August 27, 2010

The Housing Crisis

There’s a housing crisis. Still. There are still long waiting lists for social/council housing and still plenty of people homeless and still many badly housed families. They can’t afford to buy, can’t get a mortgage, have unreasonably high rent. There is a shortage of affordable (read ‘fair priced’) homes. Apparently NOT a shortage of properties though. In most cities there are plenty of empty properties. In some cities there are more empty properties than homeless people.  More and more wealthier people even have second homes. As Shelter put it ‘There simply aren’t enough decent, affordable homes.’

Decent. Affordable. Not much to ask, is it? A decent affordable home. A basic essential, you’d think.

There’s a great piece on the UK housing situation at A World To Win – ‘Housing policy clearly requires a revolutionary approach because capitalism has a way of recreating shortages.’

This piece from April’s Guardian CiF says housing policy has ‘occupied a marginal space in political discourse’ for the past 30 years. say research by the London School of Economics and the Federation of Master Builders suggests the Housing crisis could provoke social unrest.

Shelter have the numbers, although I think they get them from Government’s stats anyway. Scotland’s stats here.

Don’t Mention The Housing Crisis

National Housing Federation


August 23, 2010

Climate Campers Protest Biomass

Climate Camp’s in town since last week and as part of a day of action a few of them have targetted the biomass industry. They locked on to Forth Energy down in Leith and hung banners from the roof saying ‘BIO MASS HEALTH HAZARD’ and ‘BIO MASS = CLIMATE CHANGE’ in protest at  Forth Energy’s plans for biomass power stations in Scotland. They’re reminding us that biomass power is not necessarily a sustainable energy alternative.

As quoted in the media, they say ‘Wood burned in the proposed Leith, Grangemouth, Rosyth Port and Dundee Port sites will be fed primarily from wood chip freighted in from abroad. In reality these power stations will increase carbon emissions, pollute local air, increase deforestation and lead to the displacement of native peoples in the global south.’ More here.

Although the camp’s main target is RBS, activists also joined locals in opposition to plans for open cast coal mining in Scotland. See Coal Action Scotland.

Independent media Climate Camp feature here.

August 17, 2010


While I was living at Sanford it went through an important transformation, a big project based on sorting out the farty and unreliable old heating system. All fourteen houses were refitted with solid fuel burners for their hot water and heating. Each pair of houses in the street now share a burner that feeds on kilos of little wood pellets. Not sure if it’s cheaper than gas but it’s supposedly carbon neutral, at least if the wood is genuine waste and/or from sustainably managed woodlands.

It’s easy to get pellets in the UK these days. In fact, there seems to be a growing biomass industry now with subsidies for growers of ‘bioenergy crops’ and some debate on the pros and cons of building large biomass power plants. Something to do with the ever rising price of gas and coal? Or, more hopefully, to do with a rising environmental consciousness? A hegemony of both, I suspect.

The pellets at Sanford were made of recycled sawdust and wood shavings from sawmills and forestry industry waste but biomass can come from all sorts of organic material – food waste, manure, straw and other crops, including hemp. Some plants are grown specifically to become biomass fuel as more commercial, industrial and public buildings, local authorities, prisons, and farms are being fitted with biomass boilers. Some places are even burning municipal waste arguing that it will help reduce landfill. I don’t like that idea, general waste likely contains all sorts of plastic and dodgy chemicals. Do they just throw all those black bin bags into the furnace? Well I suppose it must be a cheap fuel, only the cost of transporting it, and a potentially unlimited supply too.

The arguments against biomass mostly seem to revolve around a justified mistrust of commercial interests. There’s a danger that land will be lost to growing crops solely for burning, perpetuating large-scale monoculture. Or, as will be the case in a few UK biomass power plants, wood will be imported from half way round the world, potentially from unsustainable logging. It was great to get rid of the gas supply at Sanford and to know that we had collectively slashed our carbon footprint by switching to the biomass burners, but we knew our regular supply of pellets came from genuine waste or sustainably managed woodlands.

Imagine if you could burn your own waste to heat your home, if you could DIY your own biomass, use your rubbish as fuel for your heating and hot water. If you have enough garden waste. That is, if you have a garden. And can afford the few grand or so for a certified-for-use-in-smokeless-zones boiler/burner and it’s installation. And don’t live on the tenth floor of a council tower block.


‘Waste as Resource: The Unintended Consequences’ (

‘UK may have to import rubbish for incinerators’ (

Moorlands and hills targeted to grow crops for biomass and biofuels (

THE WOOD FUELLED HOME’ (Centre for Alternative Technology)

June 21, 2010

A couple of short vids of Sanford

This first short (by Chiara Frisone) is the most recent I think and has a few current Sanford residents voicing their positive views of the place, and the second one is from the Living In The Future video series on ecovillages put together by Undercurrents.

May 20, 2010

Their pellets are being blown in at last.

From sometime in February Sanford started to get their pellets delivered loose and blown into each storage space via a huge hose. (Sanford has solid fuel burners for the heating and hot water, burning recycled waste wood compressed into little pellets). See some pics of the truck and hose trailing the length of the street here and here (all from Sanford residents, not my pics).

This must make things a hell of a lot easier for Sanford residents. I remember the hassle of having to hump a load of bags of pellets (5kg each I think) from the end of the street to my house at least once or twice every week to fill up, using a shopping trolley or slinging a couple over my shoulders, getting sawdust all over me cutting the bags open and emptying them. The storage space could hold thirty bags easily and it seemed a good idea to pack it full as poss so that you had hot water when you wanted it without having to fill it more than a couple of times a week. Now I suppose they hardly have to think about it. Looks like the truck just turns up attaches the big tube and pumps pellets. Much better they don’t have all that plastic bag waste, too – the pellets used to be delivered in plastic bags that got strewn about the place, and may not have even been recyclable!

Pellets are blown straight from the truck into the storage spaces

Also got a few more pics (from Sanford residents) of the bike shed, before and after…

Fitting the sleepers into position

The space in front of the bike shed (before the finishing touches)

Inside. During the 'inauguration' party, the grand bikeshed opening! Yes, it's big enough to have a wee party with live bands, etc. - without the bikes.

February 21, 2010

Overwhelming Weight

The overwhelming weight of the evidence that has been presented to us has led us to the clear conclusion that the UK needs to bring cooperative and mutual housing options into our national housing policies.

No shit, Sherlock. From a report by The Commission on Co‑operative and Mutual Housing, whose site doesn’t seem to be working. The full report is pdf’d here on the Cooperatives UK site. With chapters like Co-operative & Mutual Housing what’s that all about then?, What do people out there want? and Myths and realities, it’s not such a difficult read. Not that I’ve trawled through all 74 pages myself, though. There’s a summary here.

The beginning of the year saw a positive housing co-op article in The Guardian, now both major political parties are talking of (giving lip-service to, at least) workers co-ops, or ’employee ownership’ as they put it. Well it’s nearly election time so we can presume they’re just scraping the barrel for extra votes. And Lambeth Council have ideas to become a co-op, although their plans to get residents involved in running some of the public services seem more connected to off-loading costs without looking like they’re reducing the local services.

Radical Routes have a video channel on Vimeo featuring four short films of a food co-op in Manchester, Footprint workers co-op, guerrilla gardening, and a (rather old but certainly not out-of-date) piece on Radical Routes.

And someone’s been to visit Manchester’s Equinox housing co-op and made a wee vid. Their place is looking good, they’ve even got a bike workshop, rainwater toilets… and an outdoor hot-tub! As every good housing co-op should have, I reckon. AND they’re all vegan!

November 1, 2009

One billion squatters

This month saw the eviction of Rampart social centre which had been a squatted space for creative and activist networks for more than 5 years in London’s east end, right on the doorstep of the financial center.

For more info on squatted social centres see here and here.

The Poortgebouw in Rotterdam which is along similar lines to Rampart but on a much bigger and somewhat grander scale, may still be looking for new members.

I came across a blog about Squatting all over the world – not updated since last year unfortunately, but it led me to some other interesting squat sites like Robert Neuwirth’s squattercity. He has apparently lived in a few squatter communities (mostly ‘slums’) in different countries, including South Africa and Brazil’s favelas I think, and reckons there are one billion squatters in the world!

Also discovered the former Grand Hotel Beira in Mozambique is now a huge squat. Video here, latest news story here, and in it’s former glory here.

And the ultimate DIY housing solution? Cut out and make your own home

October 16, 2009

A wee co-op news round-up…

Keswick housing co-op in the Lake District are also open to new members.

Enheduanna, based in Birmingham, are looking to raise loanstock to create a co-op.

A Radical Routes gathering is happening next month at the Cowley Club social center in Brighton. I’d love to get to that but it’s too damn far these days, and I’m off up some mountains around that time anyway.

At the beginning of the month Coventry Peace House are holding activity weekends.

Elinor Ostrom wins nobel prize for economics. “Ostrom was working in a branch outside the financial mainstream Promoting co-operation as an alternative, apparently. See her wee whiteboard seminar.

Somewhat positive coverage of co-ops in The Times last week.

OpenSpace (mentioned in The Times piece) are part of Work For Change Co-op and have made a film.

Who Made Your Pants? is a new workers co-operative “empowering marginalised women by providing flexible employment.”

October 13, 2009

Stepping Stones aka Highbury Farm

Stepping Stones housing co-op and farm are looking for new members. I stayed there a few years ago, for a long weekend. Their huge old farmhouse was in need  of a touch of TLC, they were in the middle of re-wiring the place, floorboards up, cables sticking out. They were also talking of an eco refit, I think they were looking into the funding and planning.

The place is great, a couple of apple and pear orchards up on top of a hill with a fantastic view of the valley. Shitloads of plums and hazel nuts growing along the path up the hill too. And it’s apparently wild hog country! I kid you not. Though I didn’t see any myself.

They even have their own sheep. Those I did see. In fact, I got to see them up very close indeed. Coz I helped round them up and clip their feet – not an easy job at all, best part of an afternoon. You’re expected to really get stuck in as a visitor to Stepping Stones. Yep, I helped give sheep a manicure! We got them in a wee pen inside the barn and I was invited to have a go. One person gently flips the sheep on it’s back and holds him/her while another gets clipping with the, er, clippers? Not too difficult but obviously sheep aren’t big fans of being tossed upside down. Neither do sheep make a habit of asking to go to the toilet – they just go where they are, without warning. Up the back of my wellies in this case. Every few minutes. We were in the pen for a few hours, there were a dozen sheep to see to. I was stinking after that.

Oh yeh, and they were making their own cider! (No, not the sheep) Well they’ve got a lot of apples – and it’s cider country after all.

September 16, 2009

Sanford’s in the News: The Guardian article

Sanford featured in The Guardian today in a piece by John Vidal, environment editor. The article suggests Sanford is an example of sustainable living and “a model for using green energy to refurbish estates and build communities”. I’d agree it’s an important example of what can be done with existing buildings, a successful urban retro- eco-refit. The reduction in emissions just from insulating the walls and switching from gas to biomass and solar whooped the arse off the government’s local and national targets.

brand spanking new burner

This is one of the seven solid fuel burners installed at Sanford in place of the gas supply. It’s fed small pellets of hard-compressed waste wood (shavings, chippings, etc, I believe) for the water and central heating for 2 houses. Ultimately reduced the whole streets carbon footprint rather dramatically, though unfortunately the pellets are delivered – tons at a time – in small 5kg unrecyclable plastic bags! The plan was to have all pellets delivered loose and pumped in to each house’s pellet store by a specially modified truck but this still hasn’t happened as far as I know.

sanford chimneys

This is a pic of the flues along Sanford. Each pair of houses shares a burner and pellet store where there were originally outdoor cupboards just outside their main entrance, with a smokeless (well mostly, if the burner is cleaned regularly) shiny chimney.

sanford solar tubing

This is the solar tubing installed on the roof between each pair of houses. Yep, it’s solar tubing, not photovoltaic panels – it heats the water, when there’s enough sun.