Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Thinking about the future - mapping our local resources

Back in June we held a Good Lives weekend (subtitled  '. . . because we can't eat money'), looking at future access to resources, food in particular. Leading up to the specific focus on food we did a broader mapping exercise, thinking about the locality where we live. I thought it might be of interest to others, either individuals or groups.

Below is a facilitator's crib sheet to run this with a group. This is about a 90-minute session for a group of about a dozen – it will be a bit shorter for a smaller group, a bit longer for a larger one.

What you will need:
  • assorted paper, felt pens, etc. People have different preferences for how they like to work, so it’s good if you can have available A4, A3 and flip-chart paper, various thick and thin felt pens, possibly also crayons or coloured pencils; if you want to make this into a more creative session, you could add collage materials, glue sticks, etc
  • a few maps or road atlases. If you are working with a group all from the same locality, you might like to photocopy the relevant double page spread from a standard 1:25000 (1" to 4 miles) road atlas. If you have people from a bigger range, a few road atlases available for people to look at will be helpful
What this exercise is doing: [allow 10-15 minutes to introduce the whole exercise, and for people to get their materials, ask any questions, etc]

The idea is to focus on your own locality, and take a 25 mile (40 kilometer) radius around where you live. This can be done impressionistically, or – if you’re using photocopies – some people might like to draw a circle on the map. The 25 mile distance is chosen because it’s about the limit of what can be done without fossil-fuelled transport. It’s a stretch, and you probably wouldn’t want to cycle (or horse-ride) a 50 mile round trip in a day, or even a 25 mile one-way trip too often – but it’s just about do-able when needed, and you could think about accessing resources in that area.

We’re thinking about the deleterious effects of peak oil, climate change, or other events (eg: volcanic ash) on transport, infrastructure, supply chains, energy and water supplies, etc.

So, within your 25 mile radius, think about: [and you might like to draw this up on a flipchart – see example below]
  • Food: Growing vegetables, grain, fruit? Good grazing for livestock? Availability of land? Local expertise? Fishing available?
  • Water: Rivers – clean or polluted? Canals? Lakes or reservoirs – accessible? With fish in?
  • Timber: large trees for building? Smaller trees for coppicing? Wood for fuel? Land to plant more trees to ensure a sustainable supply?
  • Other building materials: clay (for bricks), stone, sand, gravel? [NB: gravel and sand are also good for water filtration]
  • Energy production: are there open spaces with enough wind for turbines? Is there sloping south-facing ground (that can be spared from food production) for solar panels? If you have rivers, are there weirs? Could the rivers have dams? Are there old mill-races that could be restored to full functioning? Are there places where water-wheels could be installed to create power? What about roofs of buildings?
  • Materials processing and manufacturing: are there industrial premises that could be converted to usable workshops? Can a source of power be made available to them?
  • Transport: Are any rivers or canals navigable? Do people have boats? Can anyone make them? Is there a good network usable by cycles? Is there any local expertise in horse-drawn carts? Are there heavy horses to pull canal barges – and anyone who knows about handling them? Does anyone have donkeys and know about using them to carry loads?
  • Available labour: and crossing all of these, what is the population demographic in your area? Is there enough, and the right kind, of labour available? What is the age profile?
Allow about 30 minutes for people to complete their mapping – you can judge by the activity level in the room whether to stop earlier or allow a little bit longer. In any case, about 5 minutes before stopping, give people a ‘just 5 more minutes’ warning.

If you have a group of up to about 8 (10 at a push), then you can share the results of this in a whole group go-round. This will be particularly good if everyone is from roughly the same area, as ideas can be pooled.

For a bigger group, this will take a long time, and it’s better to share in 4s first. If you have people from a wide area, try to group the 4s so that people living in similar types of area are together (if possible). Allow about 20 minutes in the 4s. Then bring the group back together and ask if there’s anything particular that it would be helpful to share with the whole group. Allow not more than 10 minutes for this.

If you have time, you might at this point like to ask one further question for reflection, not necessarily for answering now: what about the ‘social capital’ of your area? Is it a community-minded place? Are there local groups and organisations that mean you have structures and networks of people that already know how to work together, to organise things, to make things happen . . . and to take other people along with them, not put backs up?

double-click on this image to see it enlarged, and then click 'back' to return to the blog

If anyone tries this out - either alone or with a group - I'd be really interested to know how it goes. Please email me (as below).

Other resources around this topic that you might like to look at include:
- Incredible Edible Todmorden
- Canalside Community Food (Leamington Spa)
- Hazelhurst Community Supported Co-operative (Sheffield)
- Can Britain Feed Itself and the Livestock Permaculture Model (from Transition Totnes)
- Can Britain Feed Itself? (from The Land - the source from which the article above was drawn); this article covers many of the other resource questions included in this mapping exercise.

And if we needed any other incentive to grow local even before we have to, a recent Guardian article, from the financial pages, detailed how hedge funds are gambling with food stocks and food prices.
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The next Good Lives weekends will be:
29-31 October 2010: Good Lives - because everyone's worth it (on beliefs and values)
19-21 February 2011: Good Lives - because there isn't a technical fix for everything (on science and technology)

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