Thursday, 15 March 2018

Standing up for Peterborough

Article from the Peterborough Telegraph: Lack of government funding in our city
Have you heard about the city council's 'Stand up for Peterborough' campaign?

Read this article on the Peterborough Telegraph website.


It cannot have escaped your attention. Essential services, services that are paid for in part via our council tax, are no longer up to scratch. Our streets are dirty. Housing lists are long. Treasured local services like Orton's bowling club are yet again under threat. What might not be so clear are the reasons why Peterborough City Council is currently experiencing such challenging circumstances.

Council tax just went up by 6% so why is there a problem?

There isn't one single reason for this present financial crisis. Management of the budget has a role to play, as do the decisions taken by city council. However, it is undeniably the case that Peterborough is suffering due to a dramatic cut in the amount of funding the Treasury makes available to our city council.

The problem is a programme of cuts known as 'austerity'. In 2013/14, Peterborough City Council received £55million via a Revenue Support Grant from the Treasury. This grant supports a range of council services. The grant will have reduced to £15million in 2018/19 and then right down to £10million in 2019/20, a reduction of 80% over seven years! It's not fair, not fair at all.

In response, Peterborough City Council Leader Cllr John Holdich launched a public campaign 'Stand up for Peterborough' on 30 November 2017, the aim of which is to garner local public support and to then lobby the Treasury for an increase in funding. If you haven't heard of this campaign you are not alone. I don't think many local residents in Orton have heard about it and from what I've heard support from the public has been slow to catch on.

My background is in campaigning for disabled people's rights. I understand why the city councillors feel that the 'Stand up for Peterborough' campaign should be effective. I also understand why it's failing to capture the imagination of residents. The trouble is, for a campaign like this to succeed it needs a massive amount of grassroots support, and this is something that very few local councillors in our city have managed to achieve. Essentially, if you want to attract the attention of residents over a particular issue you have to speak to them, clearly and frequently. You cannot suddenly spring a campaign on them out of the blue and expect them to support it. You have to work hard for residents all the time. When you do, then and only then, can you expect them to get on board. This is really basic stuff.

So I went to Westminster

Julie Howell with Caroline Lucas MP
I accompanied Caroline Lucas MP to the Treasury to hand in our letter

I do care about Peterborough. I care a great deal. So I decided to take matters into my own hands. On Wednesday 28th February, when the snow was falling thick and fast in London, I travelled to Westminister. Once there, I met up with Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and together we walked to The Treasury where we handed in a letter for the attention of Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequor.

This is what the letter said:

Rt Hon Philip Hammond, MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
HM Treasury
I Horse Guards Road                                                   Date: 28 February 2018
London SW1A 2HQ                                                    Ref: ML.C0069.RD.22.02.18
                                               
  
Dear Philip,

Spring Statement 2018 and local government funding

As Green Party councillors and council candidates, we are writing to you, ahead of your Spring Statement on 13 March, to urge you to heed warnings from the Local Government Association (LGA) of real and growing uncertainty about how local services will be funded beyond 2020, and to urgently provide local councils with the money they so clearly need to protect services and restore spending on community and frontline services to sustainable levels.

As the LGA noted in December:

“Local services are facing a £5.8 billion funding gap in 2019/20, as well as a £1.3 billion pressure to stabilise the adult social care provider market today. The additional council tax flexibility – estimated by our analysis to be worth up to £540 million in 2019/20 if all councils use it in both 2018/19 and 2019/20 – is nowhere near enough to meet the funding gap. The Government needs to provide new funding for all councils over the next few years so they can protect vital local services from further cutbacks.

It is extremely disappointing that the Government has again chosen not to address the continuing funding gap for children’s and adult social care. We have repeatedly warned of the serious consequences of funding pressures facing these services, for both the people that rely on them and the financial sustainability of other services councils provide. An injection of new money from central government is the only way to protect the vital services which care for older and disabled people, protect children and support families.”

Indeed, our local experience confirms that the current funding gap presents an existential challenge not only to valued community services, but to essential frontline services such as support for users of adult social care, older people, looked-after children, care leavers, those with disabilities or special educational needs, survivors of domestic violence, and low-income families in crisis. And it is having a deeply negative impact on initiatives needed to improve equality, sustainability and resilience, such as providing genuinely affordable, energy efficient homes, supporting socially necessary bus services, transforming how we collect and sort waste, and public-backed investment in renewable energy. 

This cannot go on. We believe the Government must act now to end this unprecedented and ultimately counter-productive erosion of local government. Strong communities require strong local services to support the most vulnerable and those in temporary crisis. It is vital that essential local services are both protected from further cuts and restored to sustainable levels.

Yours sincerely, 
Julie Howell, Peterborough


Standing up for Peterborough

I am not opposed to Peterborough City Council's 'Stand Up For Peterborough' campaign. However, some of us have always stood up for Peterborough and feel disappointed that the situation has been allowed to get as bad as it has before our city councillors made any effort to inform the rest of us of our city's plight.

I also doubt very much that many of our city councillors really support the campaign. When you visit the campaign website you are offered an opportunity to download a campaign 'frame' to add to your Facebook profile image. To date, I haven't found a single city councillor using it. If they have so little faith in the campaign, why should we lend our support to it?

The MP for Orton (and the rest of the NW Cambs constituency) is Shailesh Vara (rarely seen here but he is pretty responsive on email in my experience). He made a video supporting the 'Stand Up For Peterborough' campaign. When I looked at it just now it only had 28 views, and it's been on YouTube since 27 November 2017. That's not very impressive really, is it? 





My experience of Orton residents is that they are smart, switched on and perfectly able to stand up for themselves. But we can only do this effectively as a community when we know what's going on.

Find out more about Peterborough City Council's 'Stand up for Peterborough' campaign. 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Why Doesn't Peterborough City Council Pick Up Litter? (and other frequently asked questions)

Litter pick in Kilham
A recent litter pick around Kilham in Orton Goldhay

While Peterborough hides under a blanket of snow, you may have temporarily forgotten about our war against litter. Unfortunately, in just a few days from now, the ice will have melted and the snow will have thawed and any litter that was hidden beneath it will look even worse than it did before Storm Emma came.

This afternoon, one brave resident trekked a mile through a virtual blizzard to put a note through my door with a list of questions about why we do the things we do in Peterborough Green Party.

As the snow shows no sign of letting up this afternoon, I have the perfect opportunity to stay indoors and address his/her excellent questions about litter, the council and Peterborough Green Party.

"Whilst it is very admirable of you and your team to tidy up the litter I would like to suggest/ask..."

1. Why don't the council undertake the task?

This is an excellent question. The council is indeed responsible for keeping our streets free from litter. However, it is painfully clear that Peterborough City Council, like many councils around the country, isn't keeping on top of it.

It is no secret that Peterborough City Council is in financial trouble. Budget cuts imposed by central Government are having a devastating effect on the council's ability to provide essential services to an adequate standard. But this is only part of the problem. The council isn't the one doing the littering. That, I'm afraid, is the rest of us, aided and abetted by the manufacturers that have introduced a completely unsustainable amount of single-use plastic into our lives. 

An exponential increase in the amount of single-use plastics in our shops (particularly drink bottles and sweet wrappers) combined with cuts to local government budgets multiplied by a laissez faire attitude among some people to taking their litter home with them has got us all into this situation. 

Peterborough Green Party regularly organises litter picks in response to requests from residents. We don't do this because we want to do the council's work for it. Like all Peterborough residents, we pay council tax for the council to provide this service. We don't do it to show the council up either, though residents often tell us that the council's contractors rarely do a good job and only bother to pick up the litter that is obvious, rather that the stuff that is caught up in the undergrowth where it does real harm to our local environment. 

We do it because it is a simple act of kindness that we can show towards our community. It doesn't make a huge difference long-term, we know that. But it can bring a bit of happiness to an area that is being neglected and we know that residents are grateful for a bit of TLC, even though what we can do has a relatively small impact in the greater scheme of things.

We also do it because we believe in leading by example. People very rarely drop litter when they see us working hard to pick it up. Positive action has a positive effect.

But I have to let you into a secret... when we litter pick we don't just pick up litter. No. We also report fly tipping and other issues that the council is able to fix. And we talk to people. Lots of people. I've never been on a litter pick where local residents haven't come up to us and engaged us in conversation about the local community. 

Litter pick in Matley
The new Lapwing  Retirement Apartments in Orton Brimbles are a wonderful addition to the community.
But nearby Matley is always strewn with litter.


2. Why aren't people who have been given a punishment of community service forced to clear up the area? Can't people from the prison be tasked with such work?

Community service is a great idea and I believe that to some extent this does happen. I would imagine it's slightly more difficult to deploy people from the prison due to the costs of administering this (overseeing the prisoners while they work, for example).

I wrote an article about this for the Peterborough Telegraph in 2017. I suggested that those responsible for fly-tipping might be made to clear it up as this would be better use of taxpayer money than imprisoning them. You can read the article here.

Litter pick in Orton Northgate
Recent high winds caused recycling bins to blow over in Orton Northgate.
As neither the council nor the developer seemed interested in helping, residents cleared this lot up ourselves.


3. Unemployed people, claiming benefits, may be pleased of such work

Unfortunately, such work is likely to be low paid and therefore not suitable for people claiming benefits due to the rules regarding what you can and can't do when you are claiming certain benefits. However, this is a fault of the way the welfare system is structured. I must add that many of the people who come on our litter picks are unemployed, on benefits or retired. In fact, very few of our volunteers are in full-time work. 

Sack of beer cans
A bag full of cans. We pull hundreds from bushes and streams every year.


A bush is not a bin 

We can all do something to reduce the amount of litter in our environment and take the pressure off Peterborough City Council: by taking our litter home with us.

I guarantee, prod any hedgerow in Orton with a litter picker and you will very quickly hit a beer can. There seems to be a myth circulation around our local community that a bush is some kind of magic litter bin. I bring news that will come as a shock to some: it isn't. A bush can do a lot of things, including providing shelter for us from noise and pollution and habitat for a wide range of wildlife. But a can in a bush will just sit there forever until some removes it.

Milder March weather will soon replace the snow and Peterborough's shame - our blanket of litter - will be exposed once more. My team will happily come out into your communities again, but for us all to see a real difference in the amount of litter in our environment we all have to change our ways, permanently. 

Litter pick in Orton Goldhay
Litter pulled from bushes near Beckingham, Orton Goldhay

Friday, 2 February 2018

Peterborough is an Environmental City? I don't think so...



I appeared live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this morning, to express my disgust at the 15% increase to the charge for kerbside collections of garden wast (aka brown bins).

Peterborough City Council leaders have no idea how people live.

At this rate, everyone with a small garden will simply pave over it to avoid the problem of garden waste disposal, while our populations of garden birds and hedgehogs will continue to decrease dramatically, as is the case in London. 

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

People on lower incomes in rented accommodation are compelled by the terms of their tenancy agreement to keep they gardens in good order. For many, this increase to £45 per year will simply be more than they can manage on their tight household budget. This is a service the council should provide for free (rather, it should be paid for via our council tax, which, we are also informed, will rise by 6% this year) as we're not encouraged to light bonfires any more.

We will see an increase in fly tipped brown bins and fly tipped garden waste that introduces inappropriate nutrients and non-native specious to our precious woodland.

Residents with large houses and large gardens may well be able to afford the charge. Perhaps Peterborough City Council might consider introducing it for households that can reasonably afford to pay, e.g. band D properties and above. 

And residents who cannot afford to pay may be better off composting their garden waste and selling it. You can get a composting bin for less than £10 and lots of good advice from getcomposting.com

Over-priced and unreliable

It's not as if the city council's brown bin service is even reliable. 

I recently helped Orton resident Nell to get the council to empty her brown bin after they repeatedly failed to deliver the service she had paid for. Why should residents who have shelled out for this service then have to deal with the hassle of chasing the council to deliver the service they have paid for?


I helped Nell to get her brown bin emptied after the council let her down

It's a Garden Tax


It's time to call the brown bin collection charge what it is: a tax on having a garden.

I daresay Peterborough City Council will push ahead with this increase regardless of how residents' feel about it, but its aspiration to be an 'environmental city' really is nonsense. 


Saturday, 13 January 2018

New Year, Same Old Rubbish - and it's not fair


Happy New Year!



Posted by Julie Howell on Saturday, 6 January 2018


We hit the ground running in 2018 with our first litter pick of the year on Saturday 6th January.

This time, we visited Kilham in Orton Goldhay, after a local resident called me to ask if anything could be done to improve the state of the litter along local public footpaths. The city council had recently cut the hedgerows right back revealing several year's worth of rubbish that was trapped there and had been hidden from view. It looked absolutely dreadful.

I'm not pointing the finger at people who live in this area. Wherever you have hedgerows that run alongside public footpaths you'll have rubbish and most of that rubbish is beer cans and fast food wrappers tossed into the bushes by passersby.

Four volunteers and seventeen sacks of litter
We pulled 17 bags of litter from the hedgerows


A litter crisis

We knew we had a big job on our hands this time. Over the course of two hours, my team of hardy volunteers pulled 17 bags-worth of rubbish from the hedges.

The footpaths are a thoroughfare from the Orton Centre to other parts of Orton and litter bins are in scarce supply, owing to the cost of emptying them (according to the council). But local residents pay council tax and quite rightly expect the council to regularly clear the area of litter. However, this just isn't happening frequently enough or thoroughly enough. Five of us cleared the area in two hours. If it was cleared every few weeks by the council it wouldn't get nearly as bad as it was when we visited.

I know a lot of people who live in this area. They're lovely. They don't deserve to live among this mess. It's really, really unfair.

We have a litter crisis in this country, not just in Peterborough. The Government needs to take steps to ensure that there is less plastic and aluminium in circulation as a great deal of it ends up in the local environment where it suffocates the earth, damages the habitat that local wildlife relies upon and looks awful.

We reported quite a lot of fly tip which the council has since taken away.


Take your litter home with you

The message for everyone is a simple one. Please, take your litter home with you and dispose of it with the rest of your household waste. Yes, we do all pay council tax for the council to clear away the mess from our environment and clearly not enough is being done to keep on top of it at the moment. But we can all help by not adding to the problem.


Roger holding a teddy he found in a bush
We find a lot of children's toys in the bushes, like this pre-loved teddy.


Beer and children should not mix

We find all sorts of things during our litter picks. It's not unusual to find children's toys buried in the dirt. It's great that children are playing outside in the fresh air and Orton has a lot of lovely green space for children to enjoy.

We also find things that no child should stumble across, including sanitary products, nappies and even a pregnancy testing kit (that had been used which meant that someone must have urinated on it - you don't want a child to pick that up). But the worst of it is undoubtedly the discarded beer cans. Do you really want children playing among these?

A sack of beer cans and a child's toy car
Beer cans and children's toys. These shouldn't be found together.

Report it

My team doesn't seek to do the council's job for it. Like every resident, I want the council to do the job we all pay it to do. But we are happy to come out and lend a hand, without judgement about how the litter got there or whose responsibility it is. I believe everyone has a right to live in a clean, tidy environment where they feel safe and healthy and where local nature can thrive. If you think my team of volunteers can make a difference in your street, let me know. In the meantime, you can always report any fly tip in your street to the council on 01733 747474.


Monday, 4 December 2017

Best Before: Time to re-educate ourselves about food

Tinned food


A good move at the right time. 

This was my immediate thought when I learned that East of England Co-Op is to relax its policy on the highly misleading 'Best Before' (BB) advice that applies to its tinned and dried foods. BB dates are 'quality' dates and are set by food manufacturers. In a bid to address the chronic problem of food waste in England, the chain of convenience stores is starting to sell food that is beyond its BB date at knock down prices. This is good news on a number of fronts.

20,000 tonnes of thrown-away food PER DAY

I recently wrote a blog about food waste in the home, but it's long been the case that another major contributor to Britain's food waste problem is retailers. For far too long, shops have thrown away food that is past its BB date, even though the BB date doesn't necessarily mean the food is inedible. Now, when the BB date on certain items of food has expired, East of England Co-op will reduce the price of the food to 10p in many cases. This has many benefits to the local community:

  • Less food waste on the part of the retailer
  • More affordable food for local people
  • Consumers' buying habits will change as people get used to the idea that an expired 'BB' date does not mean the food is bad 
  • One hopes there will also be a positive impact on local producers of food, if this move by Co-op signals a more sensible attitude towards the kind of food it finds acceptable to put on its shelves.

What about Peterborough?

This is where it gets confusing. Although Peterborough is in the East of England, there are no 'East of England Co-Op' stores here. Currently, only Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex benefit from the scheme. It is not clear at the moment whether other Co-op supermarkets will take part in the scheme. 

Our local Co-op is in Ortongate (aka The Orton Centre) in the heart of Orton. It is perceived by many residents to be pricey, and now that an Iceland Warehouse has opened nearby one wonders what the impact on our local Co-op will be, given that it is an important employer of local people as well as as one of the largest food outlets in this part of Peterborough. 

I really hope that Co-op will extend the scheme to cover Peterborough. It would surely be a winner for its business and for local residents. 

It's up to us

East of England Coop's scheme could create a revolution in the way we regard our food and drastically reduce food waste. It could also save residents a great deal of money on weekly food shopping. But this initiative can only succeed if we are all willing to embrace it. It takes a while to change habits, and it has long been drummed into us that food that is beyond its BB date is inedible and potentially dangerous which, for the most part, is simply untrue.

Manufacturers also have a role to play. BB labelling is past its sell by date. It confuses consumers. It's time for BB dates to be removed from packaging altogether (except in cases where safety is a genuine issue).

At a time when food prices generally have increased, and as we worry how Brexit will affect the price of food, this East of England Co-op scheme really is good news. The way we consume food from supermarkets isn't sustainable and has to change. It will be very interesting to see the impact this bold move by the East of England Co-op will have on its business. Here's hoping that it is a success and that other food retailers and manufacturers will soon follow suit.

Read more about this on the BBC News website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42217026 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

City Council Consultation on 'No Waiting' Zone in Orton Northgate

Update 11th December 2017

Great news. The City Council has heeded residents' requests:

"The general consensus received support to the double yellow lines on both sides of East of England Way, but requested that they stopped before the entrance to the residential area. We will therefore amend the plan to reflect this and recommend that this reduced scope is approved by our Head of Service. It is our intention to stop the practice of  lorries parking in Joseph Odam Way which we would be keen to prevent, but unfortunately we cannot extend the double yellow lines onto Joseph Odam Way within the current Legal Order. I will therefore include the proposal for additional restrictions at this location on our next Traffic Order which is due in the new year."

Original article

Although this Peterborough City Council consultation has only been sent to some residents of East of England Way, I feel that everyone who lives on the Orton Northgate estate should have their say.

Peterborough City Council is proposing to introduce new parking restrictions along part of East of England way. This is welcome, as it will prevent the kind of anti-social parking that residents of that street have been forced to tolerate for way too long now. In particular, large vehicles that have arrived 24 hours early to visit the Showground have been parking up on East of England Way, making it more difficult for residents, bin lorries and emergency vehicles to access this part of the Northgate estate.

The council has supplied a map as shown below.

Map of East of England Way
The red shading indicates the area of 'No Waiting At Any Time' proposed by the city council


While the introduction of the proposed 'No Waiting At Any Time' zone is welcomed, many residents feel that it extends too far into the residential part of East of England way.

If you are a resident of Orton Northgate, you may wish to support East of England Way residents by responding to the consultation to indicate that you strongly disagree with the proposal because you feel the suggested area is not correct. Contrary to the city council's suggestion, residents feel that the zone should end just past the turning into the Holiday Inn and not extend into the residential area. It would also be helpful if the zone extended down Joseph Odam Way down to the junction with Oundle Road.

I urge everyone who lives in Orton Northgate to respond to this consultation.

Send your comments to Judi Anderson, Technician - Traffic Management at Peterborough Highway Services at judi.anderson@peterborough.gov.uk


If you're pushed for time, you may wish to take advantage of this letter template that I have produced. Do personalise it and include any additional comments that you wish to make.


[Your address]


Judi Anderson
Technician – Traffic Management
Growth & Regeneration Directorate
Peterborough Highway Services Network Team
Dodson House, Fengate
Peterborough PE1 5XG

[Date]

Dear Judi,

Re: The Council of the City of Peterborough (Civil Enforcement Area) (Waiting Restrictions and Street Parking Places) Amendment No.40 Order 2017 East of England Way, Orton Northgate

With reference to this proposal please take into account the following comments.

While the proposal to create an area of ‘No Waiting At Any Time’ on East of England Way is welcomed, I strongly disagree with the proposal as presented in your letter of 12 October 2017.

I request that the area is amended as follows:

  • That the area does not extend into the residential part of East of England Way. Rather that it terminates immediately after the right turn into the Holiday Inn Express.
  • That the area is extended to include Joseph Odam Way, which is the road that links East of England Way to Oundle Road. Joseph Odam Way is the sole access road to the Orton Northgate Estate. 
Recently, articulated lorries and transport carriers have been observed parking overnight on Joseph Odam Way, presenting a potential hazard to both residential traffic and emergency vehicles. The extension of the No Wait zone to include Joseph Odam Way would vastly improve the safety of Joseph Odam Way for all residents.

Yours sincerely,


[Your name]

Monday, 18 September 2017

Waste Less Live More

This is Keep Britain Tidy's 'Waste Less Live More' week.

Over the course of the next seven days we are encouraged to try out different things so that we create less food waste.

I'm very interested in this challenge as I reckon I'm pretty fastidious when it comes to reducing food waste at home. However, I know there are areas that need improvement as my grey food waste caddy is never empty.

Throughout this week, I'll share Keep Britain Tidy's advice with you. I'll let you know how I'm getting on with the challenge and I'll share what the experience has taught me.

Monday: Buy some wonky veg

Sweet potato
This sweet potato is the wonkiest vegetable
I could find in Peterborough Waitrose.
It's just begging to have a face drawn on it.


Monday's challenge is to buy mis-shapen food!

This doesn't sound like much of a challenge, but apparently supermarkets and greengrocers throw away a lot of fruit and veg each day because we consumers won't buy anything that's not the 'standard' shape. Isn't that crazy? All potatoes are equal when they're mashed!

I'm obviously a bit odd, because I prefer mis-shapen food. In fact, I find it hilarious. A weird-looking carrot in the supermarket crate makes me want to buy that one! Different is special in my book.

So I went to the supermarket and took up the challenge.

I use different supermarkets depending on where I am and what I'm doing that day. On this occasion I went to the Waitrose by Peterborough rail station.

What I found there genuinely shocked me:

Waitrose in Peterborough does not sell mis-shapen vegetables!

Everywhere I looked I saw perfectly straight (or perfectly rounded) fruit and veg.

And it gets worse. The majority of fruit and veg on sale was in plastic wrapping.

And it gets worse still. A lot of the fruit and veg has clocked up considerable travel miles to get here.

So this isn't just about the food that supermarkets discard based on shape, it has also brought home to me how the choices we make have a direct effect on our planet through the carbon footprint created by our food.

The only vaguely mis-shapen veg I found was the sweet potato shown above. Everything else was depressingly 'standard'. Oh dear, what have we become and what will become of us if we don't change our silly ways?

So even after one day, Keep Britain Tidy's Campaign has had an effect on me: I'm now obsessed with only buying wonky veg.

Three straight carrots
No wonky carrots in Waitrose.


Tuesday: Perfect your portions

Today we're being encouraged to think as we cook and only make as much food as we need.

I've become pretty good at cooking the right amount of food and not wasting any. The problem tends to happen when my cooking 'goes wrong' and I have to throw out the inedible burned mess I just made and start over (I'm getting better with practice).

I'm fortunate to live with both a man and a dog who have very high tolerance when it comes to meals that didn't quite turn out the way I intended. If I can't or won't eat what's on my plate then there is a high chance that one of my housemates will. This means that what goes in my food waste caddy does tend to be genuinely inedible, yet there is still too much going in there.

Dog
Looks cute, will hoover up virtually anything put in his path - if I let him, which I don't.
Scraps from the table is a naughty habit and not good for him other than very occasionally.

I have a condition that makes swallowing a problem at times and this has meant I've had to adjust my own portions recently. I can't eat a lot of bread or meat, for example, and I have to chew my food a lot to make sure it goes down. A positive consequence of this has been that it has forced me to think about portions more carefully and I've developed a good habit of not cooking more food than I can realistically cope with at one sitting.

Attempts to regulate my diet also mean I'm in the habit of weighing some of my foods to keep the calorie intake down. This also helps me to avoid food waste.

Weighing out 75g of pasta
Weighing your food can be a helpful way of getting portion sizes right.
75g is the right amount of pasta for one person.

Another good habit I recently picked up from my partner is keeping leftovers for another time. This may sound like an obvious thing to do. However, I was brought up in a household where leftovers were always put in the bin, never re-used. As an adult in charge of what I do eat and don't eat it has taken some effort for me to change my attitude towards uneaten food but I'm quite proud to say I've done it. We have a range of air-tight plastic tubs in our kitchen of various sizes. Now, when we're full, the leftover food goes into one of these and into the fridge to be eaten the following day.

Bought more fresh meat than your meal requires?
You can freeze it for several months.

If I realise that I've bought too much of a particular meat, I pop it into a plastic bag and freeze it. Most meats are good for several months if frozen (defrost fully in the fridge before use and eat that day). This is another thing my family never used to do and means I save quite a lot of money as well as reducing food waste.

How you're brought up really influences your attitude to food waste. I'd never fully appreciated this before thinking about it just now.

Wednesday: Have a use-it-up night

Today's challenge has me feeling all pleased with myself as it's something I've been doing for a while now. As you can read in this blog post, for a few years I lived in poverty with very little money for food. During this time, no food at all was ever wasted and I will probably now carry this habit with me forever.

Potato in a fridge
We can all find ourselves struggling for money to buy food.
Knowing how to make the most of what we've got is a key life skill.

I cook the meals in our household and meal plans start by looking in the fridge to see what needs to be eaten before it spoils and making a meal based around that ingredient but without purchasing any other ingredients if I can avoid it.

My partner makes the occasional Sunday roast and when he does we always eat the leftover roast potatoes with whatever meal we're having the following day.

Mind you, this advice from Keep Britain Tidy has got me thinking about whether I can use leftover food more creatively: vegetables and meat can be added into pretty much any dish - the easiest is adding them to pasta, flung onto pastry for a tart or chucked into a curry. Pasta and rice can be put into oven bakes, salads and wraps. Potatoes can be fried up as a side dish or turned into hash browns or latkes.

Hmm. Food for thought.

Thursday: Make a list

Making a shopping list is rarely a problem. Sticking to one is another matter.

We know the supermarkets invest heavily in research to discover how product placement within their stores influences our shopping choices. We may think we're creatures of habit but we're also creatures of impulse and we like variety. So it takes a strong will to resist something new, especially when it's on special offer. However, it's these unplanned, impulsive purchases that also put us at risk of wasting food, simply because they encourage us to buy more than we need.

Since I started planning meals I have become better at only buying the food I need. I look at the use by date on any impulse purchases and also check to see whether the food may be frozen. The freezer really is your best friend here (no wonder the residents of Orton are so excited about the new Iceland that opened in the Orton Centre this week!). If you buy something to see what it's like, but it's additional to what you'd planned to buy, knowing you can freeze it for consumption as part of a planned meal helps you to avoid wasting it or any other food.

Shopping list
I can resist anything but temptation, but if I stick to my shopping list I know I'll waste less food.

When you make a list - and stick to it - you also save money. When I shop, I use the 'shop and scan' facility so I have a running total of what's in my shopping trolley. The most expensive things I buy tend to be joints of meat and I aim to buy these only when they are on offer and always freeze them.

Sometimes, making a list means buying off-season food that is more expensive and has travelled further (not good!). Buying food in season and freezing it does save money, but also requires careful management to ensure that food doesn't ultimately go to waste because you've bought it, put it away and then forgotten about it. I regularly look through my freezer to see what's in there and aim to use all food before it becomes inedible.

As Keep Britain Tidy points out, if you're following its advice about using up leftovers then you may not need to buy food for fresh meals every day.

There are some meal 'staples' that last a long time and are safe to stock up on, such as pasta, tinned chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, herbs - but that's still no excuse for buying way more than you need. If there's one foodstuff that I regularly find myself throwing out it's dried herbs and spices that have gone out of date. I wish it was possible to buy these in smaller sizes.

Lists are a great idea, but take practice. Fall into the habit of really knowing what's in your fridge and freezer and you'll get into the swing of it. And never, ever go shopping when you're hungry - that's a guarantee that you'll buy way more than you need!

Friday: Organise your fridge in nine easy steps

I lived alone for ten years.

When you live by yourself you know what's in your fridge as the only person putting things into it and taking things out of it is you.

In 2015, I began living with someone else again and this meant some things would change. Suddenly, my fridge wasn't all about me. It became a shared space, and without looking I couldn't be sure what was inside it nor what had been 'taken'.

Today's challenge is to organise your fridge 'in nine easy steps'. This sounds like a lot of stages to me, particularly as I had no problem managing my fridge when I lived alone!

Red onions
So where do you keep your onions: fridge or cupboard?


Step 1: Put new food at the back so the food that will soon go out of date is near the front in plain sight.

This is something I do instinctively, being as I am probably a bit too obsessed with food being fresh and 'safe'. I have multiple sclerosis, which is quite enough on its own, and I have a fear of becoming ill with anything else as it can take my body a long time to recover. This fear isn't totally unfounded.

In 1991, when I was a student in Brighton, I experienced a bout of food poisoning so severe that a doctor had to be called out to see me. The cause: a warm fridge. I was at my then boyfriend's house and we'd cooked spagbol. When I took the mince from the fridge I looked at it and felt unsure, but my boyfriend, who was three years older than me (which was a lot in those days) assured me that it was fine, and like the naive young woman that I was, I believed him. Much unpleasantness was to follow. When the doctor arrived he went straight to the fridge and declared 'This fridge is not cold!'

Ever since then, I've been paranoid about food being off and am meticulous about checking and re-checking that fresh food is okay before I start to prepare it.

Step 2: Keep items that go off quickly at eye level

This is also good advice. Given my paranoia about food being off it's vital that I keep fresh food where I can see it so that I remember to eat it while I still trust it not to kill me.

Step 3: Keep condiments in the bottom drawer as you don't need to keep seeing them.

OMG. I've had an epiphany. This is so obvious but the thought had never struck me. Once I've finished writing today's post I'm going to go to the fridge and do exactly this. It makes perfect sense. It's safe to put the safe stuff out of sight. So obvious, I can't believe I never thought of it.

Step 4: Keep meats well wrapped on the bottom shelf

For the most part I freeze meats on the day of purchase and only thaw them 24 hours before use. This means I plan my meals and waste less food. But sometimes even the best laid plans go awry.

Occasionally, I'll buy fresh meat and think I'll eat it within a couple of days but don't, perhaps because an evening meeting has meant I've eaten out or had a takeaway to save time. These are the occasions when I'm most at risk of forgetting about the food I'd planned to eat. Ensuring that food is visible whenever I go to the fridge is vital.

Step 5: Dairy products last longer if kept on the top shelf

This is a revelation to me! As soon as I read this tip I dashed downstairs to the kitchen and moved all the milk products up to the top shelf.

I'm loving this list. I feel that I'm really achieving something!

Fridge
After I'd moved the jars to the bottom and the dairy to the top,
but before I'd separated the fruit from the veg or taken the onions out.


Step 6: Separate fruit and veg

Ooh now, am I the only person in the world that didn't know this? And where do the tomatoes go, with the fruit or with the veg? According to Keep Britain Tidy, some fruits give off ethylene which makes veg go off more quickly. Really? Ethylene? I've never heard of it! Back down to the fridge to fix that as well, then.

Step 7: Cheese lasts longer when wrapped in cheese paper

Now this is well-timed advice. Mr Julie has a preference for cheese slices and I've earned myself a telling off more than once for failing to wrap the cheese slices back up and allowing them to go hard. Cheese paper (whatever that is) shall be added to the shopping list.

Step 8: Onions don't like being in the fridge

WHAT?!!! Oh no. Now I'm beginning to feel foolish. Apparently you shouldn't put tomatoes or garlic in the fridge either (or bananas or citrus fruits, but I knew about them). Okay, well that will free up more space in the fridge.

Step 9: Bread goes stale in the fridge

What a relief. Step 9 is not news to me. I was starting to feel a bit stupid. We keep our bread on the bread board (and let it go stale there instead). The best advice is to freeze bread before it goes stale. We do keep a sliced loaf in the freezer, but we're suckers for fresh bread and inevitably we end up throwing half of it away. Clearly, we need to put half the fresh loaf into the freezer as soon as we get it home. If Mr Julie is up for it I'll do this from now on.


Saturday: Freeze it

Just when I thought there was nothing more to learn...

Not only are bananas freezable (I had no idea) but to my embarrassment I discover that I've been freezing fresh herbs the wrong way.

I knew that freezing fresh herbs was the right thing to do. No person exists who has ever used up a whole bag or bunch of fresh herbs in one meal. But, like a fool, I've been putting the herbs into a small plastic bag and putting them into the freezer. This is not a good idea, as I discovered when I tried to use the frozen herbs months later and they crumbled to dust between my fingertips.

It turns out that the correct way to freeze fresh herbs is in olive oil. Cut the herbs up and put them into an ice cube tray. Then fill the ice cube tray with olive oil. You can later add the cubes to whatever meal you're cooking. It's so obvious now it's been pointed out.

I would also suggest freezing mint leaves in water. When the mood takes you, you can add the cubes to a mojito. That's one of your five-a-day taken care of too! Possibly...

Mojito
Sadly, the lime and mint in this mojito do not count towards your five fruit a day.


Sunday: Delicious odds & ends

I would be sceptical of the advice on the final day of the challenge were it not for the fact that I've recently become a fan of the Discovery show 'Ed Stafford: left for dead'.

In it, Ed is left in some far flung wilderness location and given the challenge of reaching a particular place on his own in a certain number of days. He has no food and no water and has to use his wits and his survival skills to keep himself alive.

Ed Stafford
Turns out Ed Stafford and I have loads in common.

This isn't quite the same as me standing in my kitchen wondering whether or not to eat a carrot top (I know what Ed would do), but like our hero I'm finding out that there's plenty of nutritional value and flavour in the parts of our food that we usually throw away. Chicken feet, ox cheek, the stems of most herbs, all perfectly edible.

I thought carrot tops were just for rabbits. Turns out not. People can eat them too.

Rabbit eating carrot tops
This rabbit's got the right idea.



Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Improving Debdale Pond


Julie Howell holding loppers
Not sure I intended to be so 'hands on' but I really enjoyed it!


An exciting update for you.

Just over a year ago I wrote a blog entitled 'Watch These Spaces'. In the blog, I talked about the pond at Debdale in Orton Waterville and the parish council's plans to return it to a better state for the benefit of local wildlife.

This is how the pond looked then, in August 2016...

Debdale pond a year ago was in a mess


Fast forward to August 2017 and work has begun.

On the Sunday of the August bank holiday, I joined members of Peterborough Conservation Volunteers as they raked out the pond and cleared the scrub, using pieces of wood that might otherwise be discarded to reinforce the boundaries around this important site.

It was a very hot day and it was very hot work. Those of us working raking out the pond were given very long rakes and the conditions we very stinky and very muddy. I joked about falling over... and then slipped over, but no one avoided a good coating in mud.

Julie Howell raking Debdale pond
Whatever your ability you can have a go!
I did my best and like to think I made a modest difference.


Roger Proudfoot raking Debdale pond
Roger Proudfoot, Orton Waterville Parish Councillor and
joint coordinator (with me!) of Peterborough Green Party
Julie's dirty hand
Inevitably I slipped over. Sadly no one filmed it - I might have raised £250 from You've Been Framed.


Posted by Julie Howell on Sunday, 27 August 2017



Making progress

The pond is a former agricultural pond. Most of Waterville parish was farmland a century ago. Peterborough Conservation volunteers told me that when working on the pond in the past they had retrieved a number of old cattle bones from it. We retrieved an animal bone on this occasion too, although it is more likely that this one was thrown into the pond by someone who had just eaten takeaway food.

At the start of the day the pond looked like this. The pond has good tree cover which means many dead branches had either fallen or been thrown into it. There was also a fair amount of rubbish in the pond, hurled in by passing humans.

A group of volunteers raking Debdale pond
Hard at work to clear the pond of branches and debris.


At the end of the day the pond looked like this! All of the harmful and potentially harmful debris has been removed and the pond is now a safer and more suitable environment for local wildlife, including great crested newts.

Debdale pond after being raked
Wow. What a difference.


Pile of wood used to create a dead hedge
Fallen branches are used to make 'dead hedges' to improve protection of the site.


Peterborough Conservation Volunteers


Peterborough Conservation Volunteers break for tea
They even make the tea!


PCV is a local nature conservation group who help manage wildlife sites in and around Peterborough. They meet every Sunday to carry our many varied activities. They practice traditional skills and over a period of time you will find yourself helping them with coppicing, hedge laying, fencing and dry stone walling. Over the years they have formed close working links with the local Wildlife Trust, Natural England, The Woodland Trust and the local council. Much of their work is closely linked with the protection of locally or nationally rare species.

To find out more, visit Peterborough Conservation Volunteers.


Get involved

The next pond clearance will be on Sunday 22nd October 2017 from 10am. This time, Cherry Orton Pond at the top of Cherry Orton Road will be getting attention. Residents are very welcome to come along. You can watch or you can get directly involved - just be sure to wear appropriate clothing for getting wet and dirty.

Don't worry that you don't have much ability when it comes to this kind of work. I have multiple sclerosis and another condition known as sjogrens syndrome (tennis player Venus Williams also has this one) that mean I have pain in my shoulders and very little upper body strength - although I have very strong legs as I walk everywhere! I generally feel a bit left out from physical activity, but the PCV volunteers made everyone feel very welcome and stressed that we could all so as much or as little as we wanted to do.

Although I really enjoyed raking the pond it made me tired very quickly, so I switched to clearing the forest path for a while. I am very proud to say that I cleared the little stretch of path that you see in this picture.

Section of path cleared by Julie Howell
I cleared this section of path ALL ON MY OWN. Very proud. 

So don't be put off by lack of ability. Most of the volunteers are aged 50+ and it's your willingness to improve your local area that counts. If you can't join in as fully as you'd like to, that is no problem as the team is clearly very pleased that local people show an interest in conserving their local nature reserves.

FACT: The 'proper' name for Cherry Orton Pond is 'Top Town Pond'. Cherry Orton Road only got its name in 1950. Before this, the road leading up through Orton Waterville village was known as Town Street, although it seems local people tended to refer to it is 'the village road'. I'm told that some residents of Orton Goldhay know the pond as 'Black Pond' but no one seems to know how this name came into use. If you have any ideas, please let me know!

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: I’m in Debdale pond in Orton Waterville this morning with some volunteers and people from the Wildlife Trusts to clear out this pond because there’s a lovely pond here that could be made into a feature for residents to enjoy to an extent but most importantly it’s a nature pond and we have great crested newts here. So I’m doing really sweaty work clearing out the pond. I’ve got my welly boots on even though it’s August. I’ll show you what we’re doing here. So I’ve got this great long rake to rake the muck out and we’re just removing branches, you see the branches, well some have fallen from the trees but a lot have been chucked in by human beings. We’re also clearing the paths around here so that people can easily get through to here so they can enjoy what nature provides. But we’re not turning it into a municipal type of pond. If you look up you’ll see there’s not an awful lot of daylight comes through because of the tree cover. There’s quite a lot of us here today. It’s lovely. It’s really hot actually. Sunday morning. Something I can’t get across to you. I’m using this rake in order to pull out all of the debris that’s in the pond. But it stinks. My goodness, does it stink. So it’s not the most pleasant. But it’s really, really worthwhile so I’m very pleased to do this. And it’s great to be out on a Sunday morning. It’s fantastic.