for the first time. Last year we borrowed the equipment from Transition Chepstow and enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to fundraise for our own. We did these events earlier than planned as the apple harvest was early. We held events at Skenfrith, Wyesham and Rockfield Community Halls. People brought lots of local apples and left with bottles of yummy fresh juice. It gave us all an opportunity to get together after the summer too and enjoy some time together with new friends and old.

Nature isn’t Neat Project – showcase report

Cheryl Cummings updated us on the project at this month’s meeting. Nature Isn’t Neat (NIN) is a multi-agency Monmouthshire project which aims to increase and connect pollinator habitats as well as increase the population and biodiversity of pollinator species.

After a slow start, some good progress has been made with the project. Permanent perennial pollinator friendly planting plans have been drawn up instead of the current outdated and unsustainable carpet bedding for St Thomas’ and St James’ Squares in Monmouth.  Several community talks and workshops have also been delivered with more planned for the future. A booklet outlining MCC’s alternative management of open spaces regime under the banner of NIN has also been written and distributed. Public planters within Monmouth with the NIN logo have been filled with a range of permanent pollinator friendly perennials and shrubs.

NIN has both Twitter and Facebook pages and is having positive interactions with members of the public. Discussions are also taking place about the possibility of Monmouth becoming the first Bee Town.

October

Plastic Free Monmouth (PFM) – showcase report

At our October meeting, Dilly Boase reported back to us on PFM. As already described in this report we held a very special awards ceremony in February. Since then Monmouth businesses continue to commit to becoming Plastic Free Champions all the time, so our reach is constantly growing.

PFM emails reach over 100 people and our Facebook page has 450 members. This year we have run information stalls at the Monmouthshire and Usk shows, as well as supporting the Monmouth Community Champions’ Drinking Fountains Project and competing in the Raft Race on a plastic-bottle raft to raise awareness. We also held a mending workshop at Rockfield Community Centre.

PFM’s leaflets and flyers are available around the town and its profile has been raised by pieces in the Beacon and Monnow Voice. We are delighted to say that the pester-power of plastic-free shoppers has persuaded Munday and Jones Greengrocers to switch to cardboard soft fruit punnets and Bridge Fish Bar to replace highly polluting EPS with paper trays, whilst Waitrose has brought in home-compostable veg bags. Thank you to all who have consciously changed habits, requested alternatives and raised awareness of the blight of unnecessary plastics. Their next meeting is January 21st 2020, 7.30-9pm, Robin Hood Pub. All welcome.

Community Orchard – showcase report

There is no project lead on the orchard at the moment. Transition planted the orchard about ten years ago but having set up a management plan, with MCC mowing the area, we handed the project back to the Two River Meadow Group. Ecologist and Transition Monmouth member Helena Ronicle has drawn up a site management plan for the whole Two River Meadow area (which includes the orchard) and hopefully discussions can take place in the future so we can improve the biodiversity of the area in collaboration with MCC and the Two River Meadow Group.

Big Autumn Swap

This was a huge success, with people swapping all kinds of items including plants, seeds, toys, books and clothes, saving items from landfill. Monmouth Community Choir had their first ever performance and completely smashed it with a gorgeous rendition of ‘Perfect Day’ We all feasted on delicious vegan soup made from local seasonal veg, accompanied by bread from Food Sense as well as home-made cakes and goodies. Our younger members ran a table for even younger children to do some autumn leaf printing.  We made over £300, which will go a long way towards funding our new apple press equipment.

November

A quiet month for Transition, thank goodness, with everyone looking forward to our AGM and celebratory party on November 12th, although we are also organising a Climate Emergency Hustings on the 29th November at the Bridges Centre, so that members of Monmouth’s public get a chance to hear what the General Election candidates can offer to help us deal with this state of climate emergency.

Thank you to you all – together we are building a strong, resilient community and fighting climate change on a local level in Monmouth. Everyone’s contribution is important. The power of a team of people determined to tackle climate change on every level in a community cannot be underestimated. What will 2020 bring for us?

Karin Chandler
Chair – Transition Monmouth
November 2019