A Tale of Transition

by John Taylor

Imagine stepping out of your front door in ten years time and taking a look up and down the road. Do things look any different?
This is what I see from my front door (which I’ve just closed behind me to keep the heat in!)

“A glint off the rooftops on the other side of the street catches my eye. It’s the sun reflecting off their solar PV system. The street runs east to west so all the rooftops on the other side of the road are all south facing. Every inch of roof-space seems to be in use somehow. The satellite dishes and TV aerials have been joined by solar panels generating electricity and hot water. The same is true on the south side of my house, only it’s round the back. A few people paid for these things themselves but most of them were fitted by the Transition Ipswich Energy Co-op free of charge.

A second thing I notice is the colours of the houses are different. The terrace a few doors down used to be red Victorian brick but now each house is a different sheet of colour with the odd bit of wood cladding. This is what they look like after having external insulation fitted, the whole terrace was done in one go a few years ago. It was tricky first raising the idea but once people saw the amount they could save on their bills and that it was a lot cheaper doing all 5 houses at the same time they soon got behind the idea. A few people in the other direction chose to keep their red brick finish and have put insulation on the inside of their walls. We ran a work party a few years ago teaching people how to make their own hemp/lime insulation mix to do this sort of job. We then went round each other’s houses helping to build up the layers of insulation. They now warm up very quickly and stay warm too.

One of the first things we did back in 2010 was to show everybody on the street what their house looked like through a thermal imaging camera. It was amazing seeing the bright colours escaping through people’s roofs and you could see where their radiators were by the way the wall glowed. Just think of all that heat we were wasting back then, it’s crazy. We did a similar thing once all the insulation was finished and all the reds and yellows are now blue or dark green.

Back on the doorstep I stop and take in a breath. There used to be a tang of diesel and car fumes in the air but the main thing I notice now is a slight smell of wood-smoke. You can see the taller silver chimneys from woodstoves rising above the roofline; some houses keep their heat so well all they need is a log-burner. Even though people are burning wood there isn’t much smoke. We learned at a workshop that if you can see smoke coming out of your chimney you’re not burning your fuel efficiently and with demand for logs increasing people were quick to catch on to how to use wood cleanly. Some of our fuel comes from the coppice in Alexandra Park. Every park and allotment site in Ipswich now has a coppice and an orchard.

Some of the other estates in Ipswich chose to develop district heating systems. This allowed many householders to connect to a large central CHP system that supplied both their electricity and their heating. I can’t see this from my door but I thought I’d mention it as I bought some shares in the scheme to help get it funded.

I step out onto the pavement and walk down the road towards Suffolk College. There are some people on the roof tending the beehives and raised beds. It was good of them to let us use their roof-space like that. Shame to let all that sunlight go to waste and now their catering students can get more involved with their ingredients too.

Along with all the bicycles, a few electric cars and delivery vans hum pass as the roar of a big, dirty V8 engine thunders down Spring Rd. It’s the latest trend among new drivers fresh off their mopeds. To spice up their electric car they now download whatever engine noise they want and play it through their speakers. It’s a creative way of taking advantage of what was originally meant to be a safety feature to let people know you were coming. A Mercedes glides round the corner that sounds like Ivor the Engine. It’s not just kids doing it.

I’m in the park now and walking up to the top of the hill in the middle. From here you can look out towards the Orwell Bridge and West across the rooftops of Ipswich. The wind ruffles my hair. Ah yes the wind, in a way that’s what made this possible. All this began back in 2010 when the government introduced feed in tariffs. We saw the chance, like other Transition Town groups across the country, of getting some community owned installation so we could benefit from this income. We looked at the numbers and largish wind turbines came up as the best investment. We set up a group and raised the funds to do our first installation by letting local people buy a stake in the project. It took a bit of effort and there were a few detractors but the majority of people could see the benefit. Once we got it up and running and the money started coming in, that’s what when we were able to get serious about the insulation program. We setup a network of showcase houses all across the borough so people could see what was possible in their own homes and got together a small team of advisors and it all snowballed on from there.

From up here in the park looking out to the tree line on the horizon, you can just about see the blade tips of one of the turbines moving in the wind. I stay and watch it turn for a while and start to smile because I know that each turn of that turbine is making Ipswich a more resilient place to live.”

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One Response to A Tale of Transition

  1. Lucy says:

    Brilliant John. Lots of inspiring ideas and images. Let’s get cracking!!
    This would be really good to use as part of a TI awareness-raising campaign, to get people thinking about how THEIR bit of Ipswich might look, sound, smell, work and feel in a more sustainable future.

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