A growing stream of people visit Stroud to learn from an increasing range of innovative projects such as Stroud Community Agriculture and Springhill Co-Housing. These projects have become inspiring ‘thought leaders' provoking people to develop questions to further their own exciting projects. Visitors want to share what they are doing, their learning and their questions.
...how a community can make a tangible difference in its affairs and take responsibility for its own present and future needs...
Stroud Communiversity is our response. We welcome people similarly engaged from all over the country to build a community of practice. Learning is through practical talks, discussions, workshops and visits to local projects, with the opportunity to develop personal projects and visions through action learning. The programme always allows for time to reflect on the day as well as some Open Space for networking and exploring common questions.
Our aim is to build a community of practice for sustainable livelihoods and a local living economy. We endeavour to achieve one annual three day event, regular single day workshops and occasional evening seminars and continue to develop further national and international partnerships.
Location: The Exchange, Brick Row
Registration: 9.30am, Friday 15th May
Cost: £190 Incl. 5 Meals
For more information & bookings please
Or phone Odilia: 01453 766598
more details soon to follow...
travelling to & around Stroud sustainably 94.70 Kb
how a community can make a tangible difference in its affairs and take responsibility for its own present and future needs
Read all about last year's August event:
August 1st - 3rd 2008
From Action to Vision: Building Vibrant Communities
communiversity 457.53 Kb
For any further information please contact Odilia Jarman
By popular demand, the programme for this unique event has been condensed into a long weekend, thus making it accessible to more people. All the key ingredients are there: Ruskin Mill, Stroud Community farms, a tour of the famous Farmers’ Market, Springhill cohousing and the Exchange. Plus an opportunity to taste some of the best food in the area and to celebrate a sustainable community at its most vibrant!
Stroud Communiversity will be held over 1st, 2nd and 3rd August and is itself an entirely new idea; it will give those interested in local action on housing, food, enterprise and sustainable environments an opportunity to engage first hand with some of Stroud’s ground-breaking projects. Rather than just reading about them, they will be able to visit these exemplars of local action at its best and most successful - and to meet the people running them. Participants even get to meet the pigs at Hawkwood!
Stroud Communiversity has been created by Stroud Common Wealth – originator, supporter and inspiration for many of the featured projects – in association with Transition Stroud, a growing force in the sustainability debate and part of the rapidly growing Transition Towns movement in the UK.
Martin Large, Chair of Stroud Common Wealth, has characterised Stroud Communiversity as “…bringing together a rich mix of inspiring, practical examples of how a community can make a tangible difference in its affairs and take responsibility for its own present and future needs”. Stroud Common Wealth Director Max Comfort sees Stroud Communiversity as “…an opportunity to debate the very best in community innovation and the growing call for local action in a context of global economic and statutory failure.”
Transition Stroud – a growing force in the sustainability debate – is supporting Stroud Common Wealth in this very original project. Odilia Jarman of Transition Stroud, says “We share the sense of urgency around global challenges and the developing visions of how to respond locally. Stroud Communiversity gives us the opportunity to exchange ideas and practical experience, and to then spread this far and wide”. Molly Scott-Cato, writer and lecturer in green economics was keen for Stroud Communiversity to be founded and says “I believe we can work co-operatively on the path towards a sustainable future, sharing knowledge, experience and the confidence that comes from that. And of course in Stroud we have lots to share!”
Stroud Communiversity runs from 1.30pm on Friday 1st August to 9pm on Sunday 3rd August 2008, at the Centre for Science & Art in the heart of Stroud. There are still places available including some concessions but booking now is recommended.
Editors: Contacts for more details: Max Comfort (01453 840458/07973 635868), Odilia Jarman (01453 766598), Helen Pitel (01453 762957) or Molly Scott-Cato (01453 764730).
notes from a full house on
Friday 13th June
Here's a spade to help celebrate the founding of Stroud Communiversity, so we can keep digging for a local, living economy, a healthy civil society and an enabling statutory sector. Our challenge in the Communivresty is to get the inspiration and energy to keep digging, and develop here in Stroud and the Five Valleys more beacon projects- or 'thought leaders' like Stroud Community Agriculture, Stroud CoHousing, The Exchange or Stroud Artspace. One blockage we face is that for every person digging a hole-there are consultants being paid to watch through doing feasibilty studies, academic researchers getting research funding to evaluate the effectiveness of the hole even before its finished, and risk averse government funders waiting for the project to be successful before perhaps supporting it-and of course others who want to have a go. So this Communiversity is for those who want to visit and learn from Stroud 's successful economic, cultural and social projects-and who want to develop their own projects to take home.
So learning is like muck, the more you spread it around, the more human growth there is in spades....
Molly Scott Cato
Welcome to Stroud Communiversity! I've been given the enviable task of beginning to define why we need such a thing and what role it might play in Stroud's transition towards a sustainable community.
It is my working life in a university-or what we now call an HEI or higher education institution-that has convinced me that each community needs its own educational institutions and that Stroud needs a Communiversity. Years ago I wrote a proposal for a Free University, drawing a parallel between the break away from monastic teaching that led to the creation of the first universities, and the more recent break from the Catholic universities in some continental countries that led to the establishment of their ‘free' universities.
Our universities are not free. In this late phase of global capitalism our institutions are being captured by the market and the university has not escaped. Our academics are trapped between seeking politically motivated research funding and achieving market-driven targets. I won't go into the arcane lore of journal rating agencies or the metrics that are used to assess what should be creative and inspiring intellectual work. It is clear enough to those who work in universities that we are now a wing of the capitalist state, whose duty is to produce minimally skilled and maximally compliant economic production units.
The role of the universities in questioning and in inspiring a critical attitude in young people is now actively discouraged. This would be serious at any time, but in an era when we are facing such serious problems it is a disaster that the very places where creative solutions should be developed are so neutered and contained. This is why we need alternative structures where intellectual creativity can flourish.
I was teaching at CAT last weekend-a course on green economics based on a system of co-operative learning. As usual, it was an enlightening and refreshing experience. One of the learners said excitedly how much she enjoyed the space to think. How can we possibly imagine a better future without this sort of space? We called it ‘toga time', remembering how good the ancient Greeks were at solving problems by drifting around in good weather with scant clothing! We are lucky in Stroud because we have creative thinkers-and people like Hugh who have spent their lives becoming experts-people who have much to share. I also appreciate the monthly coffee-house discussions as a living example of toga time. We hope to find the space for many similar activities in the Communiversity.
But the learning we are talking about is not just intellectual learning and it is not based solely in the mind or in words. I found a useful passage in the Quaker book Faith and Practice, chapter 21 on Creativity:
It is in the workshop and at the bench that an insight into the soul of wood craftsmanship can be truly gained. There are tools, there is the wood - rude planks, ungarnished, their surface scored with the saw. Between them, and without which each is useless, must come the soul and spirit of the designer and craftsman; the deft hands prompted by an alert mind; the knowledge attained only through years of study and service; the creative instinct and ability that will, by the correct use of the tools, transform the mere plank into a thing of usefulness and beauty - possibly a joy for ever... It was at the lathe, when a youth, that I first realised the charm of line, the contour that flows continuously on, diminishing and enlarging, though separated by ornamental members... Those who have studied woodcraft for half a century find themselves still learning and quite unable to pack all their knowledge into a nutshell for the convenience of a beginner. The training is not that of the university; it is, however, quite as exacting in its own way and so merits equal recognition and respect, and it is encouraging to note that this idea is slowly gaining ground. The woodworkers of a century ago added to their carpentry the dignity of craft; this is why the examples of their handiwork that remain are treasured. Let it not be assumed that it is merely because such work is old that it is appreciated so highly. Even a slight study will reveal the artist mind that prompted the hands, the perception that had grasped the principles of design, the certain knowledge in its decisive finish. There is the secret of its permanent inspiration, its power to soothe and charm.
Walter Rose, 1938
We hope to take this appreciation of craft and this value of tacit, non-verbal knowledge into everything the Communiversity does.
Since we've made the idea of the Communiversity public many people have asked me: what is it? The answer is: whatever we want it to be! It is a collaborative educational project to help us develop the knowledge and skills we need to make our transition to a sustainable future. It will be a living example of how higher education should be in the future we want to live in. Our learning and teaching will be based around co-operation. Our goal will be sustainability. Other than this we are open to ideas. We wouldn't be much of a Communiversity if we weren't!
Creating healthy, sustainable towns and neighbourhoods
Local global planning
Professor Hugh Barton
This is the first public lecture I've given as a professor - so its my inaugural lecture! And in Stroud! At UWE, I should tell you, professorships don't come easy if you've worked there man and boy - professors are normally 35 or 40 and swan in from outside the establishment. There are just two of us old-time new professors in our vast Faculty. The other one is a world expert in public toilets - with a strong gender agenda! So I'm in good company! I only got the job because I've been remorselessly carrying on about global warming and energy and planning since the 1970s, and one day it at last became fashionable.
Well now - as you've heard, I am a town planner, and proud of it!
Maybe you've heard the story of the surgeon, the gardener and the planner, who were arguing one day Which was the oldest profession?
Well, the surgeon was the first to speak out and claimed it must be him because he created woman out of man, removing the spare rib from Adam in the first operation. The gardener would have none of this. She pointed out that she had laid out the garden of Eden before Adam or Eve existed. Then the planner spoke, rather bemusedly: but who do you think it was, he asked, that created chaos?
What, I wonder, is your perception? Planners as beaurocrats? Planners as megalomaniacs constructed high rise blocks, building urban motorways and threatening the Painswick Valley with housing?
OK - so what do I think? What is my idea of a planner?
I can't help but be idealistic here. What I'm about to say may not be the reality in the UK at present. It may be more evident in some European countries. But I believe the planner is concerned primarily with the health of human settlements - i.e. the local human habitat in its ecological setting. He or she is a settlement doctor. The job is to advise communities, developers, councillors, what will make their town or city healthier. Like a doctor advising a client, the message the planner gives is not always comfortable. I will come back to that. I do hope to discomfort you a little!!
Health and planning, it has to be said, are long term bed-fellows. Concern about the mean overcrowded nineteenth century terraces, without sewage systems and with little light or air, clustered around Blake's ‘satanic mills', where disease was rife and life was cheap - this led to modern-day planning. Then we rather lost the plot in the middle of last century as jobs became professions and professions drew artificial barriers to thought - which were then reinforced by Maggie Thatcher, who said the purpose of planning was simply to facilitate the market.
Now sadly we have got new diseases of post-industrial society. The morale of planners is recovering. There is a growing recognition that the health of people and the health of the planet are intimately connected with each other, and both depend on the way human settlements work. For example the decline of people taking physical activity is part of the cause of obesity - and obesity poses a huge problem for health and well-being. At the same time the decline in walking and cycling to get to work and shops and school and friends is part of the car-dependent syndrome that is exacerbating global warming. Both, as I shall illustrate, are strongly affected by the shape of towns. Microcosm and macrocosm are linked. What's good for us is good for the planet.
Now I am not going to go over the climate change issue per se, but I do want to remind you of the temptations and fragility of civilization - a quick historical reprise. After that I will give some examples of current bad planning in this country, and of good planning in Europe. Then I've allowed myself real indulgence - possibly foolish - drawing a picture of what a sustainable Stroud might be like sometime in the future.
The fatal flaws of human hubris and excessive success
The global crisis we now find ourselves in is different only in scale from earlier ecological crises. Plato knew a thing or two. He was the first ecologist. He observed early fourth century Greece (which we think of as the epitome of cultured civilization - OK, with a bit of slavery and internecine violence thrown in for good measure). Anyway, Plato concluded that Greece had cooked its goose. In Critias he gives a eloquent sophisticated description of how the casual overuse of abundant natural assets through deforestation and over-grazing led to water scarcity, soil loss and local climate change. He was right.
I want reinforce the point with some of my holiday slides from the late seventies - and chart an experience that profoundly influenced my thinking:
Semi-desert... where do think it is
People and animals scratching a meagre existence
The remains of a great city...once located in a fecund Eden and the master of a vast empire
You may have guessed - the country is Iran, the city Persepolis, capital of Darius and Cyrus, kings of Persia.
Shelley had a perspective on this:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Pictures of global and local dislocation
Let's home in on town planning now
North Fringe - is this the best we can do?
photo of Bradley Stoke street. This one photo illustrates all that is wrong:
street designed for the convenience of man and woman in motor
high level of car dependence - 95% for businesses and Tesco
excessive carbon emissions
‘active travel' - walking and cycling - deterred
Unattractive public space
Children not allowed
Pedestrian-unfriendly environment - can be intimidating
Photo of Stoke Park housing - you might think it is better...
A more traffic calmed environment and pleasant environment
But you are looking at the only facility serving 1500 people!
Car use as high as Bradley Stoke
NB - this is Naughties housing
Photos of walking route across roundabout to Sainsbury
A pedestrian nightmare
Conspiracy /malign plot or cock-up /thoughtlessness?
Wilful blindness - thinking yourself into a simple black and white world - everyone has a car don't they? And no-one walks to the superstore any more
Not true! In a survey of neighbourhoods across England that we've just completed, car dependence for local people accessing superstores ranges from 97% to 49%
photos of MOD at Filton Abbeywood
But this leads me to the elephant - unnoticed but there in the middle of the room, holding the floor
OK - so now the good news. It can be done better
Where is the UK going wrong??
Well - that's a big one! Maybe you want to get home before midnight!
But I can give a few pointers.
First - what the problem is not. You may be surprised to hear this, but it is not because government planning policies are (excuse me) shit - they are in fact, judging by international standards, rather good.
No, the problem is that government's implementation of planning policy is shit. It speaks with forked tongue. To mix metaphors, one hand has not a clue what the other is doing, or perhaps does not understand. Umm... More accurately, does not choose to understand or notice.
The business parks are a case in point. In 1992 at the time of the Earth Summit in Rio, the then Department of the Environment produced guidance which effectively banned business and retail parks. But the 16 years since have multiplied them, fiercely promoted by local and national government. Bringing us right up to the minute, some environmentalists have got excited by the prospect of 10 new ecotowns round the country, with zero-carbon designs. I've looked at the report. It is very sad. While it is true that building design and street design in the towns should be exemplary, front edge, the locations of most of the so-called towns mean that they will not be real towns and car dependence is the only option. Location, location, location. That's the key. Get the location wrong and it can be wrong for a hundred years. The ecotowns' location seems to owe more to the MOD's surplus airfields than the best location for prospective residents. Surplus airfields, of course, count (entirely spuriously) as brownfield sites. That is another story. Don't get me started on the brownfield /Greenfield debate!
There are other issues of course, but I want to turn now to aspiration not recrimination
Stroud - a vision for 2008 - 2048
I want this to be about the ideal. But also the real. There is no point in losing one's head in the clouds. First a word or two about Stroud and its five valleys. It's a strange place! A straggle of old industrial settlements in the valleys, with much older villages on the hills and commons between. It's what I call a topsy town. It has just grown - in a mostly in haphazard, unplanned fashion, and that's still going on. Each change seems an almost accidental increment. Topsy towns are contrasted with designer towns. With designer towns there is a clear plan, ideally involving all stakeholders in its making, aiming to achieve quite specific things. Vauban is a designer neighbourhood. Rotterdam is fast becoming a designer city.
My argument is that if Stroud is to become a healthy and sustainable town by 2050, then it needs to take itself seriously, and become a designer town. For this to work all the key agencies and the community at large have to be on board.
I've chosen to look 40 years ahead because its sufficiently far off to allow major change, but not so far as to be pure fantasy. What happens if we think back 40 years to 1968? Quite a year that was, though don't believe everything the media tells you! My hair was long! My politics anarchist, but free love and drugs were not for me! Not even booze! Gone down hill quite a way since then I'm afraid! But - I'm not supposed to be talking about me! The telly was already ubiquitous, but computers were room sized, not yet family-friendly, and the internet hadn't even been thought of! Shopping was done at your local high street - there were no superstores at all. Milk was still delivered in some places by pony and cart. Car ownership was les than 50% but rising fast, as new motorways spread across the country. Bus services were reducing and half the railways were being closed after the infamous Beeching report of 1962. We were in the middle of a building boom that produced such treasures as the police station and Tricorn House - both loved by my modernist father who lived in Cheltenham. Conservation of historic buildings was a radical new idea - taking over from the prevailing attitude that marked out nineteenth century terraced housing as ‘obsolete' and a good place for a spanking new urban ring road.
The world of today is recognisably the working out of attitudes forged and policies put in place in the 60s, with some twists and turns on the way. Sometimes a reaction against. Yet the transformation that's occurred between 1968 and 2008 is very substantial. In the case of Freiburg, the amazing achievements of today are the culmination of 35 years consistent strategy.
What values can we assert now, what policies can we advocate, that will enable mid-21st century Stroud to be socially, environmentally and economically sustainable?
Looking back from 2048 - globally
So - a quick fast forward: Let's look back from the vantage point of 2048, what happened globally in the intervening years? Here I begin to allow myself some leeway!
The oil price hike of the late Naughties (as the ‘2000's became known because of their profligate life-styles and ecological blindness) triggered some international policy response, but caused untold suffering in the Third World because of high food prices
The oil price high of 2010 was followed by a relative slump, which coincided with a series of cooler years (predicted by the modellers and due to natural cycles). In Britain the decade 2010-19 was called the Obesiteens, for obvious reasons. 50% of children were obese, and life expectancy took an unexpected downward turn. The heat also went out of the climate change debate, but nevertheless steady progress was made, with India and China at last shifting the focus of their economies.
The crisis really hit in the 2020s - which became known as the Terrible Twos. Some burning hot years, violent storms and floods, disastrous water shortages and famines. The middle east war that flared up was over water not oil.
The next decade saw the biggest migrations of peoples ever. The United Nations was hugely strengthened with support of all major countries, and started applying the policies it had advocated back in the Naughties.
Now, in 2048, the ravages of climate change are affecting everywhere, but the world is on a stable political and economic trajectory
So - Focussing down - and allowing some possibly unjustified optimism...
In Stroud things hadn't in some ways changed that much. There is a buzz about the place. The population is significantly higher and more ethnically varied because of the great migrations. Nevertheless people know their neighbours better than in the Naughties because they spend much more time walking and cycling around. Most people have at least two bikes. One with a little electric engine for the hills, recharged from renewable sources courtesy Stroud Energy Company. That, together with safe routes has persuaded many to cycle for shorter trips. They walk or cycle to school, to the Stroud Communiversity and to the shops. There are more local shops. The superstores have not vanished, but they are transformed, having made millions by redeveloping their car-parks for housing in the Terrible Twos. They are now social as well as retail centres, and most people use the home delivery service - by electric van. The station and Hill Paul site have been transformed, linking down to the much-loved canal - including lots of offices, often with London connections. The farmers market is thriving, operating three days a week.
The Cinema building and Merrywalks shopping centre have been raised to the ground. Cue for a cheer!!! replaced by a fantastic new centre which includes a beautiful public square at the lower level, tied in with a new bus station, for the electric auto-guided buses, which links directly across to the station platform. The buses, with no driver but a conductor at times, fan out to every part of the Valleys, with a 15 minute service standard. Trains give half hour services to all the major cities and are treated as social services. Many people work in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Bristol, Swindon and London, because jobs are highly specialised. Most households have an electric car, but because there are still resource constraints, and to avoid accidents, they have limited speeds - except when connected to the controlled and expensive motorway power grid. The joy, sadly, has gone out of motoring.
On a rather different front, the government has reintroduced conscription, at the age of 17, as a means of combating youth unemployment, instilling discipline in young people, as a means of training, and primarily as a way of building social cohesion and mutuality in a very diverse population with many immigrants. Apart from joining the UN's Peace Corps, they can join the Food Corps or the Environment Corps. Entertainment is provided by the new Feelies (largely replacing the Movies, as foreseen by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World). The Government has recently had to introduce tough measures to limit the intensity of certain kinds of Feelie, as people were having heart attacks from an excess of pleasure. Indeed Feelies now are sometimes prescribed as pain killers for the terminally ill and it is rumoured that it has become the commonest method of Euthanasia!
So what does all that mean in relation to spatial planning??
I'll try to be a bit controversial!
Looking at the map of Gloucestershire:
Shuttle train from Chalford to Tewkesbury
New intercity station just north of Stonehouse giving access in most directions
A new superfast levi-rail network (magnetic induction, no friction) under construction, with one stop in Gloucester at the revived main line station - to take long distance travellers.
Offices only allowed near intercity stations - including Stroud town centre. (amazingly, this policy was first proposed by government, but never implemented, in the planning guidance note 13, 1992).
A new town at Stroud Green / Standish around the new station - and based on a transfer of business from the 2008 Stonehouse Business Park (which is now derelict) and business parks South of Gloucester. Stonehouse now a neighbourhood within the new town.
Now looking at Stroud itself
There is a diversity of eco-housing, more self-build opportunities, several large co-housing schemes. Sites within 1000 yards of town centres have been developed. This includes the long-protected Rodborough Fields and the bottom end of the area between Salmon Springs and Beeches Green - both connected by safe routes into Stroud town centre.
The centre of Stroud has expanded. The station become integrated within a new office and living quarter, including the reuse (at last!) of the Goods Shed.
All the old Mills and industrial sites in the Stroud Valleys, have been protected from office or pure residential use, and land prices thereby kept down. They have long been a hotbed of innovation - technological, industrial, artistic, crafty
The Stroud Valleys and Commons are being planned as a whole for biodiversity, recreation, production and delight, providing essential ecological services for the town. These include careful water management to cope with the heightened risk of floods
In the Terrible twos, farmers were struggling to survive. Stroud District bought up several farms cheaply and they are now run commercially as community ventures - providing directly for local demand.
Again in the terrible twos, government gave all local authorities the responsibility for achieving greater energy self-sufficiency, progressively reducing use of fossil fuel power stations, along with minimizing waste. Government also belated introduced massive grants for retrofitting old buildings for energy efficiency. Stroud came up trumps. Following extensive community debate, the town has already achieved a substantial degree of independence through a series of complementary measures:
wind farms on the hill tops (but not the Commons)
Combined Heat and Power plant burning unrecyclable rubbish and wood waste from woods, parks and gardens.
Micro solar generation on many buildings (as at the Co-housing scheme)
So back to NOW. How do we try and bring a sustainable future towards us?
Well, of course its bottom up and top down. Both are essential. And when I say bottom up I mean businesses as well as households. We need to change the culture in the enterprises and organizations we work in as well as in our own lives. Democratic governments only change when they sense it is to their electoral advantage. So we have to ensure that local global planning is high on the agenda.
That means some difficult choices. Current public attitudes are often contrary. For example the fear of new housing. Opposition to wind turbines. It also means that our OWN actions need to start matching our rhetoric. Humph!
I'm as bad as many others, but working on it! Sometimes the lack of action is due to ignorance. It is only two years ago that I discovered how easy and even pleasant and cheap it was to get to work in Bristol by train from Cam and Dursley station. The key was trying it out. And buying a fold-up bike for the journey at the other end. As a result my commuting carbon footprint has been quartered.
At the Stroud level now some long-term problems remain almost unrecognised.
How can we expect children to walk or cycle to school when the pavements in places are ridiculously narrow and the bikeways are purely recreational?
How come we are still giving planning permission for unsustainable developments such as Stonehouse business park?
How come we have no overall plan to enhance the distinctive cultural landscape of the Stroud Valleys?
So here is the challenge. At present we have no effective community project or campaign caring for the future health of Stroud as a whole, making sure the plans emerging from Gloucestershire County and Stroud District, and the individual development proposals, are sustainable. Maybe Transition Stroud is working towards this. We need it. Stroud needs it ! SO - LET'S GIVE IT A WHIRL!