Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Lozells Get Involved Day, Saturday 12 June 2010

Last Saturday 12 June, I missed the Climate Change Festival in order to run a stall at The Get Involved Day in St Georges Park, Willis Street, Lozells. This is a sizeable open space in the heart of Lozells. Having had a history of misuse, the purpose of the day was to enable local residents to take ownership of this space and judging by the crowds who turned up, it was a great success.
I was housed with other voluntary and statutory organisations in a long marquee. There were representatives from the NHS, housing associations, the police, fire service and others, including some local businesses. Some fun things, a bouncy castle, face painting as well as a football competition. I was delighted when us stallholders were given food vouchers, that was me sorted with some delicious rice, samosas and other lovely specialities.
I gave away about thirty newsletters and a sizeable number of leaflets. These seemed to be most popular with children, who are a good way of getting an environmental message across, the colourful fold out leaflets we have on subjects such as Climate Change, Farming, Transport, appeal and they can be used to decorate their bedroom walls.
I got into conversation with a few people, always friendly, occasionally enjoyably challenging. Often people just enjoy a good argument and it isn't that they disagree with you so much as they want to be convinced themselves that your arguments stand up.

I'm making good contacts with people in Lozells which is what outreach work should be all about! For example, I'll be helping and encouraging a team of street champions which is a great chance to introduce Friends of the Earth, let people know about our work and campaigns. Its also about building on the succeses of Lozells, for example a small parcel of land called Carpenters Corner off Lozells Road has been transformed into a little green space which can be used by anyone (left). Recently its been the site of an arts installation. I'm working with Gillian Lloyd, neighborhood Manager, to start a grow site on land identified as ideal for this purpose. This will be used as a pilot project to learn from before two more, much larger sites, are created.
Theres a real buzz about Lozells at the moment, local people meeting challenges in an area which a few years ago had a very poor reputation. Theres an exciting media project run by a local school with an eco slant, check them out here, they have a jolly impressive website and make youtube videos of things happening in the local area such as a community garden planted at Anglesey Road school.
So theres loads of really inspiring and encouraging things happening.
Lozells Road has a great variety of independent stores including a proper old fashioned hardware store, a Lebanese patisserie where, for a moment, I thought I'd been transported to Lyon, never mind Lozells. Theres a tailor, clothes shops, hairdressers, several pharmacies and stores serving diasporic communities. You'll find the African grocers proudly flying Ghana's flag, a couple of Bangladeshi supermarkets with a fantastic array of fresh fruit and veg. Turn a corner and out pops a little park with a childrens play area, regularly enjoyed, well cared for and owned by the local community.
If you've been scared away from Lozells by lurid tales of gangs, guns and ganja, go and take a second look. Have a wander around what I think is an area with real character and potential.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Birmingham Climate Change Festival 2010

Saturday the 5th of June was the first day of the three day Birmingham Climate Change Festival 2010. Centenary Square, in Birmingham, played host to the festival that offered a solar powered stage and circus, an ethical market and stalls offering information and tips on how to reduce emissions.

There were some fascinating stands and opportunities to meet people carrying out projects such as this

Birmingham Friends of the Earth were in attendance with a mini-version of the now popular monthly swap shop and an information stand. Passers by were invited to take part in a free competition offering the chance to win a home energy monitor, if they could guess the number of soy beans-not our favourite- in a jar. The estimates varied as wildly as our summer weather seems to be.

It seemed like the hottest, muggiest day we have had this year, but there was a good attendance of people passing through the festival throughout the day. Due to the efforts of everyone who volunteered, BFOE was able to highlight the importance of 'fixing the food chain', as well as other issues concerning transport and waste and recycling.

As the summer continues BFOE is always on the lookout for anybody interested in volunteering on stalls at events across the West Midlands. It is a great way to get some experience for your cv, learn something useful and have some fun! Email: joe@birminghamfoe.org.uk

(Images courtesy of Paul Tyers)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Elms Farm Excursion, Bank Holiday Monday 31 May

On Bank Holiday Monday 31 May a group of us from Birmingham went to Elms Farm, a biodynamic farm near Pershore, Worcestershire, as part of FOE's Fix the Food Chain campaign which forges links with local farmers.
Demeter is an organic standard dating back to the 1920s closely based upon the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner. Demeter follows a lunar calendar for planting, cultivating and harvesting with the aim of building a diverse ecosystem and becoming completely self reliant.
Elms Farm has been run since 2003 by Charbel Akiki who lives there with his wife Sussana and their four daughters. Charbel also shoulders a considerable amount of childcare while Sussana is at work in Birmingham.
I realised straight away I've met Charbel several times on his stall at Farmers Markets in Birmingham, so it was great to see from where his delicious salad leaves originate.
We began by attending Pershore's 'asparagus festival' which was a bit of a let down, I think we were too late for the asparagus, although there was some still on sale. We saw the parade through the town centre with lots of colourful floats, but I think most of us were more interested in the Farmers' Market. Like most of them in the UK, however, takeaway food and jars of preserves predominated.
Having scored our asparagus and, in Nigel's case, some serious quantities of seriously chocolaty cheesecake, we headed in the direction of the delightfully named North Piddle and Elms Farm. Many thanks to Nigel Baker, as I greatly enjoyed being chauffeured in his Toyota Prius, never having ridden in one before.
Sussana and Charbel welcomed us with a big pot of tea and we met a group from Worcester FOE who'd also come to see the farm. We soon got to know one another, chatting away and learning all about the intricacies of running a farm to Demeter standard, which is one of the most rigorous. Charbel and Sussana gave us some background on the farm, before we went on a tour.
First stop was the orchard, planted with the help of an agricultural college with some 600 fruit trees of some sixteen varieties of apples, pears, plums and cherries. Hens and Chickens were wandering around and live in a coops up in the orchard. Foxes are a serious problem, last year the farm lost around fifty birds. Cute and cuddly or a financial liability?
We then went on to look at the plantings of strawberries, three varieties; early, mid and late, the greenhouse with tomatoes, courgettes and those wonderful salad varieties planted out.
What struck me most seeing the farm is the way the crops co exist with the weeds, which grow all over the place and the sheer effort of maintaining the farm by hand. There's no tractor. It's easy to see how the price of Charbel's produce reflects the work which goes into it.
There's a beautiful meadow alongside full of tall grass and wild flowers, and Charbel described how nice it is for his children to enjoy. That's a good highpoint on which to conclude this report of our visit, and you can see some highlights on the video I made here.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Environment Exhibition in the library

Here are some of the panels from our exhibition in the library.

Not being a very artistic person or someone blessed with a huge amount of time, when I discovered I had to put together an exhibition in the Birmingham Central Library I was slightly panicked, I have to admit. But after digging around I found we did actually have quite a decent number of good images for me to use and I laminated a few more eye-catching posters to go on there.
I think the result looks quite good and hopefully a few more people will see it and get interested in coming along to find out about what we do and get involved in environmental campaigning with us.

Please go along and check it out if you're in the library - it's on floor 5.

Joe Peacock

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Introducing Tom Pointon Birmingham FOE's new Outreach Officer

Eleanor Hoad gets to work on the Edible Erdington project

My name's Tom Pointon and I started as Birmingham FOE’s latest Outreach Officer at Birmingham FOE at the beginning of May.

So far I've been finding out whats going on in Ladywood and Handsworth, having decided to focus my energies on these areas.

I’ve always been interested in architecture, the quality of the built environment, how to make cities enjoyable places to live. I'm keen to enable and empower people on a local level to have more influence over the quality of their environment.

Last week I was at an estate in Ladywood, meeting the Ladywood Project, which offers space for residents on an estate of tower blocks, low-rise housing, to meet, share childcare, get advice on a range of issues, have a coffee. A centre like this is invaluable for many residents in these areas and it was good to chat with the staff and learn that play areas and green spaces were being used and enjoyed by people of all ages.

Last week I interviewed two people for the forthcoming show BFOE will be launching on Rhubarb Radio, the web radio station based in the Custard Factory. Firstly I spoke to Carol Byrne, who runs LOVE, the organic and local food stall at Birmingham Central Market, and then Eleanor Hoad, who has a twelve month contract as artist in residence based in Erdington.

These two are a source of great inspiration. Carol graduated in Film and has made a number of short documentaries, mainly about the land movements in Mexico. Inheriting her market stall after her dad passed away, she's built the business into her own vision, selling a range of seasonal, local and organic fresh produce. You can hear her interview soon on Rhubarb Radio.

Eleanor Hoad’s projects show a new direction for art and culture which had me pondering ‘how do we decide what constitutes Art?’ In much contemporary art what's significant isn't the work of art, but the ideas surrounding it. This found its ultimate expression in the art scene of the nineties, with over-inflated prices paid for items like sharks in tanks, unmade beds and so on. Its through art we reflect on ourselves and our place in the universe, ability to reflect what distinguishes us from other mammals. Anything can become an art work. It doesn't need to be something tangible and physical.

In 2005 Eleanor spent twelve months touring Birmingham in a van powered by recycled cooking oil, towing a solar powered caravan. She was inspired by the way the city is continually being knocked down and rebuilt. Calling this project ‘Brave New Brum’ each area she visited was invited to nominate Seven Wonders and Seven Blunders, to get people to think about the area where they live. The entire project culminated in a treasure hunt in Kings Norton

Eleanor then ran a year long Climate Change Awareness Project in Wythenshawe, Manchester which culminated in an environmental festival bringing people's attention to climate change in innovative ways. Many local people who were involved with the festival rely on nearby Manchester airport for their livelihoods, which apparently they regard as a mixed blessing.

Through the Brave New Brum project Eleanor got to know an NHS scheme called Food Net to get people eating more healthily and working with residents of a large housing estate in Kings Norton, she had an idea she describes as ‘The Scattered Orchard.’ Kicking off on with a Valentine's day event subsidized fruit trees were offered, with 100 fruit trees planted in a day across the estate. Eleanor created a large map of tree locations. This was repeated the following year, with participants reporting on how their trees were growing. The project was so successful it was followed up by a ‘Scattered Market Garden’ where subsidized seeds were offered, a map created to record where everything was planted.

This is where imagination comes in, being key to creativity, because Eleanor was able to inspire people to plant in innovative ways, using containers on limited spaces such as window sills or balconies of tower blocks. The scattered approach is highly appropriate for urban areas. I was in London at the weekend and traveling by bus across Hackney and Islington was struck at just how much green space there is, little pockets of land all over the place. In Birmingham the low value of land could become a strength. Instead of more office blocks and industrial estates sitting empty for years we could be turning old industrial areas to productive inner city grow sites. Instead of endless schemes ‘helping people back into work’ for non existent jobs, we could work now, making ourselves more self sufficient.

Eleanor is currently running the ‘Edible Erdington’ project. Every Monday on Erdington High Street, volunteers gather to tend two planters opposite the Coop now bursting with growing vegetables. Shes also building upon her ‘Prepare’ project. Last year she went round the Erdington area identifying fruit growing in all sorts of places which were not being harvested. Apple trees in back yards, elderflowers on waste land, pear trees growing on railway sidings. Fruit trees grow in all sorts of random areas in a city, often down to food waste, discarded apple cores and suchlike. All sorts of activities spun off from this project such as an Apple festival last year at which more than fifty examples of the truly astonishing variety of English apples were on show – all, amazingly enough, harvested, foraged in Erdington!

In April a Prepare Swap Shop took place at Birmingham museum and art gallery where people swapped produce made from the fruit: jams, pickles, juices. You can catch Eleanor’s contribution to ‘In Our Backyard’ the culmination of year long residencys of four Birmingham artists. Its in the Community Gallery of the Museum (entrance on Gt Charles Queensway) and runs until 4 July.

You’ll be able to hear the full interview with Eleanor on our forthcoming Rhubarb Radio show very soon, in the meantime get down to the Museum and Art Gallery Community Gallery and see In Our Backyard.