Nicola Schumacher


Nicola is the 4th daughter of radical economist E.F. Schumacher, Practical Action's founder. Nicola is accompanying her brother, James, on the first leg (350 miles) of a gruelling 1,200 mile bike ride across some of Europe’s toughest terrain to mark her father’s centenary and raise awareness for the charity he founded in 1966. In 2015/16 Nicola is organising the creation of a quilt to mark 50 years of Practical Action.

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Posts by Nicola

  • Our 50th anniversary quilt

    January 29th, 2016

    Our collection of beautiful quilt squares for the 50th Anniversary quilt, is growing steadily with the latest one arriving today from Maddy Broome – thank you so much Maddy!quilt square

    If I understand correctly from the bundle of letters that came with the square, Maddy not only went to her book group, neighbours and colleagues for button donations but also sent requests to friends all over the place. They sent back their buttons with a few lines about why they had chosen them and it was those letters that she has sent on to me. One I found particularly touching was from someone called Wanda who had donated a button of Joe’s who I presume was her partner/husband.

    She wrote: “We miss him so, so it’s wonderful to think this tiny ‘symbol’ of him will live on.”

    Last weekend I had a text from an old friend of mine who had held a party with neighbours to make a quilt square which I am very much looking forward to seeing!

    She said, “We had a wonderful evening… I had 16 over and it was a lovely cross-section of the ladies of our village. They drank me dry and finally left at 1 am! We all agreed that we should get together more often. The buttoning was a wonderful catalyst, creative without being demanding. Our square is being finished by a neighbour who couldn’t come along. It’s quite eccentric – you’ll see what I mean!”

    Marion sent through 3 squares, one with a special Three legs of Man button, following a Buttons & Biscuits event at her home in the Isle of Man.

    The wonderful thing that is emerging from this quilt process is how making squares brings people together – perhaps, gives us an excuse to make contact, get together and share with friends the things that are special to us – including Practical Action! And that is essentially what Practical Action is doing all the time in its projects – bringing people with knowledge together with the people who need it and developing creative and simple solutions to the problems that they face.  And that is wonderful!

    I had a lot of tea and cake with my neighbours at the start of the year and they were very intrigued as to why they were asked to ‘bring a button and a pound’. That square is almost finished and I have now got one started at school. This Sunday I will be talking at my local Methodist Church about it and from early February there will be a square in progress in a coffee shop in Shrewsbury along with an article in the local paper (fingers crossed) so anyone can come along and take part.

    I hope you are still inspired to contribute. The deadline is 31st March so you still have lots of time to collect and send buttons or make quilt squares.   It’s very simple!

    So please keep those squares coming and keep having fun telling people about Practical Action!

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  • My final day

    Mayence, Germany, Mayence
    September 1st, 2011

    Day 6 Koblenz to Mainz
    The first entire day of sunshine today. We wound our way through the Rhine valley, this part being a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was stunning; a steep winding valley with vines clinging to the hillsides or deep green woodland. We passed (or were passed) by zillions of cyclists of all ages. We even saw a woman pedalling determinedly who was 85 if she was a day!

    We passed lots of castles and tourist boats

    I couldn’t believe it when we got to Mainz. I had made it! We had travelled about 360 miles over the last 6 days powered only by our own legs and I was still standing! Amazing.
    To celebrate this milestone, we went out for something to eat and decided on wine rather than beer for the evening given that we were in such a great wine-producing area. We stumbled upon “Weinhaus Michel”, which looked like a traditional German restaurant but turned out to be more of a wine bar. All the wine they sell is produced in the vineyard of the Michel family, not far from the Rhine. We ordered a delicious bottle of wine and some food and ate outside ín a great atmosphere.

    On our way out, we bumped into the owner Stefan Michel. He was very friendly and insisted on us trying a wine that his son had created. He asked what we were doing in Mainz. When we told him about the ride and Practical Action he stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a 50 Euro note. “Here, have this as my contribution to your great ride!” he said.
    What generosity and a great note on which to end the day and my part of the ride.  (More about Stefan’s wines here:

    Weinhaus Michel

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  • The longest day… so far

    Koblenz, Germany, Koblenz
    August 31st, 2011

    DAY 3 Munster to Duisburg
    A 60+ mile day passing through countryside and then heavy industry. Our arrival in Duisburg was a nightmare. A massive industrial city, tired legs and no detailed map. We ended up in a bustling street fair with, fortunately, some firemen on duty. They were wonderfully helpful, printing us detailed maps and route instructions from google earth that got us, finally, to the hostel’s door. It was sited on an old industrial works (including museum) with the carcasses of gas storage tanks, huge chimneys and steel works all around it. James was just contemplating climbing one of the chimneys to see the view when a security man rose up mysteriously out of the darkness in a golf buggy. Very weird.

    The view from our hostel window!

    DAY 4 Duisburg to Bonn, 78 miles

    On the Rhine in Dusseldorf - we then went up the panoramic tower (between our heads)

    With the cycle computer finally installed to confirm our accurate mileage and speed, our breathtaking average speed for the day turned out to be 8.5 miles per hour!! It had taken us hours to negotiate the complicated streets out of Duisburg so finally, come 8.15pm, we arrived in central Bonn only to find that our hostel was 5.5 kms out in the sticks up a small mountain. Smelly and tired we thought that the Intercontinental Hotel was just the ticket … for a map and some directions. However we did not legislate for the fact that it was now dark. After fumbling through the streets following buses, we pedalled up a dark wooded road. James cycling on instinct pedalled ahead only to be called to a halt by me – Why was he not using our brand new map?!?

    A couple of miles later, having consulted the map, James asked a passer-by for directions. She was a very helpful (as all the Germans we have met have been) but bossy and gave us detailed lengthy, off-road instructions to the hostel. She made it sound miles away!! We rode on and considered her track but I decided the road (and map!) were safer. She was having none of it and scolded us back onto the track, shouting loudly from behind us “RECHTS! RECHTS!”. Obediently we did as we were told and began cycling up a pitch black woodland track. Miraculously we finally arrived to a YHA sign at 9pm, having thought we had been sent to the Black Forest. I was hysterical with fatigue and couldn’t stop laughing, rather alarming the poor receptionist.

    The woodland track to the hostel - the next morning in daylight!

    Day 5 Bonn to Koblenz

    An early start – 6am and a rude awakening to a commotion outsite our window that convinced us that our bikes were in mortal danger of being stolen! They had been locked together but were in an unlocked basement. I leapt out of bed, wondering how we would track down the thieves, and ran down in my nightshirt to check out the damage. Fortunately no one else was up to see this mad woman! The bikes were fine.

    A statue of Beethoven who was born in Bonn.

    3pm: After visits to the tourist information, the town archive and the street were Papa was born (sadly the house is no longer there) we were off! Only 40 miles today, what a sinch! We followed the Rhine all the way, through lovely winding, wooded valleys, spotting our first vineyards. Arrived Koblenz 7pm. Phew.

    Arriving in Koblenz on a beautiful evening.

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  • Held up by the Post Meister

    Münster, Germany, Münster
    August 28th, 2011

    (Day 2 of the ride and we have found an internet terminal to get onto the blog.)
    Amazingly, our bikes both survived the plane journey and arrived, with our panniers at the correct airport (Hannover)!

    I was so pleased to have arrived with all the gear intact: First step accomplished!










    So after half an hour of careful reconstruction we set off by train to our starting point of Bremen – our ancestral town.

    James reconstructing his bike.

    The following morning we decided to spend a little time investigating our family history before setting off. We had been told by family mythology that our ancestors had been important people in Bremen through the centuries. A visit to the archive found nothing so we were directed to the Foke Museum. The historians there looked blank when we suggested the famous Schumacher name but directed us to a book of a previous exhibition they had held on notable figures in Bremen’s history. At last! We found our great, great, great, great … grandfather, Albert! He looked a stuffy 18th century bloke with an impressive wig. And lo! He was the all-important Post Master!!!! What a find! The museum staff proceeded to lay out a red carpet for our exit.

    So, after a hot chocolate stop to compose ourselves and get over the shock of our blue-blooded ancestry (and a few miles cycling around Bremen!) we set off at 11.30 for our first stage of 70 miles!

    We cycled through hot sun, thunder storms and beating rain, stopping regularly for map conferences, punctures and sustenance. By dusk we were … almost there! By nightfall we got our first glimpse of the youth hostel lights at Alfsee and rolled off our bikes into bed.

    Day 2

    Less eventful but once again thunder storms and an intermittent headwind. Our prediction was to arrive in Munster by 4pm. Ha! Arrived 6.30 but at least that was before dark.

    Feeling REALLY tired this morning and have a mere 65 miles to do today to reach Duisburg. Better get going as our light batteries are fading!!!!

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  • Cherry plums

    August 17th, 2011

    16th August 2011 marks 100 years since Papa was born so I have been pondering about him on my ride.

    One of my earliest and most formative memories of Papa – I must have been 6 or 7 at the time – was digging potatoes with him in the garden. It sounds so simple and indeed it was but it was revolutionary for my young child’s mind: you stuck a fork into the ground beneath a bushy green plant, loosened the earth, and as if by magic food appeared. I remember scrambling around in the muck excitedly looking for more of these precious golden roots. I suspect it was the first time that I realised where food came from – miraculously it grew, out of the ground around us. It seemed absolutely amazing!

    I suspect this was a particularly important experience for me because it appealed to my foraging instinct, an instinct I have had to fight vigorously on my bike rides around the abundant Shropshire lanes. Hedgerows are full of blackberries, sloes, wonderful wild flowers (that I would like in my garden!) and wild raspberries but if I keep stopping to pick, I get nowhere fast!

    Along a particular lane that I frequent, I pedal past about 200 metres of cherry plum bushes. This year they have been swathed in wonderful fruit – yellow, red and purple. Most of it, sadly, simply drops to be squished by passing traffic. It breaks my heart to see this abundance go to waste so in this particular case I’ve allowed myself to stop and gather the plump fruit. Sometimes it has just been to stuff them in my mouth with the excuse that I needed the sugar to replenish my muscles but I have also stopped to gather them for use at home. I found that the darker fruit were the tastier to eat fresh but the yellow fruit have ripened later and are still around now.

    At home I have substituted them for plums in a plum and sour cream tart recipe – delicious! – but I have also been keen to try making jam. I’m no expert jam-maker and didn’t have any recipe books for plum jam let alone the wild variety. How much sugar should I use? Do they need extra pectin? Where do I look for information? Well, obviously, the internet. What a fantastic modern resource and sure enough there are lots of good wild plum jam recipes and tips on-line. And how much poorer I would be if I was unable to access this amazing source, if I did not have access to the modern sources of energy that power this cyber world.

    “A life without energy condemns people to a life of poverty. One quarter of the world’s population is forced to live without energy – and lives are devastated as ill health and poor education take their toll.” (Practical Action, 2011)

    Hence Practical Action’s important campaign to provide energy for all through the use of more efficient technologies and small-scale electricity generation projects such as micro-hydro projects in Peru and simple solar technologies in parts of Africa. Access to energy is a crucial part of access to education and information, the importance of which Papa recognised all those years ago: “Development does not start with goods, it starts with people and their education, organisation and discipline.”

    The jam, by the way, is a brilliant red or apricot orange depending on the plum colour and tastes wonderful. And in the process I have discovered a super website !

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  • 2 weeks today…

    August 12th, 2011

    … and our ride will be beginning in Bremen – help, that’s soon, too soon!

    Having said that, training is going reasonably well although the proof of the pudding… as they say, will be in two and a half weeks! Day 4 is when I expect to feel pretty done in.

    All those hours on a bike pedalling around Shropshire give me lots of time to ponder things. I prefer to go on new routes each time so that it doesn’t get too boring and so there are new sights to distract me. It brings out my nosey instinct and I find myself craning my neck to see over hedges, through windows and up driveways.

    Today I did a 24 mile jaunt passing ripe fields, cropped fields, fields full of young leeks, cows with their young – the lot. What struck me most though was passing fields of leeks that were being sprayed with water cannon. This is not the first time I’ve seen these machines in operation. They chuck out tonnes of water at breathtaking speed. Strangely, although all of us gardeners are advised to water in the evening to minimise evaporation, that message obviously hasn’t got through to the local farmers who seem to prefer to do their watering in the blazing sun at midday! The wind blows the spray all over the place too and it leaves me wondering how much of the water actually gets to the plants in the end.

    This wasteful system contrasts so strikingly with the efficient drip-water irrigation systems that Practical Action has been using in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia ( In these simple systems, water drips gradually right where it is needed, at the foot of the plant, making the most of every precious drop. Our attitude to water in the UK must surely change dramatically over the next few years. We can’t afford to be so profligate and inefficient in our use of this precious resource. I wonder too what impact this system of watering is having on the beautiful River Severn and its wildlife which I see regularly on my rides.

    Hey ho! Enough cogitating. A day of rest tomorrow before some more gruelling rides starting Sunday.

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  • Pedalling for Papa

    July 25th, 2011

    Phew! Summer holidays and to my amazement I’ve actually survived my first year as a Newly Qualified Teacher (otherwise known as a Newly Qualified Target). The only downside is that I now have no work/time excuses left and have to start training seriously for this ride. As Papa used to say, ‘An ounce of practise is worth a tonne of theory’ and it must be said that pretty much all my training so far has been in my head.

    OMG! Have just realised the date – 25th July – and exactly one month till we leave for Germany. Only a month to get my body and head into shape. What was I thinking when I agreed to this?!

    Looking back I haven’t really twigged about the distance we are going or the 6 days we are meant to be spending doing it. It’s only as some of my kind sponsors have been dropping their jaws and wishing me, in a disconcertingly sincere way “Good Luck!”, that the penny thumped to the floor of my skull. This isn’t just a little further than last year’s 99 miles. This is a whacking three and a bit times as far and that’s if we don’t get lost! Furthermore, although I feel I could, given ample time, trundle 330 miles on a bike, who was the mad hatter (JAMES!) who suggested doing it in 6 days straight???

    So, panic is truly setting in and I have begun to compile lists and plans.

    First things first: my rapidly growing list of worries:

    1. My bike, flying standby, simply doesn’t make it it to Germany at all so I have to walk the distance instead. This means I miss the start of term, lose my job, lose my husband who’s given up waiting for me to return etc. and my life spins into out of control and into orbit…

    2. My bike and I make it to Germany but on the 3rd morning I simply can’t move my legs or sit down. I know I can do two days on a bike – that’s what we did last year – but SIX?!?

    3. James – who has a ‘proper’ racing/road super-light, 21-gear bike – get’s fed up with waiting for me and my borrowed, folding, 7-gear, iron machine and simply pedals on without me leaving me somewhere in the middle of Germany.

    4. I won’t be able to pedal in anything but 1st gear when I get my loaded saddle-bags on the bike – I think the only solution to this is that I’ll just have to travel with just a spare pair of gel-pants and a toothbrush.

    The good news is that on the first day of the holidays – Saturday – I went for a potter around Shropshire’s country lanes. It took rather longer than expected – 2 hours – and when I mapometered it on-line I found I’d done 25 and a quarter miles! ;-))

    The bad news is that when I got back on my bike today – a full 48 recovery hours later – my legs felt like putty and would hardly move. I persevered and completed my Condover – Uffingham loop which was quite beautiful but worry number 2 is really preying on my mind now. How on earth am I going to keep this (and more) up day after day?

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