Yesterday I had the priviledge of running an EcoTeams session with older residents from Black Country Housing Group in Smethwick. Their stories showed me how we have lost a connection with where things come from … making talk about “energy use” a very abstract thing.
Some of the childhood stories they shared:
- Carrying coal or coke home from the yard in an old pram, and crying at the roadside when a wheel fell off and their hands were so cold they couldn’t find the pin to put the wheel back on.
- Bathing in the old ‘boiler’ after mum had used the water to do the washing – with the base of the boiler still being red hot from being over an open fire.
- Growing up in a room behind a chip shop and having baths in a tin tub interupted by people coming through to get more fish or chips.
- Sleeping with fire bricks for hot water bottles and with all the coats on the bed as the bedding wasn’t warm enough.
- Freezing trips to the outside toilet in the middle of the night, and seeing stars through the roof.
Every fire meant carrying more fuel in from the out house and every use of water involved fetching it from outside. It’s a long way from flicking a switch or turning on a tap and it made the connection between the energy we use and the effort involved in getting it.
The nearest ‘modern’ example I could give them was the BBC’s Bang Goes the Theory Human Power Station, where a team of cyclists provided a family’s electricity for a day. Energy monitors can also help to make electricity more ‘visible’.
Everyone was agreed on the difference that living in newer, well insulated accommodation made, especially since many had previously lived in a draughty tower block with single-glazed, aluminium-framed windows.
We discussed a lot of energy and water saving tips and I hope that they enjoyed using the EcoTeams activities as much as I enjoyed learning from them about how our relationship to energy has changed.