Reflections Feed

The Shortest Day in Formby

A winter solstice story.

Two years ago the day before the winter solstice I spent the day, unconscious for 10.5 hours, while a team of surgeons, nurses and anaesthetists kept me alive during major surgery.

The day before when I asked the surgeon, "what am I looking at if I don't have the operation", the answer was blunt, "about three months", he said.

There was no choice. But two years later I'm alive, thankful and full of gratitude that I'm able to once again celebrate this year's annual celebration of the death and rebirth of the sun.


So the shortest day came, and the year died,

And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world

Came people singing, dancing,

To drive the dark away.

They lighted candles in the winter trees;

They hung their homes with evergreen;

They burned beseeching fires all night long

To keep the year alive,

And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake

They shouted, revelling.

Through all the frosty ages you can hear them

Echoing behind us—Listen!!

All the long echoes sing the same delight,

This shortest day,

As promise wakens in the sleeping land:

They carol, feast, give thanks,

And dearly love their friends,

And hope for peace.

And so do we, here, now,

This year and every year.

Welcome, Yule!


Formby Village: The Future?

From Formby past to Formby future?

In my last post, I featured some of Joan Rimmer's recollections of growing up in Formby. In this post, I am using a blog story from my daughter, with her permission, to ask the question, 'What might we expect the life of Formby and in particular the village as we adapt to the urgent threat of climate change. You'll find out more about Claire after her article which was published on the Bioregional website, where she works.

She begins with a question: Climate Change

How will we be living in 2030?

I’m going to describe a typical day in my life 10 years from now - in 2030…

I travel to my local high street by electric bike. It’s only 10 minutes’ walk away but I’m feeling lazy and have lots of stuff to carry.

My first stop is at the repair centre, where I’ve left our kettle for a service. I also donate some old tech we no longer need, as the repair café refurbishes tablets and laptops and then redistributes them to local families who need them.

After that I have a browse in a second-hand shop to see if I can buy something for the house (we are renovating our lounge). I also drop off some clothes that my kids have grown out of.

As it’s one of my ‘work from home’ days I’ve got my laptop with me, so I head to the space I’ve booked at the local affordable workspace. This used to be a department store, but now it has some great cafés and an indoor market too.

Upstairs is the sustainable ventures accelerator workspace where local entrepreneurs and purpose-led business start-ups are based. Here they get help to develop their business ideas.

I love working locally as I never know who I might bump into and what conversation might be sparked. One of the requirements of using the workspace is that I have to volunteer 1 hour per month – today I’m using some of that time to mentor a local start-up.

While I’m there I pick up lunch from my favourite independent café. I'll be having an Impossible Burger, which is 100% plant based. I remember when my kids first tasted them, they couldn’t believe they didn’t have any meat in them!

When I finish my work, I’ll borrow a spare kettle from the Library of Things so my family can use it while ours is being serviced, and I’ll pop to the local grocers to pick up some in season fruit and veg.

Finally, before I go home, I meet up with a friend in the local pocket park and wave to some of my neighbours working at the community allotment next door. My friend and I discuss what we’re going to take our children to watch at the pop-up cinema later in the week.

This is all a far cry from the ‘clone’ towns model which dominated so many of the UK’s high streets before the pandemic hit.

Our high streets could be designed to make it easy for people to live sustainably

Ecological footprinting shows that if everyone in the world consumed as much as the average person in the UK and the rest of western Europe, we’d need three planets to support us.

To try and explain what this means, currently, a staggering 100 million tonnes of resources are flowing into the global economy every year. At current rates this is expected to double by 2050.

Worryingly, most of this is eventually lost as waste, causing lasting damage to the environment and leaving us vulnerable to the ever-worsening effects of the climate crisis.

We cannot continue like this. To tackle the climate and ecological emergency we must find a way to preserve and re-use the resources flowing into our economy and prevent them from being wasted.

For us as individuals, some of our impact is hard for us to change on a day-to-day basis, as it’s tied up in things like buildings and infrastructure.

But a sizeable chunk is much more within our control. Research has shown that up to 50% of our ecological footprint is comprised of the food we eat, the things we buy and how we travel.

The trouble is, most of us don’t know how to work out how much difference it makes to change a behaviour – like eating less meat, or cycling instead of driving to work. Even for sustainability geeks like me, it’s a real struggle to consume in a low-impact way.

Currently, our high streets are just not set up to help us do this.

But as I’ve just described, they could play a vital role in making it easy for us to live, and shop, more sustainably.

You might think this future high street sounds a bit middle-class – but actually, many of the best examples come from low-income areas. They include Barking and Dagenham's We Are Everyone, which has shops that help neighbours spend more time with each other as well as sharing practical and useful things. In fact, this vision only truly works if it is one focused on enabling every single one of us to lead happier, healthier and more sustainable lives – and therefore must respond to the realities of people’s lives

The challenge is, while all the examples I drew on to create my imaginary future life are already happening somewhere in the UK, they are not all happening in the same location.

Just imagine if we could bring them all together into a local, walkable place.

We have the chance to make this vision a reality

As we come out of the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to rethink the purpose of our high streets so that they promote sustainable, healthy and happy lifestyles for everyone – and end clone towns for good.

Across the UK there are countless examples of great business and organisations that are the building blocks for a new approach to how we live.

The challenge is to:

  • identify what is needed across any specific high street to enable a sustainable lifestyle for the diversity of? people who live and work locally
  • recognise what is already there that, if given the right support and space would thrive
  • identify what’s still missing and needs to be developed from scratch to enable everyone to live happier, healthier and more sustainable lives.

There are some massive hurdles to overcome. But if we are going to solve the climate and ecological crisis, we have to make it easy for everyone to play their part - and where better to do this than in your local, walkable high street.

So at Bioregional we are really excited to be working with urban design experts Create Streets to help local authorities take swift, practical action to enable your high streets and town centres to recover from the pandemic.

Let’s work towards the vision I outlined earlier and create a step-change in ensuring that high streets work for people, business – and the planet. There’s no time to waste.

Claire works for Bioregional who describe themselves as:

Bioregional brings together people who are passionate about sustainability and have years of diverse expertise in creating a better future - from business and the built environment to influencing UK and international policy

And you can find out more about Claire herself here.

My questions to you are,

'What is your vision of the future of Formby and secondly who should do what, when, where?'

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay


#ImagineFormby: The Movie

Would you like to see improvements in our town?

Or are you content with it as it is?

Julian Dobson Book CoverI have argued for a long time that a lot more thought, planning and action is needed to improve our town. Some years ago I wrote a blog post about the danger that Formby, in common with most other towns, was becoming a clone town. 

Some years ago, Cllr Mike Coles and I on behalf of Formby Parish Council submitted a bid to become a Portas Town, sadly we were unsuccessful. 

The Portas Review described a vision for bringing economic and community life back into high streets and town centres, re-imagining them as social hubs for shopping, learning, socialising and fun. It made 28 recommendations about how to deliver that vision intended to:

  • Get town centres running like businesses.
  • Get the basics right to allow businesses to flourish.
  • Level the playing field.
  • Define landlords’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Give communities a greater say. (My emphasis)

(Source: Recent article about the Portas Review - last edited 19 August 2020)

Thankfully there are still voices raising and campaigning for these ideas. Have a look at this video, it's only 10 minutes of your time, but it is full of relevant ideas for a whole town like Formby.

In my view, the COVID-19 crisis is the time to revisit these ideas. Do you want to be involved? I know that there is a hardy band of enthusiastic citizens of Formby who have a vision and are looking for like-minded residents of Formby.

It is time to #ImagineFormby renewed.

Be creative

Grow more trees

Why isn't Formby growing more trees?

Tree-3822149_640I know that as a community Formby recognises the importance of trees, witness the campaign to save the village horse chestnut trees. But there seems little or no movement in sowing and growing more. 

I constantly find myself asking, why is that? We've got the space, we know how important they are to the planet and well being on a personal level.

Chemists will tell you of the importance of  catalysts.

So where and who are our community catalysts?

In Frome it was a group of people who paved the way with a movement around the idea of 'Flatpack Democracy. As a Formby Parish Councillor I had hopes that it would become the source of inspiration for a myriad of community activists, a hub for community catalysts. Sadly that hasn't happened. 

We need to learn from Frome.

Here's a video from the Tree Conference 2018, lets watch Peter Macfadyen explain.

Frome town council is run by an independent party of local residence facilitated by Peter Macfadyen, author of Flatpack Democracy.  In this section of the 2018 Tree Conference we give Peter the stage to explain a bit about that pioneering work and what policies they have put in place.

Peter then interviews Julian Hight who has been working hard to restore Selwood Forest with an active group of passionate supporters, local landlords, representatives from national bodies like the Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trusts.

This is a good template for how communities can develop citizen-led wildlife corridors and landscape restoration.  The Selwood Forest group’s work continues to go from strength to strength.



Book Search

I have a passion for books, I'm an avid book reader and therefore by definition a bibliophile.

BibliophileI struggle to find space in the house to stack and display the books I've bought over the years.

But, there's an associated obsession too and that involves an overwhelming curiosity in other people's reading habits.

Lockdown is lending additional support to my intense interest. Are you like me?

Every televised interview, where for reasons of lockdown, it's conducted by a video link is enriched if the interviewee sits in front of book filled shelves.

Sometimes I'm really not interested in what's been said, rather I'm eagerly scanning the book shelves. Are there books I recognise and own, can I decipher the titles, are there clues to the readers interests or passions?
And other ideas flash through my mind,  as I frantically scan the shelves trying to note are the book shelves tidy or random, are the books arranged in order, alphabetically or subject, what topics, are the book old or relatively new, do the shelves account for the various sizes of the books?

And even more questions.

Are there other objects on the shelves, little knick knacks, photos etc
How big is the library behind the interviewee, are the shelves modern or traditional?

Finally what books if any are sitting in a stack on a table or desk. I presume that these are the books presently occupying the attention of the subject of the interview. It's so frustrating it the titles are upside down and many video link-ups are low definition and so the titles impossible to read.

Nonetheless I can't resist trying, what about you?