The last couple of weeks have have been some of the most extraordinary in my blogging life, having spent much of November helping to campaign for public votes to help Hexham River Hydro win energyshare funding of £100,000, WHICH THEY DID ON SATURDAY, so a HUGE THANK YOU to all of you who voted.
With the campaigning over, I now want to take some time out to reflect on what has been a very exciting but overwhelming experience in many ways.
When energyshare first got in touch to ask if I'd like to work with them as a blogging champion for one of the shortlisted entries, it sounded like a very exciting prospect. It was the first time I'd heard of energyshare, but the idea that it was supporting community based energy creation, based on inspiration by River Cottage & Landshare originator Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was a very interesting one indeed.
What I hadn't expected though was the community project that I would be allocated would be one that would involve a 5 hour train trip, up north to Hexham in Northumbria.
Nor had I expected the impact the community would have on me when I arrived there.
And I certainly hadn't prepared myself for the string of coincidences in my life that would surround Hexham either.
Energyshare recognised that they'd given me a community that was very far away from home and gave me the opportunity to support them remotely. Having read the project details for the Hexham River Hydro scheme, I knew I could blog about them enthusiastically - I love the idea of harnessing power from water - but I didn't think I could do it with the level of passion that was needed unless I saw it first hand.
The first phone calls I made with Tamsin, then Gillian and then the rest of the the Hexham River Hydro team revealed the first glimpses of their drive and enthusiasm that I was desperate to harness during my proposed visit there. And I wasn't to be disappointed.
From the moment I stepped off the train and was welcomed by Malcolm, one of the project team members, I knew it was going to be a 24 hour whirlwind of a visit. During the short walk to the town centre, I'd already gleaned some information about the town's initial commitment to renewable energy, with Malcolm pointing out the solar panels that had been installed on the roof of the sports centre.
Then came the opportunistic video in the stocks outside the town gaol (you'll need to see my video), followed by the very exciting introduction to the team, who were having a project meeting at their hub, at Scott's Cafe in the Forum cinema.
|The Hexham River Hydro Project Team|
Once calm had been restored, it was a real privilege to settle myself into the meeting and hear the ideas that the team was planning for campaigning to secure as many public votes as possible for their energyshare funding bid. There were so many ideas that truly reflected the group's energy
That night after pizza, I was "unofficially inaugurated" into the community by taking part in the Hexham Community Choir. For 50 minutes, the choir suffered my tone-deaf vocals, until Gillian announced why I was in town. Soon after it was off to the pub for some cider and more singing. It was a real warm welcome to what was an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar part of the country.
|Hexham Community Choir|
The real work started the next day. Well, I say it was work, it was more of an insightful introduction into the team's enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment as well as their vision on how a hydro electricity generator could create funds for social projects around the town.
|On location at the site of the river hydro scheme|
And everything that I experienced that day was eye-opening, whether it was watching leaping salmon for the very first time in my life, making Christmas cards with the mums who use the community house No. 28, or meeting the teenagers at the Youth Initiative, who are so grateful for their facility and also realise how it's heavily dependent on fund generation.
|The Community House, No 28.|
And having the opportunity to meet, conservationists, councillors, the mayor, members of Transition Tynedale, students of the local Mencap college and local schools, really cemented how much Hexham Community Partnership worked hard to create a fantastic foundation for such a great community.
|Members of the community, including The Mayor, Transition Tynesdale, Hexham Community Partnership and councillors|
|Hexham River Hydro's Gillian Orrell at the energyshare finals. If she was this pleased about winning a vote rush prize, just imagine how it felt to win the £100k funding. It's just a pity my camera battery ran out, so I couldn't capture the scene.|
I've now got a funny feeling, that this isn't the end of my relationship with Hexham. Not only because of the lovely welcome and my interest in following the development of the Hexham River Hydro project.
There are a few coincidences that have come about too.
Having uploaded my photos onto Facebook, it quickly emerged that not only does one of my social-media contacts originate for this beautiful town, but one of my favourite soap-makers lives only ten minutes away too, the fabulous Allyson, with whom I've had many a conversation during the last three years. Even while I was there, I stumbled upon the gallery of the most amazing artist Matt Forster. We'd started following each other on Twitter well before I'd even heard of Hexham. His work is truly superb and is really worth checking out. Here's a peek at just one photo I took during my brief visit to his gallery.
|By artist Matt Forster|
However the most amazing coincidence of all is the news that Gillian, had received a telephone call from a good friend of hers several days after my visit, to enquire whether it was true that a Karen Cannard had been in town.
It turns out that her friend is none other than a lovely former colleague of mine, who as a young lady used to work for me at a music digitisation company in London, back in the 1990s. After I'd left, she'd spent time travelling overseas. I moved house several times and then relocated to Suffolk. We lost touch, but I'd always wondered what had happened to her.
Now I know and it was an absolute delight to hear Gillian bring me up to speed a whole decade later.
So, I've now got plenty of reasons to visit a place, which until a few weeks ago, I'd actually never even heard of before.
Huge congratulations to Hexham River Hydro for winning the large category on Saturday and thank you for being such fabulous hosts.
I have no doubt we will meet again and I am looking forward to catching up with my old work friend too.
So thank you to energyshare for pairing me up with Hexham. My personal tale is a very unexpected result indeed.