With snow and ice settled on the ground outside, no guest speaker, no flyers and with its intention to draw mainly from those who attended the previous meeting, there was some trepidation beforehand as to how many people would show up. As it turned out the 25 or so who did make it were sufficient to undertake this meeting’s work, and by the time they finished Planet Shaftesbury and some of its sub-groups were starting to take shape.
Facilitator for the group’s formative meetings, Rachel Bodle outlined an agenda for the evening. The intention is for Planet Shaftesbury to take on a sustainable form as an umbrella organisation and for equally sustainable groups to work on some (and with greater numbers perhaps all) the issues categorised in the previous meeting. The A2 sheets from the earlier session were distributed on tables around the room and all present were invited to look at them and to identify one that attracted their primary interest. Prior to this Rachel suggested three guiding principles which might be applied to the process: to help others; maintain mutual respect and to enjoy what we were about to do. Two more were suggested by others – to think in terms of achievability, and to identify short, medium and long term goals.
The second part of this meeting saw us gathered in smaller groups around the tables/sheets we had chosen to commit ourselves to. There were not enough of us to cover every issue, but groups of two to six worked on biodiversity, waste, food production and transport, while other people looked at Planet Shaftesbury itself and a final group at its methods of communication primarily through internet website and social media platforms. There was an element of role-play to all this, an attempt to get a taste of what future meetings might actually consist of. At the same time I got a sense that these little groupings could well be embarking already on their journeys.
Certainly when the meeting reconvened and each group was invited to report back on its progress, there were useful initiatives already under consideration. We’d been invited to consider what we might be doing in two weeks and/or a month’s time (ie: short term goals), and how the work of any one of the groups could be dovetailed with that of the remaining groups.
The biodiversity group considered a plan to set up bird boxes around the town, and also to liaise with the Shaftesbury-In-Bloom organisers with regard to achieving greater wildlife support in their work.
The waste group saw information gathering as a first step, making contact with initiatives in Wimborne and Frome, inviting speakers etc. There was also interest in the longer term goal of setting up a repair/swap shop.
Those looking at food production considered setting up a stall as part of the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival to promote the Community Farm and other better eating initiatives. They also suggested creating a wild flower area – a project that could also be linked to Shaftesbury in Bloom liaison.
On transport we had proposals to set up a car-share scheme, to promote walking to school amongst pupils and the set up of more bike racks. Longer term considerations were electric car recharging points and development of cycle routes.
The Planet Shaftesbury Group considered future public meetings. One such was proposed on sources of energy – a talk on opposition to fracking might be balanced with a more positive consideration on promoting renewable energy enterprises.
The communications group considered ways to develop the Planet Shaftesbury website and use it as an information hub. Also to look at design elements around this, including an organisation logo.
The meeting concluded with a debate in which we discussed our attitudes towards the Extinction Rebellion movement. We considered, amongst a variety of pros and cons, its potential effectiveness as a movement to promote radical change at a governmental level; its possibly alienating qualities amongst those not comfortable with aspects of civil disobedience; its struggle to gain attention against the blanket media coverage of Brexit and more. It was agreed in conclusion that participation in XR’s activities was not for everyone, but that nevertheless it was vital that an XR group operates under the Planet Shaftesbury umbrella.
It is to be hoped that the weather will be more clement when Planet Shaftesbury meets again in the Town Hall at 7.30pm on 21st February. And that we will see more of those who attended the January meeting but were unable to reach us on this occasion.