Next Starfish – Review of the Year

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done ? Another year over. And a new one just begun”

- JOHN LENNON

Before we rush headlong into the crisp, white, empty pages of the New Year, we might benefit from spending just a few moments reflecting on the filled-in year we’ve just finished, complete with all it’s crossings out, doodles and smudges . . . I think it’s what these last few days between Christmas and New Year were designed for !

  • I had a full year of working four days a week, having reduced from five days the year before – reducing my hours is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s allowed me to spend with my children and with my wife, develop my own business, do more gardening, write this blog and spend time looking after me – exercising, pursuing hobbies of just relaxing. Obviously there’s a loss of income, but it’s also reduced our childcare costs and my commuting fuel bill, as well as saving around 0.5t of carbon emissions commuting per year.
  • In addition I’ve been able to agree for me to work one day a week from home with my employer. Obviously I’m fortunate to have the kind of job which allows me to do this, but technology is making this a realistic option for increasing numbers. It has allowed me to save almost two hours commuting a day, and accompanying fuel, child care costs and a further 0.5t or so of carbon emissions per year.
  • We made plenty of progress in growing more of our food ourselves – I built six new raised beds last winter, which have worked remarkably well, and hopefully will manage to build a few more over the next couple of months. I installed a third water butt in the garden, and re-organised our composting arrangements. My gardening is far from perfect, though – and I’m looking forward to planning the next military style campaign over the next few weeks.
  • Unfortunately we lost our four chickens near the start of the year, three were killed by a fox that had managed to get into the garden one afternoon, and the remaining bird died shortly afterwards, no doubt partly as a result. In May we brought three fantastic new chickens though, which made the girls happy, and are now getting eggs again every day.
  • Around the house we’ve made modest improvemeents – we redecorated our bedroom, upcycling our existing wardrobes using low volatile paint and a home made mosaic of broken tile pieces. I also finally finished my home office, using second hand furniture. We made enquiries about installing solar PV cells on our roof, but unfortunately though south facing, it isn’t large enough to be economically viable. No solar for us.
  • We switched our electricity and gas to Ecoctricity (after much deliberation and delay), which has turned out to be only marginally more expensive than what we were paying before, and is something I feel very positive about. We also fitted a real-time energy meter, which has proved a useful reminder to turn things off.
  • One of the most significant changes of the last couple of years is that we buy far less ‘stuff’ than we used to – my wife and I have both become very conscious of the consumer pressures present in normal life, and increasingly try to make-do and repair as much as possible – though obviously we’re not perfect! An increasing amount of what we do buy is second hand – all my clothes (underwear, socks and shoes excluded) have been from charity shops this year, with the exception of two T-shirts, something else I’m particularly pleased about. An important element in consuming less is being more aware of what we’ve already got, and making better use of it – so trying to keep the house organised is a constant battle (another definite work in progress).
  • The way we do our food shopping is in a bit of a state of flux. We’ve tried home delivery from Sainsburys and Waitrose, shopping at the local Co-Op, buying from our local butcher and farmers market (Gloucester) and occasional trips to M&S – but nothing quite manages to tick all the boxes in terms of range, convenience, ethics and cost. It seems likely we’re going to have to continue to ‘mix and match’ . . . I’m very well aware though that this ‘abundant choice’ of food isn’t available to many in the world. We mostly buy high welfare meat, and as much fairtrade as we can – this is more expensive, but we’ve managed to reduce our typical weekly shopping bill for a family of four down from around £90 a week to around £60 a week – simply by buying less food and wasting less. I still feel there’s more we can do in this area though.
  • I tried two eating experiments this year – taking part in the five day ‘Live Below the Line‘ challenge, and not eating meat during September. Of the two the Live Below the Line was by far the hardest, and I’m wondering whether to do it again this year, but trying to involve others ?
  • In terms of giving I’ve been able to increase it a little more – starting new monthly donations to both Shelter and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Although we’ve been affected by the downturn like everyone else (rising fuel and childcare costs, pay freezes etc), the money we’ve saved from reducing what we buy, producing some of our own food, reducing our travel/fuel etc has fortunately managed to offset this. Overall in 2011 I gifted 8.8% of my income, including 10% of all income earned through my own business. My giving now goes to Oxfam, Water Aid, WWF, Amnesty, Action Medical, Save the Children, my church, Gloucestershire Wildlife and Shelter.
  • We continue to sponsor a child through World Vision; Soungou, a 12 year old muslim girl in Senegal. We sometimes send photos and short letters (which are translated for her), and in-turn receive occasional photos and drawings, and updates about what World Vision are doing in her village. I feel it’s rewarding for my children to be aware of the very different lives of others across the world, and this is a subject I’ll write more about in the coming months.
  • I continue to keep all my personal and business banking with the Co-Op, who have a strong ethical scheme, but our mortgage and savings are elsewhere – it’s obviously going to be difficult, but at some point I’d like to move all our finances to ethical organisations, this will have to be a longer term ambition however.
  •  I’ve managed to find time to get involved in a small number of community and charity projects, several via my church, but also  helping to put-up Coleford’s Christmas lights, one of the few community run festive lights in the country. Though I was effectively ‘cornered’ into taking part in this, it’s actually been quite enjoyable!  The major project I’m working on, as part of a small group, is the possibility of setting-up a foodbank scheme in the Forest of Dean, as non currently exists. We’re talking to the Trussell Trust, and are hoping to make some progress with this in the Spring.
  • I went with the family on a protest march to ‘Save the Forests’, and listened to Jonathon Porritt enthuse the crowd. I heard Jonathon give another talk in the summer titled ‘Reasons to be Optimistic‘, so I didn’t feel too bad not going to listen to him again when he visited my church for another event later in the year. I also managed to visit the Sustainability Live event at the NEC and attended various talks by Tony Campollo, Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne discussing a range of issues including social justice. I signed-up with Transition Forest and attended their open-house event, showcasing sustainable technologies in operation in real homes. I wrote to my MP about international aid (which he was supportive about) and the threat to the Forests (which he wasn’t). I re-registered as a blood donor and organ donor, and even more importantly as doing all these new things I stopped doing a number of things that I no longer felt were a good use of my time. I’m very prone to taking on new projects and commitments, but rubbish at trimming down existing ones – something I’m working on.
  • Next Starfish is now nearly eight months old and I’m very pleased with how it’s going. The website has had nearly 10,000 visits, has over 1,500 Twitter followers, nearly 1,500 Google+ followers and 660 Facebook fans. I’m optimistic that all these numbers will increase further before Next Starfish’s first birthday in May. More than just the numbers, I’m very pleased and grateful with the enthusiasm and contribution from an increasing number of followers, not to mention all my guest post authors – much appreciated !
Overall 2011 has been a pretty good year – busy, unpredictable, complete with a few ups and downs, and there have been a number of unhappy personal events, with health issues for a number of friends and family. In the wider world there’s no doubt that for many 2011 has been a terrible year – with financial problems, unemployment, homelessness, rioting, famine, disease and war. The world, and indeed our lives, are never either ALL cloud, or ALL silver lining. What’s important is trying to enjoy the journey.
I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all the readers of this website, especially if you’ve been inspired or motivated to do something for the good of the world partly as a result.

If there’s anything you’ve done that you think might be interesting or encouraging for others, consider leaving  a comment, or a few words on Facebook.

See you in the New Year !

Two very different music videos  - go left for silver lining, right for clouds . . .

 

Photo by ImagesBYapp, via Flickr

RELATED ARTICLES – Next Starfish – Three Month Update, Next Starfish – One Month Update

Comments

  1. Hi Steve

    Huge congratulations on all of these changes you have made in your life, it is so heartening to read and know that others are thinking in these ways and doing these sorts of things. Living ethically often feels so complicated but to stand back and reflect on what can be changed in year (and not beat yourself up about things that aren’t quite where you want them to be) is inspiring. Thanks for sharing :-)

    • Thanks Lorna – kind comments.

      I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I often feel a bit funny talking about my own stuff – but trying to ‘walk the walk’ is pretty much the best way we can influence others, even with all our failings and shortcomings. Examples and stories are often the easiest way to transport ideas from one person to another.

      There is a place for looking at, and responding to, the big global issues, but for most of us, most of the time, I feel we need to concentrate on the personal, the local, and on the things we ultimately CAN change.

      Best wishes for 2012 :)

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