Each year in October/November the Green Branch volunteers organise a community conference on a ‘green’ topic. We have organised four conferences – three on different aspects of food and food growing and one on energy efficiency and renewables. They are held on a Saturday at Bede’s World Museum in South Tyneside (free entry with a free lunch!)

Conference 2015
Conference 2015

The format of the conference is usually short presentations on the topic in the morning (a mixture of local speakers and those from further afield) and workshops in the afternoon.

Our last conference topic was suggested by Tom from ‘Tom and Joes’ garden centre, Wylam. He then worked alongside one of the Green Branch members, Kerryanne Higgens, to organise the conference.

If you have a suggestion for a conference, come along to one of our meetings to tell us about your idea.

Scroll down for information about the four conferences we have organised so far

Conference 2015 Fruit on the Tyne

The WEA Green Branch presents our Back to the Land IV conference, Fruit on the Tyne, recognising the growing interest and benefits of community growing projects in the North East.

The day will provide:

9:30am               Registration and Refreshments

Morning session at Fruit on the Tyne Conference
Morning session at Fruit on the Tyne Conference

10am – 12:30     Welcome and presentations from local groups to share lessons, challenges and experiences from their projects

12:30 – 1:45pm   Free lunch and market place for stalls

1:45 – 3:30pm    Participatory workshops to inform and inspire on the following topics:

Kath Whittaker – Overview of Growing Together Partnership for Support to Generate Income

William Mortada – Effective Social Media to Engage the Public and Volunteers

Duika Burges Watson – Challenging Contemporary Food Systems, What role do community gardens play?

Nigel Todd – Future of Council Managed Urban Spaces (Working in Partnership)

3:30 – 4pm           Feedback from workshops

We look forward to an interesting and inspiring day!

 Click here for conference evaluation report.

Conference 2014

Saturday 4th October 2014 – Bede’s World, South Tyneside

This year’s WEA Green Branch conference will be on How to develop community renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The event is free, and 10 minutes walk from Bede metro station.

Sponsored by Northern Community Power, the National Renewable Energy Centre and VONNE.

Thermal image of the WEA regional offices
Thermal image of the WEA regional offices

The programme is:

9.30 – 10am           Registration

10am  – 12.15        Presentations include:

Ross Weddle, a director of Community Energy England, who worked on the Berwick community owned wind turbine will explain the benefits of community renewables and energy efficiency and show examples from across the country. He will also give an update on the WEA’s planned work to encourage and support community groups to set up energy projects.

Laura Brown, senior engineer at The National Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth will give us a beginners guide to renewables, so if you have no idea what a ground source heat pump is, or the difference between solar thermal and solar p.v. panels then come along and find out.

Ewan Boyd, a director of Green Community Buildings will talk us through examples of community owned energy efficient buildings, and explain how you could do the same.

Thom Bradley, from Community and Voluntary Action Blyth Valley, has supported groups developing community owned renewables and energy efficiency. He will outline things to consider before starting a project, to help you avoid potential pitfalls.

Question and answer session

12.15 – 1.15pm      
Lunch time. There will be a market place where you can find out about different organisations who could help you with your project.

1.15 – 2pm           Workshop session 1

2 – 2.15pm           Tea break

2.15 – 3pm           Workshop session 2

The workshops will consist of short presentations followed by lots of time for questions. Each workshop will be repeated twice. You can choose from workshops on;

Workshop 1 – Gordon Cowtan, Fintry Wind Project – this is a wind farm owned by a power company but where the community have negotiated a good deal to ensure a high proportion of the income goes to the community.

Workshop 2 – Panel on school’s renewables and efficiency projects that includes Amberley Primary, Killingworth, who have installed wind and solar, and carried out energy efficiency improvements.

Workshop 3 – Ian Benson, the engineer who installed the micro hydro system for Whitfield village hall in Northumberland, will talk about the technical, environmental and legal aspects of community owned micro hydro. The overall project also included a ground source heat pump.

Workshop 4 – Community buildings energy audit, using bedes world as an example! Workshop led by Ewan Boyd from Green Community Buildings

Workshop 5 – Did you know that Fenham Pool in Newcastle is heated by Solar Thermal panels? Neither did we! Come and find out more at this workshop explaining how they did it.

Workshop 6 – Carol Botten from VONNE will lead a workshop on the current work and future plans for the Community Energy England North East consortium.

Workshop 7 – Open forum on community energy. If you are involved in an interesting project and would like to chat with others, then contribute to this open forum.

3pm – Finish

Ross Weddle presentation- link

Laura Brown presentation- link

Conference 2013

The theme of this year’s conference will be food sustainability.  It will take place on Saturday 5 October 2013 at Bede’s World, Jarrow, 9.30 am – 4.00 pm, and is free of charge.  

The main focus is on how we can build different food distribution systems in the north east, where producers and consumers have a closer relationship. This can have a lot of benefits including new, stable markets for producers, including more opportunities for selling produce when there is a glut,  more money staying in the local economy, and good value, environmentally friendly produce for consumers, as well as knowing where our food comes from.

Although there are a lot of exciting growing projects in the north east, there is space for more alternative distribution systems. This event hopes to get producers and consumers together to look at ways we can do this.

Other food sustainability topics of interest to participants will also be discussed in the afternoon open space session.

 The key note speaker is Nick Weir from Stroud Food Co, who will talk about setting up alternative food distribution systems that bring together producers and consumers with the aim of giving a better deal to both the people who sell local produce and consumers than the supermarkets do. He will run a workshop on this topic in the afternoon session. Nick has worked with 75 community groups to help them set up projects similar to Stroud food co, and worked with 23 start up CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) including both community led and farmer led.

The morning session will also include information on Manchester Veg. People, a ground breaking producer and consumer co-operative that includes Manchester University and local primary schools.

There will be time for lunch, networking and practical workshops, between the morning and afternoon sessions. Practical workshops will include plant foraging and craft activities. Or time to explore the grounds of Bede’s World.

The afternoon session will be run using the facilitation method open space. There will be suggested topics such as: food charters/policy councils, setting up alternative food distribution systems in the north east, community food growing, food banks, but we also want to allow for more openness so that themes that have not been pre-decided can be discussed.

In this session there will be tables set out, each with a topic for discussion, and one or two invited people to contribute knowledge they have on the topic and facilitate discussion. The aim of this session is to come up with action points at the end which can be carried out following the conference. The WEA green branch is committed to supporting good ideas/ initiatives that come out of this conference.
For evaluation report follow link  Back to the Land Conference Report final-2

Conference 2012


SATURDAY 13 OCTOBER, 10.00 am – 4. OO pm



9.30 am :                      Registration

10.00 am:                     Opening and welcome

10.10/11.00 am:          Keynote speaker: Peter Couchman, The Plunkett Foundation

11.00/11.15 am:          Break

11.15 am/12.15 pm:   Workshops – Series 1

12.15/1.15 pm:            Lunch break and ‘market place’ displays

1.00 pm:                       Co-operatives North East AGM (for CNE members)

1.15/2.15 pm:              Workshops – Series 2

2.15/2.30 pm:              Break

2.30/3.30 pm:              Workshops – Series 3

3.30/4.00 pm:              Plenary session – round up of day and close.


SERIES 1: 11.15 am – 12.15 pm

             Title and description Preference (1, 2 3 …)
1a Reclaiming the land:

“From allotment regeneration to allotment sustainability – the work of the Allotment Regeneration Initiative 2002-12”

A brief look at the roots of the allotment movement, why the work of the Allotment Re-generation Initiative was necessary – what we have achieved, current trends and how we can sustain the positive momentum the project has helped to start. Di Appleyard

1b Building on the past: The heritage of the Federation of Community Farms points a way to the future. An explosion of interest in reconnecting communities to local food production in the last few years. and increased recognition from policy-makers about the benefits of ‘green spaces’ in urban areas, makes this heritage highly relevant.   Tracy Craggs
1c Food co-ops:  The main principle behind all community food co-ops is that by pooling their buying power and ordering food in bulk direct from suppliers, a group of people can buy good food at a more affordable price. Small food co-ops or buying groups work by collecting together everyone’s orders in advance, whereas other models operate more like food businesses and order the produce from suppliers and then sell it to their customers via stalls, bag or box schemes, mobile stores, shops or other types of outlet. Find out more at this workshop. (see: http://www.makinglocalfoodwork.co.uk/about/fcbg/index.cfm)

(NB. This workshop didn’t run as we couldn’t find a workshop leader for it)

1d Transition Towns : What is a Transition Initiative?

It’s a place where there’s a community-led process that helps that town/village/city/neighbourhood become stronger and happier.

It’s happening in well over a thousand highly diverse communities across the world – from towns in Australia to neighbourhoods in Portugal, from cities in Brazil to rural communities in Slovenia, from urban locations in Britain to islands off the coast of Canada.

These communities have started up projects in areas of food, transport, energy, education, housing, waste, arts etc. as small-scale local responses to the global challenges of climate change, economic hardship and shrinking supplies of cheap energy. Together, these small-scale responses make up something much bigger, and help show the way forward for governments, business and the rest of us.

Ruth Hayward   (see: http://www.transitionnetwork.org/)

1e Communities Living Sustainably: The Big Lottery has funded three urban projects in the North East at Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle (Greening Wingrove) as part of a national programme to strengthen communities in preparing for climate change. This will be an exchange of ideas and approaches to mobilising neighbourhoods in facing global challenges.
1f Interactive Storytelling in Ellie’s Eco Van: A family friendly story told with music and pictures with an environmental theme ending with an interactive element which invites participants to make a simple craft item which contributes to a positive ending.
1g Bede’s World – the next stage: Mike Benson, Director of Bede’s World, invites participants to join him on a tour of the museum site to look at possibilities for using land more creatively and hearing about Bede’s World’s plans to become a co-operative.


SERIES 2: 1.15 pm – 2.15 pm

             Title and description Preference (1, 2 3 …)
2a Moorside Allotments Association – from Individual towards Community. This illustrated session concentrates upon how Moorside Allotments in Newcastle (originally a Dig for Victory allotment site) generates community togetherness and its benefits. The presentation is multi-faceted and fairly flexible so we hope we can angle it in the direction of the interests of those who attend.
2b Vertical Gardening: I’m Mark Ridsdill Smith, the founder of Vertical Veg. I discovered how much food you can grow on a balcony by accident. Frustrated at waiting for an allotment, I started to experiment on my balcony in 2009. Vertical Veg was born.   I founded Vertical Veg because I love growing food, but also because it ties in with my dream of cities where people live in closer connection with the seasons, nature and their food. While cities will always be reliant on importing many staple foods, there is no reason why most of our fresh salads, herbs, fruit and vegetables cannot be grown on our streets, window sills, balconies and back yards. (see: http://www.verticalveg.org.uk/)
2c Brighter Futures: Working with the Brighter Futures Tool Kit for Your Community. An introduction to activities that can involve your community. A helpful resource for action on sustainability across the North East, enabling us all to make positive sustainable changes for our community. Ross Weddle. (see: http://www.brighterfuturestogether.co.uk/


2d Winter salad leaves, herbs and other delights. Food growing in cities – how to grow something fresh and delicious even without a garden, using windowsills, back yards and containers. A practical workshop where you can have go at seed sowing and take something away to grow at home. Anna Corbett
2e Saving the Bees : Bee populations have been under threat but we depend on bees as one of the chief pollinators of flowers and crops. Bede’s World maintains bee hives as a contribution to saving the bees, and this workshop will look at what we can all do to help.
2f Sentient Cities:     Visioning Workshop

Participants are invited to co-create a vision of a future they would like to live in. A short presentation would set context (i.e. we live in a time of great uncertainty but also amazing possibility…) then we’d do a couple of exercises to unleash to group’s creativity and imagination. Ben Holden

SERIES 3: 2.30 pm – 3.30 pm

             Title and description Preference (1, 2 3 …)
3a Reclaiming the land: “From allotment regeneration to allotment sustainability – the work of the Allotment Regeneration Initiative 2002-12”

A brief look at the roots of the allotment movement, why the work of the Allotment Re-generation Initiative was necessary – what we have achieved, current trends and how we can sustain the positive momentum the project has helped to start. Di Appleyard

3b Northern Allotments: Part of the ‘back to the land’ movement of the late C19, the Northern Allotments Society acted-co-operatively (in the acquisition of land), and was aimed as much as those who wanted to acquire freehold smallholdings for market gardens as for those who wanted suburban housing, seeing these two target groups as being mutually supportive in allowing land to be obtained and divided cheaply. John Griffiths
3c Urban Farming – Challenges and Opportunities

Middlesbrough Environment City manage community growing sites which are spread around the borough, this workshop will look at and debate the challenges and opportunities faced when dealing with  land issues, housing associations and local councils, setting up allotment sites, training, volunteering, site management and funding. Brian Simpson

3d Our Food: The starting point for Our Food is that we should all have the right to freedom of expression on the future of our food and farming system. Our Food is a new initiative that aims to give people more say in the future of food and farming by becoming involved in collaborative research. We are looking for people in the North East of England who might be interested in getting involved as community-based researchers during 2012. Tom Wakeford  (See: http://ourfood.org.uk)
3e Permaculture:   Permaculture works with nature to make a better world for all. By observing the natural world we can see a set of principles at work. Permaculture design uses these principles to develop integrated systems that provide for our needs of food, shelter, energy and community in ways that are healthy and efficient. We can use permaculture design methods to improve the quality and productivity of our individual lives, our society and our environment. (see: http://www.permaculture.org.uk/)
3f Feast of Forage: a chance to explore what the things growing on the Bede’s World site has to offer how to turn it into culinary delights, and what can be found by rooting about. Liz Beech, Federation of Community Farms Fieldworker.
3g Building on the past: The heritage of the Federation of Community Farms points a way to the future. An explosion of interest in reconnecting communities to local food production in the last few years. and increased recognition from policy-makers about the benefits of ‘green spaces’ in urban areas, makes this heritage highly relevant.   Tracy Craggs