Learn about insulation which won’t cost the earth

An Open Day at the Energy Saving Centre in Minehead on Saturday 1 February will showcase insulation methods and products to help people keep warm, save on fuel bills and reduce their ‘carbon footprint’.

The event, from 10 am to 1 pm, follows their very popular workshop on DIY draught proofing and secondary glazing held last autumn.

Heat loss

Dave Voisey, one of the trained volunteers at the Centre, said: “We are being supported by Jewsons, who have generously given draught proofing products for us to give away on the day. We also have examples of curtain insulation which can be purchased locally and can make a considerable difference. We know this because we have access to thermal measuring devices and have checked the results ourselves!”

He added: “Heat loss has to be tackled on all possible fronts as  35% goes through the walls, 25% through the roof, 10% through doors, 15% through windows and 15% through floors. The Centre has models, samples and information on cavity and solid wall insulation and affordable DIY insulation measures such as magnetic secondary window glazing, which has only become easily available recently, and underfloor insulation using ordinary, relatively cheap, roof insulation and plastic netting”.


The Centre is in Summerland Avenue (Co-Op) Car Park and is supported by West Somerset Council. It is run by Transition Minehead and Alcombe which promotes local resilience to climate change and the loss of resources such as energy, fuel and food. They work in partnership with Forum 21, a long standing West Somerset group promoting a low carbon economy, who have a long track record of setting up projects and services to this end.


“The work of the Energy Saving Centre is invaluable”, said Cllr Maureen Smith who represents TMA on the West Somerset Low Carbon Partnership. “The reduction in the District’s carbon footprint, which is higher than the national average, was checked at a recent meeting and found to be on target. Energy conservation can keep this momentum going as well as helping keep costs down and health and comfort affordable. However, we cannot be complacent because our area has many difficult buildings and transport problems. The Energy Saving Centre contributes to this effort with information, support and demonstrations of methods and products”.

For more information about the Open Day contact Chris Smith on 01643 709478

The Centre is open on Thursday 10 am to 2 pm and Saturday 10 am to 1 pm. For more information about the Centre go to www.transitionmineheadandalcombe.org

www.west-somerset-forum21.org.uk or phone Hester on 01643 821768.

January 2014

Will we need to grow more of our own food?

The spectre of food shortages was raised recently when Minister for Farming, David Heath, warned that rising food prices and global shortages may make it necessary for us to grow more of our own food in future. It has been mistakenly believed in the past that we did not need to produce much food in this country because we could just import what we needed. Globally food has been unrealistically cheap because of subsidies for a long time but from now on the pressures of population and unpredictable weather, due to climate change, are going to mean that food security must be taken seriously.


There are many aspects to consider: water use, the huge resources needed for meat production and our incredibly varied diet which is  causing massive health problems, including obesity and diabetes. Consumers need information and access to adequate food supplies which promote health and meet their needs. The message from the international  Food Sovereignty movement in  Malawi in 2007 was: “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems….”.

A third of food we buy is thrown away

Genetically modified food is being promoted as a way of increasing production but the technology is widely mistrusted, not least because it provides big corporations with enormous profits.  And is it really needed when UK households throw away around a third of the food they buy? This is a serious waste of money when budgets are under strain. Waste food is also a loss of the energy and resources that have gone into its production. And, if put in the ordinary waste bin rather than the doorstep food waste collection, such as the one run by Somerset Waste Partnership, it creates methane which is more than 20 times damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

The “Love food : Hate Waste” campaign from WRAP, is a superb source of ideas for using food effectively and avoiding waste. My favourite is freezing grapes and other fruit getting past their best and using them to make a warm fruit salad to go on your breakfast cereal.  http://england.lovefoodhatewaste.com.

Much food is lost across the world for lack of storage and other measures which could improve yields and prevent hunger. Practical Action promotes low tech, sustainable methods of food production and storage, such as fish farming cages in Bangladesh, which rise and fall with floods.http://practicalaction.org/fish-cage

In West Somerset, Transition Minehead and Alcombe promotes local food production and food growing skills through the Friends and Family Allotment in Alcombe and through annual Seed and Plant swaps. They plan, supported by Minehead Town Council, to establish a Community Orchard. The group has a special interest in Permaculture, a method of growing food in an organic way avoiding the use of petroleum based fertilisers and insecticides which are costly and damage ecosystems. The allotment is a work in progress and prospective food growers are always welcome to get involved and share the produce. For information emailtma2009@hotmail.co.uk , phone 01643 709478 or go to www.transitionminehadandalcomb.org.uk.

In Somerset, help to find land and  grow food is available from www.somersetcommunityfood.org.uk and their website for home and community growers, www.incredible-edible-somerset.ning.com/.

“Eat what your grandmother ate”

Michael Pollen, an American food writer who has tried every food available, says:  “Eat what your grandmother ate, not too much of it and mostly plants”. I would add, keep the ‘food miles‘ as low as possible – local is ideal and home grown is fantastic.



What can we do to stop global warming?

In 2009 the world’s leaders came together in Copenhagen and decided to do nothing about climate change. Since then carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have gone on rising, as they have done since the 1970s, and will do for decades unless we change the way we live. Our climate shows ever more extremes, of floods, droughts, heatwaves and cold, our strange winter an effect of the highest ever recorded ice melt in the Arctic with its effects on the jet stream. Over the whole planet the average temperature rise goes on, ever closer towards the 2 degrees at which the scientific community forecasts thresholds are crossed, feedback kicks in and the change becomes unstoppable. And yet, bizarrely, in the face of near certain ruin of our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, society acts as if there is no emergency. We wouldn’t fly on a plane that has a 1 per cent risk of crashing, so it’s surprising that we seem content to accept much higher risks with the planet.


In the UK we have an impressive Climate Change Act, agreed by the last government, that in theory commits to an 80 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 and a 50 per cent cut by 2023-27. But our coalition ‘greenest government ever’ seems intent on finding a way round that, and even designs well intentioned policies, such as the Green Deal, in such a way that they are bound to fail, while withdrawing previous schemes that were working well. The coalition is also squeezing local government so hard that it no longer has any resources to take positive action on climate change. As a result, West Somerset Council, doing so many good things until 2011, has now dropped climate change as a priority. Exmoor National Park struggles on, in spite of austerity.


Local communities achieving remarkable change

So, is despair inevitable? If governments won’t act, perhaps people will. Locally there are stirrings of community-owned renewable energy. In some developing countries local communities are achieving remarkable change. In the US many cities and states are ignoring the federal Republican block on sensible action and going ahead with innovation anyway.


And there is one new policy that could, if introduced, just do it. It’s called Cap and Dividend. Not Cap and Trade, which relies on politicians doing backroom deals with corporations, often ending in shareholders getting richer for the company doing nothing. Cap and Dividend is backed by author James Hansen of NASA, one of the world’s leading climate scientists. The Cap is an annual auction of carbon emission permits to firms which first sell fossil carbon into the economy, with the total permits reduced each year. The Dividend is the proceeds of this auction, divided up and handed out equally to every citizen. The fund is handled by a not-for-profit independent trust (www.capanddividend.org/files/CarbonCapping_CitizensGuide.pdf).


Incentives for business

The beauty of it is that there are immediate incentives on businesses to reduce their carbon emissions; carbon emissions prices will rise as the cap declines, spurring private capital to flow into clean alternatives such as renewable energies. Dividends will rise along with the carbon prices, easing the impact on consumers.


Cap and Dividend creates a virtuous circle, in which how people fare depends on what they do. The more carbon any company or individual burns, the more that company or individual pays. Because everybody gets the same amount back, people gain if they conserve and lose if they guzzle. This is fair to all, with the 99 per cent getting as much dividend each as the 1 per cent, a little different from business as usual, while the poor actually come out ahead because they burn less carbon than other people do.


The ever reducing emissions cap means that emissions must come down. It works. Consultation in the USA shows that most people love the idea when they understand it. Who’s up for discussing these ideas here?


Want to get involved?

Forum 21 is leading several projects to promote sustainable energy policies here in West Somerset. If you want to get involved, contact Lorna Scott, tel. 01984 634242 email:mail@forum21.org.uk


Reduce Heating Bills Under the Green Deal

Get advice to reduce heating bills under the Green Deal

Vulnerable people in West Somerset could get help and advice to reduce their heating bills. A team of seven trained volunteers from the sustainability group, Forum 21, is already helping 17 pensioners through the process known as the Green Deal and it has plans to extend this project to other pensioners later in the year.

The government’s Green Deal scheme offers householders a pay-as-you-go loan to make energy improvements to their homes. There are 45 energy improvements available; for those on limited incomes and on certain benefits, these are free under the Affordable Warmth element of the Green Deal. The start of this process is a Green Deal energy assessment.

Free assessments

Working with Transition Alcombe and Minehead (TMA) Forum 21 has enabled over 60 households in West Somerset to have free Green Deal assessments under a scheme called  “Our Green Deal”. This was funded by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and organised by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) in Bristol for residents throughout Somerset. The scheme, which has now ended, involved an assessor visiting the property to assess its energy efficiency and preparing a report on what energy improvements could be done, their cost and whether they were available under the Green Deal.

The 17 people being helped to make energy improvements have had one of these free assessments and will now be able to get improvements to their homes at no cost. They will all benefit from warmer homes and lower energy bills.

Lorna Scott of Forum 21 said: “I am very pleased that we have been able to help so many vulnerable people in West Somerset. We hope we will be able to help even more people at the next stage of our project.”

The Affordable Warmth scheme

This scheme enables people on low incomes and receiving certain benefits to have energy improvements carried out free. Almost all of the 45 stipulated “measures” can be carried out under the ECO (Energy Companies Obligation) Affordable Warmth scheme, including new fuel-efficient boilers, room heaters, cavity wall insulation, solid wall insulation, draught proofing, showers, cylinder and loft insulation.

To qualify for the free measures, people have to be in receipt of one or more of the following benefits: pension credit, child tax credit, income support, income related employment and support allowance or income based job seeker’s allowance.

The basic Green Deal scheme

The government wants to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint as part of the wider DECC 2050 plan to achieve energy efficiency in all UK homes.


Householders can apply for Green Deal finance up to £10,000 from a Green Deal “provider” at an interest rate between 6 and 8%. This money is used to pay an approved installer and repaid through the electricity bill. It has to conform to the “golden rule”, ie. the savings in fuel bills must cover the cost of the loan. The loan remains with the property so has to be taken over by any new owner or tenant.

All Green Deal applicants go through the same process: assessment, applying for funding, and installation. There is no obligation on the householder to make any of the improvements suggested. They can choose which improvements they wish to make.

The Carbon Reduction Obligation

Another element of the Green Deal scheme is targeted at people who live in homes with solid walls, which are difficult to heat and expensive to improve. Sixty per cent of West Somerset homes fall into this category. For these homes, the Green Deal loan can be topped up with a grant to pay for the improvements.

Get help with winter bills and energy saving improvements

The Minehead Energy Saving Centre gives free, impartial guidance on how to save money and energy. Its voluntary staff can also provide up to date information about the financial help available.

At the Centre, visitors can see examples of products that can be used for energy efficiency and can borrow energy monitors showing where energy is being used and how much. The Centre’s aim is to make sure people have the latest information about how to make their homes warmer and cheaper to run. If wished, people can ask for an advisor to visit them at home.

Schemes to help people pay for improvements, such as better heating and insulation, frequently change and this winter some long-running initiatives are ending.

The new Green Deal which the Government has just launched will enable some people to carry on getting simple insulation and heating systems done free of charge. The scheme also allows for some new measures, such as solid wall insulation, secondary glazing and wood stoves. There is a long list of things that can be done either under the affordable warmth scheme, which is free for low income and vulnerable households, or through Green Deal loans and grants. The Centre’s staff can explain how it works and help with applications.

An assessment of the property is the first step in the Green Deal process. This is free but applications must be made immediately because these must be done by mid-March.

Surviving winter grants are available for people over 60 having trouble paying bills. Contact Lorna Scott of Forum 21 on 01984 634242 for information.

There are other schemes to help with high bills which are ending soon. For example, people on pension credit and means-tested benefits can apply for free loft and cavity wall insulation only up to the end of March.

Ridgeway Care and Repair offer free draught-proofing, secondary glazing film and basic insulation to people who fit their criteria, for example, those on a low income or have on-going medical conditions. This will continue until 13 March. Ring 01823 692909.

A new scheme local councils have set up with Wessex Home Improvement Loans provides interest free loans to home owners of up to £500 to purchase oil repayable over six months. Phone 01823 461099 for more information. Many villages are covered by community oil-buying schemes which offer lower prices and the Centre can advise on how to contact them.

The Minehead Energy Saving Centre is located in the Co-op car park and is open on Thursdays from 10am to 2pm and on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. Or phone 01643 821768 and ask for Hester.


Safer cycling in West Somerset

Why West Somerset Needs Safer Cycling

At present, cyclists in West Somerset have little option but to ride along the A39. Many would-be cyclists are put off altogether because they consider the risk to be too great, and cycling with children is almost impossible. By building paths where people can cycle safely without worrying about traffic, many more people will be able to take to two wheels.

Steam Coast Trail
The Steam Coast Trail is the name of the cycle path that is planned for West Somerset, which will ultimately make cycling much easier between Minehead, Watchet and Williton. Its name comes from the route along the coast of West Somerset often near the railway. This is a Forum 21 initiative supported by Sustrans. The scheme involves the building of two new off-road sections of cycle path. The first section between Blue Anchor and Dunster Beach already has planning permission, and we are now raising money so that this section can be built. A plan for the second section between Old Cleeve and Washford has been submitted to the council by Sustrans and is awaiting approval.

The Route
When the path is complete, cyclists coming from Minehead will use the existing cycle path alongside the A39 (which is due to be improved soon) until they reach Marsh Lane at Dunster. Here they will turn left, continuing down Sea Lane to Dunster Beach. They will then take the new scenic route to Blue Anchor (a distance of just 1 mile). After stopping for an ice-cream or other refreshment, cyclists will continue along Blue Anchor seafront and turn right towards Old Cleeve. At Old Cleeve, they will take the next off-road section to Washford.

A new group, Friends of the Steam Coast Trail has been formed, whose first task is to raise funds for the project. We need approximately £250,000 to build the first section of this cycle path from Dunster Beach to Blue Anchor. While we are hoping to get some larger grants and donations, even small donations will be very welcome as they will get the ball rolling and show that we have public support.

New Website www.steamcoasttrail.org

The Steam Coast Trail now has a new website www.steamcoasttrail.org which aims to provide up-to-date information on the project. Please have a look at the website for more information about the project including maps and plans. If you use Facebook or Twitter, you can support the new website by clicking on the Like or Tweet buttons in the top-right corner of the page.

What you can do to help
We know there is a lot of support for the new cycle path, but when we are applying for grants, it will be important that we can show this. We therefore need to hear from everyone who supports this project. The easiest way to give us your support is by filling out the form on the contact page of the new website. Letters of support and donations can also be sent to Forum 21, 8 Severn Terrace, Watchet, Somerset. TA23 0AS. Cheques should be made payable to “Forum 21”.


Up on the roof and under the wire

Brendon Energy is celebrating the success of its first installation on behalf of the community. 100% owned by local people Brendon Energy is aiming to increase the amount of renewable energy generated in the Western Somerset.

Launched in July 2011 as an Industrial and Provident Society for the benefit of the community, Brendon Energy raised over 70,000 in its first share and loans offer. Its roots are in the 10Parishes (around Wiveliscombe) Transition Initiative and it has links with Forum 21.

After a lengthy survey of possibilities, funded by Western Somerset LARC and carried out by Aardvark, a local environmental consultancy, Brendon Energy decided that Solar photovoltaic panels offered the best and least controversial investment for the community.

Village hall and school roofs over a wide area were scanned for suitability and committees were asked whether they would sign up to a 25 year lease. Suddenly the government announced that 12/12/11 was the deadline for the Feed-in-Tariff payments on which Brendon Energy’s calculations had been made.

‘We had just six weeks to get our panels installed and registered instead of the five months we were planning on’, said Gareth Hoskins, CEO. Everyone changed gear and we pulled out all the stops. When the government made their ridiculous announcement (since overturned in the courts) we had not even cashed the share offer cheques. However, we got the agreement of the Children’s Society (who run the Children’s Centre), Somerset County Council (who own the building) and found a supplier who was able to meet the deadline. Eco-Exmoor gave us the right price and went into over-drive to prepare the roof and fit the panels.’

123 solar PV panels were fitted to the roof of Wiveliscombe’s Children’s Centre in record time, commissioned, accepted by Ofgem and the electricity signed up with Good Energy.

‘We ended beating the deadline by the skin of our teeth and had the panels up on the roof and under the wire of the government deadlineand a big thanks to everyone involved’, said Gareth. ‘The community now has a 29kW solar power station – the first of many projects owned by the community – find us on www.brendonenergy.org.’


Energy Advice Roadshow in West Somerset

Forum 21 is proud to announce that it has won the South West regional Community Footprint Award from National Energy Action. This means we have £2000 to spend on organising an energy advice roadshow around West Somerset, following the success of our pilot advice centre in Watchet in the autumn. If we are lucky enough to win the national prize, we plan to open a more permanent centre in the future.

Come and find us at one of our 6 energy advice events in February and March, where our team of trained volunteers will be offering free, impartial advice on saving money on energy bills and accessing grants to improve the energy efficiency of our homes. We can give you information on all types of insulation, heating, renewable energy, finding installers and sources of funding.  We can lend you an energy monitor to tell you how much energy you are using and how much it is costing you. And we can arrange a free energy survey for your home.

Have you changed your energy supplier recently? We’ll show you how to do so and save £100-£150 pounds a year. Do you want to know about the government’s Green Deal and how you can use it to pay for energy improvements to your home? Our advisers will explain the scheme.  Are your fuel bills giving you a headache? We’ll be joined by advisers from the West Somerset Advice Bureau who can help with money problems and make a benefit check too if you need one.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to find the answers to your energy and money problems, brought to a venue local to you. All you have to do is pop in to one of our events. They will be open from 10am to 1pm in each place. Look out for local publicity, and let us know if you’d like a poster to display.

Friday           17th February                Williton Parish Council Office Foyer

Friday           24th February                Porlock Village Hall

Friday           2nd March                        Dulverton Town Hall

Tuesday        6th March                        Stogursey Church Rooms

Thursday      22nd March                     Wheddon Cross, Moorland Hall

Thursday      29th March                       Dunster Memorial Hall

Every visitor will be entered into our FREE PRIZE DRAW.

Power from the Sea

Local people are looking into the possibilities of generating power from a fabulous sustainable resource right on our doorstep: the Severn Estuary, with the second greatest tidal range in the world and, according to a Government report, the potential to generate 5% of the total electricity needs of the UK.
While plans for a Severn Barrage were shelved for environmental reasons, other options remain on the table.

Firstly, a Cornish company, Evans Engineering, has put forward a proposal for a tidal reef to run from Warren Point, near Minehead, to Aberthaw, in Wales. This proposal has received two favourable reports from engineering consultants WS Atkins, commissioned first by the RSPB (looking at environmental issues), and second by the Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (looking at the engineering feasibility). Evans Engineering’s plan reached a short list of five proposals for Government funding last year but didn’t make the final cut. This could be a big project of national significance, with the potential for large-scale energy generation.
Secondly, a Bristol company, Marine Current Turbines (MCT), tried out a marine turbine off the coast at Lynmouth in 2003; the trial was successful, with the turbine performing even better than expected. Marine turbines are relatively inexpensive and can generate enough electricity to power 600 homes. Several of these might be installed as small local investment schemes.

Local control of and investment in harnessing the Severn is a key issue. Many people opposed to a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point are against it not only because of the immediate danger and the long-term legacy of radioactive waste, but also because local people will have no control over the project, gain little financial benefit (profits will go to EdF), and be in the front line regarding the risks.

Private finance will be of key importance in developing the Severn tidal schemes. It’s a great opportunity for local investment and consequently local control and local earnings. There are some financial investment vehicles already in place that may be suitable; alternatively another financial vehicle could be set up dedicated to investment in the Severn projects.
This is a tremendous opportunity for the people of Minehead, Exmoor and West Somerset to take control of the options! The Severn tide is rolling in and rolling out, twice a day, every day, reliably, predictably, and inexhaustibly!
At a recent meeting of the Minehead Transition group and Forum 21 a working party was set up to explore these options further.

The Great Transition

Are you troubled by the current economic situation? And have you considered that there could be an alternative? What does acting locally mean to you? And can we really live better with less?

Transition Minehead and Alcombe will be hosting an inspirational evening on 11 November at Minehead Community College, which has been designed to question our current economic model.

Furthermore, the group is thrilled to announce that Stewart Wallis, Executive Director of the New Economic Foundation (NEF), will be guest speaker at the event. During his talk, Stewart will be uncovering what is so wrong with the current economic system; making clear the urgent need for a ‘great transition’ and, as a result, showing how we really can have a better future.

Stewart has had a long and impressive history in economics, having worked for the World Bank in Washington and as International Director of Oxfam – a role which saw him awarded an OBE. Now part of NEF, a leading independent ‘think and do tank’, he is helping to challenge mainstream thinking so as to inspire and demonstrate real economic well-being, putting people and the planet first.

The talk will be followed by open questions and an opportunity to voice your own thoughts on how we might move forward practically as a community. Any ideas will be collected and taken to the Transition groups next steering group meeting on Monday 14 November, 10am at St Michael’s Church, Alcombe, where we hope to create a new local economics working group and put the ideas into action. All are welcome at the meeting, so please join us and make this happen. Alternatively, you can participate in the virtual debate following Stewarts talk on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TransitionMineheadAndAlcombe

The initial event will be held in the main hall of West Somerset Community College, starting at 7pm on 11 November 2011. There will be no charge, although donations will be gratefully received. Refreshments will be provided.

Transition Minehead and Alcombe would like to facilitate lift sharing to this event, so if you would like to attend and are happy to share with others, please contact Maureen on tma2009@hotmail.co.uk with your name and details of where you’ll be travelling from by 4th November. We will then circulate this information to others interested.