For over 10 years, Sustainable Wantage has helped and encouraged local people to live more sustainably. I spoke to Jo Harvey, a member of this community benefit group in Oxfordshire, to find out how they’ve found One Planet Living useful to develop their work – and discover the brilliant ways they’ve responded to the Covid-19 crisis.

Sustainable Wantage is part of the One Planet Oxfordshire initiative, where local organisations are creating their own One Planet Action Plans to work towards a county-wide ‘shared vision’ for a better future.

Can you tell me about Sustainable Wantage?

Sustainable Wantage is a community benefit group. We started out as a bunch of people meeting in each other’s living rooms, talking about how we can help people locally to reduce their impact on the environment. It’s been running for over 10 years and is going from strength to strength!

We have a woodland that we look after, a market garden project, a wildflower meadow, and The Mix – a community space in Wantage town centre – which hosts workshops, a repair café, a resource bank, refill stations for detergents and a community fridge. We also hire the room out to local groups and organisations and offer hotdesking. Unfortunately, we aren’t able to run most of these activities at the minute because of Covid.

We started up because we wanted to make things available locally that weren’t previously, eg the refill station. You could get this in Oxford but driving there to refill doesn’t make sense for the environment, so arranging for these to be available locally helps people be more sustainable.

How are you using Bioregional’s One Planet Living® framework?

We came across One Planet Living through the One Planet Oxfordshire initiative, which has supported us to create our own sustainability action plan.

One Planet Living has helped us take stock of where we’re up to. We were already trying to help everyone live more environmentally friendly lives, but by mapping against the One Planet Living principles, we could see where the gaps were and generate new ideas for those areas.

What do you like about One Planet Living?

I like that it values community and social involvement alongside ‘standard’ sustainability measures, like reducing the use of materials. We’ve seen the value of this at The Mix through the repair café, which encourages the people to fix things, rather than throw them away. But it also builds on a social need – people love meeting people there and we have many regular visitors. I like that One Planet Living recognises that community is an important aspect of sustainable change.

The framework is also flexible and understands that one project may ‘tick several boxes.’ Our market garden for example, is about sustainable food – but it’s also about health and happiness and culture and community.

Using One Planet Living gave us the opportunity to stand back and take stock of what we were doing. Often you can plough forward without looking at the whole picture.

What are your favourite stories from Sustainable Wantage’s work?

We‘ve had some fantastic feedback from people who’ve attended courses and workshops at The Mix, and quite a few have gone on to volunteer with us; it’s great to see people getting active in our community. One person took part in a woodwork course and went on to run a series of monthly workshops for us!

Being in The Mix and seeing what happens here gets people thinking about sustainability and I love the way we can inspire people to take action themselves. One of our regular users is a French conversation class, and last year we started working together with one of the ladies in this class to organise clothes swaps in our local Methodist Church hall.

What are you most proud about?

Definitely getting hold of The Mix and keeping it open – for a long time it was quite a challenge. Over time, we’ve built up a great following and there’s lots happening there. I’m now employed by Sustainable Wantage to run the space.

Also, last month, we hit 100 members, which is a big milestone from the 6 or 7 of us who met up in our living rooms when I joined.

What would you say to anyone wanting to use One Planet Living?

I would say: go for it!

I really enjoyed mapping out all our work and looking at the different areas to see what linked up and where we could make changes. We’d not done much on water, for example, but realised that simply by putting up signs by the kettle in The Mix, prompting people to only boil the amount of water they need, we could help people to reconsider their actions here – and at home.

Using One Planet Living gave us the opportunity to stand back and take stock of what we were doing. Often you can plough forward without looking at the whole picture.

What are your plans for 2020 and the Covid situation?

Plans have changed completely. We have new funded projects with local town council, but some of these we haven’t been able to start and some we’ve had to adapt. Hopefully we’ll have these all up and running by the end of the year.

We’re also putting together a ‘library of things’, which was due to come online in spring, but we made the decision to divert all the funding to the community fridge during lockdown.

When we shut, we were very conscious that the surplus food that local supermarkets had been saving for our community fridge would be going to waste, just at the point when people would have greater need. So we set up a delivery service. We pulled in lots of volunteers from our different projects to make the service work and we have sent food to 270 households – we’ve done over 3,400 deliveries in the last 16 weeks!

This has been a really fantastic project and a bonding experience for our volunteers. It’s also got our name out to the public in different way; rather than being seen as a fringe, tree-hugging environmental organisation, we are proactively helping people on the ground when they are in difficulty.

We’ve also been rescuing old laptops. The repair café volunteers have been fixing and testing them, so we can give them to children without devices at home, to help with home-schooling. We have given away 47 laptops in last few months.

Covid has presented lots of challenges but people have really rallied around and found ways to be active and promote our core principles.

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