The overlooked voice

A few days ago a friend reminded me of a deeply entrenched phenomenon which occurs fairly frequently in our patriarchal society. A woman makes a statement and the group ignores it, a few minutes later a man repeats the idea and the group applauds and accepts it. If you are a woman that has ever been in large business meetings I’m certain that this is not news to you. However if it is news to you, I invite you to observe. To observe your friends, colleagues and family, and to listen for the overlooked voice.

Do you have a voice inside that you overlook? Do you wait for someone in ‘authority’ to validate a truth you already know inside?

So often when a voice is overlooked there seems no way to challenge it. You could say “I just said that five minutes ago!” but it sounds petty, or you might let it go, glad at least that the idea is out there, or sit back and roll your eyes. Perhaps we could start by challenging the behaviour in ourselves too?

What would happen if we listened to ourselves? If we trusted ourselves and spoke our truth? What would happen if we listened to the overlooked voice in the room?

There are truths which need to be said, truths which our ecosystem and our future children are relying on. We’re being called to listen, and to speak up.

And by the way, the friend who reminded me? It was a man. Would I have taken the step to write this otherwise? I don’t know, but I want to from now on.


Changing the course of a stream

Scotswood Natural Community Garden sits within one of the most deprived areas in Newcastle. They frequently suffer vandalism and theft yet for twenty years they have relentlessly worked to alter the course of peoples lives in Scotswood for the better. The vegetables get dug up, they replant them, the solar panel gets stolen, they lock things away out of hours, but all the time the garden grows, groups come, and lives are changed.

Walking around the two and a half acre site with permaculture gardens, a pond, bee hives, shelters and woodland it’s incredible to learn that originally it was a bare grass playing field. Over the decades the series of people involved with the land have created, enhanced and maintained a beautiful heart of energy for the community, despite all the flow of sadness around. Children, unemployed and refugees have all found another choice here, a flow going in a different direction that they have a chance to join.

It takes a lot of energy and strength to maintain a course against a bigger flow. The path that all those involved with at  Scotswood have carved over the years is truly beautiful. Long may it flow.

The Nuttery

The Nuttery at The National Trust’s Washington Old Hall south of Gateshead was a fantastic discovery that brightened my day. Amongst the nut orchard are wildflowers, bee hives, a pond, education projects and wonderful people. Amazingly the garden and Nuttery are free to visit, so if you are anywhere nearby it’s a great place to restore your energy with peace and beauty. I spoke with the gardener Ellaine and some of the volunteers about the Nuttery and how they came to be involved.

Entering the ‘desolate’ north

Like many people I find the description of the ‘desolate’ north deeply insulting and incorrect. Heading north from Durham to Newcastle the accents change (“Where’ you sittin’ Mam?”), there are old and new industrial areas, dramatic rivers and beautiful architecture. Heavy industry and exploiting the environment has been a part of the area’s long history, with people working hard in the jobs that fed the economy of the rest of the country. I’ve walked through some areas of Newcastle that are undeniable economically deprived but everywhere I go in the country there are people who care about the future; people who care about other human beings and about the ecosystem we share. People who devote their lives and energies to protecting the future of our communities. I could not be happier that this final week of the journey will finish in the North East and am really looking forward to walking the stunning North East coastline for the first time. Last but certainly not least.



Durham catherdral

There are several great projects in Durham including Fruitful Durham and  Abundant Earth, however upon hearing of Rupert’s accident, it was to the cathedral that I headed. Although many of the visitors are there as tourists, people still come to pray and contemplate in this amazing place. Despite not being Christian, during this journey I’ve found churches to be places of community, safety and care. Lighting a candle and sending my thoughts to Rupert at the cathedral, where he used to sing in the choir, felt right. A verger, I discovered, is someone employed by the cathedral to order the services and maintain the space. I also discovered them to be kindly, helpful and willing to sit with someone in distress. Where do people in your community go, when they don’t know where to go?

Clervaux Trust Darlington

The weather changed a few days before I got to Darlington, there’s a chill in the air that won’t go, so I know there’s not long on the walk left now. Clervaux Bakery and Cafe was a fantastic refuge from the feelings of autumn, with it’s sunny atrium. The social enterprise cafe has homemade food and a social conscience to warm your heart, providing work experience for vulnerable young adults.

The cafe is partnered with the wider work of The Clervaux Trust, with some of the profits going to support the trust. Clervaux Trust has a 100 acre farm which it uses to give young people land and craft experience, selling veges through a delivery box scheme and crafts at the Darlingtron cafe. When bees fly they have to rest and snack at flowers, which is why it’s so important to have a wide variety of flowers all over the countryside that flower at different times. My sincere thanks to this beautiful flower for its shelter and food 🙂

Protecting community spaces in York

The heritage campaign for West Bank Park has included funding bids, business mentors, public meetings, research and even celebrity endorsements. The Friends of West Bank Park and have worked to restore and preserve many parts of the park, and now the West Bank Heritage Project hopes to revive the heritage of the park and its legacy as a central part of the community.

With government cuts, the council presented residents in York with the lose-lose scenario that either parks, libraries or swimming pools would take cuts first. West Bank Park in Acum lost much of it’s funding and began to be left unlocked at night. Nearby residents conserned about the future of the park began to launch a campaign to build support for it.

One model that inspired the West Bank group is the successful Rowntree Park in York. The park has a library and cafe at its centre that attracts a lot of visitors to use the park as somewhere to meet and socialise.

When I came across Clements Hall they were running a Food and Fun event where older or isolated residents can enjoy a meal and a chat. The hall was renovated several years ago by the council following a campaign by residents and now offers many different community events and a lot of local people volunteer to keep it going. The hall was originally owned by the nearby St Clements Church where Edible York have created a public vegetable garden.


Please say a prayer for Rupert’s recovery

Rupert Griffin, who walked on the Buzz Tour from Bradford to York last month, was hit by a car a couple of days ago whilst on his bike in Oxford and very seriously injured. His condition is now stable but please send your prayers and good wishes to him to speed up his recovery. Rupert is an expert in all sorts of areas, engineering, clocks, dancing, singing, apple juice, farmers markets, honey, as well as enduring some of the worst weather during the Buzz Tour. He used to sing in the choir at Durham Cathedral and they have added him to their prayers. Rupert our thoughts are with you.

Think globally, cycle locally

York has a beautiful feel that’s great to meander around. The intact city wall, old stone bridges across the river, narrow streets and ‘shambles’ (narrow alleys) make it great to see on foot. If you want to get from one side to the other though it’s great to go by bike and there are a two great organisations to encourage that.   The fantastic Bike Rescue Project rescues and repairs bikes and gives disadvantaged people training and experience.

Cycle Heaven has two stores offering repairs, sales and hire.

Think globally, cycle locally.

Reclaim the power, take action

What an AMAZING week at Reclaim the Power action camp.

An action camp is where people come together for several days to learn from each other and to take action on an issue. Reclaim the Power is about taking action against climate change and extreme energy (such as fracking). The group organises horizontally meaning that they are anti-hierarchy and work to increase equality, using techniques such as consensus decision making. Hundreds of people not only attend but work to create the camp, it’s workshops and it’s actions with people encouraged to learn and take on responsibility.

During the camp I was co-ordinating the toilets. Many of the people organising parts of the camp were completely new to the group at last years camp. By having several people shadowing a role and continually bringing new people in to roles you can very quickly grow the capacity of the movement.

As well as a march in Blackpool there were 13 different ‘affinity groups’ who undertook direct actions and protest against fracking. An affinity group is a group of people with similar aims who come together to take action on something. Direct action is where rather than ask for someone else (e.g. a politician) to do something for you, you do it yourself. So if you think something is harmful and should shut down, you don’t just ask, but you go and try to shut them down. Protesting is very similar and can even involve the same activities but is designed to get a third party to take action. One group blockaded DEFRA because of a redacted government report to demand the full version be released.Crawberry-Hill-blockade Others put themselves in the way of fracking companies.


The Green Gathering

DSC_0035-300x199This year was my first time at The Green Gathering festival. Although it had many of the normal components of a music festival it felt very different. People come together at the Green Gathering not just to party but to network, learn and protect the environment. There was a permaculture area, a craft skills area, music, campaigns, speakers, kids area, healing area and earth energies spiritual area. The days menu of options started early with free yoga and Tai Chi and ended late with music and talks. The food included gorgeous vegetarian and vegan food (I met Veggies again, doing a great trade), and many activities such as massage were by donation. A place were I spent a lot of beautiful time was the mobile Sento Spa. Fueled by a woodstove and funded by donations, the people working there made you feel so cared for it was a world away from a commercial space.

Although the festival has music it doesn’t have any of the big mainstream names which means that people going there are going for other reasons too. I bumped into several lovely people that I’d met along the walk as well as meeting new people doing amazing things like Tom the morris dancing pilgrim.

Healing people through the environment

The Trust for Conservation Volunteers (TCV) in Leeds works to enhance habitats but like a number of TCV groups they also enhance the well being of people. A number of the staff have a background in the health profession and people are referred to them for therapeutic reasons. I’d come accross the Green Gym idea years ago at TCV where participants keep fit by doing practical work, however in Leeds it goes much further. Due to the interests and care of the staff, they are supporting people with serious health problems who are referred by health and social workers. The success stories are many but include literally saving people from ending their lives. The huge society benefit and social care that this group is providing is hidden underneath the label of ‘environmental conservation’. The health of our environment and ourselves are intricately linked. To have a habitable planet we must also pursue social justice. To have social justice we must protect the life around us. The lines blur everywhere I look as it does not make sense to divide and separate our aims. We want a healthy future, for all of us. My gratitude and respect go out to all the wonderful people working so hard to bring it about.

The diploma is an incredible way to help people turn their lives around and is free to people who are unemployed and over 19. It’s one more way that people have found to retrain, to change their lives  and to follow their heart.

Seeding change in Bradford

Walking in to Bradford was a shock to the system after the beautiful countryside. Many areas suffer deprivation and there were empty shops all over the place except for in the city center. The Transition group in Bradford no longer operates, as they found the city too big for the Transition model. But what happened instead was that the group seeded other wonderful initiatives. I’ve come across this in a few different cities now that groups come together for a purpose and even if the original group closes down it starts off other groups with related aims. The important thing seems to be coming together and trying to make a change. No effort is wasted. Like a wave that washes up and then recedes, the energy of it’s passing changes the land beneath it.

Horton Community Farm is one fantastic example of this. Through the work of local residents over five years, a derelict allotment site that was attracting crime has become a community farm.

The Yorkshire Moors

Leaving Manchester someone said to me:

So you’ve done the flat bit then, it’s all hilly here on up!

Having already crossed the Pennies once I can attest that the Yorkshire Moors really are very hilly and the best way to see them is on foot (you can’t take a motor vehicle on to them and, judging from the facial expressions I saw, biking looks like torture).

Stunningly beautiful but watch out for the wiry slippery grass, it’ll move your legs from under you without warning! 🙂