Green livingGreen living

Ann Williams explains how Wanstead & Woodford Friends of the Earth was established and looks back at some of their achievements to date.

One of the reasons why Wanstead residents are so fond of their home is the small-scale, village atmosphere. This does not, however, mean that Wanstonians are mean-minded nimbys. On the contrary, our love for our own locality makes us more appreciative of other people's concerns for their own space, and for the greater space which we all inhabit, planet Earth herself.

It was this which, back in 2007, led some of us to approach Friends of the Earth for help in setting up a local group, which would canvass both on local issues which concerned our immediate neighbourhood and on the pressing difficulties of world-wide ecology.

Friends of the Earth supplied us with advice, equipment (leaflets, banners and stationery) and a set-up grant, and our first meeting was held in November 2007. At that time Friends of the Earth was mounting a national campaign to persuade Parliament to pass a bill on climate change.

The Climate Change Bill was introduced into Parliament on 14 November 2007 and became law on 26 November 2008, a fitting reward for all the hard work and lobbying that Friends of the Earth had put into moving it up the political agenda. Wanstead and Woodford Friends of the Earth was able to take part in its final stages. At the same time we decided to send representatives from the group to Redbridge Council's Environmental Partnership (now the Sustainability Forum), in order to make our voice heard at the local level as well.

Since 2007 we have continued to pursue a dual focus, campaigning on both national and local issues. Throughout 2009 we took part in Friends of the Earth's Fix the Food Chain campaign, which focussed on the link between the import of cheap soya to feed animals in Europe's factory farms and the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. Hundreds of postcards on the topic were collected from members of the public from the High Streets of Wanstead and South Woodford and at stalls held at local festivals. Such was the success of this campaign that government officers were deluged with postcards (sent via Friends of the Earth) calling for a change in the food supply for farmed animals. A direct result of this was the introduction in 2010 of a Private Member's Bill on Sustainable Farming, via Robert Flello MP. Although this was talked out, the campaign gained massive support among MPs (including our own John Cryer) and will continue in the future.

Our present campaign focus is the pressing one of energy use and conservation, a matter of great concern in a time when cheap oil is running out. The Big Energy Conversation is seeking the views of members of the public on how to meet the energy crisis, covering such issues as the use of alternative technologies, the need to conserve energy and to insulate homes and businesses and the threat of more nuclear power stations. We have a presence at the monthly Farmers' Market in Wanstead High Street, where our stall distributes information on these and other matters and runs a questionnaire seeking the views of shoppers and stallholders.

Another key issue is the Localism Bill currently passing through parliament, which has serious implications for local government commitments to sustainable development; one small victory here was that Redbridge Council's Sustainability Forum signed up to Friends of the Earth's campaign to include a binding definition of sustainable development in the bill, and to strengthen its emphasis on social and environmental issues as opposed to purely commercial interests.

As for more local matters, we have campaigned against the use of animals in circuses in Redbridge and have participated in the Fight the Flights campaign in its opposition to the expansion of London City Airport, with the resulting noise and pollution which this will bring to Redbridge in general and Wanstead in particular.

Friends of the Earth has serious purposes, but it is, especially at local level, precisely what it says – a group of friends. Most of the original members of our group came from Wanstead or Woodford, hence the name: Wanstead and Woodford Friends of the Earth. The name is not, however, intended to be exclusive. Current members come from Leytonstone, Buckhurst Hill and Walthamstow as well as Wanstead and Woodford. The only criterion for membership is a desire to engage in the ecological and environmental problems which we all face. We also meet in Wanstead and, having investigated many possibilities, have settled in the hospitable back room of The Nightingale public house, in Nightingale Lane, on the third Thursday of each month. These are not only business meetings, but social gatherings, and it has been our custom to celebrate with a party in December.

Green issues are frequently viewed by the public as worthy but boring. We agree that they are worthy, but they need not be tedious. Our motto is, don't preach, show. We face serious challenges – from climate change, peak oil and unsustainable growth – which will force us to change our lifestyles. One of our purposes is to show that these changes can be for the better.

Next meeting: Thursday 15 September, 7.30pm at The Nightingale Pub, Wanstead E11 2EY. For more imformation visit or call 07747 014 235

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