Secretary of State for the Environment Hilary Benn sat down with members of Swindon Climate Change Action Network (SCAN) on 10 April to discuss how Swindon can lead the way on green issues.
The negotiations set up by South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove in the convivial surroundings of a traditional English pub, the Royal Oak in Bishopstone. She said, "SCAN are impressive advocates for measures to combat climate change and they made strong arguments to Hilary that I am sure he will take back to Westminster with him."
Group member Gina Adams said, "SCAN members from across Swindon had an open and productive discussion with Mr Benn on a range climate change issues. We are pleased to see our MP supporting a strong Climate Change Bill – but targets are just the start. We want to see real progress in reducing CO2 emissions and tackling climate change by both central and local government'.
SCAN quizzed the Minister on whether local authorities will be able to impose carbon budgets, the measures groups like SCAN can effectlively work with the Government to push the climate change agenda and how it in turn can support these groups.
SCAN suggested a Climate Change mentoring scheme, whereby the Government could have officials ready to give information and advice to groups like theirs.
The Secretary of State highlighted the Act on CO2’ campaign supported by the Government. See: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Environmentandgreenerliving/actonco2/DG_067197
The Minister also spoke about the need to boost rural business whilst fighting limate change at the same time. "Cutting food miles and the chemicals used in farming is very important to the environment,"said Anne Snelgrove MP. "I wanted to show off Bishopstone’s best to the Secretary of State and he was massively impressed with the food, the people and the work Helen Browning and her team have done to make their business green,"she continued.
The main issue of the day was the Climate Change Bill currently going through Parliament which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 60% from their 1990 levels by 2050. It is becoming increasingly clear that the food system has a major impact on climate change.
Organic pioneer, Helen Browning who runs The Royal Oak pub and established the Swindon-based Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat business over 20 years ago, started off by selling organic products from the farm gate. The business has gone full circle and she is again making it easier for people to buy local food through her pubrestaurant business and organic meat box service. She said, "It was a great pleasure to welcome Hilary Benn to The Royal Oak and for him to see us using so much local food. We try hard to ensure that local people have the chance with places like Eastbrook Farm and The Royal Oak to see local food being produced and offered in excellent and accessible ways. I would like our business, and other farms and food businesses round here, to have the opportunity to feed into the development of Swindon, as it grows, and be able to be part of the solution to achieving sustainable local food supplies for the people that come to live here in the future."
Helen Browning is also Food and Farming Director of The Soil Association which is one of the partners in Making Local Food Work programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund to the tune of £10 million partnership. The scheme aims to reconnect consumers with fresh, healthy and seasonal food by creating local food enterprises such as farmers’ markets, community-owned shops, community composting and local food education centres. The Soil Association is contributing by developing Community Supported Agriculture initiatives and organic buying groups.
The Royal Oak is based on local food with vegetables being supplemented by the vegetable gardens of the local primary school tended by enthusiastic 5-11 year-olds. From the kitchen of creative resident chef Jasper Ayckroyd, Hilary Benn and SCAN members were served with The Royal Oak’s best vegetarian fare; a choice of home-made nachos made from hand produced pasta, with Coleshill beetroot salsa and soured cream and warm bean puree; or Helen Browning’s Egg and Bishopstone Watercress Pie with hand-made chutney and Coleshill leaves.