According to Ian, the group owes its origins to a series of Coffee House Conversations, which were set up by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) on the subject of a 'zero waste' society. One resident of the village, John Pontin (who also played an key role in setting up Bordeaux Quay, which we reported on here), is a senior member of the RSA and was actively involved in these meetings. At the same time Chew Magna was going through the process of drawing up a "parish plan." Ian takes up the story:"[The plan] came out as pretty much what you'd expect a village like this would want. They wanted better parking for the cars, less traffic passing through the village, they wanted less aeroplanes flying overhead. Maybe some better social housing John went along to the exhibit and said 'why don't we go for a little bit more than this. Why don't we see if we can create a zero waste village?'"
The idea obviously tapped a nerve and a series of meetings were set up. The meetings started attracting more and more residents, and the group was forced to look for a larger venue. An open meeting was set up in the back of a local pub, and the organisation began to take shape. As they discussed the various issues that the group wanted to tackle, it was clear that people wanted to take as broad a view of 'zero waste' as possible. Those present at the meeting naturally organised themselves into 4 distinct focus groups according to their individual interests, looking at recycling and waste, people and consumption, transport and energy, and the converging world.
The next step was to organize an open day. They hired a hall, each group took a corner of the room to present their subject, they dragged in some exhibitors from the University of Bath, and from a local recycling company and they filled the middle of the hall with trash for the children to play with. And then they waited to see if anyone would show. Ian remembers the nerves: "We were worried how many people would turn up, we thought perhaps half-a-dozen, but we needn't have worried. We were busy all day."
The momentum from that open day led on to all sorts of projects -- compost days were held, seed-swaps, a carbon makeover day. A guy named Dave Hampton, from an organisation called Carbon Sense, came to the village and acted as "carbon coach", going around to individual households and looking in detail at how they could green their environmental footprint. A group of members started working with local transport companies to improve bus links and use spare capacity on the nearby airport bus. This spawned a separate company called Dragonfly Mobility which is busy looking at all sorts of issues around transport links and increasing rural mobility, looking at the potential for rural car clubs, student car clubs etc. Another Go Zero focus was sustainable travel, with a talk being held by village resident Stephanie Ashman, founder of Bello Mundo, whose carbon calculator recently featured here on TreeHugger.
One important project saw the group drawing up a food guide, encouraging villagers to support the local economy. As Ian points out, this was an obvious choice of subject to tackle early on:
"We picked on easy things, 'low hanging fruit' if you like. The concept [of local food] is simple It's one of the biggest ways of saving emissions, and from a community point of view it is easy to get people on board. You are supporting people who actually live here."
While the initial Go Zero projects outlined above took off, the group was still holding meetings in village halls and pubs. It was felt that a focus point for the group was needed. At some point the idea was born to refurbish the old water mill in the village as a community resource and education center. According to Ian, the idea behind the project is to build a 'rural hub' — a center for social enterprises - based on successful urban 'hubs' in Bristol, and in Islington in London. The group put one room of the mill into use almost immediately, whitewashing the walls and holding a second open day. They installed a biodiesel generator and invited local renewable energy companies to demonstrate their products. Again, they were busy all day.
The main part of the renovation project is currently going through planning processes, but is expected to start work soon. All renovation will be done according to strict sustainability principles, and there are plans for micro-generation of energy using solar panels. Eventually the group would also like to put in a micro-hydro generator. Ian estimates there is potential for about 10kw, but, he explains, the £20,000 installation costs, coupled with the low prices paid by utilities to small-scale producers, means that this part of the project is unlikely to be self-sustaining, at least in the short term. However, the facility will also serve as an important demonstration of renewable energy in action.
Tune in on Thursday for details of how Go Zero is spreading its wings and inspiring neighbouring communities, and how members of the group are working to set up a national climate change charity, 'the Converging World'.
Update: For part 2, go here
[Interview conducted by: Sami Grover]