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.
Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle is about making a positive difference, to the environment and community. Based at The Eco Center in Hebburn they’ve been steadily working to make improvements for the future for over twenty years.
The Beacon is just one of the projects completed by Groundwork in Newcastle to provide a resource for the local community, to fulfill their ambitions.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
The first days in Totnes have been incredible, pictures and videos will be up soon but here’s a taster of this amazing town.
These days Totnes is usually best know as the home of Transition – a process for moving your community towards a positive future away from fossil fuels. Transition Network now includes groups around the world and their website is a fantastic resource of “how to”s and inspiration.
Oddly the first thing I noticed on the way to Steph Bradley’s beautiful cottage are that the verges in the areas around Totnes have a wider range of plant species than I’m used to – Devon council has taken the enlightened step of not cutting them and leaving them for the bees and other life.
The town itself is a beautiful tourist location with a castle, dozens of independent traders, gurgling river, rare breeds farm and steam train. I like to do a ‘smile test’ in places and see how many people smile back and how long it takes them. Totnes is a big 9\10 on my totally random measure – most are already smiling at you!
Rob Burbea resident Buddist meditation teacher at Gaia House shared some of his thoughts on meditation and climate change as well as introducing us to DANCE (Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement). It is wonderful for me when I see a spiritual respect for our existence being translated into how we live in the world. More on this wonderful aspect will be in the documentary of the Buzz Tour.
The people and organisations of Totnes have engaged with positive change to such an extent that despite the towns small size there are several environmental event going on every day! The South Devon Green Living magazine Reconnect is an astonishing collection of news and views, many of the achievements right here in Totnes.
One event we were able to attend was the Community Conversation organised by Schumacher College. With key words like ‘Exploration’, ‘Transformation’ and ‘Subversive thinking’ groups made a collage on the theme, discussing the issues it raised. Schumacher College offers courses on sustainable living by using active participatory learning – doing rather than listening. Their courses focus on three systemic areas of our society – economics, design and food. If you are thinking you need some learning to help you move forward, their courses would be a great choice.
The Community Conversation draws allies together and one of the interesting people I met was Josh from Network of Wellbeing where they support putting wellbeing into practice.