Following the Scottish referendum, devolution to England is once more on the UK political agenda.

With greater local/regional powers up for debate is a ‘Greater Birmingham’ City-Region enough, or do we need elected regional government – with or without a West Midlands Boris (or Ken)?

Join speakers with national, regional and local policy experience at the University of Birmingham’s Michael Tippett Room to discuss what sort of voice the West Midlands requires to better meet the needs of its 5.2 million people.

wm devo meeting poster4


ORC flyer

The Organic Producer Conference is getting closer! We have a great line-up already with more to come! See the latest programme here. Together with the Soil Association’s National Soil Symposium (25th November), which will be focusing on resilience, it should be an inspiring three days.

ORC organisers

The ORC Organic Producers’ Conference has producer-focused technical, business and policy workshops on the first day (26th November), and a more specific focus on current research and innovation activities on the second day (27th November), with the aim of bringing producers, researchers, advisers and students together to make change happen!

Residential packages including the Symposium and ORC Conference are available from £188 +VAT. Day tickets from £56 +VAT. There are further discounts available for eligible English producers for both events through the RDPE. Bursaries are available on application. Please note the early bird closing date of 31st October 2014 with all prices increasing by 20% from 1st November 2014. More on the conference here.

Bursaries available

ernest cook logoWe have funds from various sources, including the Organic Growers Alliance and the Ernest Cook Trust, to enable young people (students/apprentices/new entrants) with limited means to attend the conference.

We have also secured bursaries for young people living in Berkshire. If you are 26 or under, resident in Berkshire and training (student/apprentice) to or starting a career in agriculture, you may qualify for one of our Gordon Palmer Memorial Trust bursaries.

greenham common logoBursary funding is also available from the Greenham Common Trust for young people (aged 18-26) from West Berkshire who are registered on an existing FE/HE course in agriculture, horticulture or related topic, or engaged in a relevant work-experience placement or apprenticeship scheme, or at an early stage of a career in a food or farming related business.

If you think you may qualify for any of the above bursaries, please e-mail Gillian Woodward with details of your address, age and circumstances to check your eligibility.


prof keith osman bcuAs government offers £12m for affordable home-building, Professor Keith Osman, Director of Research at Birmingham City University, is urging the Government to take long-term perspective and use a more integrated strategy in future planning.

He claims that the building or zero carbon EXEMPT homes, announced by Prime Minister David Cameron last month, is a “short-sighted approach that misses a major opportunity to reduce significantly the carbon emissions of much-needed new homes . . . Ignoring climate change and easing regulations to reduce construction costs in the short term is a false economy for planners when planning to build new homes on this scale”.

The Zero Carbon Buildings policy forms part of Government’s wider strategy to achieving the Climate Change Act 2008 target, improving energy security and reducing fuel poverty. The commitment was reiterated in the Queen’s speech this year. It is now seen as being ‘under threat’. For details read:

Affordable housing with unaffordable energy bills?

Despite this, the government is currently proposing to build zero-carbon exempt homes as part of a scheme to provide more affordable housing for 100,000 first time buyers.

According to Professor Osman, the enhanced modelling capability being developed through the KIC-Transitions (KIC-T) project, which brings together data, modelling and visualisation tools to provide a comprehensive simulation framework that will assist strategic planning, enables “plug-in” to a wide range of information sets for analysis of key environmental impacts, including energy needs, noise pollution or carbon emissions. It will allow planners, designers, local authorities and house-dwellers to understand the full implications of planning decisions and be applied to all building projects around the world.”

The government in Cyprus did this many years ago by requiring all new ‘state-built’ housing to have solar thermal water heating. The first systems were imported from Israel in 1956 but Cyprus has now become a leader in their use and construction. 92% of households are equipped with solar water heaters and 53% of hotels have installed large solar water heating systems.

A wise British government would require the use of suitably oriented roofs and/or garden space for solar harvesting in new housing to be the norm.


Primary source: – a Social Housing and Local Government news website, featuring original and exclusive content, combined with press releases loaded direct by housing associations, local authorities, charities and other relevant organisations. Launched in October 2005, now has a dedicated audience of more than 62,000 unique users a month, including more than 6,000 registered users. (Source: Google Analytics).



By email from Balsall Heath:

John Christophers has claimed that the cost per square metre of his zero carbon house Birmingham was no more than a similar sized conventional house (£1,575 /sqm of internal floor area)


Ben Parkinson writes:

Children in Kampala run to demonstrate their commitment to education and sport, while at the same time celebrate their ability in running. The Slum Run is a highlight in the year for the children in the Acholi Quarter and some are supported to run by people all around the world.

In Birmingham, the run is more local and could be duplicated in any location in the UK. Runners are sponsored to support the children in Kampala. In Small Heath, the cup was won by Steve Green, a leader in Birmingham Boys’ Brigade. 12 year old Nicholas Fieldhouse was the worthy winner of the youth race.

slum run small heath

Every year the Run has developed and we had more runners than ever before. This year, the money we are raising is going into three areas:

Education support - this could be school fees or, more likely, requirements for school for some of the most disadvantaged slum children in the world. Staff at Chrysalis personally know the individual stories of all of the runners and make sure that the money makes the greatest social impact.

Activities and Services for Chrysalis Centre childrenmoney raised goes to a variety of activities, including athletics, participation in which has grown the self esteem of so many children since the Slum Run was launched. We run weekly art sessions, other sports and games, personal safety and hygiene sessions and provide washing facilities and first aid for all children.

Children’s Own Projects. This year we have started to engage children who visit our centre in social projects, which enable them to devise their own solutions to social problems in the slum area. Almost 40% of our regular members are undertaking social projects, at the same time learning empathy, leadership skills, accountability and ICT. Even young children are coming up with important projects, which will see them become role models for others in a changing Uganda.

In Kampala the Run was won by 13 year old Ivan Lubangakene, a name to watch for the future. Ivan is forced by circumstance to work in the quarry for his school requirements at the weekends and your support will keep him out of the quarry throughout this year. The first girl was Gloria Ayaa, who aged 12, fought off the challenge of much older girls this year.

slum run uganda

Even the local Chief of Police ran with the youngsters in Kampala and children lined the route around the circuit, as it was such an occasion! There were over 70 runners and you can find many photographs at the new Kampala Slum Run web-site.

It’s not too late to support the Slum Run 2014 via the website or you can simply send a cheque to the registered charity CYEN at 31 Prince of Wales Lane, Yardley Wood, Birmingham, B14 4lB. We still have money coming in from the Birmingham Run, but we would dearly love to reach our £3000 target for this year.


Read more about the work here:



Friday 10th – Saturday 11th October 2014

gas lightA two-day conference will explore the heritage of the manufactured gas industry in Britain and its legacy in 21st century science and technology. For more information and to book contact the Bookings Team:Telephone: 0121 520 8054 Email:

Delegates will:

  • replica newcomen steam enginehave access to gas-powered domestic appliances in the Museum’s collections;
  • see a range of gas engines working, including the replica Newcomen Engine, the Museum’s cinema gas engine and a 1905 Tangye Gas Engine;
  • see the Ross Barlow (the University of Birmingham’s hydrogen fuel cell narrowboat)
  • and have the opportunity to explore the Black Country Living Museum at night, with its authentic street and domestic gas lighting.

Ross Barlow canal boat3

rex gas conference-

BMETA logo 2The Birmingham Metallurgical Association is an affiliated society of the Institute of Materials, based at the School of Metallurgy and Materials (University of Birmingham). Its aim is to disseminate information on materials processing and properties to industry and academia in the West Midlands region, primarily through a series of evening lectures.

rex notice-

Ravi Kumar, Chairman, cordially invites all to attend the October talk for the Birmingham Branch of the United Nations Association, which is being held on Thursday 02 October 2014: 6.45pm, at The Moseley Exchange, Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham, B13 8JP.

arms trade flyer

Guest speaker: Kat Hobbs from the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), to speak on ‘The Arms Trade in Birmingham: how it can be stopped’. 

Please confirm if you plan to attend, so we can prepare accordingly.

Contact Ravi Kumar <>


black cabs strike

As more than a thousand black-cab taxi drivers blocked traffic in central London on Wednesday in the latest of a series of protests across the continent against Uber, Cyril Bouquet, Professor of Business Strategy at IMD, said London’s black-cab drivers are campaigning to “prevent reform of an outdated, often monopolistic and over-regulated system”.

Is preferential treatment for expensive Birmingham and Solihull black cabs discriminating against affordable private hire cars?

A local private hire driver alleges that though he pays far more for the privilege of operating than a black cab driver his opportunities are restricted.

He told the writer that he pays £350 for his licence, MOT and badge, compared with the black cab charge of £260-270.

  • He cannot pick up fares on the street like the black cabs.
  • He cannot used lanes designated ‘bus and taxi’.
  • He may not wait at the airport, the railway station and the coach station.

The private hire driver charges for the distance travelled, whereas the black cab starts with £3 on the clock before it has travelled a metre.

As policy-makers on expense accounts accede to the demands of the powerful Birmingham Hackney Drivers Union and the lobbying of the Birmingham and Solihull Taxi Association, the ordinary person appreciates the more affordable private hire service and cannot see why it should be treated unfairly.


nigel maxtedThe research of Dr Nigel Maxted at the University of Birmingham is “committed to the conservation of genetic diversity in plants with a focus on species of agricultural value, using novel approaches to conservation and diversity management”. To learn more click here. Dr Maxted is a senior lecturer in plant genetic conservation, with specific expertise in in situ and ex situ conservation techniques.

Wild genetic diversity is essential for protecting global crops such as wheat, barley, rice and beans from climate change, pests and environmental stress. The world’s plant genetic resources are under considerable threat. Crop improvement depends on diversity in our plant genetic resources, which, it is argued, is inadequately recognised and conserved.

Biodiversity is at risk:

  • University website: from multiple threats including climate change.
  • Financial Times account: from conflict in the Middle East, habitat loss in China and inaction in southern Europe
  • India’s minister for agriculture: after halting GM food trials, explains that this has been done, “to ensure that no harm is done to traditional gene pool /biodiversity of the nation, soil, food security and health of the people of India”.

The Birmingham scientists have compiled a global database of wild species related to priority crops for use by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation as it debates strategies for conservation.

wild plants b'ham research header

The database reveals that establishing protected reserves in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East is the most crucial action for protecting global food security. However, such resources are an issue of national sovereignty and the FAO remains in negotiation with governments in the region.

Fears over the Syrian civil war provoked the duplication and safe relocation of thousands of samples of crop and wild relative varieties to international gene banks.

shelagh kellThe Birmingham researchers also point to China and southern Europe as crucial for preserving the genetic diversity of important crops. “China has a flora that is one of the richest in the world,” says project manager Shelagh Kell. “This diversity represents a vast natural reservoir of genetic resources.” Despite their potentially high economic value, at least 17% of wild native crop relatives in China are at risk of extinction.

The database compiled by the Birmingham team and its Chinese colleagues identifies which species should be flagged as a conservation priority. The next step in China is to locate the ideal sites.

European conservation is not much further ahead. 11.5% of European crop wild relatives are threatened with extinction. Countries with the highest diversity of species include Portugal, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain.

Ms Kell calls for funding from an organisation like FAO to provide the funding and skills to help those countries to conserve plant genetic resources.


birm greener commission header

25 new local authority eco-homes have been built in Dimmingsdale Bank, Quinton - 13 for rent and 12 for sale at ‘affordable’ prices. The development meets two objectives on the city’s Carbon Roadmap: reduced heating bills and lower carbon emissions

The two, three, four and five-bedroom homes have been built to meet high insulation standards, including cavity wall, loft and under-floor insulation, high efficiency boilers, high performance double-glazed windows and photo voltaic panels to assist residents in reducing energy bills.

birm ecohomes

The new council homes have been developed by Birmingham City Council’s house building programme, Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT) with its partners, Capita, Mansell Homes and the Homes and Communities Agency in the Midlands, which provided funding through its affordable homes programme.

birm carbon commission reportBirmingham City Council’s Cabinet Member for Development, Transport and the Economy, said: “The handover of another phase of our eco-homes can now be added to the 2,025 houses already completed, or in various stages of construction under the BMHT banner. Bringing new homes to local people is a particularly rewarding part of my job.”

Birmingham’s Green Commission published a Carbon Roadmapin November 2013 to identify the projects which will help to realise this ambition and achieve a 60% reduction in total carbon emissions.


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