Solar buses, Cornish language, post referendum racism and crowdfunded housing for migrants

I’ve been a bit rubbish about updating this blog with my writing lately so here’s a quick roundup:

From the last two issues of New Internationalist: The response to racism after the UK’s European Union referendum (September) and the fight to save the Cornish language after government cuts (October).

For Positive News I wrote about the Thousand 4 £1000 project, crowdfunded housing for migrants in Brighton who have no other means of support.

This week the Guardian Sustainable Business network published my article about The Big Lemon bus company and Brighton Energy Coop’s plan to bring electric buses to the streets of Brighton and Hove, powered by solar energy generated at the Big Lemon depot.

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Solidarity fridges from Frome to Dubai

4689I wrote an article for the Guardian’s Sustainable Business network about ‘solidarity fridges’ around the world. I visited Frome in Somerset to check out their community fridge which holds donations of surplus food from individuals and businesses. Anyone can come and take the food between 8am and 8pm every day.

The Frome project was inspired by solidarity fridges in Spain, where there are now eight. I also spoke to some people in Dubai who had started a similar scheme, mainly for providing construction workers with cold drinks and fruit.

Read the full article here at the Guardian website.

When town meets gown, communities can flourish

First appeared on The Guardian Mortar Board blog on 19 September 2011

Students are an important part of any town, bringing skills and enthusiasm, says Amy Hall

Anyone who has lived in a university town or city will have heard – or maybe uttered themselves – “bloody students“, when being kept awake at night by midweek celebrations, or tripping over rubbish strewn across the pavement.

But there are many people around the UK who will be looking forward to the return of the students to their towns and cities as many community groups and projects get a boost in active members.

Bath Student Community Allotments was borne out of frustration from a group of students on long waiting lists for allotments. They wanted productive gardens but were only around for three years. Starting up in a space at the back of a pub, the group now has use of a plot at Bath City Farm. Members teamed up with the Growing Together project to match students and local residents with unused gardens, increasing their productivity and the relationship between students and other Bath residents.

Local campaign groups can also benefit from students, who often bring with them experience of activism in a student setting. As local anti-cuts groups spring up across the UK, many are taking advantage of their local student populations to strengthen their campaigns, and building on the popularity of campaigns around student fees and cuts to education.

One of these is the anti-cuts network based in Newcastle upon Tyne, which started meeting in January as a coalition between students and other members of the community. It has organised protests against tax havens and a day-long anti-cuts gathering with discussions and skill sharing workshops.

Many societies based in universities, and specifically for students, put a big emphasis on helping people in their local communities. The Cardiff University Student action for refugees (Star) group runs English conversation sessions at a weekly drop-in for refugees and asylum seekers, which in turn helps others to participate more fully in their local community.

Students are also big charity fundraisers, often through Raising and giving (Rag), making thousands of pounds for local, national and international charities. Bristol University’s Rag society has raised more than £40,000 for local charities, including a grant to a community group for yoga and meditation classes for children with severe learning difficulties and paying for a Wii fit for the residents of a retirement home. They raise money through events like ‘jailbreaks’ where teams have 36 hours to get as far away as they can without paying for public transport, bar crawls and a yearly street procession.

It’s not just from the goodness of their hearts that many students get involved with community projects; they are also facing an increasingly competitive jobs market and anything they can do to stand out from other graduates will be an advantage.

Students can bring life to their neighbourhoods and engage with their local communities. They also help the local economy as consumers and a workforce.

Relying on students can be frustrating for groups and projects which need commitment all year round, but when students and non-students work together it can benefit the whole community as different schedules and experiences complement each other.

As an example of the ‘big society’, when both sides of the town and gown divide work together towards community cohesion, life becomes a little easier for everyone.

Vote for David Cameron? Keep working

First appeared in The Guardian on 15 September 2011

Government plans to end the six-week school holidays could backfire

Do women want shorter school holidays? Downing Street advisers believe ending the six-week summer break could be one way to stop female voters deserting David Cameron. But what about all those female voters who happen to be teachers?

The UK school holidays are already among the shortest in Europe, over 70% of teachers in primary schools are women, and many of those are parents. “If individual schools have different holiday patterns, there is no guarantee that the teacher’s summer holiday dates will be the same as their child’s,” says Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. “Teachers would be unable to take time off to look after their own children.”

Although there are concerns that long holidays put pressure on families, she argues that reversing cuts to youth services would win more support. So there.