Swaffham: green at heart
PUBLISHED: 15:41 03 April 2018
© Archant Norfolk 2015
From a towering wind turbine to literally ground-level gardening schemes, and from cycling to recycling, could one of the greenest communities in the country sit at the centre of Norfolk?
With a green theme running through this issue of EDP Norfolk, we wondered where the greenest community in the county might be. Could it be Barningham Green, Fidler’s Green or Upton Green? Could it be Old Buckenham with the largest village green in Britain? Could it be Norwich with its Green councillors? Any of these places, and many more, can claim green credentials, but Swaffham has a particularly impressive focus on eco-friendliness.
The Green Britain Centre is focused around the first wind turbine in the world to open to the public.
Fruit and vegetables from the organic gardens are sold to the public or used in the vegan café and the centre has one of Britain’s largest solar trackers, which follows the sun across the sky to harness its power.
It is also home to Greenbird, a vehicle with no engine, no fuel and no pollution – and which holds a world record as the fastest wind powered vehicle on the planet.
The Green Britain Centre is run by trustees including Dale Vince OBE, who set up Ecotricity, the first green electricity company in the world, after living off-grid for a decade and generating his own power through a self-made windmill. His mission to help people live more environmentally friendly lives is echoed in the mission of the centre to promote sustainability in energy, transport and food and create new habitats for threatened wildlife.
The allotment has flower beds and a pond, soft fruit and willow, vegetables and a sensory area.
Nearby, more than 50 varieties of apple, pear and plum trees grow in an orchard alongside the Green Britain Centre. Many of them are traditional Norfolk varieties dating back centuries.
The community orchard and the allotment project are run by the national charity Family Action. But it is local volunteers who have created them and look after them. A project called Enjoy Swaffham Community Allotment Project Enterprise, or Escape, aims to help boost people’s mental health by helping them connect with the natural world and learn new skills.
People can train in horticulture, learn scything, willow weaving and green woodwork, and how to grow food and look after the environment. A new shop selling surplus plants and produce has opened in the Green Britain Centre and another new initiative, run with a national organisation called Garden Organic, will take the joys of therapeutic gardening out to places like care homes and community centres within a 20 mile radius of Swaffham.
“It’s evolved over the years,” said Clare Peak of Family Action. “We want to involve all parts of the community. I think these things happen in Swaffham because it has a lot of very enthusiastic people. The people on the town council, in the Iceni Partnership, at the Green Britain Centre, they are enthusiastic and work together. We all help each other.”
As the orchard blossoms, and new plants begin sprouting, flowering and fruiting on the allotment, so volunteers are spreading the seeds of Swaffham’s green heart.
To find out about getting involved with the allotment, orchard or gardening projects call 01760 720302.
Swaffham Community Fridge is an initiative run in Swaffham by the local charity, Iceni Partnership.
It takes in food, which might be not-quite-perfect fruit and vegetables, or groceries which have reached best before (but not use by) dates, and redistributes them, free, to all comers. “We get food from local businesses, normally from the local bakery and fruit and veg shop, and from a supermarket,” said Jonathan Reed, of the Iceni Partnership. “It might be fruit or veg which is not quite perfect, but still completely edible. It’s food they would otherwise have to throw away. We weigh it, to see how much we are saving from going into landfill, and then anyone can come along and take it.”
The fridge, in Swaffham’s Iceni Community Centre, even has its own Facebook page, where it posts news of the gluts of goodies on offer.
The Iceni Partnership has also helped install pathways to make it easier and safer for children to walk and cycle to school and organises community initiatives ranging from litter picks to cycle rides, with the latest being 54km, 100km and 200km rides starting from Swaffham Assembly Rooms on Wednesday, April 4.
“Swaffham is like a large village, people are very proud to live here and like to look after the environment,” said Jonathan.
Strattons is a boutique hotel, set in walled gardens in the centre of Swaffham. But alongside the luxury and loveliness is a strong environmental ethos. The fabulous rooms and fine dining restaurant are visually stunning, but the commitment to keeping the hotel, the town, and the wider world, as beautiful as possible extends way beyond the usual bathroom notices about towels. Vanessa Scott and her husband, Les bought the grade two listed Palladian villa almost 30 years ago to transform into a hotel they could run together, while bringing up their two children. They decided to use local people to restore the house and, when the hotel opened, extended their personal environmental principles to their new business. “Great environments create the best tourism experience, and are generally the best in terms of economic performance,” said Vanessa. As much as possible is sourced locally, using Norfolk products and skills. The hotel, restaurant, café and delicatessen get 92% of food from within just 25 miles, with more than half coming from within just five miles of Swaffham.
Guests and customers are hugely supportive. “Our guests like to feel they are playing their part without compromise,” said Vanessa. “We’ve been able to keep them informed of the growing number of local producers by showcasing them at the hotel, more recently in our on-site cafe deli, CoCoes, and lifestyle and interiors shop Bam and Arrow.
Energy, water use and waste are also carefully managed.
Vanessa loves being part of a town where so many people value being part of a sustainable community.
“There are still great local shops, such as Ceres book shop, Starlings green grocers, Myhills general store, Impsons butchers and the Green Parrot health store,” she said.
Even Swaffham’s famous fairytale is recycled, the story of the Pedlar of Swaffham, dreaming his way to buried treasure (which he used to restore the parish church) is a version of a 13th century Persian poem.