Dunbar’s Dream

If you could get a group of people from a community together and if you dared ask them what they would like to see changed in their town, you would be sure to end up with a wish-list so daunting that you’d say it was impossible. That’s what’s happened in Dunbar; but a group coordinated by Philip Revel has produced the Sustaining Dunbar Local Resilience Action Plan, which tackles issues, one by one, breaking them down into tiny steps which are not daunting and not impossible.

It began with a survey of 1500 residents in Dunbar and East Linton which produced a wish list for local food, energy efficient homes, safe neighbourhoods, better walking and cycling facilities and more local jobs. Philip explains how by breaking down these issues one at a time and looking at the reasons why they aren’t already happening, they can begin to understand and challenge the status quo. A 2025 Vision Map and Action Plan Project timeline illustrates how this can be achieved.

For example, an energy advice service has already been in place for 3 years. Feedback shows that, on average, households taking advantage of a free energy audit reduced energy consumption by as much as 18% through improving insulation and draughtproofing and by becoming more energy aware. East Lothian Council and local Housing Associations are generally pretty good at upgrading, as are privately owned home owners, but the private renting sector is less motivated. The biggest problem in achieving larger savings occurs in Conservation Areas where any external work is likely to be visually unacceptable.

One of the biggest challenges is the search for locally produced food. Much of East Lothian is arable but large scale specialist single crop farms or those growing fodder crops see most of what is grown going out of the county. Getting farmers to switch from the precarious living they are making at present to one which provides food for the local market requires a huge leap of faith – or does it? The Action Plan suggests working with the Council to create a base market through local authority purchasing for schools and care homes. Once that market exists, in parallel with the present system, farmers will be able to consider changing.

People are interested in growing their own food and demand for allotments is high, as most gardens are not large enough to produce a significant dent in the supermarket shopping list. Courses in growing food crops are being planned, an informal garden share is underway, encouraging anyone with a large garden to let keen neighbours share the workload and a community polytunnel has been put up. Even Dunbar in Bloom is getting involved by focusing on introducing edible planting in communal areas.

But the biggest success is probably the Dunbar Community Bakery Limited, a community co-operative that is owned by its members and tries to source local raw materials. It was founded as an Industrial and Provident Society in June 2009 to enable local people to invest in the business. For a minimum investment of £100, 20 shareholders have a say in the running of the business, can put themselves forward to be on the Management Committee and receive a 10% discount on purchases. It has proved (like the pun?) so successful that more staff and volunteers are being employed to run it.

A perhaps unusual item on the wish list is Safe Neighbourhoods. While this is something we would all aspire to see, it doesn’t usually appear in Action Plans. However, ideas such as reclaiming streets to socialise them so that children can play and cycle safely are very much on the agenda. Weekly cycle workshops take place on Saturday mornings, car sharing groups enable commuters to do their bit and involving the local schools not only educates children about the health benefits of taking exercise, it allows schools to tick boxes for their Green Flag awards. Win-win.

There are plenty of carrots around for those who aren’t totally convinced and committed. As Philip says, “We’ve made a start. We have a lot of projects on the go. We know that increased consumption doesn’t necessarily lead to increased wellbeing and we know that environmental change will be forced upon us eventually. Our Action Plan is a modest stab at building in resilience to our community so that the shocks that will arise in moving to a low carbon future become a stimulus for creative change rather than a cause of breakdown and collapse.”

To find out more about Dunbar’s Sustainable Local Resilience Action Plan, check out the website www.sustainingdunbar.org for ideas from community orchards to thermally lined curtains.

Dunbar is a member of the Transition Network a worldwide organisation that supports over a thousand community-led responses to climate change through ideas and advice. Be inspired and see what there is near you!


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Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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