Peace to this Place
The old Somerset blessing I find written on one of the Wells terracotta tiles seems quite apt today which has a gradual start with Sally, Steve, and Elliot over breakfast, in their garden, visiting their yoga yurt, and lunch. There is a discussion about the illusion of life with Elliot, who has seen a film on the subject, and a yogic viewpoint addressed by Steve, and then Sally and I walk off to Glastonbury across the drained lands between the two former islands. I have been struck by the map of this area; all little blue areas for miles around, quite surreal, and, I cannot imagine what to expect, but it is farm land, field upon field of reclaimed land with very straight drovers lanes between them.
We are met by Kim for the last stretch of our 7 mile walk and come into Glastonbury the old way on the Old Wells road and straight into Bove Town, the interesting road name which surely refers to the place where the drovers brought their cows (bovine creatures) into the town, where I am to stay, at the newly formed Buddhist community Lokabandhu has set up there.
I leave my bag and go into town where I am met by Nick Osborne, transition trainer, who I have known for ages. It is lovely to see each other again and catch up. Nick buys me dinner at the lovely Galatea vegetarian and vegan cafe, and we talk transition training, Weaving Magic, his truly amazing course on group dynamics, my walk, his journey across the States and his exploration there into the eco communities which gave him a great deal of his knowledge about how groups of people can learn skills to communicate effectively together, and our similar experiences of people’s kindness when you travel in this way, and abut a moneyless life and how to get to that place.
Nick heard Mark Boyle speak, he is newly back from the Off Grid Sunrise festival, and reports back what Mark is attempting to have recognised by the UN declaration of human rights; that a moneyless state should be a basic human right. I am thrilled by this, and Nick and I talk about the challenges inherent for those of us already making the transition away from the decadent and defunct society we currently live in to a new way of thinking about life, a new way that is at the same time an old way. How do we model that a life less based in our current economic structure is where we need to head whilst at the same time avoid getting thrown out of our homes.
As I write I think of how many of the people I have spoken along this journey who only continue with their jobs, rather than following their passion and doing work they love, because of their fear of losing their homes, and I think …democracy… what a parody of the term we live, where most people struggle to pay back a huge debt they have been encouraged by our current system to take out, in order to be able to live in a house, or rent from a landowner who very often does nothing about the upkeep of the property for the money he receives. There is a very clear and logical way of equalising the way in which we all live, and it is through land reform.
Nick tells me about Transition Glastonbury, and the part that interests him the most, the structure of the core group. It has evolved through four phases since its inception. It began in a very informal way, as things are wont to do, a honeymoon phase, where everyone enjoyed coming along and discussing the new ideas, and then moved on to the phase where they were beginning to try and define what they were doing, to give it a structure, and struggling because new people kept turning up and they had to keep starting again to include the new ones before they could carry on with the meeting’s ongoing business. From there they decided to form a closed group, a core group, who would continue with the business of coordinating Transition Glastonbury, this ran for a while but it was difficult to know if they were being inclusive enough, what if all the people hadn’t been at the meeting when they had opted into the core group, and what about new people who came along? It was also getting a bit much for them to attend so many meetings as well as work full time, which many of them were. They set up a fourth structure; this included all the working groups, a small support group for them to go along to when they needed it, matchmakers, who would liaise between the new people wanting to join in and the working groups, regular open space sessions where new ideas come into being and inform and feed into the working groups work, and bring the groups together to socialise and celebrate what they had done, and an experts’ pool which the working groups could draw on if they needed particular skills.
It all sounds very well thought out and effective, but now the core group has disbanded and there is no one planning where they go next. I suggest the model Totnes are currently trying out, that where each working group has a place on the core group, and any member of that group can be the one to go to the core group meeting. This was a system Glastonbury had thought about and rejected, for it meant too many meetings to go to, one of the reasons for the original disbanding. The tiny two people strong support group had stopped supporting due to family pressures and I learn that the whole group disbanded after a fall out during one of their big events. Transition Glastonbury has been very active in getting Somerset wide activity going, and bringing all the groups together to network and share ideas. This, I feel, has been really valuable work, and at the same time, probably took a lot of energy away from the centre, and at heart maybe this is why the group needed to disband, and recoup.
Up until now the group haven’t felt like getting back together, though the working groups continue working away at their projects. It feels to me like a very healthy place to be in after expending all that energy outwards for so long, to go quietly about consolidating their own very local activities, strengthening local links, and remembering that transition is supposed to be about having fun together.
I am delighted then, when we go along to Linda Hull’s house, to celebrate her birthday, where several other members of the core group are too, to hear about how much fun they are having, many have just come back from the Sunrise festival, where they were thrilled with the Transition Tin Village and surrounding skill sharing area. This space had attracted a lot of people throughout the weekend, and many skills were shared. Linda enthused about the tin rocket stoves that were being made and Micho, who went along to the practical workshop, promises to teach the group how to make them. For those who don’t know, rocket stoves work like storm kettles, they have one cylindrical tube within another which can be fed by tiny twigs and produce an inordinate amount of heat for their size very quickly and efficiently.
I see Michou, Rachel, Caroline, and Lokabandhu as well as Linda from the core group, at the party, as well as Kim from Transition Wells, with whom they have many links, and I tell my tale and leave the Wells tile with Linda to hold for the group and take away information about the new food mapping project Linda is being employed to do www.foodmapper.org.uk by a group called Somerset Community Food www.somersetcommunityfood.org.uk a really wonderful project that involves putting all the places that grow local food onto a map of Somerset that will be made available to everybody county wide. It is a project sponsored by the NHS, the Soil Association, and Wessex Community Assets. It makes a lot of sense to me, as I walk around the land, that people involved in transition should be moving towards exactly this, doing transition work, and getting paid for it, either in the form of creating sustainable local businesses, or working for organisations who are working towards that things we need. Sounds very much to me as if Linda is doing transition work, and so long as there is a place where people can come to check in with what is happening, then endless meetings are probably not at all a necessity. Information about the food mapping project can be found here www.transitiontowns.org/Glastonbury.
I hear from the others about the projects they are involved in; one that generates much excitement is the chicken cooperative. This project has been running for two years already and involves seven women who take it turns to feed the chickens and let them in and out of their coop. All of the women involved in this project that are present bubble over with enthusiasm to talk about how much they are enjoying this experience, and how much they have learnt about what chickens eat, how to take care of them if they get ill, and even how to wring a neck if the bird does not recover. They are also pleased that having taken part in this cooperative each one of them is now skilled enough to start another coop with six others.
I also hear from Caroline about the food group and about the Harvest Share event that they take part in every year. They are hatching plans this evening about the sort of things they’d like to include and Rachel is asked if she will hand out the prizes of the draw, and she very honesty says she is not sure yet, and Caroline hears her and says she’ll take it instead to the next food group meeting.
I learn that the house I am in is the slipper house and was the place where pilgrims would have entered the city from the north, from Wells, and left their shoes to walk to the abbey barefoot, a pilgrims resting place, St James chapel, now known as Jacoby cottage.
It feels special and I enjoy being there, and then walk back with Lokabandhu to his new house which he has rented with others as he wanted to live in a little community of 4 or 6 people, and so he is. As ever I enjoy and appreciate Lokabandhu’s can do and make it happen attitude.