Wednesday, 3 December 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Sam Wilberforce

RETIRED physics teacher Sam Wilberforce first moved to the area in the mid-1990s with his wife of 36 years, Sarah, and has recently been appointed chairman of the Transition Town Bridport group.

Mr Wilberforce is currently studying for an MSc in the Green Economy at Bournemouth University and hopes to help the organisation to continue its work finding local solutions to global environmental and sustainability problems.

Both avid walkers and fans of the West Dorset countryside, Sam and Sarah have two grown-up children – one a teacher in Brighton and the other a singer and conductor in London and Manchester.

WHAT brought you to Bridport?
We came here about 20 years ago to stay with a friend in Loders, and fell in love with the place. We had a weekend cottage in Netherbury and then moved to the Bride Valley nine years ago.

WHAT do you like about the area?
I am a keen walker and the scenery here is fantastic. I can walk from my front door in any direction and experience a different scenery. I like the people around here too - there is a straightforwardness and unfussiness that I love. I like the lively arts scene and the varied culture of Bridport, and the small businesses and shops. We have resisted the sameness that you find in most towns in Britain.

IF you could improve one thing about the area, what would it be?
I would encourage less use of supermarkets, and do more to boost our great local shops. We also need more opportunities for young people to gain skills and work in Bridport, rather than moving elsewhere.

HOW did you first come to be involved with the TTB group?
I have been interested in the environment for most of my life, and became convinced that our climate is going to destroy the civilised world we know, with droughts in many parts of the world and intense weather events destabilising many countries. I ran an ecology club at my school, but became increasingly depressed that few of my colleagues, let alone pupils and their parents, saw this as a problem. The Transition Movement, which has grown up in thousands of locations around the world, sees things in a more positive light. What sort of future do we want, and how can we achieve it? 

CAN you explain what the Transition Town movement is and what the Bridport group does?
It is a local solution to a global problem – oil has peaked, and will become increasing expensive; gas will peak in perhaps 20 years, even if we go down the fracking route. And the remainder of the fuel – 60-80 per cent of known reserves – will have to be left in the ground if we are to avoid a 4°C rise in global temperature.  If we can regenerate local economies, grow our own food, teach our youngsters new skills, and become less reliant on imported goods, food and energy, then we will have a resilient and sustainable Bridport. I want to live in a town in 20 years where all generations and classes of people have a stake in the community.

WHAT achievements are you most proud of since joining the group?
Open Ecohomes was such a successful event that I am surprised nobody thought of doing it before. Bridport is packed with pioneers, and those who have changed their lives to live a sustainable future are models for all of us.  The different solutions to reducing energy and use of resources combine into a body of practical knowledge, which people are happy to share. 

ARE there any current projects you would like to tell us about?
Apart from the skills sharing and ‘draughtbusters’ projects we have launched, the food part of the HOME in Bridport outreach project is doing really well. We have put up a polytunnel at St Mary’s Primary School in Skilling, and built a cob pizza oven for parents and teachers at the school. We are employing gardeners for the school allotment, running cookery courses for young parents at the children’s centre, and teaching St Mary’s parents and their children to cook from scratch. The idea is to show people how to eat good food on a budget by cooking from raw ingredients, avoiding ready cooked meals from supermarkets, and also to learn to grow your own. 

WHAT simple changes can readers make to their lives to live more sustainably?
Turn down the heating, wear a vest in winter, buy local and invest in your local economy, don’t buy too many imported goods, grow your own food if you can.

DO you have any life lessons that you stick to?
I was brought up in a home with the strong presence of my great great great grandfather, William Wilberforce, the MP who worked with others to abolish the slave trade. If he was alive today, what would he consider the major moral issue? He would probably be working to stop modern day slavery, trafficking and child labour. But I think he would also be concerned with our disregard of the rights of future generations, and the harm we cause by our unsustainable way of life. People in Britain in the 18th century were not wicked people, but slavery was happening far away and didn’t seem to concern everyday life here. Yet we profited enormously from the plantations and the slave trade. Wilberforce faced arguments that the economy would collapse if we freed the slaves, and had to fight against people who justified slavery, people with a vested interest in the plantations. People who say that climate change is not real, or that we can’t prevent it are making the same sort of excuses that people said about slavery. We can tackle climate change if we use the next 20 years to build up a green economy and a sustainable infrastructure based on renewable energy and better efficiency. I believe my ancestor would be part of the fight to protect future generations.


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