Earth Cafe Rochdale

June 30, 2010

Last night I went to the second meeting of Earth Cafe, a  new Environmental Information Education and Community Resource Centre, set up as a social entreprise in January 2010. About 30 people attended, a mixture of volunteers from community groups like the Friends of Broadfield Park and Spodden Valley,  Council officers from the Council’s Sustainability team and ‘even’ a few councillors.   A previously conducted survey had concluded that three main themes had emerged as a priority for the group to tackle: Food Growing, Cycling and Community Engangement. So we split in three groups to discuss what could be achieved around theses themes in 3-6 months. 

I sat with the cycling group, since cycling- or better the lack of opportunities for safe cycling- has been one of my big issues for a number of years. I also chair the Connect2 project. Connect2 is the name for the People’s Million Big Lottery bid which Sustrans won nearly three years ago.  78 councils were part of this bid and have received funding for various local cycling and walking projects aimed to ‘connect’ communities. Our project in Rochdale Borough focuses on the Rochdale Canal Tow Path as as a spine route from which several cycling paths then branch out and connect all four Townships in the borough. Our long-term aim is to create a meaningful complete network of safe cycling and wallking routes, away from the main car traffic.

The first thing that emerged from the discussions yesterday is that this project is largely unknown even to environmental activists in the borough. This is symptomatic for a lot of things in our Council. We actually do a good number of good things; we do them well, but a lot of  people do not know about them.

So while some people, who are directly affected or live very local to a particular project, might be happy, the vast majority in the rest of the borough doeesn’t know about it.

People then start  campaigning in their own ‘smallish’ corner for something similar and reinvent the wheel, spend a lot ot time looking for support from various public bodies, when it could be so much more effective and enjoyable to communcate directly with people who have done something similar, share experience and create a much bigger inpact by acting together.

This is by no means a criticism of the voluntary groups of people who come together to campaign for a particular thing. Much rather I would like us councillors and the Council to understand that we are missing out on big opportunites if we allow voluntary groups to scramble around unsupported for a long time before they understand where and how to get support to progress their particular issue. We should harness the energy and enthusiasm with which a lot of people start off with. All too often people walk away after many frustrating months of getting absolutely nowhere.

My hope for Earth Cafe is that it will provide this badly needed platform for bringing  various environmental community groups together, sharing information and skills and pressurising the Council for better support.

I look forward to the next meeting.

for more info about Earth Cafe go to: www.earthcafe.org.uk 

for more info for Connect2 go to: www.sustransconnect2.org.uk

if you want to come to our next Connect2 steering group meeting, please get in touch with me and I make sure you get an invitation. the next meeting is on 12th July 10


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