Interview with Lorna and Bruce Scott founder members of Forum 21

Lorna and Bruce Scott have been running the environmental group Forum 21 for many years and have had a significant impact in their local West Somerset community.
Here they talk about how the organisation is continuing to develop and how we must act together to combat the effects of climate change.

Visit the Forum 21 website at www.forum21.org.uk

Early Years

JG.  Lorna, can you tell us little about yourself and how you got involved in the climate change movement?

LS.  I was originally a geographer which is where the interest in the environment comes from. We moved here to Watchet about 25 years ago when all the climate change issues and future problems were becoming more evident. First we started a local organic gardening group to make contact with likeminded people. I was already a member of Greenpeace and I joined the local group when we came here and it was with members of that group that Bruce and I got involved with setting up a sustainability group with the encouragement of the then sustainability officer of the West Somerset Council. At our initial gathering in 1988, about 60 people agreed to set up the group. The name Forum 21 came from the Local Agenda 21 initiative from the Rio Climate Change conference in 1992.

For me personally and interestingly doing something local like this seemed more useful than being involved with national politics which had been my principal interest in London. There was a lot of disillusionment around in the late eighties and many people began to do local stuff where we could really make a difference. Our focus has always been on the area of West Somerset which has proved to be one of our strengths.

BS.  We advertised the sustainability group through Parish Newsletters and Parish Councils and when we started we used to have formal monthly meetings on WSC premises with representatives from Parish Councils and clerical support from WSC.

LS.  This seems incredible now but lots of councils around then had Local Agenda 21 officers with their own budgets, their remit to plan policies and activities to mitigate climate change   . Sadly, very quickly (it seemed to us), many of these officers faded away and were not replaced probably due to budget cuts. The Rio Conference reinforced our ideas of what we wanted to do but it took us some time to negotiate between ourselves what Forum 21 was going to be about.

BS.  We never had a ‘mission statement’ in those early days.

LS.  Not at that time. We got the impression that we were being asked to help the council as everyone was feeling their way forward and trying to decide what to do. But we were never part of the local council and have always maintained our independence.

BS.  Which has proved to be a very good thing as now the local council has decided climate change is not a priority.

LS.  We weren’t aware of people in other council areas doing things but Forum 21 did get heavily involved with the county council.

JG.  I certainly remember hearing about Forum 21 in the early days through the county council.

LS.  Yes. We quickly developed many contacts county wide, probably because our relationship with WSC was so strong. But now, of course very few of the county council posts created in the 90s like the Sustainability Officer or the Renewable Energy Officer exist.

JG.  So in the early days how did you decide your priorities for Forum 21 and what were the influences on you?

LS.  After the first year we decided we would have a particular focus each year and we started with food.  Bruce took the initiative in setting up the Minehead Farmer’s Market.

BS.  Our first task was to get producers involved.  The Soil Association was very supportive and helped to publicise the initial meeting through their local database. We had a public meeting and we contacted a group of organic growers on the Quantocks co-ordinated by John Armitage. Our original plan was to operate here in Watchet but it transpired that Minehead would be easier to organise so we began with about 15 – 20 stalls on the Jubilee Cafe site.
It was all a bit chaotic at first with dubious scales, non-local vegetables and a lot of interest from the Inspector from the Council!

LS.  We also established a Local Food Guide with WSDC.
The next year’s topic was Waste and our contribution to that was the Timber Reuse facility in Minehead. We were also instrumental in supporting the development of the Biodiversity Plan for West Somerset. This was a particular area of development for the three professional biodiversity members of our steering group.. Our sphere of influence was ever widening as the individual input of members developed.

We have also tried initiatives that haven’t worked, for example the Car Club, sharing transport and vehicles. We’re about changing attitudes and sometimes we get our timing wrong. People are not ready yet for this project in this area despite the rise in fuel prices. It is a good time however for further development of the Steam Coast Cycle Path which is beginning to move forward again after years of effort.

Current Developments

JG.  There are also 2 new projects that are developing well?

LS.  Yes, our Community Woodland on the edge of Minehead is progressing well, with a licence from the National Park expected imminently. We plan to involve local people, as volunteers and potentially as woodland management students, teaching forestry management skills, encouraging conservation, biodiversity and wildlife and helping to reduce carbon emissions by careful woodland management.

JG.  And the other new project?

LS.  That’s involved with our Energy Efficiency work. As was probably inevitable, some of the 12 volunteers for whom we arranged City and Guilds energy training haven’t stayed the course. But those who have are now the core of our very successful and growing energy team, carrying out several projects and offering free home energy surveys.

We are now working with WSC with private landlords to try to help them improve the energy efficiency of their properties. There is finance available to help (£1,000 per landlord). We are trying to create a pioneering group of landlords who will work with the Landlord Accreditation Officer at WSC to improve their properties for their tenants and we will monitor how this works and advertise its successes.

BS.  Our energy work has revived our relationship with the WSC.

LS.  Yes, we are useful to the local council in the role of supporting people who need help in these difficult times. West Somerset has one of the highest proportions of people living in fuel poverty in the country which is why our Surviving Winter Project is so important. I hope we will come back to this.

Green Deal

JG.  Just before we talk about that tell us a bit about your attitude to the Green Deal.

LS.  It is an utterly ill thought out project which is not helping the people who need help because interest rates are too high. It’s also not creating the groundswell of support and understanding needed about the importance of tackling the 40% of our carbon emissions that are produced by our homes!
Forum 21 has been diligent however in promoting the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) Affordable Warmth Scheme which is part of the Green Deal and which requires energy companies to provide free assistance to people on benefits. It is now limited to free loft and cavity wall insulation and a repair or replacement of your gas boiler. We have identified people who are entitled to this support but after 9 months work on our part, nobody has received a penny!
What needs to happen is that all our homes need to be made energy efficient, for free, for everybody. That’s the only way it’s going to work and that’s not going to happen. The government’s wasted vast amounts of money on a huge Green Deal complicated bureaucracy that needs to be swept away.

JG.  You remain committed to improving energy efficiency however.

LS.  Oh yes! Developments in this area have raced ahead and through working with groups like the Centre for Sustainable Energy (www.cse.org.uk) and NEA, National Energy Action (www.nea.org.uk) Forum 21 has made a significant difference to the number of homes that have been insulated in West Somerset. There have been other spin offs too like the Energy Advice Centre in the Co-op car park in Minehead run by Minehead and Alcombe Transition Group.

Assisting those in fuel poverty

BS.  The Surviving Winter Project has been a roaring success.

LS.  Yes indeed. The Surviving Winter Appeal is run by the Somerset Community Foundation, a charity that invites people to donate their Winter Fuel Allowance (and any other monies) so that the money can be used to support vulnerable pensioners. Similar Foundations exist in all counties and they attract donations from grant giving bodies as well as individuals. Forum 21 was asked by the Foundation to assist them in identifying eligible pensioners in West Somerset who needed a grant towards their fuel bills in order to help them to keep warm. The Foundation had previously had a very low up take in West Somerset despite the known problems.
This is an area where Forum 21 has been extremely successful. Last year there were just over 300 grants made in the whole of Somerset and we made 90 of them!

JG.  Brilliant.  How do you find candidates for a grant?

LS.  We do a lot of publicity, deliver leaflets, the Energy Advice Centre distributes leaflets for us and we have referrals through church organisations and surgeries etc. We also add value by carrying out an energy survey when we visit the pensioners who apply for the grant. This often leads to further support from us and sometimes referrals to other organisations like the West Somerset Advice Bureau.

The future of the planet

JG.  This is Forum 21 making a real difference to your local community. How do you feel about the future of the planet as a whole?

BS.  I’m an optimist by nature and Lorna is a pessimist!

LS.  Forum 21 will continue to do its bit but on the larger scale I see the future as pretty desperate. I believe that governments must act. We are bedevilled by short termism and changes in direction. We as individuals cannot change things alone; we need the government to insist that everyone takes responsibility for the results of their actions.  Climate change deniers are listened to because you don‘t have to change anything if you accept what they are saying, but they are wrong.

BS.  Environmentalism has always been about social justice. We can only improve things if we all do what we can on a personal level.

JG. Very many thanks to you both for a very stimulating interview.

 

How you can help

Anyone who can spare some or all of their winter fuel allowance or who would like to make a donation to help others can ring the Somerset Community Foundation on 01749 344949 or visit their website www.somersetcf.org.uk. To send a cheque please make it payable to SCF Surviving Winter Appeal, Yeoman House, Bath and West Showground, Shepton Mallet, Somerset BA4 6QN..

You can also make contact with the appeal through the Just Giving website.

If anyone over 50 wishes to apply for a grant towards their fuel costs, or you know of anyone who needs help to keep warm this winter please contact Lorna Scott on 01984 634 242 or email mail@forum21.org.uk

Stop Press! We have just heard that the Somerset Community Foundation has launched an appeal for funds to support people whose homes have been flooded during the exceptionally bad weather over the last few weeks. You can contribute to this fund by ringing 01749 344949

 

 


2 Comments »

  1. Congratulations to Bruce and Lorna for all their untiring work. I am sure they have inspired lots of locals to ‘do their bit’and increase awareness in many fields.

    Comment by carole darke — January 31, 2014 @ 5:51 pm

  2. Well done stalwarts! Great to see you are still very active after so many years of dedicated hard slog. Keep it up please: there is a huge need for people like you. All best.

    Comment by Julian Anderson — February 23, 2014 @ 8:02 am

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