Workshop 1: Introductions
Reading time: 6 mins
Oldham Energy Futures launched its community workshop programme this June in the neighbourhoods of Westwood and Sholver
Oldham Energy Futures hosted the first of eight workshops in the neighbourhoods of Sholver and Westwood with the aim to create local action plans on how communities can lower local carbon emissions and improve their place and quality of life.
This first workshop was all about getting to know people and places, exploring the history of how energy was used and produced in Oldham, and sharing initial hopes and ideas for the future.
At around 9:30 am people started arriving and settled in over a cup of tea and a chat. In Sholver the workshops are taking place in Sholver and Moorside Community Centre, now run by the community themselves. The building is perched on a high spot of what is by participants’ accounts possibly the highest housing estate in England. The view from here over the moors is stunning. From the spacious and light community hall a backdoor leads into a garden featuring an eclectic mix of astroturf and vegetable plots. It backs right onto the Millenium Green, a large piece of land under community stewardship. On other days during the week, the community hall hosts an array of activities like arts, gentle exercise, coffee mornings and street dance.
In Westwood, we are hosted at the Millennium Centre. The building is right on Featherstall Rd at the heart of the community, just opposite the Central Mosque (Oldham Central Masjid and Islamic Centre) and in walking distance from Westwood tram stop. The big sports hall where we gather provides everything from Zumba (in Covid free times) to the local vaccination programme. The Coldhurst Women’s association operates from here, as well as young people’s and kids activities, sports, social enterprise kitchens, you name it.
We started the day in a round with some introductions, sharing names, why we are here and something we love to do in life. People like to cycle or take photographs, some are long-distance runners, others love to paint or do crafts. We talked about food – some people like to cook, others prefer the eating part only! Gaming, sleeping and of course chatting were also high on the list. It was a good icebreaker for us, made us laugh a bit and calmed the nerves. All beginnings are exciting, but also scary.
After the introductions we broke out into smaller, facilitated groups and started to map out the places that everyone values in the neighbourhood, marking them with small flags. We also marked individuals and groups that make things happen in the community. The conversations were lively, engaged and even competitive at times, with some groups running out of flags in the process.
In Westwood, we learned about the importance of the different mosques as meeting points and the neighbourhood’s close cultural connection to Bangladesh symbolised by the sculpture of Bangladesh’s national flower, the water lily, in the main roundabout. People spoke about alleyway and litter picking projects, exercise groups for women, highly popular football pitches and the importance of local businesses. Westwood has a high concentration of independent hospitality and food businesses.
“There was more walking during the pandemic.”
In Sholver, the importance was on public transport connections enabling the connection to Oldham, St Thomas Church and the local cricket ground as two other main community meeting points next to Sholver Community Centre and much value in green and leisure spaces. There were also undertones of nostalgia for a time of buzzing local shops and meeting points for young people.
“The thing about Sholver is that it’s run by the community”
Both groups raised the issue of most community work being led by a handful of individuals and the need for more volunteer time.
Following a short refreshment break with more tea and biscuits, Aneaka and Britt from Carbon Coop gave an interactive presentation of how energy had been used and produced in Oldham throughout the place’s history. We started by asking ourselves what energy actually is and where it ultimately comes from. Mainly from the sun is the answer, of course (as well as from the earth’s core). Then we spoke about how we convert that energy into light, heat and motion and how some energy sources like wind or water are (as good as) infinite, meanwhile fossil fuels, so fossilised plant and animal matter stored in the earth in form of coal, gas or oil is not only finite but burning it also creates the phenomenon of climate change, slowly making our planet uninhabitable. If not mitigated, that is, which of course is why we are together in these workshops, looking for local solutions.
“Oldham was the Dubai of the 19th Century.”
It was really from the industrial revolution onwards and for about 150 years that people (in the global North) went completely overboard with extracting those fossil fuels and burning them first to fire our mills – and soon for pretty much everything, from blow-drying hair to powering trains. Oldham was right in the epicentre of that development and so it was very intriguing to go through the well-known local history with an energy focus. We spoke about the coal mines just under Oldham, which still leave many shafts and tunnels today and about the way people heated their homes first with fire and then coal, and then gas and how the very way houses were built (and used) changed in line with how they were heated.
“I took photos of the demolition of Chadderton power station.”
We learned about the development and ownership of electricity infrastructure and public transport from a council-owned affair to national ownership and finally privatisation and about national advertising campaigns to ‘use more electricity’, with many new appliances produced in Oldham itself.
Fun Fact: The village of Sholver first got electricity in 1954!
And finally, we discussed the impacts of this development on the climate and how we are now trying to decarbonise our energy systems, meaning to move away from burning fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like wind, water and solar and to dial down our energy demand. People shared some of the changes in weather they have experienced in Oldham (the ski lift in Sholver closed many years ago now) and we spoke about the devastating effects of climate change on communities in Bangladesh for example.
“There was deep snow every year but we hardly get snow now.”
We really love this video made by the Oldham Youth Council on the subject of moving away from fossil fuels. Have a watch and a listen.
“If you make it work for people then they’ll do it”
After a hearty lunch from local caterers, people went into break-out groups and started conversations about what they would like to get from the workshops. The discussions were lively again, as soon as the collective ideas mills started powering up, there was no stopping people’s creativity and in some groups, post-its were literally piling up on the flip chart papers. Here are some of the initial needs and ideas that came out of the conversations.
Over the next 7 workshops, we will have an in-depth look at themes like energy efficiency in the home, transport and renewable energy and do a bit of a health check on where each place is at and what local needs and opportunities are. We will continue to collect recommendations and ideas. Some of those community ideas Oldham Energy Futures will be able to support as pilot projects with some seed funding and expert support. Watch this space to see what the groups come up with!
To finish the day, participants and the project team regrouped and reflected on information and discussions that stood out from the day and what direction they would like the workshops to go in, plus some general feedback about the workshops and if there is anything that could be improved about them.
Look out for more content on our social media pages. We’ll be posting interviews with participants, educational materials, how-to-guides and other information in the coming weeks.
Decarbonisation – Decarbonisation refers to the process of reducing the carbon emitted in the economy, achieving a lower output of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
Renewable energy – Energy from sources that are naturally replenishing but flow-limited; renewable resources are virtually inexhaustible in duration but limited in the amount of energy that is available per unit of time. Examples include : Solar, Wind, Hydroelectric, Geothermal and Tidal