Convergence 2017: Zero Carbon Britain goes to Ireland

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This week CAT’s Paul Allen is in Ireland presenting zero carbon scenarios as part of the Convergence Festival. Here he reports from Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Tipperary, where he began his whistle-stop tour.

Over the coming week I will be presenting CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain work across Ireland as part of the Convergence Festival 2017 – an event celebrating Ireland’s response to the global challenges we face, through transformative, community-led approaches working to meet climate targets and to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

All across Ireland, pockets of citizens, social enterprises and communities are already using social innovation, co-production and collaborative consumption to bring about change. Such initiatives can strengthen resilience, foster their local economies, and create new jobs in food, transport, energy, education, housing and waste.

The Convergence Festival 2017 aims to bring all this together to identify and celebrate best practices and promote widespread understanding of the actions local communities can take to transform both lives and places.

My first event, ‘Housing Ourselves’ explored new models of eco-housing, smaller homes and more liveable neighbourhoods – offering healthier and more sustainable local communities. Around fifty practitioners, support organisations and aspiring projects active in cooperative housing, co-living projects, community land trusts, community development, planning, green building and social finance gathered at Cloughjordan Ecovillage to cross-fertilise their experience on delivering housing in new ways that work better for the residents and within the limits of the planet.

Cloughjordan Ecovillage

Peadar Kirby opened the event, sharing experiences from Cloughjordan’s Ecovillage project. From a potential of 130 possible sites the project has so far built 55 homes to their own ecological charter, which embraces high insulation levels, eco-materials, local sourcing, etc. People build to their own needs, using very different designs and very different materials. Initially they were all ‘owner occupier’ models, but the ecovillage is now exploring different options to widen the diversity of residents, such as shared communal housing and social rental properties.

Impressive harvest from Cloughjordan

Everyone who comes to live at the ecovillage joins the company that runs the site, and they volunteer in a range of different roles to develop it. They have created a community-supported farm adjacent to their site – most ecovillagers are members, but also many members are from the surrounding town. I was highly impressed with their harvest – they produce affordable high-quality ecological food, and you can take what you need for a 15 euro/week subscription.

The ecovillage runs on wood-powered district heating with large scale solar water heating being commissioned. Their ‘We Create Centre’ houses an educational charity, teaching resilience and ecological practice, plus a Fab-Lab offering 3D printers and other ‘maker tools’ to the surrounding community. The ecovillage also has a growing arts focus with a new amphitheatre opened recently by Ireland’s President Michael Higgins.

I was most impressed by how well the ecovillage has been embraced and supported by the local community of Cloughjordan.

Another very interesting presentation was given by Margarita Solon describing ‘McAuley Place’ in the centre of the town of Naas. As a practicing nurse Margarita recognised that older people living in their own homes can be on their own day after day, week after week, with no expectation of change. She established McAuley Place as a housing provider rather than a care home – they don’t ‘provide’ care, but they do care. It set out to explore how we can live as well as we can for as long as we can. It offers 53 apartments in a converted old convent building, with a community centre, arts space and café, so residents can easily connect with each other and with the community around them.

The conference offered a wide range of other presentations exploring how we can move beyond living in middle sized boxes, shopping in bigger boxes and watching little boxes – to finding real community whilst also reduce our carbon impacts. There were real-life examples from EVA-Lanxmeer in the Netherlands, Susi Vauban in Freiburg, LILAC in Leeds plus many more from across the USA.

My presentation focused on the origins and history of CAT, its buildings and community over the past 40 years and the various eco-housing projects and intentional communities that have grown up in and around the Dyfi Valley, inspired by CAT’s example. I was deeply moved by the number of people who came up to me, citing CAT as the place that gave them initial inspiration to work for positive change in Ireland.

My next stop is Dublin City University, where on Monday I will present our Zero Carbon Britain work to help open conversations at an event titled ‘Stories and Conversations for a Low-Carbon Ireland’.

Let’s see if we can get them talking zero carbon…

Find out what other Convergence events are happening around Ireland this week

Read more about Zero Carbon Britain project

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