A new Shaftesbury environmental group, which focuses on making lifestyle changes rather than protests and politics, has started regular meetings. Alfred attended the Shaftesbury Buttons Saturday afternoon get-together – Green Teas.
They say that small committees get things done. That’s what Ellie Reed is hoping. I joined her around a table in Shaftesbury’s High Street Bakery and Café, the regular venue for the Shaftesbury Buttons group, with her three fellow members. They discuss sustainability in a social setting on Saturdays. “It’s just a group of people sitting around having a cuppa. It’s very informal,” said Ellie.
Ellie says the sessions started after like-minded people struck up a conversation at one of the early Planet Shaftesbury meetings, which she values. “They are a lovely bunch. People were saying they would love something a little bit more regular, like a meet up or a support group, where we could talk about things in the week,” she explained.
Shaftesbury Buttons is supportive of Planet Shaftesbury but operates separately because the two organisations differ in their priorities. “We’ve got slightly different main goals. I think they’re more about activism,” said Ellie. The people sat around the table for this Green Teas event were not keen on demonstrations or activism. Some of them had to consider their jobs or positions.
“I might want to work with children in my life. I’m 21,” said Ellie. “A lot of people who are saying, ‘Let’s get arrested’, know what their lives are going to be. Or they’ve had a lot of their lives. They don’t need a clean record,” she said.
Ellie says Shaftesbury Buttons has been designed for people who want to make a difference but struggle to find spare hours in the day. “A lot of people around here don’t have the time or the money to do grand gestures. They can do small things in their life. We’re trying to show people the things they can do to make a difference.”
As we waited for our drink orders to arrive at the table, the group discussed the week’s top environmental talking points. It was interesting to hear their take on mainstream coverage from the papers and TV news. The UN Climate Change report, recommending a switch to a plant-based diet, dominated the first part of the meeting. A conversation on limiting meat consumption followed.
“It’s great that people are worried about it, but doing something about it is the important part,” offered Ellie. “You can worry and wave your fists all you like, but unless you’re actually doing something, everything is going to carry on the way it’s going.”
Following input from the other members, it was resolved that the challenge was how to inform Shaftesbury residents that you don’t have to be go vegan. You just have to eat a little less meat.
The term ‘plant-based’, rather than vegan, was felt preferable. “Veganism is often associated with the activists you get in the middle of cities, with their animal cruelty videos and their evangelical view. There is a place for those people, but it puts a lot of people off. It makes people feel intimidated,” said Ellie. “We’re saying ‘plant based’ because it might be something people feel they can access.”
The conversation moved on to concerns over the amount of processing of supermarket-bought, meat-free food. Ellie felt it was better to make meals from scratch, yourself. “For your own health, it’s brilliant to make things. It doesn’t necessarily have as much of an effect on the environment as something that’s been through all those factories, which use a lot of electricity and carbon fuels. And it hasn’t been shipped across the country,” Ellie said.
Rapidly, the four moved onto brainstorming their communication plan. “The most important thing is getting the word out to people who don’t necessarily feel that they can access a plant-based diet. We are putting recipes on our website and making recipe cards to give to shops. They will be very basic meals that people can make, which don’t take much time or effort. If people have one or two plant-based meals during the week, that small change makes such a huge difference,” said Ellie.
The group is also considering arranging its own festival in 2020, although Ellie says those plans are still in ‘an embryonic’ stage. “The idea is to hold a festival next summer, where we can give people workshops and all the basic tools to be able to live a lot more eco-friendly, without lots of processing and plastic. We want to show that it’s really simple, cheap and they can do it.”
The group has a clear idea of the types of stalls or activities they want at the event. “A meat-free barbecue or plant-based food tutorials,” suggested Ellie, adding, “It’ll be such a laugh to have a picnic of some description.” Shaftesbury Buttons members are based in Tisbury and Shaftesbury and one of the festival field locations discussed lies between the two communities.
One project that Shaftesbury Buttons is keen to pursue is a skills swapping service. The Local Exchange Trading (LETS) initiative has operated in some areas for decades but never seems to have reached the potential its advocates had wished for. The group’s name, Shaftesbury Buttons, is a nod to this initiative. Shaftesbury was once a centre of button manufacturing and has a vision of the Shaftesbury button being the ‘currency’ for a form of ‘payment’ for any bartered service or skill.
“People will earn buttons for the time and then give them for another person’s time,” explained Ellie, who believes skill sharing is a great community activity. “Now is the perfect time for a resurgence of that sort of thing because there is so much more going on at a community level. It is the most important level, because while global is great, when you’ve got people who are really part of each other’s lives and part of each other’s community, to connect those people is the way to get things done.”
During my hour with these friends, I got the impression that they will support each other in making small steps, which when added together do make a difference. Ellie said the group is focused on delivery, not debate. “This is something where we go away with real tasks to do. You have a list of things you need to get done in a couple of weeks. You can ask for support, and as much time as you want, but you need to get those things done,” she said.
The Green Teas chats are held every two weeks. “We get everything else done in the time before the next meeting and then move on to something else, because we’ve done a load of stuff in that time,” said Ellie.
Shaftesbury Buttons is not a radical group demanding action or holding decision-makers to account. If you are keen to affect change by making subtle changes to how you live your life, you might find a group that you feel comfortable with here.
There next Green Teas meeting is at the High Street Bakery and Café on Sat 5th Oct, from 2pm to 3.30pm, and you can follow Shaftesbury Buttons at facebook.com/shaftesburybuttons.