27 - 30 March - Can it be true? Swedish people came to Cheltenham to learn from us on environmental initiatives
Members of the Gloucestershire Community Energy Co-operative have just waved ‘farväl!’ to 10 Swedish visitors who came to learn from us about local environmental initiatives. We may think that the Scandinavians are way ahead on sustainability issues, but we discovered that we actually had a lot to learn from each other.
The ten visitors represented four villages in Sweden that are involved in a European Transition project to encourage more sustainable living. They found out about the Gloucestershire Energy Co-operarative online, and contacted us to ask if we could arrange a three day study visit for them. Richard Walter, who happens to be treasurer for four local environmental and social initiatives – Gloucestershire Community Energy Co-operative, Transition Town Cheltenham, Cheltenham Green Doors and Global Footsteps – took on the challenge of organising their trip to Cheltenham.
As part of their study tour the Swedes visited our large solar panel array at the CityWorks building in Gloucester and were interested in how our co-operative model of funding and share ownership worked. It seems we have much more support from the UK government in the form of tax advantages and feed-in tariff than they have in Sweden. While touring the building they were so impressed by the colourful items in the Scrapstore, which recycles material that would otherwise go to landfill, that the visitors decided to buy some of the ribbons, rattles and rag dolls to take back home to Sweden! The talk from Reyaz of Gloucester Fairshares Timebank was particularly interesting, comparing the approach to volunteering in the two countries and the tax treatment voluntary work in Sweden.
Another highlight for the visitors was a trip to St James’s City Farm in central Gloucester. Here, the Swedes were able to share their experiences of ‘pig-sharing’ where a few families jointly own and care for a small number of farm animals and benefit from local, fresh food. It’s certainly a step on from the ‘car-sharing’ that happens in this country.
The group also visited and learnt about many other local initiatives, including Cheltenham Green Doors open homes group, Cheltenham Community Composting site, Vision 21′s Reclaim furniture recycling project and the Global Footsteps charity and cafe. For a break from having to speak English (which they did very well) we also arranged for them to have a meal with the Cheltenham Swedish Society at SVEA, Cheltenham’s very own Swedish cafe.
Upon arrival home the Swedes sent us their thanks (and mentioned that it was a bit colder at home than here) and said they had been inspired by the trip. Hopefully a small part of Scandinavia will be a bit greener thanks to lessons learnt in Cheltenham and Gloucester!