Community Sisters United for a Sustainable Future.

By Hilary Brown, Sustainable Woodstock, Oxfordshire UK

Apparently, somebody asked if Sustainable Woodstock, VT had a sister organisation in Woodstock, UK. It’s a resounding YES! So … is there anything of interest in Woodstock, UK and what are we about? We’re about the same size as Woodstock VT with a current population of 3600. We’re in the county of Oxfordshire, with Oxford just 8 miles to the southeast and central London 65 miles away to the southeast. Woodstock was described in 1086 as a royal forest and its history since makes for a pretty good read. Our town borders on a UNESCO World Heritage site, Blenheim Palace and parkland. The Palace is the home of the Duke of Marlborough and was the birth place of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister during World War II. Blenheim parkland is designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and the ancient woodland and hedgerows are both protected. Neighbouring land that surrounds Woodstock is mostly farmed as arable that includes wheat, barley, rapeseed and linseed. Oh, by the way … Woodstock does hold a music festival in August called Woodstock Live that supports live music and local bands … inspired by who I wonder?  

Sustainable Woodstock UK was established in November 2008, when our founder, Colin Carritt, made a commitment to form a group after he chaired an Annual Town meeting where several guest speakers gave presentations on energy conservation, bio-diversity and sustainable action groups. We’re all volunteers with different work backgrounds and, like Vermont, we are trying to “think globally, act locally”. Our aim is to build awareness of the Climate and Ecological Emergency and hopefully inspire individual and collective action in our community and local businesses to reach net zero as fast as possible. We do this by supporting various events, projects and campaigns that help our community to understand and hopefully contribute to combatting the emergency. 

Colin presently leads a campaign to make active travel, cycling and walking, safer and easier, especially for those short local journeys or for that “first or final mile commute” to trains or buses. It’s is part of a larger campaign called Village Travel Network and includes a 20mph campaign for our local towns and villages that will make them safer and better places to live and work. We’re planning to create new cycle and walking routes throughout Woodstock and improve cycling connectivity between the neighbouring villages and Woodstock … hopefully with some help from Blenheim, as it lies bang in the middle. 

Our first campaign was in 2009 when we worked to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags in our town stores. We sourced ethically-produced canvas and jute bags that we still offer today. While it’s been quite a successful campaign … it’s ongoing: changing behaviour it seems, despite knowledge and the terrible images of our oceans and wildlife in peril, is more difficult than we’d care to admit. Staying with plastics, we are also campaigning to reduce our dependence on single-use plastics in Woodstock. Our first step was to register the town as a Plastic Free Community. We surveyed schools and businesses, including Blenheim; discussions followed on new ways of working and finding alternatives (ironically, often returning to the old ways). After occasional defensiveness from just a few managers, most were enthusiastic about doing things differently for the right reasons. The Covid pandemic has led to a few backward steps and more disposables are certainly in use right now but hopefully we will return to this during the year … and will start to turn things around again. Our cause is not helped by the powerful lobby from fossil fuel companies that, especially since the 1980s, convinced businesses and the public to think that life without single-use plastic is inconceivable. Ultimately, environmental laws need amending to ensure change happens. 

We’ve been planting trees in Woodstock. We asked Blenheim if we could use a little-used piece of land to create a Community Woodland. They agreed to a free lease on the land and the following winter volunteers planted 1600 mixed native trees including ash, oak, wild cherry, hazel and alder.  Seven years later, we planted a traditional orchard of 82 heritage fruit trees, all sponsored by donations from our Woodstock community. Today the woodland canopy has nearly closed and there is increased biodiversity. The fruit trees are taking their time but are thriving and we now have a couple of bee hives as well. The Community Woodland and Orchard have been discovered by many more during the lockdowns as our community sought new places to take exercise. 

Other activities and ideas have been promoted by the group including community litter picks, sowing wildflowers in our orchard to increase biodiversity, collective buying of solar PV to reduce costs, thermal imaging of homes to direct insulation, participating in demonstrations, talks, films and encouraging re-use by holding swap shops. We also communicate our message via regular newsletters and Facebook. 

At the moment, some of the stories we hear can make us feel bereft of positivity, but we believe that groups like Sustainable Woodstock VT and UK—and the very many similar groups around the world—are using their imaginations to find ways to inspire their communities and their governments. We want our leaders to be bold, brilliant and decisive at the COP26 conference in Scotland and aim for “How Things Turn Out Okay.*

Congratulations on all your great work, and hope you continue the good fight. 

* From What Is to What If by Rob Hopkins. 

Photo 1: Woodstock UK held an event called Woodstock Carnival, focused on saving the planet. From the left: Graham Brown, Elizabeth Poskitt and founder Colin Carritt.

Photo 2: Colin Carritt (extreme left) and Hillary Brown (extreme right) were some of the volunteers planting the Community Woodland.

Photo 3: Woodstock, UK borders a UNESCO World Heritage site, Blenheim Palace and Parkland. The palace is the home of the Duke of Marlborough and was the birthplace of Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England during WWII. (Blenheim Palace Photo ©2021).


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