Friday, 22 June 2007

guerrilla lighting

I came across this today, a bit bizarre but made me think of us nonetheless! Did anyone see it?

Guerrilla Lighting Comes to London
Demonstrating the power of good lighting

One dictionary definition of guerrilla is an unofficial independent army of partisan soldiers, and, following the success of Guerrilla Lighting Manchester it will be a 100+ strong army that descend on London on the 15th February. The concept of Guerrilla Lighting was created by Martin Lupton, director of BDP Lighting, for the purpose of raising awareness of the power of lighting. Under the guidance of a team leader, each member will take part in creating transient lighting designs by using high powered torches, battery powered LED projectors, luminous dot lights and an array of gels and filters. Instructed to be in a specific position and at a given distance from their target, the teams will simultaneously light up various aspects of the Pool of London's architecture on cue at the sound of an air horn, creating a dramatic spectacle. The installation will be photographed, the lighting turned off and then the team move on to the next site. The teams will be made up of local lighting designers, architects, interior designers and manufacturers, all of whom are keen to draw attention to the possibilities, and importance of, lighting in the urban environment. The event will take place as part of 'Switched ON London', London's first festival of light.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Inspiring Book

Something that inspired me this month, and an action I have taken which I hope will inspire others.
*Having offered to prepare something for the July session, I have decided to play my Joker on this item. Since this piece is too long to be read in the session, I'd like if I may to publish the whole text here, as a context for a short and hopefully useful activity in the session.

Helen Dymond

There was a book in the good old 1960's or was it the 70's, a hip guide to American students swanning around in their gap year, called 'Europe on Five Dollars a Day'. Five dollars a day? WOW! How could such thrift be attained? It was clever, inflation-busting, quaintly alternative. A new book, '50 Reasons to Buy Fair Trade' by Miles Litvinoff and John Madeley (Pluto Press, tells me that half a century later in 2007, "throughout the developing world people are working in poor countries for less than a dollar a day to make goods such as clothes and toys for the Western world."

They are forced into it by the rock bottom prices agreed by the world agriculture markets for the kind of crops their climates and soils will allow them to grow. With the international coffee agreement's collapse in 1989, for many farmers prices fellow below the cost of production. The impact on societies has been and continues to be disastrous: "social unrest, robberies, suicides, debt, children withdrawn from school by their parents; in Colombia and Haiti growers turning in desperation to illegal drugs cultivation. In Nicaragua, thousands of coffee workers held a 'March of the Hungry' to the capital in mid-2003, during which fourteen of the marchers are said to have died, during the march, of starvation. " Equally devestating in its effects, the world banana market worth £5 billion is dominated by a cartel consisting of a mere five companies.

But '50 Reasons' does't set out to scold; it invites us to celebrate the burgeoning of the Fair Trade movement, to join a damn good party that is going on and is here to stay It's this positive energy that makes the book inspiring; and incidentally it cleared up my puzzlement as to why I had not enjoyed Starhawk's 'Webs of Power' as much I had expected to: Starhawk seemed so much preoccupied with Our Action, Our Vision, Our struggle - whereas this book is all about Them. It is meticulously researched and packed full of useful information about what Fair Trade is, how it helps producers to a fair and stable income, where to find FT products; but perhaps its greatest achievement is that it gives a small cast of farmers a published voice, lets them speak for themselves.

It provides just the global context we need to make sense of what is happening in our own locality, and has prompted me to conduct a small, totally unscientific survey of my two local superstores; Sainsbury's at Ladbroke Grove and at Willesden, to explore Sainbsury's claim that it supports Fair Trade. I also wanted to answer some more uncomfortable questions closer to home: why don't I, the barely-reconstructed housewife, buy more than a few FT products? Is it because of my ignorance of the range on offer? A suspicion that they will be more expensive than non-FT? Or it is due to lack of visibility, a failed opportunity to highlight the products like the sweets which are always in your face at the checkout counter? (I am told Sainsbury's recently had a 'Fair Trade Fortnight' , but none of my neighbours seem to have noticed it).

Not that I am advocating supermarket shopping, given the environmental impact of import air-miles, excess packaging and general swamping of small producers. But the plain fact is that the vast majority of shoppers patronise supermarkets, so there should be some attempt to understand what is going on there. Paradoxically a much wider range of FT can be found there than in the average small retailer, and those who already patronise FT- specialist shops/farmers'markets need no conversion. Having obtained printouts of what FT goods are offered in these two stores, I made some comparisons between them, checked prices against the Online Shopping list and came up with some suirprising findings, of which I give just a sample here.

'50 Reasons' tells me that there are now over 2,000 FT certified products on the market, but Sainsbury's Online Shopping lists only 68 - so the first question is, why so few? And apart from cleaning cloths at Willesden, none of the non-food items are listed. There seems no consistent Buying policy either: Willesden carries only 27 items, of which 13 are not listed at Ladbroke Grove, while Ladborke Grove carries 30, of which 18 are not available at Willesden. This seems fairly chaotic, but the most glaring omission is that, having been assured by the Customer Care Service that "all Sainsbury's bananas are Fair Trade", FT bananas are not listed at all at Ladbroke Grove! I have informed Head Office of this fact and the person I spoke to sounded genuinely shocked.

The majority of products are beverages, coffees, teas and wines. At Ladbroke Grove fresh fruit FT products are grapes, pineapples and mangoes, whereas Willesden, a store with a significantly smaller clientele, manages to sell all those plus oranges and bananas. Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury's, a significant shopping mecca in this part of London boasting a bus terminus, and the Congestion Charge Extension Zone was shifted, after huge local protests, a few metres south of the Harrow Road so as to exclude the store, has a Coffee Shop which sells FT chocolate muffins and chocolate brownies - so why aren't these available on the shelves?

Thebiggest surprise are the prices. There is a perception that FT goods are likely to be more expensive, as organic products are, although the big stores can afford to and sometimes do subsidise them. Many FT items turn out to be the same, or cheaper than, non-FT. Fairtrade Teabags 250g cost £1.19, whereas Sainbsury's Green Blend Teabags 250g cost £1.95; Billington's Golden Granulated Sugar 500g sell for 89p, Tate & Lyle Granulated for a whopping £3.85; a pack of 5 Sainbsury's FT oranges are £1.59, while a pack of 5 non-FT oranges are £1.75.

What to do with these admittedly random statistics? I plan to send a report to Sainsbury's outlining my findings and suggesting that the Buying Policy is reviewed and hopefully improved. The range of goods offered could be greatly extended, and promoted as not only socially responsible but better value. And I have a plan to do a small promotion of my own: namely, I am thinking of a pre-Christmas social gathering of our Neighbourhood Watch Group to which everyone will be invited to bring only FT consumables - a sort of Pudding Party with bevvies, chocolate mousse and exotic fruit salad, nuts for those that can eat them, freshly baked biscuits etc. and some small inexpensive Ft gifts for Santa's Sack and prizes for games. It's a small step, as social movements go, but a first, I am resonably sure, in this neck of the woods.

Monday, 18 June 2007

tan... slowly

In the Guardian on Saturday 9 June there was a centre spread that listed 'eight years and 32 actions to save the planet'; things that need doing at international, national, local and individual levels. It looked impressive, optimistic. The last point was

2015 Downshifting and having a slow pace of life now the major aspiration for many peole. Youngsters travel abroad by ship and train, savouring the experience. Low-cost flights have reduced by 80%

Then, over the page, is a nearly full-page advert: United we TAN. 5* Marrakech 5 nts from £279. Get your 5 breaks a year.

If newspapers like the Guardian don't walk the talk, and change how they accept advertising, how are young people or anyone else going to buy into 'having a slow pace of life'?

Friday, 15 June 2007

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Euston Tea Party

The sarf Londoners will recognise this as London Bridge, but hey, it's a mainline station.

We've talked about doing an action as a group. One idea that combines our love of food and our concern for the planet and people is to raise awareness of food and health.

So...the Euston Tea Party. An extravaganza of cakes, coffee and teas; combined with conversations about fair trade, organics, food miles, body and mental health. In front of their antithesis of Krispy Kreme, Starbucks, Cornish Pasty et al.

I suggest we occupy a couple of tables in the public space outside the station and in front of said outlets and give away cakes and teas to passers by and engage them in dialogues about food and things. We accompany this with flyers; and seeing as we have the skills, a couple of songs too.

What do you think? Ideas in the comments section. Plan at July get together.

If you want to practice, there's a Bellenden Bunfight this Saturday 16th June at the Review Bookshop on Bellenden Rd. Entry is £1 - bring a cake to be eaten and judged.

More info at

building the local alternative

Last weekend we looked at building the alternative; based on the notion that the way in which we are active should also form the way we want our civil society to be.

I facilitated an exercise on looking at this from the localised perspectives of - home, friends and neighbours.

These themes and ideas emerged. What do you want to add, be clear about or comment on?

Learning from them
Be the friend you'd like to have
Care-frontation not confrontation in challenging views you don't agree with
Put energy into reconnecting with old friends
Express your gratitude for support
Stop 'taking the piss' and encourage instead

Reduce, re-use, recycle - eg books, washing machines, cars, computers
Share resources
Produce as much food on site as possible
Use organic and biodynamic stuff/food
Fair trade, eco-products
Turn off stand-by items
Think through ethical consumption
Commit to good communcation with those you live with
Offer hospitality
Cook together and not too much

Solidarity actions eg campaigns to save adventure playgrounds, the Maudsley
Community gardens in the space between flats - herbs, flowers, veg and compost
Smiling, walking, conversing with neighbours
Use local shops, not chains or supermarkets
Have dialogues about choices in shops and markets
Campaign for post offices and local services
Join a local group eg a choir or bell ringers
Go to local events like school fairs, jumble sales and festivals