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

Chair’s Report to the AGM – November 2017

RECS – Renewable Energy Community Schemes with Flood Prevention + Other Benefits

This time last year we had just heard that we had obtained funding from the Vale of Usk RDP but we were in the thick of planting what ended up as over 1,000 trees (courtesy of the Woodland Trust) at Vauxhall, Monmouth Cemetery, Lancaster Way (Osbaston) + Wonastow Road.  This involved children from Osbaston Primary School, students from Coleg Gwent, Friends of Vauxhall Fields + many of our members.  We have continued to maintain these plantings with help from the Community Champions + our members, + have recently planted a further 20 trees at Kymin View Primary School.

In February we got stuck into developing a brief for a feasibility study with our principle partners – MCC, NRW, AONB, GWT + Monmouth Partnership Forum.  In July we appointed Atkins as our consultants, mainly because of the positive attitude + bright ideas of the two project leaders, let alone their undoubted expertise + experience.  We continue to work with them + look forward to an excellent + useful report early in 2018.

Food Poverty/Food Waste

This was our second big project of the year. We looked at the problem of Food Waste in the country, + the parallel problem of Food Poverty, particularly in its effect on children + the elderly, + decided to bring together everyone in Monmouth with any kind of involvement in, or effect on, either of the two problems. Our second meeting with many stakeholders is booked for 29 November, when we expect to start making major progress.

New website

After our much loved + admired website produced by Simon Brown many years ago fell apart, we were fortunate that Chris Were offered to develop a new one for us.  We have made a start + have many ideas + aspirations, but progress has been very slow.  It is perhaps a job for the new officers to take a realistic appraisal of what can be achieved. Meanwhile, the Transition Monmouth Facebook page is updated regularly, + visited/”liked”.

Ty Price

We are building contacts with the new community resource in Overmonnow, the former St Thomas’ Church Hall, which has an extensive + impressive programme for community outreach. We have held a coffee morning there, + are expecting to work with them on the Food Poverty + Waste project.

Swap Shop + Coffee Mornings

The Priory coffee mornings have continued through the year + are a reliable earner for us. In addition, the Swap Shop table carries leaflets + other information, to spread the word about Transition. Our first coffee morning at Ty Price was less well attended, but we hope that this will build into another useful income provider.

Beans Stall

We held six Beans Stalls monthly through the summer in the Saturday Blestium Street market, thanks to the generosity + hard work of those who cooked + brought the taster beans dishes, + manned the stall. Most customers were already vegetarian, though we did make a few converts who could be induced to try a free taster. Everyone appreciated the free recipe leaflets; we gave away between 60 + 80 copies each month – they opened with a puff for Transition Monmouth. A small profit was made from donations, which will go towards financing the weekly fruit + veg box for the Food Bank. We are very grateful to Dilly Boase for her colourful flyer. At the last stall one customer said “Ah, so this is the famous beans stall!”, a comment much appreciated. No decision has yet been made about a continuation of the stall next year.

Wyesham Community Woodland Project at Claypatch Wood

The Woodland Project is gathering speed, after the Garners spent two years moving it forward almost single-handed. More members of the community are seeing the benefits, + work continues on clearing small areas of the woodland, surfacing the paths, etc.

Chippenham Playground

The future of the playground continues in doubt, whether to refurbish or move to a new site. There are strong feelings + arguments on each side. The financial provision continues to be up in the air, with decisions being continually postponed.

Bus Timetables

We are still trying to get up-to-date timetables provided at bus stops throughout Monmouth + the county, in the teeth of inertia + claims of poverty on the part of both the County Council + the bus operators. We have not given up!

Leisure Centre / Swimming Pool

We are still hoping that the County Council will see sense + allow solar electric + hot-water cells on the roof of the new Leisure Centre, to power + heat the swimming pool + the new school building; this would be in accordance with the requirements of the Well-Being of Future Generations Act.

Interserve

Interserve, the contractors for the rebuilding of Monmouth Comprehensive School, allocated a sum of at least £15,000 for community projects.  We have worked closely with them during their consultations around the town.  Recipients of their generosity include Ty Price + Monmouth Festival; it is expected that seven further projects will be undertaken by September 2018.

Severndale

Transition Monmouth has supported the planning application for a community wind turbine in the Forest of Dean which was turned down on a complaint from a small group of local people that community benefit had no place in planning decisions. A judicial review decision is expected very shortly.

Energy days

Our particular input to MCC’s Sustainability month consisted of the usual Beans Stall, + teas served at the open garden at Coed Cefn.

Progress on EV charging points

The Autumn budget is encouraging in that £400 million is being pledged for a national charging infrastructure in England and Wales, but reading the small print it is £200 million matched funding. A further £100 million is added to the EV purchase grant fund + there is continued support for the 75% grant towards the cost of a 7kW home charger. It is also possible to obtain grants towards work related charging units, see http://gwentenergycic.org/.  But it is disappointing to hear that MCC have no plans for an EV charger at their Headquarters in Usk (personal communication).

The situation for Rapid chargers is still dire in Monmouthshire; there are none along the M50 /A40 corridor until you reach the only one at the M4 Services at Magor. Having a Rapid charger or a local Tesla charging station is vital for tourism + to encourage motorists to stop + spend time + money in Monmouthshire. They typically recharge in 30 minutes. The only Rapid chargers south of Birmingham + on the motorway system are at the Gloucester Services, with an EU funded charger on the A48 at Tidenham.

Unlike Scotland, the Welsh Government has left the infrastructure to the private sector; perhaps we can now persuade them with the funds from the Budget to be more proactive.

There is now a fast charger at Bridges in Monmouth + another in Chepstow, but these will not tempt seasoned EV travellers off the motorways, as they are too slow + confuse owners by having different charging rates that vary with the make of car. An attempt to place a Rapid charger in Redbrook has great support from the Parish Council + residents, but no prospect of attracting financial support now that the many LEADER initiatives are being cut, as they were often mainly funded from EU funds.

Ann Eggleton