Saturday, 28 February 2015

Fairtrade history in the Netherlands

Yesterday I visited a little piece of Fairtrade history: while visiting my parents in Leiden, we visited the Wereld Winkel, literally "world shop". Wereld Winkel was the world's first ever Fairtrade shop, founded in the Netherlands in 1969 and now has 250 branches across the country. The focus was upon fairly traded handicrafts that give people the chance to use traditional skills to create products for the Western market. However, this was relatively limited in its impact at first, since a lot of learning was required on both sides to predict what people wanted to buy (with variable strands in fashion) and to achieve the quality that consumers desired in return for the slightly higher price. 
Max Havelaar, the first Fairtrade mark
York is home to a groundbreaking Fairtrade shop too: Shared Earth was founded in York as one of the first UK retailers to follow in the footsteps of Wereld Winkel in 1986, with a similar range of wares: predominantly craft items and clothing.
One major change in buying habits over the last 45 years was the move towards Fairtrade food as well as crafts: firstly long-life products like tea, coffee and chocolate and then more recently perishable items like bananas. Initially, fairly traded tea and coffee were only available in ethical shops like the Wereld Winkel or via stalls like the one I set up at my church aged 17, because there was otherwise no way for consumers to tell whether food sold in supermarkets or elsewhere was fairly traded. 

Holiness in Action: The meek shall inherit the earth

This is the second in a series of Lent meditations considering the concept of "holiness in action" - how do we apply Jesus' teaching to today's world? 

This week I read a passage from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings on the Sermon on the Mount which I found very challenging. Jesus said:
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matt 5:5
But who exactly was Jesus talking about and how should we apply this principle today? Bonhoeffer wrote that the meek are: 
"those who renounce all rights of their own for the sake of Jesus Christ. When they are berated, they are quiet. When violence is done to them, they endure it. When they are cast out, they yield. They do not sue for their rights; they do not make a scene when injustice is done to them." 
I am not sure that I agree. Was Jesus meek? While he went "like a lamb to the slaughter" and championed non-violence when Peter tried to free him by cutting off one of his assailant's ears, his previous form was distinctly combative. Does a meek person go to a respected rabbi's home to declare that his host and others at the table were like "whitewashed tombs" that made great effort to be outwardly holy but were rotten underneath, doing nothing to help the poor or support people in their faith?  

Saturday, 21 February 2015

How Fairtrade creates essential infrastructure

This weekend marks the start of Fairtrade Fortnight (23rd Feb to 7th March 2015) so this is a post which takes an engineer's perspective on what Fairtrade is all about. Later this week, I'll be considering the history of Fairtrade, and particularly how people of faith have played their part in bringing Fairtrade from niche to mainstream.

I've supported the Fairtrade movement since I was a teenager (indeed, my first ever campaign was to turn my high school Fairtrade with assemblies, displays and Fairtrade chocolate in the vending machines).
That means I've always been keenly aware of the difference Fairtrade makes: rather than an exploitative relationship between individual farmers and big retailers (with several middlemen taking their cut),

"Fair trade is…a pragmatic response to unsatisfactory outcomes of the market by changing the nature of trading relationships…" (Judith Sugden)

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Holiness in Action: For the Love of God

"How great is the Father's love that he has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1

Welcome to the first of a new series of weekly reflections for Lent about faith, work and sustainable living inspired by Wesleyan theology.

John Wesley founded the Methodist movement with his brother Charles in 1738 after a deep experience of the love of God which John later described as being "strangely warmed" (my friends in the Cambridge Methodist Society at university had hoodies declaring that they were instead "warmly strange"). 
My husband is a local preacher, and has been telling me for years of the riches to be found in Methodist theology about “holiness in action”, or applying faith to real life. This Lent, I’m taking up the challenge: to read all of Wesley’s 44 sermons (now available to read online!) and explore what they can teach us today. 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The circular economy and sustainable concrete

Do engineers need to significantly change how we use materials to make what we build sustainable? I've been thinking recently about this question in the context of concrete, one of the most frequently used materials in construction. In this post I'll be exploring the two main problems with concrete: that it is extremely energy-intensive to manufacture, and it is difficult to re-use without downgrading the quality.

For example, industry statistics show that last year the UK construction industry used 15 million cubic metres (37.5 million tonnes) of ready-mix concrete and 25 million tonnes of concrete products from blocks and pre-cast walls to driven piles.  
Castleton cement works in Derbyshire
(picture by Dave Pape)

Concrete is formed from two materials: cement and aggregate. Quarrying is required for both elements (with attendant environmental and landscape impacts), but the cement also requires a chemical reaction to occur: calcium carbonate (ie limestone) is heated to a high temperature (300 degrees C) to drive off CO2 and form calcium oxide instead. Therefore making cement produces CO2 both from the fuel used for heating and from the reaction itself (although this can be somewhat recovered when used, as hardening cement absorbs CO2 to form calcium carbonate again). 

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Acomb Garden: The Transformation Begins

Digging a trench for
the hedge
Last week I wrote about my church’s dreams of transforming an overgrown patch of unloved ground behind church into a “quiet garden” for retreats, contemplation, encouraging wildlife and growing food. Having emptied and taken down a set of old garages to make a way in and transferred a defunct greenhouse to a friend’s garden (awaiting some new glass), today we made a start on clearing the wilderness. I was pleasantly surprised at how much we managed to do in a morning, with about 15 adults and 5 young people (one very young indeed – Micah didn’t do much other than look cute!) 
By 1pm we had chopped and cleared large areas of brambles (opening up the bottom corner of the garden for the first time), trimmed low-hanging branches from trees and seriously pruned back the bushes and generally created a much bigger space to work with. This is the stuff that memories are made of: working together for a common goal, laughing together as we learn new skills and create something beautiful, eating together when we were done (the local chippy got lots of business today!)

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A Journey of Transformation at Acomb

Acomb Methodist Church is celebrating its 50th anniversary with some big dreams to upgrade facilities to serve our community in York for the next 50 years. This includes renovating the entrance, replacing the boiler with a new ground source heat pump and transforming the small wilderness behind the church. In place of weeds, we want to create more than a garden: a community space for growing food and a space where people can enjoy retreats and quiet days, or just come and reflect in a place of beauty.
View from top of garden, where several garages
have recently been removed
We have lots of ideas to be included in the new garden: Fruit bushes, raised beds for vegetables, a children’s area, a monastic cloister, water feature, labyrinth, 2 watertight shelters/ summerhouses, workbenches, seating, craft areas are all ideas we want to try to include. We hope to create a natural flowing space where wildlife will find a home and plants that will create interest throughout the year. But first, we need to make space. We've made a start by removing some old garages and we'll be creating an access ramp in place of the current narrow steps.