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.
The concept of Community Supported Agriculture has been a great tool for allowing environmentally conscientious farming to be economically viable.
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.
The fantastic Stroud Valleys Project has an eco shop in town which I visited to learn about their work.
The Made in Stroud shop is an outlet for local crafts which supports a local economy and lower carbon emission products.
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.