Companion Growing

We’re firm advocates of localising food production, preferably under some sort of community control: Guerilla Gardening and: Expropriation of land. If that’s not possible, there’s always the option of getting an allotment or, if you have a back garden, turning that over to growing your own fruit and vegetables.

Obviously, we’d advocate doing the above in as sustainable a way as possible. Which is one reason why we’re posting this companion growing plan as it shows planting combinations that will help to deter pests. We’re sure you’ll agree that using these combinations is better than spraying chemicals around to deter pests. Also, this growing plan is useful in suggesting planting combinations that make the best use of the space you have available.

We admit that we’re not experts in growing vegetables and fruit and it’s a learning curve for us as well, particularly when it comes to doing it sustainably. So, to help out, here’s a small resource list that we hope you’ll find useful:

Permaculture Association
South East Essex Organic Gardeners


Southend Repair Cafe returns

In an age of rampant, unsustainable consumerism, repairing and extending the useful life of an item is a quietly subversive act. We like our subversion, particularly when it goes under the radar while making a positive difference. So, like many others, we warmly welcome the return of the Southend Repair Cafe:)

Saturday, 12 January 2019 from 10:30-14:30

Shoebury Hub, 151 West Rd, Shoeburyness, SS3 9EF

Southend in Transition is proud to announce the return of the Southmenders Repair Cafe.

Life can be a rollercoaster and the team can say it has been quite a ride this year with changing personal. We say goodbye to our wonderful craftivist Sarah and thank her for her wealth of re-purposing ideas, sewing skills and passionate enthusiasm she brought to the project.

We welcome a new team member Liz who will be take over the sewing shop and Liz also hopes to get a chance to share her woodworking skills.

Martin will be poised for the trickiest electronic repairs you can deliver.

We look forward to seeing you in the year, if possible post a picture and a few words describing your more unusual repairs as this helps us ensure we are prepped.

SouthMenders Southend Repair Cafe

‘A Place of Sanctuary: Essex as a landscape for mental health and well-being’ recording and review now online

This piece was originally published on Spiralseed.

Earlier this month Graham Burnett joined a panel discussion with social historian Ken Worpole and Recovery College manager Jessica Russell as part of ‘A Place of Sanctuary: Essex as a landscape for mental health and well-being’, one of a series of ‘Radical Essex’ events themed around mental health and well being hosted by Focal point Gallery in Southend on Sea.

“With its many land settlements and self-sufficient communities, Essex in the early twentieth century provided an escape from the poverty and mental distress of the slums of East London. From retreats such as Greenwood in Stock, The Othona Community at Bradwell and the work at Runwell Hospital, Essex has long been a home for new approaches to mental health and well-being – a tradition which continues to this day in the work of Trustlinks, Spiralseed and others”.

This was a lively, wide-ranging and informative discussion with plenty of useful contributions from all sides, including the role of Permaculture in creating healing human and natural landscapes.

If you were unable to attend, a recording of the event is now online at Focal Point’s web site, have a listen…

Above are notes taken during the session by James Taylor, Essex-based permaculture teacher and author of the Dengie Bioregion blog, who has also reviewed the event here…

Panel Participants

Graham Burnett teaches permaculture and works with projects and organizations including Comic Relief, Capital Growth, Bioregional, Naturewise, OrganicLea, Birmingham Decoy, Trust Links, Green Adventure, the Vegan Organic Network, Thrive, Ars Terra (Los Angeles), and Ekosense Ecovillage (Croatia), as well as a number of Transition Town initiatives. In addition to cultivating his own garden and allotments, Graham contributes to publications as diverse as Positive News, The Sunday Times, Permaculture Magazine, Permaculture Activist, New Leaves, The Raven, Growing Green, Funky Raw, The Vegan, and The Idler

Jessica Russell is manager of the REACH South Essex Recovery College, a pilot initiative between statutory and voluntary mental health sector organisations and further education providers in Essex. Set up to improve the quality of life for people with living experience of mental health conditions, REACH provide people with information and tools to self-manage. They also aim to improve people’s lives by preventing, reducing and avoiding the use of secondary mental health services. REACH is hosted by Trust Links, a local independent charity for well-being and mental health based in South East Essex which offers therapeutic gardening, recovery classes, social activities, employment training and support to people living with mental health conditions and unpaid carers.

Ken Worpole is a writer and social historian, whose work includes many books on architecture, landscape and contemporary culture; and he is professor emeritus at London Metropolitan University. Recent publications include Modern Hospice Design (2009), The New English Landscape (with photographer James Orton, 2013), Contemporary Library Architecture (2013) and Radical Essex (2018).

Thanks to Hayley Dixon and all the team at Focal Point for hosting and organising this very worthwhile event.

We want your contributions!

This blog was set up with the aim of promoting grassroots projects that are helping to build the new world we want in the decaying shell of the dysfunctional, dystopian one we currently endure. It was also set up to offer a means for these projects to exchange experiences, lessons learned from those experiences, ideas and inspiration. Working together and linking up at a number of levels will make us all stronger

We know there are a fair few projects here in the south of Essex where each of them in their own way are doing what they can at the grassroots to start building this new world. We’d love to hear from you:) We really do not want to be writing all of the posts for Alternative Estuary. It’s not that we’re lazy – it’s because we want this to evolve into a genuinely collaborative project. One that hopefully one day, we’ll be able to hand over to activists across the south of the county to run on a collective basis.

Forest Gardening – a Beginner’s Guide

Forest gardening is a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecologies, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. Despite the name, which perhaps implies that they require large amounts of space, the principles of forest gardening can be replicated in even the smallest of urban gardens or community spaces, including public parks, inner city housing estates, school grounds and even mini-forest gardens planted in containers and tubs on tower block balconies!

This 28 page full colour publication is an ideal primer for those new to the concept of forest gardening or anybody who would like to know more, providing a brief history of Forest Gardening in the UK, a step by step guide to creating your own forest garden, the seven layers of the forest garden, forest garden crops and more.

To order copies of this book, go here on Spiralseed

Getting started on making a difference at the grassroots

There’s no one way of building and running a grassroots community project. Because of factors such as demographics and location, the issues projects have been set up to address will differ from each other so they have to be structured accordingly. What also influences the development and structure of a project is who steps up to the plate to start it off and keep it running.

What’s important with any grassroots project is making sure it genuinely involves as many people in the neighbourhood as possible. This will give it the legitimacy it needs to grow and will also ensure a steady number of committed volunteers as everyone feels they have an equal stake in it.

Before anything happens with getting a project off the ground, it’s vital you talk to people in the neighbourhood. Listen to them, find out what they want and how they think it could come about. Try to get as many people as possible involved. Not everyone is going to be able to commit a massive amount of time to a project but even if they can only offer an hour or so a week, value that contribution. Life is complicated and there are valid reasons why a lot of people can only manage to offer an hour or so a week.

Even though someone can only offer a limited amount of time, if the project is operating in their neighbourhood, they have to be seen as having a stake equal to someone who can contribute more hours. Creating a hierarchy of who can have more say in how a project develops based on the number of hours they can commit to it will alienate people and eventually start to deny it the legitimacy it needs to function. Inclusiveness, collective decision making and accountability are key factors in the success or failure of a successful grassroots project.

In the sidebar of this blog, there’s a list of all the grassroots community projects across the south of Essex that we’re currently aware of – it is a work in progress and we intend to add to it with your help:) Each one has a different story and background you can learn from. One of the aims of setting up Alternative Estuary is to encourage these groups to talk to each other to exchange experiences, ideas and skills. Southend In Transition run a number of events where people from various groups (and none) can meet face to face to form the bonds needed to foster the activity that will make this world a better place to live.

Building neighbourhood solidarity and resilience

With all of the grassroots community projects we promote and do our level best to support, there’s one key fundamental and that’s generating a sense of neighbourhood solidarity. We’re not talking about an exclusive sense of solidarity centred on one particular group – we’re talking about the kind of solidarity that respects the variety of people that go to make up a neighbourhood.

The kind of solidarity which recognises that while people can be very different from each other, they can all play a role in making a neighbourhood a better place to live once they recognise that’s what they want to achieve. The kind of solidarity that our rulers and their mates in the right wing media hate because it means people have seen beyond their games of divide and rule and encouraging us all to be nothing more than selfish, atomised, uncaring producers and consumers. It’s the kind of solidarity we’ll need in an increasingly uncertain future as we face a Brexit that no one in power in either the UK or the rest of the EU can explain to us mere plebs what the consequences are. Then there are also the ever growing risks posed by climate change to consider…

These will impact on food security – the first manifestations of which will be steep price rises. Extreme manifestations could well be shortages of certain foods… This is the kind of scenario where life in an atomised neighbourhood where no one knows or trusts their neighbours could start to get uncomfortable. The kind of scenario where neighbourhood resilience cannot happen because everyone is fearful of everyone else. The kind of scenario where the authorities can control us because we fear and can’t trust each other. Basically, a nightmare scenario that no caring human wants…

Which is why we support any community project that brings people together, regardless of their backgrounds. At the end of the day, whoever we are and wherever we’re from, everyone wants to live in a neighbourhood where people look out for and care for each other. A neighbourhood that in an age of failing public services can provide networks of support for its more vulnerable members. A neighbourhood that’s making steps to take control of its food supply with community gardens/allotments, food buying groups and the like. A neighbourhood that once it gains a degree of self confidence about looking after itself, will start to ask some searching questions about power, who exercises it and how it has to be brought right down to the grassroots.

So, while Alternative Estuary may on the surface seem to be a ‘fluffy’ project, what we’re about is building the new world in the shell of the crumbling one we have to endure at the moment. The key to success in that project is building neighbourhood solidarity and resilience so we can not only survive the challenges of the dysfunctional world we currently live in but we can also start to build the saner, juster and more sustainable one we desire.