First and foremost, all the activities and achievements made in the name of Transition Monmouth (TM) described below are down to the energy and determination of the members and volunteers of the Transition family and wider community. It has been a pleasure to hold the Chair this year, watching members from all sections of society come together and ‘doing Transition’ in the ethos of building resilient and sustainable communities to combat climate change.
The world has changed in ways that were unimaginable at our last AGM. Unprecedented rainfall led to severe flooding back in February, with inhabitants along the Wye and other rivers evacuated and roads impassable for days. To date, some are yet to return home.
Just as the waters receded we began to learn of a new virus, identified in a faraway land but impossible to isolate in a world of international travel. As the waves of restrictions, lock-downs and fire-breaks have taken effect, we have had to modify or cancel our on-going events and projects accordingly. We have become familiar with the importance of social distancing, mask wearing and washing hands to the benefit of all our safeties. The on-going social impacts should not be underestimated: isolation, access to essential services, employment loss and insecurity, even stress of home schooling. Despite all the challenges, there are also positive signs in the TM ethos. An increase of community spirit has formed around checking of friends and neighbours that are vulnerable or isolated. There has been a surge in interest of green spaces, as people have taken advantage of allowed ‘outdoor exercise’ time. Food rationing and scarcity in supermarkets has even caused some to question the industrialised food chains; certainly grow-your-own and foraging is on the up!
It is against this background that the progress on many of these projects and initiatives is all the more astounding. I have great pleasure in summarising the main focus of our efforts this year.
Green Emergency Hustings – ahead of the General Election in December, candidates for the parliamentary seat of Monmouthshire were gathered at Bridges to a packed room. The event was deftly chaired by Haydn Cullen-Jones, keeping responses fair and succinct, with candidates responding to questions submitted previously and from the floor. The atmosphere was always lively and sometimes passionate, this being about the only opportunity to directly question and compare our potential representatives on environmental and other matters.
Wassail – another staple of the TM calendar, this well-attended ceremony took place in the Community Orchard in January and allowed us to come together, appreciate nature and bless the trees for the New Year cycle. A warm welcome was offered by Butlers Karin and Ian Chandler, and local and regional Mari Lwyd were in attendance. Readings, singing, warm apple juice and apple cake were all enjoyed at the social gathering.
Plastic Free Monmouth – the group continue to keep the issue of single-use plastics in our minds and gain interest with their colourful presence at events and insightful leaflet. Mid-year, Dilly Boase stepped down for adventure abroad and I would like to thank her for driving this group so successfully in recent years. We welcome incoming Chair, Beccy MacDonald-Lofts, who has reached out to all TM members to build consensus on what the next focus should be.
Food Sense – an amazing team of dedicated volunteers and coordinators continue to work with local branches of supermarkets and the community to reduce both food waste and food poverty. Throughout the year, just-in-time daily deliveries were made of near use-by or surplus food and plants/flowers. Despite Covid restrictions, the team pushed forward and successfully took on a physical base for this project. The Monmouth Community Fridge opened at the Bridges Centre late September, and since served over 500 people and prevented over two tonnes of food waste. The Fridge is open seven days a week at varying times and is free to all, not only for nutritious food but social connections and a sense of community coming together. This extends online, where there is a lively Facebook following of over 800 people sharing recipes and ideas, all within the TM ethos. Further activities will take on growers’ gluts and raise awareness on important aspects of food ethics and Fair Share.
Behind all of this activity there is much administration and management to ensure smooth operation and I thank all the coordinators and volunteers for their hard work. I also look forward to their further ambitious plans for the Community Fridge in the future.
Green Spaces – this grouping of hands-on projects continues to grow and evolve. Planting schemes have been developed in conjunction with local experts to the benefit of pollinators and nature in general.
St James’ Square has been worked on throughout the year and particularly smartened up ahead of the Remembrance Day service. The degree of ‘wild’ planting hasn’t been universally accepted, leading to articles and letters in the Beacon, allowing conversations to be had around the benefits of this style over more formal/traditional garden layouts.
Collaboration with Monmouth Comprehensive School continues as Vivien Mitchell expands planting sympathetic schemes across the new build site. A wild flower meadow is in development beside the bike sheds, though the seed mix was heavy on Red Clover which had to be removed by hand after it dominated the area. Further planting nearer the entrance includes a good mix of fruit and vegetables for the education of pupils and benefit of nature. Further discussions are underway for composting facilities and a sensory garden on site.
In addition, the Pollinator Garden beside the bus stop continues to be maintained and potential sites for tree planting are being sought.
Chippenham Park Fountain – we were delighted to be part of this exciting project that aligns so well with our ethos. A drinking water fountain within the primary sports fields and thoroughfare location is much needed and will go a long way to reducing single use plastics and building a resilient community. The funding application work by Hywel Rees and Roger Finn (Monmouth Fountains Group) has paid off with success in both National Lottery and Rotary grants, with an expected installation in the spring. We look forward to joining with the Rugby and Football clubs, Friends of Chippenham Mead and other community groups to run a programme of engagement events around the fountain and eventually link with the new children’s playground to be located nearby.
Apple Pressings – another popular regular TM event I am pleased to see continue this year. Pressing events were held at both Wyesham St James Hall and Rockfield Community Centre, proving as popular as ever with the scratter and press running non-stop. Again this proved to be a lovely opportunity to see new and familiar faces and spread the TM ethos. Appropriate precautions were taken, particularly hygiene and social distancing, but this did not reduce the fun and excitement of bottling your own juice. The TM-owned equipment continues to be available for loan to community groups alongside training and several have taken it up this season.
Seed/Plant Share – the regular event was cancelled in spring (start of lockdown) but came back in Covid-adapted format this autumn, taking advantage of the covered outdoor public space in front of Monmouth Comprehensive School. Plants and seeds where swapped, preserves were on offer and Tools for Self-Reliance had a marvellous array of refurbished implements for the green-fingered. Plastic Free Monmouth had their attention-grabbing display and library of books for loan. It was also a great excuse to catch up with friends and meet new people after a lengthy period of isolation. This event stands out for its interesting conversations around planting and generous sharing of knowledge, including local experts Diana, Cherry and Helena.
Collaboration – we continue to work on environmental issues in partnership with Government bodies at all levels, schools, charities, business and local groups. Submissions are made to Government consultations and we have strong representation in County-level initiatives like the Climate Emergency Working Group and Climate Change Champions. We have seen a surge of enthusiasm and new activism since Monmouth Town Council declared a Climate Emergency and facilitated change in the community through Action on Climate Emergency (ACE Monmouth). With a shared ethos and much overlap in membership, we have contributed towards the major ACE projects; Bike-Friendly Monmouth, Green Spaces, Repair Cafe and Future Festival (since postponed). Out of the former have come early successes of the Dr Bike event and Monmouth Cycle Club, a family-friendly addition to our community. We have also contributed to Active Travel debates and planning improvements, including the Monnow Street layout changes.
In summary, it has been a year of successes across all fronts despite working through unprecedented times. A big thank you for all your efforts, resulting in a more resilient and sustainable community. I am heartened to see our growing ability to coordinate and manage larger projects as well as take care of the smaller details. We continue to attract new faces and pursue new ideas in the Transition ethos, so I’m confident the future is bright.
Lastly I would like to thank my fellow officers for all their time and contributions to another successful year for Transition Monmouth, despite the circumstances; Simon Durant (Deputy Chair), Vivien Mitchell (Administrator/Newsletter and Outgoing Treasurer) and Claudia Blair (Incoming Treasurer). They very much keep everything on track and are a joy to work alongside.
Chair – Transition Monmouth