Who – or what – is The Norfolk Womble?

From humble beginnings as an idea for a personal blog about my own little projects and ideas, the things I am most passionate about: growing our own food organically, recycling and reusing, economic issues and fuel dependency, learning new skills, crafts and so on, I started to write this first post (I think this may now be draft eight, or nine) when it occurred to me that, as pleasant as it might be, it wasn’t really going to be enough for me to simply post a few nice pictures of my vegetable patch or to share the odd recipe or recycling tip.

All of the things I care about are interconnected in such a way that they are all so much bigger than myself.  So instead of a place to tell you how my harvest is coming along (though have no doubts, I will be doing that too!) I also want to try and draw together a pool of resources that are useful for everyone, everywhere, and at any economic situation or stage in their life, encompassing everything from the day-to-day stuff to the bigger picture stuff too.

About me, well I’ve gone by several names, and answer to most, but the majority locally would know me simply as Eco.  In 2009/2010 I didn’t know a great deal about peak oil, climate change, or economic instability, and I don’t claim to be an expert in anything now either, but it was then I became involved with a then fairly new initiative called the Transition movement in Norwich and my horizons broadend somewhat, beyond my narrow and then largely consumerist existence.

From the range of Transition Norwich theme groups emerged a range of inspiring initiatives, including the Magdalen Street Celebration and Norwich Farmshare (both of which are still running) and a real sense among people involved that ‘we are not powerless, and together we CAN effect change’ which was really quite powerful.  It also helped bring together a lot of the existing and already successful groups in the region, such as the Grapes Hill Community Garden.

I have several very fond memories of people, events and opportunities that took place and arose solely because of Transition, and it is as a direct result of things I learned during that time, that I continued to study the impact of particular actions and ways of living, always interested in new ideas and information.  I’ve written extensively about these issues, and more besides, in various articles, blogs, and the occasional book.

Transition Towns Regional Meeting, Dereham 7th March 2009
Transition Towns Regional Meeting, Dereham 7th March 2009

Back in the day (what do you mean it was ten years ago?  TEN years?  Really?  Wow, that really flew by, didn’t it?  What have I been doing with my life?) I set up and ran a new social enterprise called Wombling (hence the name of this blog – once a Womble, always a Womble), which worked to rehome unwanted items that might otherwise have ended up in landfill.  We ran events and workshops, and even held a weekly indoor car boot sale at Hellesdon Community Centre and at The Locksley School, for people to rehome things themselves as well as turn their unwanted stuff into a little extra money.

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Apart from being a huge (huuuuuge) learning curve for me personally, it was extemely successful in terms of the volume of goods rehomed.  Of course, my definition of successful was not really in line with that of most business, charities, or even other social enterprises or Community Interest Company’s (what was then a relatively new status, and one which Wombling became).

So when I would merrily state how many people now had something they needed which they couldn’t afford to buy, or the number of people without transport who need something large and heavy taken away, often the response would be:

“But are you making money?”

Which disappointed/frustrated/annoyed me a little bit.  I couldn’t understand why the concept of helping-people-and-all-at-the-same-time-reducing-landfill was a pretty damned GOOD thing to be able to do.  Eventually I felt like screaming: “I don’t CARE about the money!  Okay?  Really.  There is more to life…

But I didn’t.

Instead I’d smile and say something vague like: “I’m doing alright, thanks,” and hope they’d accept that as conclusion of the conversation.

Being the sort of person that would quite happily (try to) grow all our own food and then barter or exchange goods to get whatever else we needed, I was never really destined to make Wombling into the proverbial financial goldmine, so I suppose I just wasn’t a proper business person.  Still it was a little disappointing to me that, even in the Social Enterprise circles, where I felt my closest allies in the world of biz may reside, my approach was usually met with silent derision.

Nonetheless, I set out to keep the service running for as long as possible, and in that I succeeded.  Wombling made enough money to keep going and ultimately, it wasn’t the finances that sealed it’s fate.

We’d been so busy I hadn’t paused for long enough to acknowledge just how exhausted I’d become, and  I was just beginning to think it might be a good idea to consider my health and maybe, possibly, putting that first for a change when… BANG!

rhside1-400

Some numpty took the decision out of my hands by careering off the road and into my much-beloved little Wombling van which had been parked off the road, writing it off completely (it’s amazing how twisted a parked vehicle can become when struck from behind).

It was also around that time I’d inadvertently allowed the Wombling domain name to fall out of renewal, only to find it had been quickly scooped up by someone else who then actually went ahead and stole the entire Wombling website which I had designed and built entirely from scratch!  He is to this day passing it all off as his own.  (Nice one, Thomas Simpson of 5 Mill Lane, Shropshire, SY7 9DJ.  Really classy).

So, I took these as signs to hang up my Tidy Bag.

Temporarily.

how-to-build-a-pallet-and-plastic-bottle-greenhouse-cover400

After a brief rest and no more Wombling excursions, I found I had a lot more time available to put into growing food for my family in our little garden.  I built a greenhouse from reclaimed and recycled materials (and then I wrote a book about how to do that), and then proceeded to learn new things daily about what to grow, what not to grow, sowing positions, light, weather, snails (oh, so many snails) and a multitude of other factors which determine whether your harvest is to wonderfully succeed beyond all expectations, or flop dramatically in a heap of chewed remains (I’m remembering my first attempt at Black Tuscan Kale when I say that).

We’ve had ups and downs, gluts and disasters, and I aim to share here, with you dear reader, the results of these trials and errors of ours in the hope of saving you some time and trouble.

So yes, there will be day-to-day stuff.  After all, it’s 2017, and near the end of February already.  The beds are cleared and waiting.  There is much to be done!

But there is more to it all than that.  So very much more.

Eco, aka, The Norfolk Womble

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