Thoughts on WeSET Open Day and Sustainable Energy Fair – Anne Elliott-Day

Arriving at the WeSET sustainable energy open day by foot, seeing the wild flowers in bloom and the wind turbines turning was such a contrast to my journey to Watchfield. Travelling by train from London, I spent part of the journey on a train packed with visitors to Royal Ascot. They seemed too preoccupied, dressed to the nines and drinking champagne, to spare a thought for the cruelty and exploitation involved the in the ‘sport’ they were about to witness.

By contrast, the WeSET open day was all about good wholesome fun as well as having a serious side – the need for many more renewable energy projects like the wind farm and solar park – if we are to have any chance of reducing carbon emissions.

There was a great turnout – around 1,000 people are thought to have attended.  Although the weather wasn’t wonderful, there was plenty to see and do. In a large marquee, there were stalls ranging from solar panel installers, renewable energy supplier and green groups to cookery demonstrations and information about rainwater harvesting. I wandered around and spoke to stallholders and visitors as well as WeSET volunteers.

Staff on the Southern Solar stall were holding a drawing competition for kids on the theme ’where does our energy come from?’   They told me they found the day ‘uplifting and full of hope’. Nearby, the Pudding Pie Cookery School stall was running a series of demonstrations showing people how they can cook healthy meals from scratch use leftover food and seasonal produce.

I spoke to Andy from Swindon Climate Action Network (SCAN) which, he said,  is about raising awareness of climate change locally.   SCAN works with the local council and MPs as well as organising local events such as bike rides and apple days.  Working with other local groups such as Sustrans and the Ramblers SCAN has even written an alternative local transport strategy.

Andy holds shares in the wind farm and I asked him why he supports such initiatives. “Climate change is the biggest threat to life as we know it”, he said. “Community initiatives such as Westmill give a real sense of optimism because they are about a benefit that goes beyond the individual”. He added: “Adam (Twine – the farmer behind the initiative) is fantastic”.

In another corner of the marquee there was a programme of talks. I arrived just in time to hear the end of a talk about an initiative set up by Oxfordshire Low Carbon Hub called ‘The People’s Power Station’. It aims to help local communities reduce their carbon footprint through a range of different community energy projects. I was sure most people could not imagine such initiatives existed.

Outside, I found a stall selling plants. This wasn’t a bog standard nursery but a therapeutic gardening and rural crafts project for people experiencing mental health difficulties called Root & Branch. It’s based just down the road.

Perhaps the most eye-catching activity was Rinky Dink, a bike-powered sound system!

Volunteer guides were organising tours of the solar park and wind farm – 5 turbines which seem to be much loved by the local community, each having a name such as ‘Gusty Gizmo’ and ‘Huff ’n Puff’.  A share offer in the solar park – the largest community owned initiative of its kind in the UK and possibly the world – was launched at the open day.

It was obvious, speaking to some of the volunteers, that a huge amount of work had gone into organising the event – and it clearly paid off.   Everyone I met was smiling, happy and friendly.

Liz, a WeSET volunteer, offered me a lift back to Watchfield at the end of the day. We stopped to look at  –  and listen to – ‘Field Notes’, a  sound sculpture which captures the beauty and stillness of the place.

On reflection, what was most inspiring was that while almost everything at Westmill feels home-grown and local it clearly has a huge potential to inspire others.   Those of us who believe in the transformative power of community energy know there is still a lot of work to.   But as Rob Hoskins, founder of the Transition Movement, recently wrote[1], although such initiatives are still small in number: “the drive for change will need to come from communities, from citizens, from ordinary people coming together and getting on with it….  living more within our means, connecting to place, returning power to people and communities, building resilience at the local level. It is self-organised, self-replicating, driven, motivated and positive.”  He could have been writing about Westmill.

[1] The full article, written in response to an article by George Monbiot (‘We were wrong on peak oil’), is at