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Planet Shaftesbury: 20-01-2022

This was a small online session which barely scratched the surface of our meeting theme - Permaculture, Transition & Planet Shaftesbury. The information brought to the meeting has been documented in this blog where it can be useful to all those who get involved in further stages of the exploration and discussion.

Introduction: The origins of Permaculture - from Rachel Bodle

It was in the 1960s that Australians Bill Mollison & David Holmgren studied and developed Indigenous knowledge systems to counter failing western industrialised agriculture. Having started out with a focus on agriculture, they soon discovered that it was in human culture ‘the way we do things around here’ that the problems lie. In 1972 the term ‘Permaculture’ was first used as a bringing together of ‘permanent’ & ‘culture’ to describe whole system design: designing systems based on the principles of the natural world. The problems are not just destruction of soils and pollution of waters, but also in our use of energy and material resources. In colder climates, a large part of permaculture design work needs to be directed towards buildings and our towns and cities. Without a permanence in our culture, there is no possibility of a stable social order.

My Permaculture Journey – extracts from a contribution from Linda Philp

I had never been a gardener, though I was brought up on a farm and my mother loved gardening. But after many years of living in London and working in offices, occasional summer seasons picking strawberries when I eventually moved to Somerset, led me to doing a fulltime horticultural course at college and becoming a gardener/garden designer. I grew a few of my own veg, but work was mostly looking after people’s pretty flower gardens down among the farmlands of Somerset.

It wasn’t until I moved back to London again, in 1991, that I discovered Permaculture. A friend recommended the Introductory Weekend to me. I found it strange that here I was embarking on what seemed to be some form of alternative agriculture or food growing design course, in the middle of the city, and yet I had never heard of such a thing whilst living in the countryside and studying horticulture.

Bill Mollison (Australian co-founder of the Permaculture movement) was leading that particular Introductory weekend, and I was inspired! His findings still resonate with me now, as he described how he spent long periods in the forests in the Australian outback, just watching how it all works. Nature, that is. I find myself doing that myself more and more these days, now that we all know so much more about the inter-relationship of all living things, and about the chaos we humans have caused by believing ourselves to somehow have a right to use and control Nature for our own needs.

Having been inspired, I went on to do the full Permaculture Design course. This was led by Andy Langford, one of the first teachers. I have since helped to run and also attended various other PDC’s, all run by different teachers, all of whom have their specialty within the domain of Permaculture – such as gardening and growing, woodland and trees, and People Care. Andy Langford’s focus was definitely people care, although of course he also taught us about growing food. (I should add here that there are no specific rules and methods of gardening in Permaculture, as people often believe. It isn’t necessarily organic, though usually is, it isn’t necessarily no-dig, though often is, it isn’t necessarily no-livestock, though often is – and methods are based on both traditional ways and modern technology - that is, whatever works best for you or your community).

The other thing about Permaculture which is often overlooked, is that many of its teachers and practitioners work in far-flung countries such as Nepal, and Cuba, helping people to find more sustainable methods of land use without the need for expensive western imported machinery and chemicals.

Andy Langford taught us that in order to care adequately for the land, we first have to look after the people – which in my experience is so true. As part of his course, we had sessions of listening to each other and learning to hear each other, as well as learning how to work together in teams, etc. etc. Later teachers – often female – devote more time to this aspect of Permaculture, and indeed Looby Macnamara has written articles and books on the subject, particularly with a view to personal and spiritual resilience and change. Aranya (of Designed Visions) is another very popular course teacher who advises, among other things, how to use Permaculture methods in order to follow your dreams or achieve your objectives in life, whether it be working on the land, living in a community, spreading the word, or indeed, teaching Permaculture!

More recently, both the Permaculture Magazine and Permaculture Works (the members’ newsletter), have included many articles on resilience and how to cope with the now fast approaching climate change issues. There have been articles on the wider aspect of the underlying causes and potential solutions, as well as the practical ‘52 Actions’ (ways to reduce your carbon footprint), and of course new and greener systems of farming, many of which originally came under the heading of ‘Permaculture’ but now have a life of their own (eg. Silvaculture and Regenerative Farming, etc.). But going back to my original course with Andy Langford, he also showed us how we could apply Permaculture design methods to buildings and communities, as we re-designed (in theory) a block of neighbouring flats including ‘greening’ the actual buildings and surrounding areas, as well as looking at how the people within might better communicate. This led on to thinking about whole localities and indeed towns and villages.

Origins of the Transition Network - from Rachel Bodle

In 2005 Rob Hopkins was a permaculture teacher working in Ireland at Kinsale Further Education College – teaching a two-year, full time practical sustainability course. With his students he tackled a project to design the ‘energy descent’ of Kinsale, supporting the town’s transition to a future where it was no longer dependent on fossil fuels and no longer contributing to climate change. ‘Transition Town’ Kinsale launched in 2006.

In order to extend the impact of this work, Rob moved to Totnes and with co-founders Naresh Giangrande, Ben Brangwyn and others used the design framework developed with his students to build support for Transition Town Totnes. The ideas spread (Lewes. Stroud. Bristol) and funding was secured to support the growth of the Transition Network. By 2008 a handbook to guide the start-up of other initiatives was published, followed by additional books on Local Food / Money / Housing, Working with Local Councils etc. Each initiative had access to the same basic information and training courses but would be different depending on the local resources, needs and community. Some pre-existing green groups affiliated with the growing Transition Network, but not all – eg Climate-Friendly Bradford on Avon remained independent.

Transition Town experiences – Shaftesbury & elsewhere (various contributors as named)

Robin Walter was one of the people who took up the idea around 2008 (inspired by a talk from Ben Brangwyn) and worked with others (including Karen Wimhurst, Beth Lewis) to establish Shaftesbury as a Transition Town. They sought to raise local awareness: showing films, hosting talks, inspiring fresh thinking around local food networks, energy use and more, including a distinctive a ‘travelling eco-circus’. There is a write-up from 2011 here Although the local Transition Initiative lost momentum after the disappointing UN climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, and became dormant soon after the article above was published, Planet Shaftesbury benefits from the experience of many local people who were involved and the town retains Shaftesbury Homegrown, the community farm, as a legacy of Transition Town Shaftesbury. Diana Harris has remained a very active part of Shaftesbury Homegrown since the beginning.

Rachel Bodle was living in Downham Market, Norfolk in 2008 and became involved in a Transition Initiative there (DAVIT - Downham & Villages in Transition). As for Shaftesbury, the group embarked on awareness-raising around the area - but this developed along a different path: the group set up locally-accessible permaculture courses. Rachel moved to Shaftesbury via Frome where Sustainable Frome existed before the Transition Network (TN) emerged but, after discussion at the time, formed a connection to TN around 2008. Sustainable Frome has kept going ever since and there are several manifestations of their activities around the town. Some of the people involved formed ‘Independents for Frome’ which put forward candidates for Frome Town Council and has re-energised community engagement with local government in Frome (and changed the part played in the town by Sustainable Frome).

As well as encouraging Transition Initiatives to consider the practical steps needed to support local resilience-building in the face of climate change and a move away from fossil fuels, the TN has also promoted People Care and the development of personal resilience through what Sophy Banks (another early collaborator with Rob Hopkins) termed ‘inner transition’. In Frome this led to a group of interested people working together through the processes of Joanna Macy’s ‘Work that Reconnects’, subsequently developed into ‘Active Hope’. Describing this element of transition at our meeting, Rachel made reference to ‘The Great Turning’, the cultural shift that underpins humanity’s re-orientation from industrial-growth to a life-affirming civilisation.

Planet Shaftesbury

Those of us at our meeting on 20th January agreed that further discussion around the thread that connects Permaculture and Transition to Planet Shaftesbury, what we can learn and how we can put that learning to use (with our immediate neighbours or across our area), needs to happen more widely. This blog was proposed as a resource so that the wider discussion can have a warm start.

Some Useful Links

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