In Totnes I had my first introduction to DANCE – the Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement. Dharma is an Indian word and concept that has many meanings and nuances in different religions but in the context of Buddhism my understanding is that a simplified definition would be the teachings of Buddha and a ‘right way of living’.
One of the founders of DANCE, the inspiring Rob Burbea, kindly explained what had driven him to start the network. The interview will be in the documentary we are compiling of the journey. The idea behind DANCE is to create a space where people can connect and explore a wider range of possible responses to climate change within Buddhist teachings, and to discuss their feelings.
Upon arriving in Bristol I met my first DANCE member. Lindsay Alderton and I crossed paths through her work in Global Power Shift UK, where many climate change groups are coming together to form a larger movement. In conversation it turned out she was also a member of DANCE in Bristol, as was her friend Julia. They had done a range of activist actions that you might expect from other climate change groups, but the thing that struck me as noticeably different was the manner of contemplation. Conversations were much more present, listening and open, more contemplative and exploratory. Their behaviour suggested little attachment to tactics and more of a focus on a process of development and openness. Lindsay kindly did an interview for me and it was very obvious to me that she had emotionally processed a lot more of the trauma of climate change than the vast majority of people I have met, it was not an abstract intellectual concept, but an emotional reality that was driving the motivations of her life.
The purity of her intentions and statement of her truth was very moving and inspiring for me, leaving me feeling strengthened. When you meet someone with a pure intention to reduce suffering and protect our future it restores your trust and your faith, it is easier to connect and to bring out those things within yourself.
The teachings which arise out of Buddism have brought a great deal to the world and I look forward to them bringing a lot more to the responses to climate change.
We realised during our practice walk through Oxford that it is packed with people taking action to protect the environment. We spoke to Rupert Griffin about his achievements in getting more local food available in Oxford.
Rupert now runs his own business providing local apple juice and honey.
You know when you smile at a stranger and they smile back, then you smile more, and there’s a shared moment. Those are the moments I wait for but strangely there was only an average of 10% smile return rate through Oxford. One man surprised me by cycling back to me to thank me for smiling at him and it made my day. Just keep smiling people, sometimes they smile back. 🙂
The Reclaim Shakespeare Company is part of a growing movement of artivism – using the art form in the activism. The group challenges the sponsorship of the arts by fossil fuel companies with protest performance pieces. The subversive plays based on the form of art that is being sponsored are performed just before the official productions are due to begin. I spoke with writer, climate change researcher and artivist Danny Chivers about the group.
The Reclaim Shakespeare Company and Danny are now themselves portrayed as part of a new play about taking a stand for your conscience. You can watch performances of STAND at the Oxford Playhouse until the 8th of June.
During the tour walkers will be offering free courses and sessions. Here are some that we’ve got coming up!
If you’d like to offer a session or attend just email us.
What’s the law? – Knowing your rights, property law and the new civil rights movement. The first of these sessions will run around the 24th-26th May near Aylesbury/Milton Keynes with another at a later date.
Introduction to Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a way of changing your thought patterns and behaviours to influence your emotions and improve your life. In this weekend session, the first day will be an introduction to some aspects of the practice and the second will be a facilitated silent walk. End of June.
Poi – poi is a performance art where balls on cords are swung in intricate patterns. You can learn this at any point on the walk up until 6th June and possibly at later dates as well.
Conflict resolution – the methods and processes for peacefully resolving conflict. This one day session will run at some point before the 6th of June with the date depending upon interested persons.
Project management – a process and skills to help you get things done and organise your projects. This course can run at any point during the walk according to interest.
Banner making – what’s a good event without a banner? Practical chance to make a banner, please bring a sheet.
Campaign planning – what are some of the processes to go through when planning your own campaign?
A cancer research charity would not invest in tobacco, it would be unethical. A peace group would not invest in arms. Where you put your money is where you put power, so if we want to create a healthy future we can’t invest in unhealthy things.
Money is a bit like energy, it’s only doing something when it’s flowing, so organisations and banks are constantly investing, and some of that money is going to fund the expansion of fossil fuel drilling. Even if we spend all day campaigning against climate change, our money may be quietly funding climate change. The process of removing money from unethical investments is called divestment.
Near Northmoor Lock on the river Thames we came across Barefoot Campsites, with picnic tables, yurts, small sheds, and two very presentable composting toilets made by Free Range Designs. A common concern with composting toilets is that they might be considered unpleasant to use but I suspect these will please and surprise many a person.
William Morris was a multi-talented and political theorist, fantasy writer and artist who lived in Oxfordshire in the late 1800’s. He believed in equality and socialism. Journeying into Oxfordshire we encountered our first William Morris reference… on a boat…with a forge in it. Brian Greaves kindly told us about his work.
Continuing towards Oxford we encountered a modest and welcoming 11th century church in Inglesham which had been supported by William Morris. William Morris founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, one of the worlds first preservation groups. Within are old wooden pens containing the pews and wall paintings from across the centuries.
In Kelscott we saw the manor that had been William Morris’ home and continued along the beautiful Thames Path to Newbridge and Shifford. It’s been a great privilege to walk the path all the way from it’s source near Coates and to see the river change. And it doesn’t hurt that we’ve had glorious sunshine the whole way!
Most of the people I met in Stroud were musical in some way (given the many choirs, they had to be really!) but staying with Allison it was really a part of life, a way to be thankful and aware. Both Allison and her friend Jane sing in choirs, before our mealtimes they sang a prayer, and Jane was kind enough to teach me songs for walking, morning, evening and friendship. An interesting historical point which came up in conversation was that our western music as we hear it today is different in feel than it was before industrialisation. Historically musical instruments were tuned to a particular key, which was composed of the overtones within a note, but with modern instruments we compromise so that we don’t have to retune for songs in different keys. As a result, some of the notes are a little ‘out’ and don’t resonate nicely with each other. The other aspect which I had not realised, is that the note ‘A’ today is not the same as the ‘A’ from the 1800’s. Originally our instruments were tuned based on an A resonating at 432 Hz, but as musical audiences became bigger the instruments needed to be louder and so they were retuned to a higher tension at 440Hz.
Humans are very subtly yet strongly effected by resonance and frequencies, which is part of our love of music. Many people believe that music tuned to 432 Hz is more beneficial with a variety of websites promoting the psychological and spiritual benefits of using the traditional tuning. (Erm, as an aside, the two other ‘bees’ on the walk today have just started humming a resonance to each other and hugging. They didn’t know I was writing this.)
Jane recently bought a sounding bowl which was made from a Sycamore tree at Hawkwood College. The instrument was made in Devon and is tuned to traditional tuning and is a delight to play – beautifully carved, smooth, relaxing and contemplative, almost meditative. Jane kindly played a brief tune for me.
Communities that are strong and emotionally healthy are better equipped to deal with an uncertain future and if music be the food of love, play on!
Industrial agriculture focuses on yield and the appearance of food, as a result our food in England today is far less nutritious than in 1940, due to a depletion in the health and structure of our soil. Many of the nutrients that a human needs are not needed to make a crop grow well, and we have no way of telling just by looking at a vegetable what the internal quality of it is.
Biodynamic farming focuses very much on the quality of the farm rather than the quantity, on prioritising the health of the farm as a whole organism, with it’s bacteria, fungi and energy. I was surprised to learn that the method began ninety years ago with the ideas of Rudolf Steiner and was a precursor for our modern organic movement. The Biodynamic Association has its offices in Stroud and I visited the biodynamic farm at Hawkwood College to learn about their work. Walking up the driveway I saw a beautiful carved stone with some sort of geometric symbol on it, next to a crop. Straight away I felt that I was entering a space that was considered to be spiritual, where the land and the food were really focused on in a very conscientious, loving way.
Leaving Stroud I came across a dozen volunteers for the Cotswold Canals Trust giving their time to restore the canal.
There are volunteers working on the restoration six days a week, with larger groups on Tuesdays and anyone is welcome to join, to learn new skills and work with other members of the community.
As I walked towards Cirencester the canal became more forgotten and felt in places like a scene from Lord of the Rings, a forgotten civilization with nature slowly covering it up and taking it back. On the one hand I love to see life thriving in forgotten spaces, but the benefits of walking along a canal and perhaps one day transporting our goods by water not road are also a very positive image for the future.
There are over 14 community choirs in Stroud. That’s not counting the church choirs and the ones that audition. 14!!
The energy company ecotricity began in Stroud, and water and hills are defining feature of the town. The industrial revolution came early to Stroud with wool mills but then left it again when stronger rivers to the north took the work.
Many of the people I spoke to in Stroud were aware of the ideas of Rudolf Steiner who combined spirituality with science. The impression I get of Stroud is of a higher proportion of people who acknowledge a spiritual aspect to life and are grounded in a practical activity.
Laura sees a future for Dursley that brings the community together and puts it on the map. A process where the community comes together to create space. But creating a better future together is not just in terms of physical space, but in time as well.
Laura has two children and earlier this year took “a leap of faith” to give up her job and live on savings whilst she sets up her own business, Field Fresh, making natural skincare. She had tried to move away from the “old economy” towards the “new economy” but struggled to have the time. The gift that she’s found since creating space in her life for the business is that other things are emerging into her life too.
Transition Dursley is starting a pop-up shop to sell local people’s crafts and goods and being involved with the project is a great source of pride for Laura, as is the creation of a community permaculture garden. Laura attended a permaculture course a few years ago but now has the chance to use her skills and practice them in her community. The garden sits at the rear of a community building and is currently derelict, awaiting the volunteers who will be working on 45 small projects to transform the design into reality over the next year.
Listening to Laura’s story of change I hear a process that I’ve been hearing multiple times from people striving to create the world they wish to live in.
I had to create the space in my life then the hope could come.
The monument in the distance was on top of the hill and I felt a disappointment and realisation that my shoulders hurt, my legs hurt and I wasn’t going to make it. I looked at where it was on the map and understood that the monument was closer than I had intended to go that day, and I wasn’t going to make it. There was nothing else to do but keep walking anyway, not as if I’ve got anything else to do.
A few hours later I was standing at the base of the monument in shock and feeling rather humble that I had underestimated walking so much and given up hope so easily. The beauty of the Cotswolds really grabs you as you walk in from the west, and being able to see where you are headed and where you’ve come from is quite a shock.
Wild Goose Community in Bristol is a community of self build homes. I visited Ecomotive’s open day to see the unusual and heartwarming community and to hear the story of how it came about.
The forty dwellings were built by their owners as a group using a Community Land Trust model which has aspects of shared ownership. Self build homes are classified as ‘custom build’. Not all planning authorities are familiar or comfortable with custom build but there are many organisations who can offer you support and help if you decide you would like to build your own home. A good first step would be to check out the National Self Build Association.
The community that surrounds the Wild Goose Space became aware that a developer entered a planning permission for a standard housing development and decided to mobilise to object. Not only were they able to get the developers planning permission refused, but they submitted their own proposal for a mixed development with custom build and community focused buildings, to welcome new people into the area. The majority of people who then got involved were first time buyers, some designed their own homes, some used architects and they all consented to each other’s designs which facilitated getting planning approval. Large tasks like pouring concrete were done together whilst other aspects of building were shared with friends and family. The site was covered in an existing concrete pad and rather than dig this up they built foundations and laid services on top. As you might expect, a quality of life survey for the area found that residents had more local friends, less fear of crime and more general joy in their area and community.
When listing what it takes to make a project like this happen the factors were: ownership, range of skills and experiences, range of funding methods, teamwork, mix of voluntary and paid work, lots of meetings, good legal support, self belief and a lot of persistence.
Planning law is in the process of changing so many people will shortly find that building their own home has become easier. If you are interested in finding land to build upon and financing, below are some more resources to help you.
A house is made of bricks and stone, but only love can make a home.
Ugly, intrusive, negative messages in our public spaces. Commercial billboards in our towns affect us on a daily basis but we have little control over the images and messages we are exposed to. Graffiti also comes in to our public spaces, creating a variety of reactions.
Some graffiti is simple ‘tagging’ where the writer marks an area or is leaving a message for a specific audience or gang. Other graffiti may include more complex artwork or wider political messaging. Bristol is the home of Banksy, the now world known graffiti artist who’s art challenges ideas and questions the dominant culture. Around Bristol I saw different types of graffiti, some direct messages, some abstract, some subtle, some blunt.
A lot of graffiti contains sharp shapes, over sexualised or violent images. The vast majority of graffiti is done by men and perhaps for men? It can leave me feeling that the images have as little relevance to me as the billboards do, other than my empathy for their anger. Some graffiti artists like Banksy go further though, cutting through the noise of images with a counter message that makes you stop.
When a message does reach me it’s like the shock of seeing a smiling friendly face amongst a sea of angry strangers. Walking over a road footbridge someone has sprayed “Live Free” on the ground. Outside an anarchist community social center I found this:
Near the St. Werbergs City Farm were these images of bees:
There are definately a lot of things to be said and a lot of other voices to be heard, other than those who can pay for a billboard.
Bristol feels like a fantastic hub of activity towards positive cultural change but one of the most noticeable aspects is the food production. Next year will see Bristol become the European Green Capital, the first UK city to receive this award! This reflects the large amount of work and many vibrant projects that are going on in Bristol. There would not be space here to tell you even a fraction of what they are up to, but I would like to do is share some of the wonderful local food production I have discovered during the time here.
Walking through Bristol I’ve been struck by the number of allotments, they are big and also well used. The city also boasts city farms and the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens which supports groups all over the country. If you have a community garden or city farm, or are interested in establishing one, they can provide support and advice. St. Werbergs City Farm was a wonderful place to visit with animals, growing areas, a cafe and playground.
I loved the beautiful cafe in a Gaudi style, and met some wonderful people there!
Becky volunteers at the farm and shared how she came to get involved.
Around St. Werbergs is a large area of allotments.
I also checked out part of Eastside Root Community Garden. The successful project has a limited lifespan as the railway station is being redeveloped so the group used the space in the intervening time.
Many people I’ve met have conflicting views about how to vote or whether to vote at all. With the European and some council elections coming up on the 22nd of May and the general elections next year, it’s a passionate question. There is a website called Vote for Policies where you can compare the policies of parties without knowing which party is which, then select those that you agree with and at the end it tells you which party is the best fit.
Many people especially younger voters want a ‘no confidence’ vote for the entire political system. Russell Brand famously expressed what many young people are feeling when he called for people to not vote. If we do decide not to vote however, it is assumed to be apathy or consent. How could it be considered dissent? If you have decided not to vote, one option is to organise a protest outside your polling station to be ‘counted’ as dissenting voters.
Some other countries offer a ‘none of the above’ option in voting where if a significant proportion vote for this then nominations have to be reopened. In our current system however if we do decide not to vote, staying at home will definitely not have our voice heard. Those considering a non-vote are those most likely to vote for radical reform, so without them the remaining vote becomes more towards the status quo. So whether we vote our choice, or non-vote our choice I hope we will be active and vocal in showing our engagement, because anything else will be to consent to business as usual.
At the Willow and Wetlands visitors center they farm willow for artists charcoal and a range of willow products that replace non-biodegradable options with a natural fiber. They also have a museum and education area all with free admission!
Sometimes you ask and you find, other times you just have to relax and let things happen. As rain started the aptly named George and Pilgrim pub sheltered me, where by chance I met the amazing Earl at the bar. He’s been a long time member of the Green Party and has started a local energy cooperative called Avalon Community Energy (ACE Ltd). When I heard that I laughed and said “Wonderful! I’ve been looking for you all day, do you want to sit down?”
Despite a long term disability, Earl has been working with others in his community to bring about a renewable energy park. The plan which they are currently seeking funding for is to combine a number of energy generating aspects that support each other. An anaerobic digestor (converting biological waste into gas), a wind turbine, solar panels and aquaponics (cultivating fish). The beauty of the system is that the different aspects support each other. A modern battery that we are all familiar with is made of acids and toxic chemicals, but a battery is really anything that will store energy. The approach ACE want to take is to use the wind turbine to pump water into a raised reservoir to store the energy. The water an then be released through a turbine when energy is needed. The fish tanks generate nutrients from the fish poo which then flows to feed a hydroponics (growing plants in water) area. Solar panels will be on the roofs of the chicken sheds, who’s waste will feed the anaerobic digestor. It may all sound a little complicated, but then if you tried to describe a foodchain it might sound a little complicated too. In natural systems one ‘waste’ becomes something else’s food, and it is these principles that ACE is trying to emulate.
The group was fortunate to be able to seek out local expertise in finance, energy and organising. There is a lot of support available at the moment for community groups who want to set up an energy cooperative, so if you are interested in the idea find a local energy cooperative to advise you and check out the Center for Sustainable Energy.
Sometimes I know where I’m going and who I’m meeting, other times I know where I am and who I want to find.
In Glastonbury I set about asking people in the town, who’s passionate about the environment in the town? They directed me to Free, a man so passionate about the uses of hemp that he changed his name to Free Cannabis. Other than it’s more well known use for those with chronic pain, hemp is an exceptionally nutritious seed, a fabric, an insulation, a fuel, a building material and an ingested medicine. Free runs the hemp products shop in Glastonbury – Hemp in Avalon.