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/

Bread!

15th May 2014 by

Did you know that this week is Real Bread week? A time to celebrate slowly fermented bread, made with nutritious flour, that’s good for you, and good for the planet! We hope you’re doing something to celebrate – whether you’re baking bread, eating it, or sharing it here are a few ideas of things you could do:

Okay, so it sounds like a good idea, but how do I make it? And doesn’t it take a really long time? Well, yes and no. As sandwichyou might have seen on the other links, sourdough needs time – it’s a fundamental ingredient, and time will hugely improve yeasted bread too. But the good thing is, you don’t have to be there all the time. I make sourdough bread every week, lots of it and I definitely end up spending a lot longer washing up, and clearing up a fine coating of flour across half the kitchen than tending to the loaves… (every time I promise myself I’ll be a bit tidier next time).

  • If you want a good place to start why not try Do Sourdough – a little book helping you fit real bread making into busy lives! Last night I went to the book launch and was also treated to a fascinating talk about bread and its making from Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters, as well as some delicious bread and beer. Thank you!
  • Spread sourdough - join the Bread Matters Fungal Network! (I’ve got some sourdough if anyone wants some!)
  • Make your loaves more sustainable. Choose flour that’s organic, and as locally sourced as possible. Why not bake lots of bread at once to minimise oven usage, or bake with friends? In Germany there are some really cool, old baking houses, traditionally fired up on certain days where all the village can take their bread to bake.
  • If you don’t want to bake, it doesn’t mean you can’t have real bread: you can still eat good quality, healthy, and more sustainable loaves. The Real Bread Campaign have a Real Bread finder! Yum!

Enjoy!

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!

SONY DSC

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!

Branch Out Sides with the Seeds

16th May 2013 by

Nathan and TilthPhil updates us on what’s been happening down in the garden…

It has been a few weeks since my introduction to tilth and soil preparation. I have had plenty of practice in my own allotment when my first batch of rhubarb and leeks were promoted from humble crop to vibrant ingredients for roasts, soups and deserts. After a terminally cold winter the soil needed a serious working over, re-nourishing, re-hydrating and good dousing of sun-induced sweat from my brow. With my raised beds eager to welcome the incumbent class of vegetable goodies, Branch Out’s next session at St Mary’s Secret Garden on sowing seeds was a timely return to the tutelage of Liam.

The Branch Out team had recently completed our first assessment and we were ready for the next stage. We gathered around a raised bed and Liam told us to pull up a chair. The lesson was off to a laid back start. Perched on our seats, we peered into the bed, whereupon Liam instructed to work our magic to prepare the soil. It was a far more civilised affair being a sedentary gardener. We had our miniature forks and rakes, and fortunately the tilth only required the odd prod and poke, a pluck of some nuisance weeds and stones, and a little persuasion to level the final soil.

Branch Out Carrots

Our demonstration began with stakes connected by string bridging the width of the bed, demarcating our drill. Liam used a trowel to open out a V-shaped trench about an inch deep along the string, before filling it with a drenching of water. The water rapidly seeped through, leaving a moist mould; perfect preparation for the seeds to be sown. These were duly and carefully dropped in. The first technique was a continuous line of closely spaced individual seeds. The alternative was stationing, a peppering of 4 or 5 seeds at a single point with larger intermediary spaces. The drill was covered and given a generous watering, thus completing a simple but crucial process that gives the plants the best chance at flourishing. We were ready to try it for ourselves and we managed to fill an entire bed with Rothild, Yellowstone and Nantes 2 carrot types. Hopefully when we return next, a squadron of emerging carrot tops will be at attention on our arrival.

Carrot SquadronThe Branch Out team has also been very busy working on other projects. We have been helping Cre8 Arc, a centre of opportunities in sport, media, a variety of arts in Hackney, with the construction of their new eco-walkway. We have also spent a fantastic day with the team at Streetscape based in Myatt’s Field, Lambeth. They do a lot of work in design, landscaping and garden maintenance, and are actively involved in providing training for young people in acquiring these types of skills. We attended their taster day and were graced with scorching sunshine as we helped with their mass composting, fixing a fence, clearing the secluded shaded walkway and cleaning the pond. The whole team, including the directors of the Branch Out Programme, Tamsin and Cecily, got stuck in and had an amazing day.

 

Building Garden small

Tastetastic South 1 : Hills 0

25th August 2012 by


Bonjour, Guten Tag from the French-German connection of the Tastetastic Southern Tour live from the beautiful rainy Cumbria (England!). We are deeply sorry that this won’t be more multilingual but we had to step back in consensus decision making process and accept English as the dominant language. Donc this blog entry will be in English ;-)

Welcome to Fairyland….

Over the last few days a happy bunch of cyclists managed to get through the dangerous and hilly Scottish Borders thanks to many fairies along the way. Magic pastries created by the fairies of the Dunbar cooperative community bakery, which was set up by Sustaining Dunbar, helped us power all the way to Westruther (once we were set free by the very knowledgeable fairy Mark who told us stories about local wind farms, landfills and nuclear power stations). Soon after having left the caring Dunbar fairies and after an impressive thunder, we were welcomed by more of them in Westruther. The local fairies kindly offered us the village hall as our shelter and soon we met many nice and interesting and curious little pixies at Westruther Primary School and taught them about fair-trade and food production.  As a final goodbye to the wee town of Westruther we spent a night of festivities in Angie’s local pub next to a heart-warming firewood, playing pool, the ukulele and singing songs.  Our charming landlady fairy finally offered us some yummy mange-tout which nearly gave us enough strength to cycle to the far far away Headshaw Farm next to Hawick passing via lovely Midlem where we were lucky to experience local Scottish hospitality…

Indeed, the big hairy hill fairy nearly attempted to kill our entire team by putting a massive hill at the entrance of our 5 star hotel in Headshaw Cottage… Comfy beds and hot showers were waiting for us but it was not long before we all had to jump out of our sleeping bags and cycle for more than 10 miles in the worst weather that the angry Scottish Gods could have created. All of our happy jolly team landed in St Margaret’s RC Primary School looking more than soaked but, the great pupils and teachers’ fairies helped us recover our positive spirits and deliver our 4 fun and informative workshops about energy, fair-trade, grow your own and transport. We final ly paid a visit to the marvellous and generous bike fairy Julian, from Borders Cycles, who took a lot of his time to repair all of our unhappy bikes… Thanks again!

With another good night’s sleep in the comfy cottage, new knowledge about passive houses and heat pumps and the feeling of having made a difference to the local primary school in Hawick we set off towards Low Luckens Organic Resource Centre in Cumbria, England. Unfortunately the local bike fairies were on holiday that morning and after an hour of punctures and little bike troubles we were saved again by our faithful bicycle fairy Julian at Borders Cycles in Hawick, we can only recommend him!  With lots of enthusiasm, a smart cow distraction fairy from Cambridgeshire to clear congested country roads, many fairies among us to push the trailers up many hills and brilliant cake fairies in the local teashop in Newcastleton, we reached a beautiful woodland camping ground next to grazing cows at Low Luckens. Now we’re ready to reach more youth with our sustainability workshops and eager to learn about the Organic Resource Centre…

A bientôt und bis bald

(Coraline & Ralph)

Western Quest – tales from a slick and well-oiled performing machine

21st August 2012 by

Friday 17th August

Last Friday, a sweaty, slightly confused-looking group of strangers heaved their bikes up a stony track and arrived at a barn on the top of rather large hill in Gloucestershire. It was the start of Otesha’s Western Quest Cycle Tour. One week later and we’ve been transformed into a slick and well-oiled performing machine, ready to bestow our dramatic talents onto unsuspecting school children. Sort of.

We’ve spent our training week camping at the beautiful Highbury Farm near Redbrook, Gloucestershire. The farm is 25 acres of rolling countryside and ancient woods, including a section of the Offa’s Dyke trail.  The community living here, The Stepping Stones cooperative, are aiming for self-sufficiency and responsible land use with rainwater harvesting, sustainable woodland management, food growing and efficient heating. They’ve even built some of their own houses with reclaimed materials.

However, despite being in a beautiful place, we have been working VERY hard! Our days have been filled with rehearsals for the play and workshops that we will be performing in the schools; learning about and using consensus decision-making; getting to know each other with numerous ridiculous and imaginatively-named games such as ‘poor little kitty cat’ and ‘Bipedibop’; deciding on our food mandate and then implementing said vegan diet. We’ve also learnt a lot about bike maintenance – be prepared to be impressed by our ability to fix our own brakes. Wowee.

The play is quickly taking shape. Jamie Oliver, Simon Cowell, Jessie J and AntorDec make regular appearances in the barn on the hill. Jenny is learning quickly about sustainability and the banana pirate has been banished from this fair isle. Soon to be famous characters include the ‘udderly exhausted’ Morag the cow, Tom the ‘blushing’ tomato and Ant or Dec with their questionable Geordie accent. It will be a hit.

As preparation for the cycling that we will be starting next week, we went on a training ride to Symonds Yat on Tuesday.  A near-vertical hairpin hill made for a bracing start to our first group adventure, especially for the poor Sara and Katie who were bravely battling with the effect of gravity on two rather large trailers.  But after stopping for a breather on the Symonds Yat Rock and munching on our celebratory quarter-of-the-way-there flapjack, we were soon well on our way to a local, free-range ice cream and a bracing dip in the river in the village of Symonds Yat.  OK, we were over an hour late back for dinner at Highbury Farm, and had to reluctantly pass the leisure centre and its promise of the our first showers of the week, but we have high hopes about our stamina, if not our hygiene, for the weeks ahead.

When managing to dodge the (frequently) torrential rain, we’ve spent evenings huddled around a camp fire, watching shooting stars and occasionally sampling Highbury Farm’s homemade apple wine.  The fabulous Jenny Tree and Ally have cooked us wonderful meals of vegan fajitas, quinoa stew and apricot soup. The pulses and beans are producing rather predictable results, but they’ve kept us well-stoked for the endless play rehearsals and gruelling schedule.

We’re looking forward to moving on on Sunday and taking what we have learned on the road. We leave behind fond memories of bananas cooked in the fire; Himalayan Balsam; the beautiful Wye Valley; stunning sunsets; our inspiring Otesha gurus, Sam and Iona; and our wonderful hosts. Look out Stroud, here we come!

Tasty Tales – Bread Matters

8th August 2012 by

Hello!

Welcome to the second blog post of the Tastetastic food sustainability tour! We write to you from the magnificent Scottish Borders, a land of beautiful rolling green hills, many happy sheep, and an enthusiastic bunch of foodie cyclists, who have come from far and wide to embark on a 3 week Otesha extravaganza.

We started our tour in sunny Edinburgh, our first task being to cycle en masse through the capital and navigate our way to our first host – Bread Matters – who have kindly welcomed us to their home on Macbiehill Farm for our five days of pre-tour training.

Bread Matters, in Peeblesshire, provides weekend courses teaching people about the importance of slow fermentation, a traditional method of making nutritional and tasty bread. Recently, industrial bread-making techniques have arguably led to a rise in many health problems such as wheat intolerance and other digestive ailments. Bread Matters is seeking to educate people about the benefit of Real Bread – better bread for individuals, communities and the planet.

Bread Matters has been a great place to start our tour, as it is an example of a local initiative that is building a vibrant (and resistant) local food economy. The founders of Bread Matters have grown varieties of wheat (and other grains), and processed it by gently milling on a small scale. The flour that is produced is crafted into beautiful bread, and this bread is sold locally through innovative community-oriented distribution networks. This approach to local food is a ‘message’ that we hope to take with us on tour, to inspire a new generation to become more engaged with where their food comes from, and how it’s produced, as well as forging community ties through the sharing of nutritional, wholesome food.

During our time on Macbiehill Farm, we have been thrown into a whirlwind of learning workshops, thought-provoking discussions, scrumptious vegan food, and (perhaps most importantly) sowing the seeds to build our own tastetastic community. As a group, we have shared our stories, experiences, knowledge, and values with each other. There’s also been lots and lots of laughter (and some tears, too). Not to mention, being treated to use the most LUXURIOUS compost loo EVER! Courtesy of Andrew and Veronica of Bread Matters.

It’s really hard to believe that we are only 4 days into the Otesha experience – it’s as if a magic spell has been cast to temporarily stretch out space and time, with everyone happily saturated with ideas, excitement and positive energy.

This is just the beginning, and everyone is itching to get on the road, get cycling up more hills (!!) and start putting into practice everything we’ve been preparing for during training week. (But first, we are spending a vigorous afternoon tending to the small-scale agro-forestry project at Bread Matters, as a work exchange to thank our generous hosts).

Are we ready? Yes we are!

PS. A massive thank you to Amy and her team for spending 2+ hours sharing with us how to love our bikes (and maintain them).

Cycle into Summer 2012

5th December 2011 by

Do you want to make the world a better place next summer? Silly question, here’s your chance to become part of a sustainable mobile community…

Join one of Otesha’s fifth birthday summer cycle tours! Pedal across the UK visiting schools and youth clubs, organic farms, fascinating sustainability projects and plenty more. Join an inspirational team of other volunteers, excited to share and learn anything and everything about environmental and social sustainability. Get skilled up in everything from bike maintenance to consensus decision making and learn lots about sustainable and group living.

This year we’ve got three thrilling tours on offer, and a few firsts in the world of Otesha cycle tours. I suppose you want to know what the firsts are don’t you? Well, we have:

  • our first ever food-themed, three-week cycle tour
  • our first ever cycle tour performance of the Otesha play in London
  • a tour for anyone over 18!

And now you probably want to know where and when we’re going, don’t you?

Six week performing, workshop-delivering, wondrous cycle tours (age 18-28):

  • Totally Coastal …does what it says on the tin! This tour will stick close to the picturesque coastline of south-east England. Pedalling across lowlands and up and down small hills, the team will be heading to the heart of East Anglia before venturing into London for our cycle tour debut in the capital, and a grand finale performance! (15th June – 28th July)
  • Western Quest Whiz around the west on your bicycle this summer.  Starting in south Wales, this tour will pedal a wee way north into England and then back south through the rolling hills of Somerset and Devon before meeting the pirates of Penzance. (10th August – 22nd September)

Three-week, food-themed, workshop-delivering, volunteering and learning extravaganza (age 18+):

  • Tastetastic! Lick your lips and get in gear for our first ever food tour. Tantalise your taste buds on our Tastetastic! tour as you pedal across southern Scotland for three weeks exploring food sustainability. (4th – 25th August)

If you’re 18+  and passionate about creating a sustainable future, then we’d love you to ride with us. It’s first come first served, so apply early if you want to guarantee a place.

Watch this space for tales from our cycle tour alumni. In the meantime follow the links on this blog to find out lots more on our website.

If you have any questions or would just like to have a chat about the tours, then give us a call on 020 7377 2109 or email cycletours@otesha.org.uk. We always love to hear from you.


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