Thursday, 22 December 2011

So boys, what should you do when you get cold?

Over the next few weeks I will be working with British Gas as one of their Smart Mums ambassadors, thinking about the significance of energy conservation this winter.

This project comes hot on the heels of the energyshare campaign, where I saw the hard work of communities who are trying to create energy from renewable sources.  With all the complexities of such a project, it's a far cry from the simplicity of flicking a switch in our homes to immediately emblazen rooms in light or to turn up the heat.

With the festive season being one of the coldest times of the year and now the boys are off school, it's been a good time to have a chat with them about how we can save energy over the holidays.

I caught them by surprise, this Sunday, just as my youngest came home from swimming and my eldest was about to embark on a Pokemon Fest at the computer, wearing just a short sleeved top  - his choice - brrrrr.  The house was not particularly warm that day.

"What should you do if you get cold?" I asked.

A simple question.

"Turn up the radiators!" shouted one.

"Dive under a blanket!" called the other.

The first was just being a frivolous tease.  He knows we have a permanent choice of blankets in our living room, which are always put to good use whenever we're sat around watching television, or using the laptop.  Aside from the technology, it takes us right back to an era when central heating wasn't available. I'm snuggling under one, whilst writing this post.

Of course, being just seven and ten, when the boys are not sat around, they're tearing around the house, using their own energy to keep warm.

It's just a shame I can't harness that and divert it back into the National Grid.

Or the sound of their laughter too, just like in Monsters Inc.

We're actually pretty good at managing the heating and putting on extra layers.  However, our particular downfall is leaving the lights on, especially in the children's rooms, when they are rushing around to get to school.  It's always the bedside lights that are a pain to remember to turn off.

So he who laughed about turning up the radiators has now got his nose to the grindstone, designing mini-posters to remind him and his brother to turn off the lights!

And if that doesn't work, as a back-up plan I'm busy gathering together a load of pennies as a financial incentive, so that each time they remember to turn them off, they will physically be able to visualise the saving too.

The problem with that last strategy is that I can see them turning on the lights especially to turn them off again.

Best not tell them about that one yet then!


This is a sponsored post for the British Gas, Smart Mums project. More posts  are also available at the BritMums Smart Mums Blog.

Monday, 12 December 2011

"No More Socks for Christmas" says Suffolk Circle

Members of Southwark Circle in London.  Suffolk Circle members will be marching with similar banners, 11.30am, Wednesday 14th December, The arc, Bury St Edmunds.

As a little girl, I used to love helping my mother wrap the Christmas presents.  It was one of my favourite things to do... until I got bored.  And I would get bored.  There were always too many presents and they were always the same, with the long monotony of socks, ties, handkerchiefs or bubble bath.  Sometimes there would be bath salts, just to break the routine.

As I carefully wrapped the presents, which would then be dutifully distributed to all the older members of our family in time for Christmas day, I couldn't help but think how awful Christmas Day must be for old people if every year they opened a pile of socks.  It would be like The Day of The Triffids, except with socks. Surely they already had enough socks or if they didn't they were old enough and sensible enough to buy their own.

Some of those 'old' people were only in their forties.

I'm now 43. a ripe old age to be caught in the firing line for chance gifts that belong to the older generation.

"The joy is in the giving, not the receiving" we hear all across the land at Christmas time.

Indeed it is and as a society we get hooked into the joy of giving presents as tokens of our love and kindness, our appreciation and our warmth towards others.  Yet, very often giving is purely duty-bound and an automatic process that ends up with a national pile of unwanted gifts.

"I really don't know what to get Uncle Jim," I heard a lady say last week, as I walked past her and her friend in Bury St Edmunds.  "He never likes what I get but I've got to get him something because it's bloody Christmas!"

It sounded like Uncle Jim's joy would definitely not be in 'the receiving'.  And as for the lady concerned, there was certainly no joy in the act of 'giving' either.  It sounded more like she was desperate for some pain relief!

So thank goodness the world is coming to its senses, at least in Bury St Edmunds, where under the auspices of social enterprise Suffolk Circle, a Flashmob & protest march is taking place this Wednesday to encourage people to think twice about what they buy for older friends and relatives this Christmas.  

Suffolk Circle members will gather in the Arc shopping centre at 11.30am, bringing unwanted gifts from last year.  They will march with banners to Suffolk Circle HQ, where the gifts will be donated to the Gatehouse, a West Suffolk charity dedicated to helping those in material and emotional need.

Suffolk Circle believes that wasting money on unwanted presents is even madder in the present economic climate.  For me it's all about physical waste too, i.e. the embedded energy and water wastage just to get the thing from the factory, to the shop, to the Christmas tree, only for it to sit in a drawer for 12 months before ending up in a carboot sale, landfill or charity shop

It's not about ingratitude, because actually it really is simply "the thought" that counts and the awareness that an unwanted present puts unnecessary emotional pressure on the benefactor as well as the beneficiary and leaves a trail of material and economic wastage in the process, even if it is just one pair of socks!

Of course it goes without saying that no offence is intended, accidentally or otherwise, towards anyone who really adores getting socks or just simply always needs another pair, whether that be at Christmas or any other time of year. 

And I admit, it really is nice to get a snuggly pair sometimes.


If you live in Suffolk and would like to take part in the flashmob, please go along on Wednesday 14th December.  11.30am.  Meet opposite the Costa Café, arc shopping Centre, 14 Prospect Row, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 3DG.

Suffolk Circle is a social enterprise whose members can get practical help with life’s little bits and pieces from local Helpers. They can also get out and about, meeting people with similar interests, reconnecting with their community, doing and learning new things. For family members and friends who live further away it’s a great to make sure their loved ones have neighbourly support, as well as a lot of fun, all year round.  Membership costs £15 for six months or £30 for a whole year.

For further details about the Suffolk Circle or Wednesday's march, please contact:
Finbarr Carter, Head of Membership. Tel: 01284 774880, or visit

Thursday, 8 December 2011

energyshare, Hexham, social media, old friends and me

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
I really felt honoured to have met so many people during my visit, which is why when it was announced at the live countdown on Saturday that they had won the £100K energyshare funding, I found myself getting quite emotional over the result too and so pleased for the community that I'd championed.

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.

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