Women-Fix-It

11th May 2016 by

Working with the Otesha team to get a women’s bike maintenance project up and running has been the highlight of 2016 in my world: here’s the story:

wfiWomen-Fix-It came about whilst cycling across Portugal solo. I had the map reading down, chunky calves, panniers, and a sweet touring bike – what more can a woman ask for? Ah yeah… the knowledge that is needed to put your bike back together after it’s been in a box. Alex a good pal helped me to box it up for the flight over to Portugal. Yeah I’ll remember all this – easy…

I’m not saying that as I stand looking at my handle bars off at a peculiar angle, the brakes are rubbing on the wheel and I’m unnecessarily covered in grease. Frustrated, I begrudgingly head to the nearest bike shop, where 2 guys attempt to teach me bike basics in Portuguese. I felt pretty stupid with my ignorance, not to mention scared that I had to keep the steed in one piece for the next 3 months. I couldn’t but notice that it was always men serving me in bike shops, or I’d likely ask a male friend to help out with bike related stuff. Pedalling up and whizzing down the mountains of Portugal I was lucky to keep my bike in one piece – but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head as to why I didn’t know to fix her up.

The more I discussed this with other women who liked bikes, it became clear that I wasn’t on my own… reverberations of the same comment kept coming back to me: “I feel uncomfortable to ask stupid questions” “I always feel pretty silly when I go into bike shops” “I wish I knew more about bikes” “I’m just not very good at it”.

I felt happy that it wasn’t just me… but also sad that so many strong, independent women that I knew and loved had the same block as me. I wanted to learn with other women and to be taught by a non-judgemental woman who could share her knowledge. I searched around my local area in South London and struggled to find that space, but alas it was not there.

A friend put me in touch with Bikeworks – a fantastic social enterprise delivering community based cycling activities across London. They took me onto a course in Level 1 bike mechanics and I commenced a journey totally out of my comfort zone… loads of tools, jargon, and a good dose of testosterone. I was feeling the need for Women-fix-It in my life.

It seems fitting that this project is a collaboration with The Otesha Project UK, as it was this wonderful charity that has empowered hundreds of young people to cycle hundreds of miles and educate thousands of people in issues of environmental awareness, sustainability and social justice. As tour alumni, tour coordinator and workshop facilitator with Otesha, It felt like the right time to join forces to run Women-Fix-It. Winning a bid to Transport for London’s Cycling Grants, the project finally got legs.

Camberwell Subterranea offered us their garage workshop for us to run 3 week maintenance courses from Feb-June 2016. The project aims to work with women from diverse backgrounds, bringing together women from all over South London. It is important that it’s a safe and comfortable environment for all to enter into. We’ve run 3 courses so far, working with 27 women to teach them the basics – an m-check, parts of the bike and how they fit together, punctures, brakes and cleaning/ general maintenance.

wfi1The essence of the project is that we want women to go away with enough skills to keep their bike safely on the road. If it needs to go into a bike shop, then they might have a better idea of what’s going on. We want women to feel empowered to ask those “stupid” questions that we might not normally ask. Courses will continue until June and we’re running women’s social rides around South London this summer.

Fancy finding out more, or want to be involved?

Check for updates on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/womenfixit/

The highs and lows of tour – and we don’t just mean topography

15th July 2014 by

This past week has been incredibly busy, and it is almost impossible to summarise it all in a brief blog post! We continue to harbour a complex love/hate relationship with the Welsh hills. And the ups and downs don’t stop there…this experience has been both a physical and emotional rollercoaster!

We have met the most amazing people along the tracks and roads through Wales. Hosts and locals alike have offered so much generosity to our team in the form of directions when we were lost, lifts when we were exhausted, music when we needed to dance and hot showers when we smelled more like sheep than people. We must mention our hosts who have made us feel so welcome in their cottages, barns and field corners through north and west Wales:

  • Awel, who let us stay on an explosions-factory-turned-nature-reserve with some shy sheep and made us a delicious vegan dinner;
  • Luci and Pontus, who welcomed us into their barn at 10pm, soaking wet and tired, with smiles, a bonfire, hot food, and well-deserved chocolate desserts;
  • The Centre for Alternative Technology, Luci, and Rod, who gave us a tour of the site, took us on a mountainous hike to visit Nora the wind turbine, and showed us the best place for an afternoon swim in the mountains that anyone could ask for;
  • Suzanne and Mark, who put us up in their golf clubhouse (complete with disco-dance mood lighting!), brought us their strawberries and drove our panniers and trailers all the way to Clunderwen on our 60-mile cycle day which ended up being a 13 hour hill-climb;
  • Chris and Wendy, who gave us full run of their cottage and beautiful outdoor space for a sunny afternoon;
  • Steve, who allowed us to stay in Pembrey Country Park for free and pointed us towards the beautiful sunset-lit beach and hot-shower building (much love!);
  • Tim and Catrin, who welcomed us into their home, let us take over their kitchen to cook proper food not made on a cooking hob, and gave us a workshop on stained glass painting.

We also owe great thanks to those whose names we do not know, who welcomed us into their farm and bike shops after hours, offered us free hummus and toffee waffles from their restaurants, and cheered us on from roadsides and car windows as we crossed paths. You have all helped us on our journey!

Our travel days have been tough, but we have not yet been defeated by hills.

We were confronted with the unpredictable Welsh weather immediately after leaving Felin Uchaf near Pwllhelli on our first day of tour. We followed the infamous cycle route 8, which took the first group to the top of a mountain – not recommended unless you are training for Tour de France! The rain was showing no sign of stopping, and we were only a quarter of the way on our 45 mile ride, so the team finally gave in and took the train to make it to our host Luci’s place before nightfall. While waiting for the train, a group of kids peeked above a fence and started chatting to us, so we decided it would be a good idea to present a play scene to them. Great success!

Some of our bikes were suffering with teething problems, or only had 3 gears to face the Welsh hills, so we visited Dan the bike mechanic to sort things out. He then cycled part of the day with us blasting out tunes from his mobile trailer stereo system.

This tour has brought us so many challenges, gifts, and new experiences. We’ve had late-night evening circles, we’ve had sunshine. We’ve had delicious food cooked by tour members and so much kindness shown to us by the lovely people of Wales have warmed our bellies and our spirits. We have so much gratitude for one another, and for the support we’ve had from so many people who helped us find one another on this crazy two-week adventure. Here’s to the second half of our tour and the blossoming of new ideas!

 

The Pedal Powered adventure begins – training week at Felin Uchaf

8th July 2014 by

This year’s cycle tour are well on their way. Here’s their first team blog from training week!

Time! Time is a funny thing. These past five days have felt more like weeks. In the safe and supportive nest here at Felin Uchaf in deepest north-west Wales we have felt welcomed by our generous host Dafydd.

These action-packed days have been filled with intense Otesha knowledge – from bike maintenance to consensus-decision making, fun games to learning about anti-oppression with an exhilarating sea swim thrown in.

 

Today we embark on our quest to travel the length and width of the country by bicycle over the span of two weeks, sharing information and inspiration as we visit schools and community groups en route. How are we feeling you may ask?

 

We arrived ten strangers and set out as a close team of ten friends. We are ready to take on the hills, the weather, the roads… We feel GOOD! See you on the other side of those hills!

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 info@otesha.org.uk to give us some suggestions!

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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!

Alumni Spotlight: Harley

14th March 2014 by

Everyone who goes on a cycle tour, joins our green jobs training programme, or comes to us for support to set up their own project becomes part of our alumni network. We send them weekly updates, filled with  green, world-changing jobs, interesting volunteering opportunities and events, a bit of Otesha news, and something to make them smile! Basically, we like to keep in touch, find out what they’re up to and support them however we can. Here’s a little spotlight on one of our wonderful alumni!

1. Which Otesha tour did you go on?

Tastetastic 2012 – Scotlaaaand!

2. What were you100_5861r tour highs and lows?

Highs - Too many to mention but I really loved our time at Broomhill community garden in Burntisland with Elly and the founders of Fife Diet. Our first day working out in the sunshine and meeting some very dedicated and inspiring people.

Lows - Having to jump on a train on our first proper day cycling… my knee was not up for it and I was worried that was me done for the tour I’d been so excited about. (With a couple of days rest it was fine and I lived to tell the tale!)

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3. Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

After the tour I moved back to Newcastle and have been living up there until very recently. Living with an incredible bunch, cooking and eating tonnes of big communal veggie delights. Enjoying the beaut that is Northumberland, cycling, learning lots about growing veg, taking kids on farm tours and making them taste new things! Getting dirty growing and selling tasty veggies, dancing, adventuring and planning exciting things for the future!

4. Tell us a bit more about Food Nation…

For the past year I’ve been working on a number of projects for an organisation called Food Nation. They are a social enterprise based in the East End of Newcastle that aim to inspire people about good food. This varies from cookery classes for all ages/abilities, outreach at a number of schools, community centres, universities and events. They also have an allotment where they run a few programmes for local schools to visit and engage with gardening, food growing, cooking and tasting! They are also linked to Food Newcastle which has been set up to improve some of the food systems in Newcastle by setting up a Food Charter – read more here. It’s been a pleasure to work on such a range of food related initiatives with them and I recommend checking them out!

SONY DSC5. What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

I was lucky enough to get onto the tour just after graduating and I think Otesha has given me a fundamental backbone of inspiration, knowledge and positivity. Learning so much more about FOOD and confirming my desire to GET INVOLVED. Falling in love with cycling. Friends! (I met the most brilliant of humans!) Feeling part of a powerful network of individuals from all over the world. Despite not living in London I have still felt supported by Otesha and looking forward to getting more involved when in London. It’s confirmed my view that by creating an enthusiastic and inspiring example (by DOing), others will feel encouraged to join in and get involved themselves. Also, by educating people with a fun and playful approach, it can be a much more influential way of changing the habits of individuals.…… I am also a lot less scared of standing in front of a class of children which has come in handy!

6. Are you still involved with Otesha and how?100_5617

Only a fan from afar but hopefully this will change now I’m a little closer!

7. What advice would you give to new tour members?

Don’t bother with those ‘waterproof’ socks… They don’t really work.

Just get ready to have a wonderfully fun and productive time, meet glorious people and learn loads!

8. Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, or an action?

GO! GO! GO!

Working the Workshops with Totally Tasty

22nd July 2013 by

I am lying in Lynn’s garden hammock looking out at the massive oak tree in the park next door. “You look extremely happy”, Jessie says as she walked past. I am a bit. I feel really enriched after everything I have experienced and taken part in today. This morning we woke up at 6.37am. All ten of the Otesha tour members were sleeping in the Rope Walk Permaculture Project’s garden shed just behind a mosque.Yesterday was our first day on the road and today we were introduced to the world of environmental and social workshop facilitation.

This morning we cycled to a local school to spend the morning at the, maybe paradoxically named, “inclusion unit”. It was for children who had been deemed not adapted to be within a conventional class room. The average number of children in these inclusion classes were between four and six. Students would stay on a single floor on which all of their needs were catered for. All their subjects, tutors and even lunch was provided on this level. The teachers were all amazing and it I think we learnt much from seeing how they spoke to and engaged the students. While one team delivered another workshop, my group was presenting a workshop on Fair-Trade which looks at all the different people involved in the production on bananas; from the logger who has to clear-cut his beloved rainforest to earn enough money to get by, all the way to the consumer in the UK.

Later that day, I was shown a feedback sheet with Alex, one of the students had written after the class but had seemed one of the hardest to engage. In it he  recalled with great detail several of the facts concerning fair-trade and gave many interesting suggestions for how we could improve the workshop. In the second group, also four students, was one girl who was full of enthusiasm, excitement and charisma. We had one who wanted to read many of the character cards describing what each person in the supply chain has to do. After each card she would give a particularly conscience summary of what had just been said and apply it to examples she was familiar with as well as explaining it within the greater whole of the exercise. After class, the teacher, told us this student was normally the most introverted and shyest member of the class. He had never seen her as enthusiastic and engaged as she was. We felt we had been of use and that our presence at the school was being appreciated.

The last workshop was the one I thought was most successful. The four boys in the class seemed genuinely interested in what we were talking about and shared their knowledge about pesticides and GMOs. Later in the day, we discovered that this last group we had worked with were reputed to be the most difficult to engage with. Quite a result, we told ourselves.

After some not-so-vegan egg and cheese sandwiches the school kindly provided, we headed back over to Southampton Common [we had cooked an epic dinner for ourselves there the night before] to meet a home education group. These were children who were educated by their parents or grandparents and all met up on a regular basis so as to learn and play with their kin. These children take an active role in deciding what it is they are most interested in and would like to learn more of. “I drive my grand-daughter around 200 miles a week so she can receive lesson from all the specialist teachers in the region” one parent told us. The children now in front of us couldn’t have been more dissimilar from the ones we had spent time with that morning. Surrounded by supportive, reassuring parents, they spoke, read and posed questions with clarity, self-assurance and calm. At one point when talking about the distribution of money amongst the different actors on the supply line, they took the debate completely into their own hands and we  no longer needed to facilitate and actually stepped back and watched (slightly in awe) as children of six and seven discussed who in the supply line deserved the most pay. This seemed like a million miles away from the disheartened students we had met earlier that same day.

Personally, I felt greatly privileged and enriched to have had the opportunity to experience these two polar opposite worlds. We had witnessed first hand how socio-economic segregation is passed on from one generation to the next as a result of systemic causes within our society. These skills and experiences are fantastic to get, and the whole team is developing in leaps and bounds ready for all the schools we have ahead. Thomas

Western Quest goes West Country proper!

8th October 2012 by

After a wonderful stay at the West Town Farm in Ide, Exeter, it was sadly time to move on and head further West to the gorgeous hilly countryside of the Dartmoor National Park. After a difficult start to the ride (anyone who knows the giant hill to Dunchideock leaving Ide will know what I am talking about) the rest of the 20 miles to Ashburton were relatively flat and really beautiful, a wonderful ride. On arrival at The Husbandry School, a few miles outside of Ashburton, we were greeted by yet another steep climb to the farm itself but were rewarded  by arguably the best view of the whole Western Quest cycle tour at the top.

Thanks to Jonty and Carole we immediately felt welcomed and at home on their lovely farm and were treated to the luxury of a bath and comfortable night’s sleep – much appreciated with an early start and hilly six mile cycle to Landscove primary school the next morning. Despite our fears, the six mile cycle across the Devonshire hills to Landscove raced by at 8am, due to the lack of trailers, tents and panniers weighing us down.

 

We were immediately welcomed at this small but friendly rural school in Landscove and enjoyed performing our play to the whole school. Although the play is aimed at students aged 8 and over, the years 1 and 2 really seemed to enjoy it and some of the songs had the best audience participation of the whole tour – a great start to the morning. After the play we split into two groups and led workshops on transport and energy. The school were impressively already taking many ‘green’ measures, such as an energy saving campaign and signs around the school informing us to switch appliances off when not in use, a small allotment in the playground where students were learning to grow their own vegetables and school lunches made from ingredients from a local organic farm. The students were therefore very receptive to our workshops, which seemed to both refresh and embellish ideas on what action we can take in our everyday lives to be more sustainable.

 

The energy workshop was interesting to build on the work the school was already doing and the students enjoyed energy charades and were very surprised at which electrical appliances use the most energy. After doing an energy audit of the school the students had many great ideas on how we can continue to reduce our energy consumption, at school and at home, which we were really pleased to hear. The transport workshop with year 6 also went well, with students eagerly learning about different forms of transport and which are least polluting. As a result of the workshop many students pledged to use public transport when possible and car share to school with people who lived near them. They also said that they felt more confident to maintain their bikes, which we were really happy with.

All in all, we had a great experience at the small but pro-active and welcoming school, which was really interesting both for the students and us. We happily left the school to meander back to The Husbandry School, along the country lanes in the September sunshine, filling our tupperwares with blackberries as we went; a wonderful and inspiring morning’s work.

Gloucester and Newent – Oteshafied!

30th August 2012 by

Having turned our tums into landfill for abandoned bread products during our last breakfast in Stroud (mortifyingly, our picnicbench broke after the third helping), the ‘Five Hills’ that concertina around Stroud greeted us with particular grit as we began the 15 miles to Gloucester- we discovered why Painswick is so named, as our calves burned to reach this sandstone-clad village atop a particularly gruesome hillock. Once past the village of Edge, however, it was mad freewheeling down a treacherously pebbly and steep lane to reach the plains ‘o Gloucester. With such a short distance, we’d figured we could enjoy a relatively leisurely departure and still reach our destination with plenty of rehearsal time, but it would seem that cycle rides are like traffic on newly-built roads- they seem to exponentially fill up the space you give them – time slithered away as we paused for lunch by the canal, to pick blackberries, for a bask by the canal (Spartan living gives an extra appreciation for simple pleasures: sun on tired legs, soft grass in the small of the back…)…The heavens opened as we reached Gloucester Docks, but like a floating lighthouse in a storm, the SULA lightship appeared alongside, offering tea and shelter. Beautifully refurbished ship turned Buddhist centre, it offers holistic therapies and yoga as well as much needed tea for waifs and wayfarers…

The sky was dusking as we rolled up to ‘Lydia’s garden’: our home for the next two nights. Lydia  and her parents Kim and Steve had kindly offered to house us on behalf of Transition Newent and boy, were we in for a treat. Flat ground! Warm water.. from taps! Plum trees, chickens, guinea pigs, and best of all a SOFA! We felt thoroughly spoiled but just about managed to put away a stupefying amount of delicious food, much of it grown and cooked by generous members of Transition Newent. Ann, one of the group’s founders, had welcomed us and left us with an inventory to tell us the provenance of every treat – including veggie cottage pie, roast veggies, polenta cake, brownies, fresh apple juice and a stonking plum crumble. Over the feast Lydia shared told us about her recent cycling exploits, including a 100 mile-ride with her school from Snowdon to Gloucester! Having just aced her A-Levels, she’s soon to begin university but we’d love to adopt her for a future Otesha jaunt.…Cradling aching pot bellies, we waddled to the garden to rehearse the Morning Choices play to Lydia and Kim- thanks for the laughter you two! The food and homely comforts led us rapidly to snooze and a few snores…

After a quick cuppa back at Lydia’s, we had 7 more miles to cycle in the opposite direction to get to our performance for TransitionNewent. Idyllically nestled by the lake in a pretty park, audience numbers were nigh-on non-existent, so an audience-poaching mission was unleashed: the unsuspecting customers of Newent chippy were among those regaled by our offer of free, al fresco entertainment and we did reel in a few, including some high-spirited young fishermen who led a running commentary of the play  but we were secretly pleased that they stayed throughout. It was a good time to develop our message and gauge our reception a bit before we begin visit schools after their summer breaks. What’s great is that these different settings and audiences for the play unleash different energies and helps keep us on our toes. Our performance was followed by a magnificent picnic with some of Transition Newent, hearing about their efforts to engage a wider public with events such as free fruit picking, but it’s no easy task.

The morning began with riding the seven miles to St James City Farm in Gloucester for our first performance of the day. We were welcomed by the very inspiring Derek Wakefield-Brown, who’s been overseeing the farm since its inception in the early Nineties and whose passion for bringing farm animals and young humans together shines through. Bursting with the bleats of goats (best friends of the pony), the farm breathes life into a relatively deprived part of Gloucester. The farm enables thousands of city families to bond with animals in a nurturing environment, while giving young volunteers husbandry skills that have inspired some to go on to study agriculture and take on some of Derek’s mantle. Sadly the farm was on the brink of closure as the council funding dried up, but help from the Friendship Café charity has rejuvenated the project. The performance was a challenging one- our audience consisted mostly of young mums and tiny tots, and we really felt the sense of not wanting to alienate them by harping on too much about organic food- sustainability and affordability can seem oxymoronic, especially for families struggling with low budgets. However, Derek’s enthusiastic response was reassuring, as he asked us to come back next year for a performance in central Gloucester as part of a one-day eco event he’s organising (and suggested we perform in an Asda car park- Sunday opening has robbed the farm of Sunday visitors, he says).

Next stop  – Cirencester!

Riding the airwaves – our visit to Stroud

29th August 2012 by

Putting the kettle on, Otesha-style..

Western Quester 1: How ‘bouts we brew up a nice cup of tea?

WQ2: I’m game, but hadn’t we better put it to the group? Consensus, consensus, consensus!

WQ3: Good shout. Roll up, Questers: a decision is to be made! Shall I facilitate?

WQ4: Sure- I’d be biased by my intense hankering for tea right now. Still, does the warmth of a steaming mug in the hands justify all that gas to heat the water? [Fingers waggle all round]

WQ5: And don’t forget the vegan food mandate: oat milk’s an option, but there’s nothing on this Tetrapak to suggest that these are even vaguely local oats. Uh-oh…Tetrapak…

WQ6: Problem-led solution: that empty carton’s perfect for our next recycled wallet-making workshop!

WQ7: Phew, thank goodness: I love a dash o’ milk in my tea. And look: the tea’s fairly traded, too…

WQ8: May I make a Proposal? It’s blowing a gale, most of our tents contain at least one puddle and a team of slugs and we’re cycling 45 miles today…a cup of tea is just about justifiable…[all hands waggle frantically…brew time…]

And so on… Otesha tours try to organise themselves through a process of reaching consensus wherever possible. Using facilitation, hand gestures and an ethic of careful listening, the rainbow of personalities, lifestyle preferences and communication styles among us thus get a chance for equal airing in discussions. It’s getting us along just fine, for the most part. There are certain things that consensus can’t help us out with, however. Rain/sweat/hills: recurrent pests, those. ‘Roads’ that peter out into tracks whose clods and pits are obscured by knee-long grass. The flatulent results of the copious quantities of dried fruit and nuts required to keep us conquering all those hills. The fact that said fruit and nuts are generally shipped from China (not ideal for a ‘preferably local’ food mandate). We are heartened to hear that Totnes has christened itself a Nut Town, and we’re going! For now, snack nutrition and snack origin ethics are a challenge to balance, but the cooking teams have been producing most winsome meals for our trusty Tupperwares.

 We were sad to leave the Stepping Stones co-op at Highbury Farm, after a busy day off in Monmouth seeing to our laundry, bikes and grubby bodies (thanks to the kind folk at the leisure centre for the use of the showers!). An intense yet laughter-packed training week was rounded off by an evening of Olympian treasure hunting and feasting, sealing our Otesha initiation with suitably recycled tour t-shirts and bike bells. Proudly clad, it was time to finally get on the road!

Our first cycling day took us 45 miles from Redbrook to Stroud. We snaked along the broody woodlands of the Wye Valley, passing Tintern Abbey, the majestically spooky ruins of 12th century monastic life, whose setting inspired the following snippet from Wordsworth: “O Sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer thru the woods, How often has my spirit turned to thee!”. These wanderers admired the sublime nature too, in between handfuls of raisins and wondering whether those Team GB-clad tandem cyclists scoffing coffee cake were the real deal…indeed, the Sunday sightseers were out in force- vintage cars, Harley Davidsons, hot air balloons; but what we were most cheered by were the many cyclists- from families to the lycra-laden Competitive Camp. We crossed the Severn Bridge and swooned at the steel above and sand below, before joining part of the National Cycle Route all the way to Stroud. There were plenty of thatched rooves, cottage gardens and memorable place names to admire en route: Tomtit’s Bottom, Bendy Bow, Muzzle Patch… Lunchtime shade from the glorious sunshine came in the form of a grandfatherly oak tree on a village green. The day was also peppered with foraged blackberries, as the autumnal hedgerow harvest of sloes, hawthorn and rosehips begins to ripen. August seems rather early for this, we thought, but this has hardly been a meteorologically sane year. The food producers we’ve met so far have almost unanimously reported the worst growing season for decades. Rain-logged soils. Potato blight. Slugs with 10-foot fangs (actual quote, accused pest unverified by us).

Despite the setbacks, our hosts at Stroud Community Agriculture furnished us with a box of delicious, biodynamically-grown veg to cook upon arrival. The community-supported agriculture (CSA) model allows risk to be shared among the 190 members, who pay a regular amount for their veg box (or simply a donation) but accept that content and yields vary. The food and the setting were beautiful: they’re based at Hawkwood College, an adult education centre inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and featuring such courses as ‘making your own Tibetan singing bowl’ and ‘The Sacred Clown’. After our long ride, the warm shower was all the enlightenment we needed for one day…

We were looked after most handsomely by Mark and Rachel at SCA and by James from Transition Stroud. We spent Monday morning weeding kohlrabi and holding an impromptu play rehearsal in a churchyard (thank goodness for the right to free speech, but apologies to the snoozing man bolted awake by us practising our human alarm clock). James had organised us a slot on Stroud FM, a community radio station: we got all stage frighty but managed to overcome the shyness to transmit the media scene from the play down the aerials of Stroud. The Stroudies weren’t exactly out in droves for that evening’s performance (our first!) at the Market Tavern, but that suited us fine: the audience were a lovely, encouraging bunch who gave us some tips and told us about some of the many Transition projects bubbling away: Stroud Community TV, open days to showcase edible gardens and eco homes and a hub system to distribute and exchange locally-grown produce. Stroud, in the growing trend of ‘specialising’ Transition Towns, is to be an ‘Apple Town’: we look forward to being able to replace our raisin addiction with Stroudian dried apples on future rides. James also told us about Bicycology, which organises bike tours and activism-based projects: we’ve been inspired to cook up more awareness-raising street action to shout about our growing love of all things bike, so watch this space…

On Tuesday, we met Helen from Ecotricity and learned about their aim to increase provision of wind-derived electricity and to widen the growing infrastructure for powering electric cars. A reviving vegan cappuccino in café Star Anise was followed by a magical interlude in Dennis Gould’s cosily cluttered woodblock letterpress studio. The walls are jewelled with Dennis’ musings, more often than not amusing: digs at the Powers That Be; odes to anarcho-cyclists, Lorca and Colin Ward; ditties, wordplay and quotes galore, many printed on thick handmade paper. Showered with little gifts and most with a new wannabe career in printmaking, we prised ourselves away to grab another quick session in the recording studio to record a little piece for James’ Transition-themed radio show…getting media-savvy now… (Click HERE to hear the the team performing on Stroud FM )

The evening was dominated by a lot of daily bread: two groups of us, unbeknown to the other, had stumbled across shops about to throw away vast quantities of bread, sandwiches and pasta salad and so decided to rescue the abandoned fare. The ingredients lists took us way wide of our democratically-decided food mandate, as did the horrendous packaging, but purely in the name of preventing food waste, we dined predominantly on sarnies. Breakfast, too, was a breaded affair: with hunks of the stuff in our bellies, it was time to wave goodbye to Stroud…

Starting as we mean to go on

26th April 2012 by

Before every Otesha bike tour,  members gather for a training week. Aside from offering a chance to meet fellow change makers (and start lasting friendships) it is a time to prepare for what’s ahead, forging a strong team to bring real, lasting change wherever they ride to. It’s a bit like starting a day with a hearty breakfast.

For me, training week was a real buzz because it confirmed that I had made the right decision in signing up for an Otesha tour – a choice that was going to be a real catalyst for positive change in my life and outlook. We began with practicalities – first up was bike maintenance. I soon learnt my Dad’s ‘technique’ was way over generous when oiling chains and I was shown punctures really don’t take 3 attempts to stick (as well as tips to avoid them in the first place). Workshop completed, I was confident and able to maintain and safety check my bike. A further session on group riding shared best practice of how to ride as a group safely on the road.

That done, we moved on to discussions and workshops on sustainability, group living and consensus decision making. Being able to speak openly and contribute fully to discussions and decisions enabled the group to respond positively to any situation. Early on, I felt consensus decision making could take an age – but once the ground rules and hand signals were in place, each decision was explored fully and consensus was soon reached. Any extra time taken was easily paid off by knowing it the group was behind the decision, everyone has had a chance to contribute and importantly, that the right action had been taken. Writing our food mandate was the first real test of the teams consensus decision making skills.. the mandate acknowledges the fact that the food we eat has wider impacts, and also that different people have different needs with the food they eat. We shared opinions, practicalities and debated issues before agreeing on a a mandate that would dictate what the team ate for the weeks ahead.

Then began the rehearsals. I am no actor. When my friends heard I was going to be  in a play, they were eager to see me to perform – if only to confirm that I am not an actor. Luckily a role in an Otesha play simply requires enthusiasm, a sense of humour and a bit of bravery –  no sonnets, monologues or dramatic stage falls required (except when making the Banana Pirate walk the plank).

This year, the tours are starting from suitably inspirational places. Walking the talk is a core part of our ethos, and so we’re happy to be hosted by projects with shared values.

For Western Quest, the tour will be hosted deep within the beautiful Wye Valley, at Highbury Farm. It is the home of Stepping Stones – a Co-operative inspired by a vision of finding ecological and socially sustainable ways of living together as a community. At the moment they are exploring ways to manage the land without the exploitation of animals. As the site is reliant on a spring for water we will see how important saving water is, especially relevant as much of the UK remains in drought.

For our food themed tour – Tastetastic, we are being kindly hosted by the folks at Breadmatters. They passionately champion the lost practice of home baked bread through workshops, books and by producing some fantastic bread. To say Thank You, we’re planning to build a solar dryer to dry produce from their small holding without consuming electricity. Excellent!

By demonstrating the best of sustainable innovation with practical and positive steps, our hosts will provide a perfect base from to launch this summer of change making tours.

If you or someone you know wants to saddle up and change the world then applications are still open – see the Cycle Tours page. or email us at cycletours@otesha.org.uk.


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