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.

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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?

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.

 

Independant midwives

You’re only born once. It is a life changing significant time for any family and power and control of that time has social consequences. We have made huge advances in reducing the mortality rate of mothers, but with the industrialisation of birth, the humanity and social significance is increasingly sidelined. It has become common language to describe the doctor as delivering a baby rather than the mother.

Independant midwives are currently illegal. They have been made so because the law ruled that you could not be a midwife without insurance, yet no insurer underwrites them. Meeting Annette from the East of England Midwives was an eye opening experience. The range of knowledge and wisdom that can be explored during your pregnancy and how other people can help you. It is a time when you appraise your life, and your future life. How do I want to live? How do I want to bring up my child? There is huge power in these questions. Many women discover a new motivation for self care when they know they are to create another life. Annette is passionate about helping other women and their giving them choices to be healthy during and after pregnancy.

For women to regain power over such a critical time in their lives they need access to choices and information. It is for women to decide how they wish to face this time, not for others to tell them.  The voice of women has been muted in our patriarchal society, it can not remain so if we are to face and solve the challenges at hand.

An introduction to Permaculture

Last week I did a two day Introduction to Permaculture course, and like everyone else I’ve met so far, LOVED IT! The wholesome and positive ideas that permaculture presents are a great way to build a stronger happier future and as you hear them, you find yourself going “well of course… yes that’s obvious… why didn’t I think that before!”. Permaculture comes from permanent agriculture and is a way of thinking and designing to live in a sustainable way and regenerate land and people.

Hannah Thorogood has been teaching permaculture for 10 years and for the last three years has been creating her home on land in Lincolnshire. The Inkpot was originally a conventionally pesticide sprayed rapeseed field which was then sown with one type of grass. In the years since Hannah and her family bought the land it has been transformed with a variety of grasses, wildflowers, new trees and vegetables. Building up the health of the land is a gradual process and it’s not finished yet.

We are working on a 20 year vision for the land and our decisions need to follow 7 generational thinking – it needs to be a ‘good’ decision for the next 7 generations.

When most governments only think a few years ahead permaculture is a radically different perspective. So what are the ethics of permaculture?

  • Care for the Earth
  • Care of people
  • Setting limits to population and consumption – fair share

All sounds good so far, so what are the principles from which to work?

  • Work with nature not against it
  • The problem is the solution – those dandelions? Eat them.
  • Make the least change for the greatest possible effect
  • The yield of a system is limited by your imagination
  • Everything gardens, every species has an effect on it’s environment. Need to weed and till the land? Chickens can do that.

Bringing a system back to balance requires slow small changes so sometimes you might just be observing and doing nothing. There is a hierarchy of intervention that permaculture describes, so you only move down the list if the first options do not work.

  • Do nothing and observe
  • Biological intervention using plants and animals
  • Mechanical or physical intervention
  • Chemical as a last resort

In permaculture everything comes back to soil, that’s the real wealth. Your account can be in the black as much as you like but everything come back to the soil.

When designing a system there are 12 design principles to help guide you, and each can be applied to a human system as well as a land one. Have a think through the implications for a community if they started to live their lives with these principles in mind, it’s a nice image.

  • Use edges and value the marginal
  • Observe and interact
  • Use and value renewable resources and services
  • Design from patterns to details (e.g. use the patterns of nature for guidance)
  • Catch and store energy (I love the idea of how could we store the positive energy of people)
  • Obtain a yeild
  • Creatively use and respond to change
  • Integrate rather than segregate
  • Produce no waste
  • Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  • Use and value diversity
  • Use small and slow solutions

As with any overall principles when you start to see them applied things get really interesting.  A two day course has given me a taster, but the positive message of permaculture is one that I delight in seeing put into practice. It’s a journey not a destination and I look forward to meeting more people on this beautiful journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recovering from trauma

The tasks of restoring ourselves and our environment are intimately linked. To be resilient in a changing future we need emotional and environmental resilience. At their home in West Norfolk Ben and Sophie and doing just that, building resilience. Their home incorporates many aspects of self-sufficiency that you might see elsewhere, but what they then do is open up their home as a restoration space for survivours of torture.

It is genuinely impossible for me to imagine the strength that survivours of torture find every day. After escaping from their situation, to seek asylum in the UK they are processed in a second round of suffering within our system. These highly traumatised people are housed in often horrendous conditions and in order to get any food they must use a pre-paid card which will only work in certain shops such as Tesco. So if there is no Tesco near where you are put, you have no way to pay for a bus to get to one, often as well as language difficulties, leaving you open to further exploitation.

The value of providing a safe space in a family home where groups can visit with a therapist is enormous, often life changing for people who have been to hell and back. Their work has only been going a few years so they hope they will be able to find the funding to continue, but I wish them every success and have the deepest respect for what they have accomplished.