Rochdale’s Environmental Sustainability Forum launches

If the passing Ospreys sighted in Rochdale recently happened to be soaring across from the town hall clock spire above the Esplanade to Touchstones last Monday evening they would have been aerial spectators to what was almost certainly the largest Environmental Meeting to be held in our town for a number of years.

An assembled audience of some fifty people participated in the first of a series of meetings under the umbrella of the newly launched Environmental Sustainability Action Forum ~ a green offshoot of Rochdale’s very own Cooperative Social Enterprise & aspiring Environmental Centre Earth Café.

It was a lively, enthusiastic & diverse audience which included Rochdale’s Liberal Democrat MP Paul Rowen, Samir Chaterjee, Rochdale Green Party, Rochdale Labour Party activists whose candidate Simon Danczuck has called for the concept to be supported as a positive non-political venture for Rochdale’s town centre regeneration~ all took time out from their busy election schedules to attend at intervals during the evening.

Church Groups, Community Centres, Rochdale Fair Trade Foundation, Save Spodden Valley Campaign, Rochdale World Development Movement, Rochdale Rotary Club, local pensioners rubbed shoulders with veteran peace campaigners and Environmental Officers from RMBC shared sandwiches with former tree house dwellers from Newbury By Pass Campaign and Greenpeace to name but a few from a truly eclectic mix of Rochdale.

As well as a good mix of eco-activists from Rochdale & Milnrow Friends of the Earth, greens and local folk keen to show support. There was a noticeable buzz of positive energy about the event to the extent the meeting overran by fifteen minutes & this reporter got the singular impression that many of the audience would have quite cheerfully discussed the need to address Rochdale’s Environmental problems well into the small hours.

Earth Cafe Founder Helen McCarthy Chaired the evening speaking passionately of the need to engage the community in local community & environmental initiatives. Earth Café is a home grown vision of an environmental Cooperative Social Enterprise committed to promoting Environmental Sustainability & Environmental Awareness in Rochdale Borough.

Helen pointed out that this was to be the first the first of a series of meetings under the umbrella of the Environmental Sustainability Action Forum as a prelude to hosting in the near future a one day Environmental Conference on the theme of Sustainability & Climate Change & the local response to growing Environmental concerns within Rochdale. With further meetings to continue with the engagement of the community as a whole and what changes are needed and what is important to them.

“Earth Café aims to try and articulate & advocate for the local community giving a voice to the community’s vision of what “Sustainability” means to them. From energy saving, recycling & renewables to local initiatives such as Transition Towns, green shoots are springing up all over the country as local pressure is being put on Councils to respond to the real challenges posed by Climate Change. Positive action is happening on landfill, CO2, renewables & sustainability. Earth Café through the
Environmental Sustainability Action Forum is determined to see Rochdale people equipped with the knowledge, campaigning skills, information & opportunity in order to participate pro actively in this challenge ahead.”

“We can all make what initially may seem to be small changes to our lives to make our Borough sustainable, greener and a more pleasant place to live, love the place you live and help to make a difference by starting at home”, Helen added.

Earth Café is a newly emergent cooperative social enterprise in Rochdale. The Team at Earth Café want to make an environmental difference to Rochdale, to make it a much more sustainable place to live.

“Together, we could make Rochdale Borough a centre for excellence about green issues in the North of England. We are the greenest in terms of scenery & green belt yet amongst the worst in greater Manchester for achieving our environmental targets. We aim to try and change that ~ tonight is the first step in the journey”, added Helen.

Ben McCarron of Manchester Friends of the Earth painted a necessarily bleak picture of what may be in store with Peak Oil .The pesticides & fertilizers and plastics dependent on oil would also go along with our love affair with the car, meaning starvation & mass migration of millions of Climate refugees could well become widespread long before the sea levels rise.
Pointing out that the recent volcano eruption & the grounding of all flights from British Airports is in its unexpected & unplanned nature exactly the same type of events we can expect to encounter in the future in terms of climate change.
But there are positive solutions if people begin to live more sustainably & adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles, Ben argued that:

“We need to embed resilience into Rochdale’s economy & infrastructure so that when the effects of Climate Change do become apparent that we do not have to begin from scratch. We need to be making plans as individuals & collectively to ensure we have alternative which work already in place.
Friends of the Earth & Transition Towns are advocating people begin to make these changes now rather than later on in a crisis situation.”

Executive Director of Merci, Caroline Downey*, herself another Rochdale resident gave an illustrated talk on how Bridge 5 Mill, once a derelict silk mill was reclaimed by a handful of committed individuals & transformed into the Greenest Building in Manchester.

Also of her belief that Rochdale could follow Merci’s lead with plans in the pipeline for a possible Nature Reserve Centre in Healey Dell & indeed the cross-pollination of ideas at the meeting the idea of Rochdale being put on the Environmental map does not seem as remote or impossible as it might first appear.

Particularly when Karen Hayday gave a well received motivational speech on the activities of Hourglass Environmental Ltd to set up community allotments, Wildflower Meadows, Butterfly Bar and Wild Walk & Wetland Planting at the Valley Road Community Leisure Gardens & Food Growing Projects at Kitkholt & Falinge. To enable people to grow their own food & reclaim derelict or neglected community land on the Estates of the town.

“In July 2009 Hourglasses Growth Project won the North West in Bloom Grow Your Own Award being singled out for its horticultural excellence, and its ability to involve, support & develop beneficiaries within a top quality local food project. We are currently based at the Kellet Street site where we provide opportunities, experience and informal training for local residents to enable them to use their skills to improve the environment in their immediate locality through growing a wide range of plants and vegetables both in the countryside and on the streets and on balconies”, said Karen to a round of applause and cheers for her well-loved project and dedication.

With the remainder of the meeting being dedicated to Ketso Feedback Workshops asking people to imagine what they would like in a perfect world to happen by 2020 to make Rochdale more sustainable & Environmentally aware.

From the Sustainable Change Facilitators who gave their time completely free of charge to the feedback results from the four group workshops and the feedback questionnaires from the assembled audience it looks like Rochdale Council should have no problem whatsoever getting opinions or feedback on the Environment from the people of Rochdale at future events.

“It is often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step……tonight’s meeting was in fact a great leap forward into the future…..we have seen tonight the response of ordinary Rochdale people, who, when asked to attend a Public Meeting on the Environment, participate in workshops & share their concerns & worries for their local environment have done so positively, enthusiastically & proactively.”

Andrew Wastling


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