Regular readers will recall that I visited Namur in Belgium a couple of years ago, and gave a sold-out-weeks-in-advance talk at the University which I will always remember as one of the loveliest and most delightful I’ve ever done. I was invited back, as a guest of the University, because they wanted to award Doctor Honoris Causas to Melanie Laurent, Cyril Dion (producers of the film ‘Demain‘) and I. It was an exhausting, but delightful day.
It started with an interview with L’Echo, one of the main economics newspapers in Belgium. It is a fascinating time to be talking about Transition ideas in Belgium. The collapse of a handful of large companies in the previous weeks had led to about 25,000 jobs being lost in the Belgian economy. I argued in the interview that a more resilient model would be to seek to replace that with 2,500 new businesses employing 10 people each, rather than 10 employing 2,500 each. The article led with the headline “the era of large employers is drawing to a close”. You can read it here.
At 11, Cyril Dion arrived. Melanie Laurent was unable to be there as she is in the US directing her first film. Cyril and I went to FIFF, a festival taking place in Namur of French language films. There was a screening of ‘Demain’ there for young people, which was a sell-out. Cyril and I introduced the film and then I had to dash off to do a Skype to the Australian Permaculture Conference in Australia.
For some reason, my computer and the University of Namur’s computer system were unable to form any kind of a meaningful relationship, so I ended up having to use a member of staff’s laptop which, for the first time in my long use of Skype, for some reason turned my camera image upside down. There was nothing obvious to do about it, so after making the inevitable jokes about being on the other side of the world so what do you expect, I then gave my presentation holding the laptop upside down. Awkward, but it worked for them. Anyway, a lovely crowd, and I think it went down well.
Once that was done, I had lunch with the team before Cyril and I went back to the cinema to do a questions and answers session following the film. Some good questions, and the film had again worked its magic on another audience! Cyril and myself then joined some members of the University staff for a press conference about the Honorary Doctorates we were to be awarded later that evening.
My second Skype conference of the day was supposed to be to a conference in Finland, but there was some confusion over time zones so it ended up not happening. It was quite handy really, provided the opportunity for a pause for breath!
Our last appointment for the day was to go to Namur University for the evening’s ceremony. Turned out Namur University hadn’t given any Honorary Doctorates for the last 10 years. Struck me as a fascinating sign of the times that they were giving them to the three of us, rather than to a footballer, a businessman, or a politician. ‘Demain’ has been a phenomenon in Belgium, being seen by many hundreds of thousands of people, appealing to a very mainstream audience. Namur University are working with the Belgian Transition Network towards becoming a ‘Transition University’.
Awarding these Doctorates was a big deal for the University. The hall was packed, the audience made up of academics, students, ministers, politicians, other dignitaries, and some Transitioners who had travelled from across Belgium. They had made an amazing stage set from old palettes, and started the evening with the trailer of ‘Demain’. It began with a speech from the Dean of the University, followed by music, academics from the University who each reflected on one of the film’s 5 themes, and then the award of the Doctorates themselves.
For each of us, a member of the academic staff read a speech, introducing us and why they felt we should receive this award. It was very humbling and rather lovely. Cyril was up first, and his award was greeted with a standing ovation. He gave a short speech of thanks. Then a short video message from Melanie was shown, with her thanking the University for the award.
I was up last and, like Cyril, was given a standing ovation. Like Cyril I then had to wear a green sash thing, and offer a speech of thanks. I dedicated mine to Bill Mollison, co-founder of permaculture who recently passed away, to my colleague Ben Brangwyn, and lastly, and somewhat oddly, to Lou Reed, and the sense he gave me that even I could make music, citing his quote: “one chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz”. Here is my speech, with just the first second missing, the bit where I pointed out that this Doctorate was a lot easier than the first one I did, and that for anyone there who was half way through a PhD at the moment, I really recommended the second route.
It was a wonderful, touching, humbling evening. Deeply delightful. Here is a really lovely piece from Belgian TV capturing the spirit of the evening. And so much more fun than the first Doctorate I was awarded! Once the ceremony was over, there was a reception, with drinks and canapés, in an amazing old oak framed building. The Belgian Transition Network were there with a stall, as were the group starting a local currency in Namur, called Lum Sou. I’ve seen lots of local currency notes, but they were among the most gorgeous I’ve yet come across. It should be launching early in 2017. Then lots of handshaking, lots of congratulations, lots of love in the room.
I had to be up early the next day, and still had an hour’s journey back to Brussels, so after a little while I left. A deeply special day that I will treasure for many years to come. I’d like to profoundly thank the University for the honour, Cyril and Melaine for the amazing gift of ‘Demain’ and the Belgian Transitioners for the amazing work they are doing.