Tough Times

Times are tough. Both parents have serious illnesses in a Birmingham hospital and I am visiting them 4 days a week from here in Sheffield.

My mum has had Alzheimers for some time now and has been looked after during this period by my father. Both are 83. My dad has had to do much of the nursing care for my mum as she has gradually lost functionality. He has been fantastic. He has developed his cooking skills and, prior to the hospital admissions, was confidently producing very good meals including traditional Sunday lunch. For him, anything less represented a decline in standards.

My mum used to become anxious if dad was absent from the house and as a result he rarely managed to pursue his own interests and activities such as going to concerts/theatre and playing golf.

Dad has also been the rock for my brother who was born with partial deafness and some learning disabilities. David lives independently and also has very good support from a good friend, Mick, but it is my dad who has been the key person in helping him to live something like a functional life.

In July this year, my mum developed a circulation problem in her right leg. While waiting for an investigative procedure the leg deteriorated and had to be amputated. She has been in hospital ever since though with her Alzheimers, she usually thinks she is somewhere else – on a train, on holiday etc.

While our family was in Toulouse in August, during our house exchange holiday, I received a phone call saying that dad had been taken into hospital. Within a week he had been discharged – they thought it was a bladder infection (in royal good company there).

I brought him home and stayed with him but it was soon apparent that all was not well. An ambulance took him back to hospital where they treated the symptoms of an infection but otherwise could not explain why he was still feeling ill.

At the point of him being discharged again, he suddenly declined badly and on September 13th was admitted to intensive care. By the time I reached the hospital that evening he was on a ventilator and had wires and tubes all over him. He had Pancreatitis and I was told that it was unlikely that he would survive.

But he did! A week later he was moved onto a ward where he remains. He is in a poor physical and mental condition, he is more confused than my mum at the moment, and is still in danger. At least he recognises me and is sometimes able to talk lucidly.

All of this means that I am visiting Wards 305 and 726 of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital 4 days per week and have taken over the management of my brother too. (Fortunately my father had the wisdom to set up powers of attorney for me with regard to both him, my mum and my brother to assist me if a situation like this arose – it has been a great help.)

Also of great help have been my family. Partner Sarah has a full time demanding career which now involves more jobs on our small-holding and more taxi runs with the children. The older children have been great too in both moral and practical support (notably Frankee looking after Arthur, our 6 year old). Lots of other help and support has come from friends such as Sam who has picked up Arthur from school on several occasions.

Under these circumstances it is a great source of upset for us to be put under pressure by an officer of Sheffield City Council’s Environmental Protection Service.

Earlier this year, after many installation problems, our 10 kilowatt Xzeres wind turbine finally started working. It has been producing electricity very well since but for some reason, in doing so, it is making more noise than other Xzeres turbines. This has induced a complaint from the couple who are our immediate neighbours.

Although the matter of noise nuisance is subjective and in this case our turbine’s noise is less than the traffic and other common machinery and wind noises, we agree that the issue should be resolved for everyone’s benefit.

To this end we have co-operated fully with the officer to get noise reduction action from Xzeres. Much success has been achieved, but further work is necessary. Action from Xzeres has not been as effective or timely as it should have been; however, an action plan is in place and the latest work will start on October 3rd and be finished in a few weeks. Despite this, the officer has told us to turn off the turbine. This will punish us for matters beyond our control at a time when we are already under duress.

In Short:

  • An action plan is in place to resolve the issue
  • The action plan was provided to the officer before he issued his ‘advice’ to shut down the turbine
  • We have been totally co-operative with the officer throughout the process
  • While the turbine makes more noise than it should, it is not as noisy as a car, lorry, tractor, chainsaw, strimmer etc., all of which are common sounds in this environment
  • There are two complainants in this case one of whom has a history of anti-social behaviour, all our other neighbours are supportive
  • We have had no complaints from any other members of the public
  • We receive a huge amount of interest in the positive impacts of our turbines and other renewable technologies and do a lot of work to disseminate this information as widely as possible to encourage others to take action on climate change
  • The turbine produces, and therefore saves, about 2000 kwh electricity per month and a CO2 saving of around 3 tonnes
  • The financial value to us of the turbine is around £600 – £1000 per month through electricity that has not had to be bought and Feed In Tariff (FIT) payments
  • In the week September 23rd to September 30th, 2012 the Xzeres turbine produced 644 kwh. The FIT payment for this is £188.69 and the electricity bill saving (@12p per kwh) is £77.28 – total benefit – £265.97
  • We are a family who have invested in excess of £100,000 and immense amounts of time to install renewable technologies for our benefit and for the benefit of the wider community.

The officer says that he has not taken the decision to shut down our turbine lightly and yet he has chosen to act at this precise time despite having received a plan to resolve the issues from the manufacturer, and having full knowledge of my parents’ illnesses with all its emotional and practical implications. He even telephoned me while I was in the intensive care unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

We are good citizens of this city. Our mission is to reduce our carbon footprint and by doing so to make a positive contribution. The carbon reduction plan has been running for several years and we are succeeding. We produce more electricity than we use (we are all electric) and through energy saving and generation we prevent around 35 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.

We are strongly of the view that the officer’s ‘advice’ is therefore ill-judged, inequitable and partial. Furthermore it is undermined by his unprofessional and insensitive behaviour.

I can’t imagine that the workload of the Environmental Protection Service officers is comfortable. Therefore, why has so much time be devoted to our turbine when

  • no one is resisting the call for the noise issue to be resolved
  • the positive aspects of the turbine outweigh the negative
  • the negative impacts are short term
  • there must be far more pressing issues confronting the Environmental Protection Service about which other citizens are desperate for intervention

The action of the officer is therefore not only inequitable and disproportionate, it is also a tremendous waste of public money.

Green Wedding

A few weeks ago we hosted the wedding of Sally and Andrew.

What a great event! Throughout the day the atmosphere was relaxed. Guests arrived with their tents and set up at the far end of the field. Andrew and a team of family and friends busily put the final touches to the preparations while The Milestone (www.the-milestone.co.uk) set up the bar and prepared to cook. Hannah Millard (www.hannahmillardphotography.co.uk) was a subtle presence during the afternoon and her images have captured the essence of the day very effectively. Sunshine and a gentle breeze enabled our solar panels and wind turbines to produce all the electricity that was needed while the Tipi tent (www.papakata.co.uk) looked magnificent both inside and out. In the evening the fire pit was a dramatic focal point and kept everyone warm into the early hours.

The next day guests cooked breakfast in the field and caught up with each other’s news while their children played football and ran around the farm.

What can we do to tackle food availability issues?

In my parents’ lifetime – they are still alive aged 83 – the world population has risen from about 2 billion to 7 billion and it continues to rise. Malnutrition existed in 1928, tackling it is therefore an even greater challenge now.

Although instinctively anti GM, I am even more anti starvation and therefore think that projects to assess the potential of GM should be supported.

I feel most strongly that the dislocation of a high proportion of people from their food supply in ‘developed’ countries is a key problem.

It results in:

  • A lack of respect for the sources and value of food
  • Waste
  • Obesity

In my view, if more people produced some food for themselves many of these issues would be addressed and we would also increase food supplies considerably.

Corporate Fun Days at Green Directions

10 acres of land in our spectacular location gives us so much scope for setting up enjoyable corporate events. We are able to put marquees up, run activities such as archery, give tours of the farm and our green technologies and show people round our colourful eco-friendly home.

Another great pleasure is to use our friends in the local community to provide services; for example, Bradfield Brewery (supplies beer and sometimes a full bar), Sheffield Bouncy Castle Hire and Our Cow Molly ice cream. We are also lucky to have helpful neighbours such as Clive Quarmby and Alan Russell who cut and bale our hay, leaving space in the fields so set up our events.

Here are some recent comments.

“Really nice place – Stunning views.”

“The food was really nice – the hog was delicious! I am still full!!!”

“All in all it was great! Mark and the family were very friendly and you felt welcome there.”

Silage, Haylage or Hay?

Our larger scale events such as weddings take place in our ‘hay’ field. Typically our hay is harvested between mid June and the end of July. This year we planned to cut it in June because we have a number of events in July but, of course, the weather has not been kind.

Hay making needs a run of several sunny days. First the grass has to be mown. Then it is turned several times until it becomes very dry. Only then can it be baled and moved into the barn in preparation to feed our horses and ponies during the winter. It also has to be stored for a few months to cure. Freshly cut hay is not easily digested.

Without a run of several sunny days to make hay my thoughts turned to making haylage. This is very similar to hay but slightly damper. It is made into large round bales and wrapped in polythene to keep out oxygen. The combination of the slightly damper material and oxygen causes the haylage to degrade and rot. Even though it is damper when baled, present conditions are too damp.

So, the answer this year is to make silage out of the grass from the area that we need for our events. Today one neighbour (Clive Quamby) mowed the area and tomorrow another neighbour (Alan Russell) is going to bale and wrap as silage. Silage is freshly cut grass that is immediately or almost immediately baled and wrapped (or stored in a large clamp). The moisture content is high and it makes a very rich feed that is ideal for cattle but no good for horses. Alan will therefore be taking this part of our crop for his cattle.

Hopefully we will be able to make some hay or haylage with the grass from the rest of the field later in the summer. How many of you wedding planners have the silage/haylage/hay question on your checklists?

Hay making in the sunshine – June 2011

 

June Evening

A hard day’s work in meetings and at the computer has to end as the pigs are squealing for their food and the ponies need taking off the rich spring grass.

Head down I set about my tasks. Pig feed is measured out into a bucket while collected rainwater is transfered to a large black bin ready to be barrowed round to the pig’s field where I keep a large water container for topping up their water supply. The pigs are pleased to see me. I like to think that they really are pleased to see me but of course really, they are really pleased to see the food bucket.

After giving them some more bedding and checking the fencing, I bid the pigs goodnight and set off to find the horses. I pass the orchard and see that the last of the apple blossom has gone. It has been abundant this year, which hopefully means that there will be a crop that reflects this in the autumn.

At the entrance to the orchard is a gate leaning on a dry stone wall with a gate post, independently, also propped up against the wall. I bought the gate post over a year ago ready to set and attach the gate to it. Unset, the gate has to be lifted into a position to provide a barrier.

Despite calling the ponies they remain munching the rich grass that, un-moderated, will draw them to their maker. In due course they are caught and returned to sparse pasture overnight. Another of threat to their welfare, ragwort, has re-appeared in a couple of places and so I do a tour of the fields with a barrow to stop its progress.

Last task is to transplant 4 pumpkin plants to their final destinations underneath the fruit trees in front of the barn.

I started the evening stressing about jobs.

 

Green Policy

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At Green Directions we are committed to working sustainably and to continuously improving our sustainability practices. We see this as a moral issue in order to preserve and protect the earth’s precious natural infrastructure.

  • We comply with the requirements of environmental legislation and approved codes of practice
  • We continuously seek to improve our environmental and social performance
  • We reduce pollution, emissions and waste
  • We reduce the use of energy, water and other resources
  • We raise awareness of green issues with our visitors and encourage them to take action themselves
  • We expect our suppliers and contractors to meet or aspire to the environmental standards promoted by the Green Tourism Business Scheme (we change suppliers if we do not see progress towards these standards)
  • We try to be advocates for sustainable practices within our local community
  • We have minimised our risks associated with environmental and social issues
  • We have joined the Green Tourism Business Scheme as an indicator of our sustainable practices

www,greendirections.co.uk

mark@greendirections.co.uk

Corporate responsibility policy

  1. Sustainable Business. We are developing a sustainable business which will provide safety and security for ourselves and future employees;
  2. Environmental Responsibility. Green Directions is built on our considerable achievements in reducing energy consumption and saving waste;
  3. Treating Customers Fairly. We provide a high quality, value for money service;
  4. Diversity. We embrace diversity;
  5. Engagement. We are active in supporting community activities;
  6. Social Change. We work effectively with charitable, community and industry partners as well as political stakeholders to tackle issues of mutual concern and strategic importance.

www.greendirections.co.uk

mark@greendirections.co.uk

Ideas for connecting children with their environment

Small-holding, big ideas! Green Directions top tips for getting children out and about and helping them connect with the environment?

Squeals come from the pig enclosure most days. Sometimes they are from the pigs trying to escape past the electric fence but most of the time they are from Arthur, our six year old, crying out with delight as he runs around the enclosure with the pigs in hot pursuit.

We are lucky to live and work on a small-holding in Stannington and all our four children enjoy time outside with the animals, helping with other tasks like harrowing the fields, and just generally taking advantage of where we live.

When we moved in, inspired by television progammes like Grand Designs, we decided to renovate the buildings using green technologies. The children were really keen for us to do things that would help to tackle climate change. Two wind turbines, the second of which has only just gone up, plus solar panels mean that we now produce as much electricity as we need. We also recycle rainwater and have two ground source heat pumps. Our eldest George (18) is studying geography at university, and takes a close interest in our efforts to tackle climate change.

Out of all this work has emerged our new family business, Green Directions, which offers conference, training, meeting and hospitality facilities for businesses; courses on climate change and green technologies for school children and adults; and green weddings.

When school children come to visit us, we spend a lot of time doing experiments like measuring the speed of the wind (it is usually high up here on the ridge above the Rivelin and Loxley valleys!) and discovering how to produce food at home. The children really enjoy being out in the landscape, seeing how turbines and solar panels produce electricity from the wind and the sun and meeting the pigs.

Based on the kind of things that we like to do, here are some ideas for families to have fun outside:

1.Grow and make your own food

Growing your own food is so rewarding. It puts you in touch with the seasons, the land and the weather and after much healthy exercise, you get to enjoy fantastic, fresh, tasty food. We grow most of our vegetables and fruit; potatoes, onions, chard, parsnips, broad beans, gooseberries, apples and blackcurrants  for example. Our children help out by picking the fruit crops. We then enjoy time together making jams and chutneys or preparing bags of produce for the freezer. For a special adult treat, we sometimes make fruit-flavour vodka and gin. Bottles of these make lovely Christmas and birthday presents.

2.Spend some time with animals

We have 5 horses and 3 pigs and they all bring us much happiness. Time spent with animals is always time well spent to us. If you don’t have an animal of your own, why not go with the children to walk a neighbour’s dog – what a ‘win’ ‘win’ ‘win’ match up! You feel great, the neighbour feels great (particularly if they have difficulty in getting out themselves) and the dog feels really great! Or, for those in our region, check out the animals at Heeley City Farm, Whirlow Farm and Graves Park  – all three venues are free to enter.

3.Discover wildlife

We are trying to make our small-holding wildlife friendly. We are members of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and learn a lot from attending events and visiting their nature reserves. They organise many activities for children including a monthly Wildlife Watch Group that meets at Weston Park on Saturdays. For more information have a look at their website. www.wildsheffield.com  Close to us is the Rivelin Valley where the Rivelin Valley Conservation Group has worked hard to create a magical area for people to enjoy nature.

4. Get on your bike

Arthur, our youngest, has just learned to ride a bike. We are now having lots of fun riding around the roads and tracks. Arthur’s school, Bradfield Dungworth, encourages cycling by organising days with the Sheffield  ‘Bike It’ and ‘Pedal Ready’ teams when special breakfasts are served for those who ride to school.  http://www.sustrans.org.uk/what-we-do/bike-it/wheres-bike-it/bike-it-in-sheffield   http://www.pedalready.co.uk/

Arthur also likes to ride his bike to see his classmate Cora who lives at Our Cow Molly – I wonder why?

5. Get a trampoline

We got a trampoline for the children several years ago and it is one of the best things we have ever bought. Two of the children, Frankee (14) and Arthur have trampoline lessons at Ponds Forge while another, Fred (16) is in charge of harrowing the horse muck on the farm, and when he’s not doing his farm chores, spends a lot of time working on the trampolines at Ponds Forge as a member of the GB junior international diving squad. Trampolines are expensive to buy but there is good second hand market or why not try Freegle – a great source of all sorts of things – for free.

www.greendirections.co.uk

mark@greendirections.co.uk

0114 230 4722

How to save carbon and cash with wind power

Wind turbines do not suit all locations but many businesses have sites that are fantastic for capturing the power of the wind to make electricity and this can result in huge savings in electricity bills.

We installed a 6 kilowatt Proven wind turbine 6 years ago and it produces about 14,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Electricity costs about 13p per kilowatt hour to buy plus, for new turbine installations (turbines between 1.5 and15 kw), you receive 29.3p per kilowatt hour (index-linked) as part of the governments Feed-in-Tariff renewable energy incentive scheme (from October 1st 2012 this will fall to 21p per kwh). The total annual value of a 6 kilowatt turbine installed on a site as good as ours is therefore in the region of £5-6,000.

These turbines cost around £30-40,000 to install. Payback should therefore occur in around 6-8 years depending on factors such as maintenance costs and changes in electricity prices. The Feed-in-Tariff scheme lasts for 20 years which provides investment security. See the link below for more information about feed in tariffs.

http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generate-your-own-energy/Financial-incentives/Feed-In-Tariffs-scheme-FITs

The success of our first turbine has inspired us to put up another one in November 2011, a 10 kilowatt machine. These, together with our solar panels, should make us energy neutral and hopefully will give us an income from electricity instead of a cost.