Bi-monthly Challenge – March 2014

17th March 2014 by

It’s Challenge Time!

At Otesha, we like to challenge ourselves (and our readers) to live more sustainably. That’s what our cycle tours and all our other programmes at Otesha are about! Regular readers of our musings will know we set a challenge with each newsletter. We want your ideas, the challenges you want to take part in – or have already tried! Email to give us some suggestions!


This month, though, a sustainable transport challenge, with a few options…

1. If your bike’s rusting away - get it out, give it some love and get it (and your lovely self) back on the road. (If you need help, pop along to our free Dr Bike workshop at our office on Tuesdays 5-6pm!) If you want some cycle training, lots of local councils offer free sessions, they can be a great way to feel confident on the road. We’d love to see photos of you and your trusty steeds. Email them to us or tweet @OteshaUK

2. If you’re a regular bike commuter - try something new. What about a mini-weekend bicycle tour? It’s a great way to see the UK, a wonderful, cheap holiday, and you’ll feel so alive! Or go and get skilled up in bike-maintenance so you can be a self-sufficient cyclista. (You could also sign uP1060484p for an Otesha tour!)

3. Help someone else get on their bike. Let’s face it, some of us couldn’t cycle much more if we tried. So why not support someone else to start cycling… you could join a campaign or give more practical support with bike maintenance, or join someone on their commute to work to help them feel more confident on the road. You could check out organisations like this, this, and this, for a place to start!

4. If cycling isn’t for you, switching your travel habit, to foot, bus, or train is super too!

We challenge you to address your windows

18th October 2013 by

Windows waste plenty of energy and money.  And we know that not everyone can simply swap out their old windows with new double glazed ones.  Instead, we challenge you to address your windows and make a few simple changes in your home.

  • Install draught-proofing products on drafty doors and windows. Block cracks, seal your skirting board with sealant and fit a chimney draught excluder
  • Use stretch-seal, heat-shrink plastic sheeting kits for windows (found an example of this double glazing film here) as an inexpensive and easy way to seal warped or single-glazed windows.
  • Use window quilts or heavy curtains over your windows to keep the cold out in the winter and the heat out in the summer. An uninsulated drape can cut window heat loss by one-third. An insulated drape can reduce it by hal

And if you are in the market to re-do your windows, check out Energy Savings Trust’s Windows Guide.

How apropos to know that Energy Saving Week is also taking place on 21-25 October, 2013.  Find more energy tips here and get addressing your windows!


We challenge you to make something out of that plastic bottle

29th August 2013 by

greenhouseWe generate about 228 million tonnes of waste every year in England alone.  It is in our opinion that every little bit counts.  So instead of tossing that plastic bottle into the recycling bin, ask yourself: can you create something else?

There are brilliant and crafty sites which have this idea in mind. Check them out below.

And take inspiration from Columbia, who have the incredibly large amount of 15,000,000 plastic bottles dumped every day! The Centre for Science and Environmental Awareness tries to tackle the problem here.


Don’t forget to contact us and tell us what you’ve been creating with your bottles.

We challenge you to have a staycation

1st July 2013 by

So summer is upon us and the holiday season is quickly approaching.  We understand the importance of taking a break and acknowledge that Europe is at our doorstep but we challenge you to ditch the foreign holiday and try a staycation.

British-Flag-in-a-SandcastleA staycation is a holiday spent in the UK, often close to home. Why do we challenge you with this? We believe there are multiple benefits. Going on a staycation will save you money, help your local economy, is more eco friendly, less stressful, and ultimately you get more time relaxing instead of travelling. If you have a think about it, the UK has an incredible amount to offer from surfing, white water rafting, canyoning, camping (or glamping for those recoiling at the idea), foreign food cooking courses, wine tours (there are actually more than 400 vineyards in the UK), the National Trust holiday volunteering, and WWOOFING.

Try it out, and let us know how it goes. Or have you already had brilliant staycations? Let us know.

We challenge you to re-think your spring cleaning!

3rd May 2013 by

We’ve been noticeably chirpier with the spring season upon us and so we’ve all been discussing about ways to start anew and get set for the coming months.  Here at Otesha, we’re closing our winter box and doing a spring clean.
This time around, we challenge you to re-think your spring cleaning!  There’s many ways you can start.  We’ve come up with a list below but if you want to add anything, drop us a line and of course, tell us how it went. We’d love to hear from you.

  • Make your own cleaning products.  It may sound daunting but it’s much easier than you think.  Our ever lovely Jo wrote a blog on how to start.  Check it out here.
  • You may also need to un-clog some drains.  Here are some helpful tips for a more natural way to clean drains. cleaningThrow away those chemicals; they go straight to our water supply.
  • Start by checking out our new and improved “3-Rs” at the bottom of our Fun Action Ideas page.
  • Instead of dropping any unused items and clothing in the bin, drop them to a charity of your choice or consider posting them on freecycle.  One’s rubbish could be someone else’s treasure.
  • Take a look at your air filters – they often need washing to keep things moving.
  • Use the sun to dry your clothes outdoors. On those very *few* days of rain, don’t forget to keep the dryer filter clean.  It makes it more efficient.
  • If you’ve got a garden and are tending and cleaning, consider growing heirloom varieties to help to preserve biodiversity.  And rather than using toxic pesticides, use natural pest control.
  • As the weather is warming (and hopefully the sun is still shining), consider walking or cycling instead of driving. Or, choose the bus/train.
  • Consider removing your shoes upon entering your home.  It’s amazing how much dirt you track through the house and when you take your shoes off it means less cleaning!
  • Adjust your curtains as the days warm up – open them in the early morning and after the sun goes down.
  • It’s difficult to make your large appliances eco-friendly but you can do things to help them be more efficient.

    Fridges and freezers are designed to cool and keep things cool this isn’t want things want to do natural, heat moves into areas of low heat so they are fighting against nature. Keeping your space about 2/3 full in both fridge and freeze means they have less to do as heat moves between the foods, and maximize the efforts of the fridge/freezer.

Do you have more tips for us? Let us know!

Re-invent your leftovers! February’s Challenge….

11th February 2013 by

This month we’ve been getting all creative with our leftovers.  If you’ve ever popped in to share lunch with us you’ll know we like nothing more than seeing what delicious meal we can create out of random mixes of leftovers, rescued vegetables, those strange things at the back of the cupboard and of course, fresh local produce.


We’re food lovers, so to hear that almost half of the world’s food is thrown away totally zapped our warm fuzzy vegetable rescue feelings. After a season of festive feasting (and, no doubt, swollen bin-liners), the start of 2013 greeted us with the shocking news that a whopping 2 billion tonnes of food gets chucked away each year.

So we challenge you to try buying your food in smaller quantities, but more frequently. This should help eliminate fruit and veggies getting past their best by the end of the week, and also might lead to more careful planning of your meals. Think of ingenious ways to reinvent all your left-overs – and don’t forget that most cooked foods can be frozen and stored for later in the week when you’re not up for cooking. Plenty of other ideas can be found here. Let us know your most delicious creations!

The brain, the bike and the fighter pilot: January’s monthly challenge

1st January 2013 by

Recently I read what was probably one of the most important and fascinating articles I’ve seen on how cyclists can keep safe on the roads. You can read the whole piece here – but, in short, it tells us something very important: that when drivers tell us cyclists ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you there’ after a near-miss, they are most likely telling the truth. Knowing this, and knowing why it’s true, will make your beloved bike journey much safer.

The London Cyclist blog talked to a regular cyclist who also happens to be an RAF pilot and crash investigator, and this is what he had to say:

  • Our eyes have evolved to spot predators creeping up on us but not, crucially, objects hurtling at speed, especially relatively small objects like cyclists
  • Only when we look directly at something can we register a high-resolution image of it
  • Our brains create a whole-spectrum vision of a scene by filling in detail it assumes is there but may miss crucial details – like a nearby cyclist, which our eyes can easily ‘jump over’

Crucially, in many cases this means your near-miss was not the result of careless driving but of aeons-old hard-wiring in the human brain, regardless of how much, in that moment, we want to demonise the driver.

The blog ends with some advice on how to compensate for these limitations of our poor human brains – first for drivers, then for cyclists and motorcyclists.  So your monthly challenge for this year is, if you are a cyclist, to do the following:

  • Wear high-contrast clothing – this will attract the driver’s vision and help them to see you
  • Take your cue from the driver’s head – did they sweep their gaze right across you?
  • Don’t crawl alongside the kerb – take a safe position further out in the road
  • Send us pictures of yourself in your loudest high-contrast cycling gear!

So now I’ve got the perfect excuse for getting some lurid stripey knee socks – join me!

Hackonomics – who’s questioning cash?

18th December 2012 by

Our monthly challenge for December has already had some really interesting feedback, so thank you!  Inspired by our visits to Trade School, we asked you to let us know about what other projects out there are trying to hack the system by experimenting with ways to trade that don’t depend entirely – or in some cases at all – on money changing hands.

Your responses have taken us to some really interesting ideas.  Here are some of them:

Means of Exchange

I haven’t quite figured out quite what this is going to do, as they’re at the stage of having “some exciting plans”, but the idea appears to be to mobilise techies to make possible people’s ideas for how to exchange, promote local resource use and build resilience while avoiding the mainstream economy and its conventions – “we’ll build the tools so you can make it happen wherever you are,” they say.

In the meantime, it’s a good place to go if you want to explore some of the thinking being done around these ideas for challenging “our default relationship with money, how most of us understand so little about it, and how we might use new approaches to encourage a more healthy mix of time sharing, swapping, bartering and purchasing between one another”.

The Bristol (and Lewes, and Brixton, and Totnes…) Pound

This system does, in fact, depend on money, but it’s an entirely new kind of currency. Each Bristol (or Lewes, or Brixton, or Totnes…) Pound is worth one pound sterling, but because it is only valid in a very local area, it means that the money only circulates within the community.

Whereas a regular pound spent in the local supermarket will end up in the bank account of Tescbury’s corporate HQ, a local pound will stay in the area, helping to keep the exchange of goods and services flowing.  If it can only be spent locally, then it also means that local suppliers have an advantage over goods that might have been freighted a long way – in the end, hopefully, adding up to a stronger, more diverse and more resilient economy. If that agenda sounds familiar, then yes, you’re right – local currencies in their most recent forms sprang from the transition towns movement.

If it sounds like a cute but naive idea that can’t work in the real world, well consider this: the newly elected mayor of Bristol is being paid entirely in Bristol pounds.

Pay What You Can

This one is based on money changing hands, too, but it is a departure from the convention of ‘We set the price, you pay it’.  You may have come across this idea yourself in any number of settings.  I first heard of it many years ago: Clapham Junction’s Battersea Arts Centre would – and still does – have some productions, or some nights, where they throw caution to the wind and let their audience members stump up what they feel like paying, or what they can afford.  It’s also the principle at the People’s Kitchen, where quality food that was going to go to waste is turned into a regular communal feast – not only putting assessment of the meal’s value under your control but also tackling one of the big environmental ‘externalities’, i.e. food waste, that conventional economics woefully fails to take into account. A related idea is ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ – you can do this for your meals every Wednesday down my local.

The Amazings

This is brilliant.  “The Amazings was born out of a single, simple idea. Society has always learned from its elders. But somewhere along the way we have lost that connection between generations – which means losing rich, valuable, and rare skills. We’re on a mission to fix this.”

Unlike Trade School, this one does mean paying up with cash in return for classes, but it at least taps into a valuable idea that we’ve abandoned too hastily – listening to and learning from the experience, skills and knowledge of those who have been around long enough to know a thing or two.

Which leads me on to…

Men In Sheds

This Age UK brainwave is a win-win.  There are jobs that need doing in every community. There are not always the resources and knowledge to get them done.  But there is an army of retired blokes who have time on their hands, who have spent decades putting up shelves, laying paths, fixing wiring and plumbing and generally banging nails into wood – and who want to be useful, stay active and healthy and have a good natter with others over their workbenches.  And so Men in Sheds was born. Got a community project that needs some practical fixing up?  See if there’s a Men In Sheds group in your area, and make sure you stock up on tea and biscuits for these beezer geezers.

I’ve a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of hackonomics that is developing out there, creatively filling the cracks in the crumbling mainstream economics – so do use the comments section below to let us know about others, or about ways you get by without the traditional exchange of cold hard cash.

Swap til you drop! December’s monthly challenge

6th December 2012 by

Laura and Gavin have both been to Trade School in the last month – a really interesting idea through which you can sign up for an hour’s tuition, workshopping or general learning in anything from ‘Clowning and dance’ to ‘Growing food in the city’ or ‘Accounts for non-accountants’.

The twist? You don’t pay a fee, you barter with the tutor, who provides a list of things they would accept in return for giving the class – it could be a loaf of bread, advice on decluttering, a surprise or, well, anything.

Inspired by this lovely idea – particularly in this season of wild-eyed hyperconsumerism, our challenge to you this month is to find out how the ‘gift economy’ – barter-based or generosity-fuelled moneyless means of exchange – is emerging in your area. Is there more than just the (admittedly wonderful) Freecycle? What exciting experiments near you are hacking the economic system? We’d love to hear about what you find, so do let us know!

And if you’re disappointed by a dearth of moneyless innovations in your area – why not start your own Trade School?

Let there be bread

1st November 2012 by

In September’s newsletter, the monthly challenge was to bake your own bread.  When speaking with other people who’ve done it before, they made it sound so easy.  There were definitely reasons to do it.  According to the Real Bread Campaign, making our own is:

Better for us
Better for our communities
Better for our planet

Bread and/or bread products are a fundamental part of our diet: 99% of UK households buy it and 74% of us eat it at least once a day but what’s really in a loaf of bread? Try reading the list of ingredients next time you’re in the shop. By law breadmakers aren’t required to include the enzymes, chemicals and additives which may be present in the bread – scary stuff.

Ok fine, I’m convinced.  But my problem isn’t the wanting to do it, it’s the how-to-get-off-my-duff-and-actually-do-it part.  Some people think using a bread maker is ‘cheating’ but when I did a quick search on gently used bread makers for sale and found one around the corner from my house, I felt like all signs were pointing onwards!  (Excuse 1 – don’t have the tools – overcome.) After handing over £30 and carefully bringing the lovely bread maker home it then sat on my counter for weeks.  It came with a recipe book and upon reading through it, I didn’t have all the ingredients.  (Excuse 2 – don’t have the materials.)  So on my day off (yes, it had to come to that) I decided to bite the bullet and go to the shops to find the materials. (Excuse 2 – overcome.)  I must admit, the fun finally began.

Carefully I read through the recipe and followed the instructions (I’m not much of an experimenter when it comes to baking… even if it’s in a machine).  I hit start and subsequently sat by it and would glance over once in awhile.  I will also readily admit that I did a little ‘yes-I-put-all-the-materials-in-the-machine-and-hit-start’ dance.  It was great.

Once the paddling began (yes there is such a thing!), I went over and looked into the little window to watch.  Intriguing.

The waiting continued…

And 2.5 hours later the bread maker beeped.  It was done and looked beautiful. After a cooling down period, and removing paddles (apparently some people really don’t like having holes left from the paddles), the loaf was complete.  And to my eyes – it was gorgeous.  It didn’t taste half bad either.


So, did I cheat?  Maybe a little.  Was it still successful? Yes.

Things I learned:

  • I can actually make bread (with the aid of a maker)
  • It tastes great
  • I control what goes into the loaf
  • Once I had the ingredients, it was super easy

So tell me, have you tried it yet?  Was it successful?  What’s going to be your next loaf?  I’ve taken out some ripe bananas from my freezer in anticipation of making banana nut loaf.  This is me – excited!


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