Last year's Design Course at the Manchester Road Community Centre finished in October with some excellent presentations from the participants. The individual reports showed the usual diversity of styles and content, although our Northern School team were pleasantly surprised at the uplift in the quality of the permaculture thinking and practice that went into the projects. At present, the standard appears to be improving year-on-year. This is good news for the School team who are continuing to put lots of work in behind the scenes to improve the course and the quality of the teaching.
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The latest in the series of Open Days was held on 2nd December. The weather was quite "soft" and it was easy for us to move the fruit trees out of the field and into the orchard. We then had plenty of time to strengthen the woodland hedge, using the mounds of prunings left over from the "opening up" that will allow some forest garden planting. Ruth ran a bread workshop, so people had a chance to bake and sample some real bread from the wood-fired oven.
|Some of the dead wood turned into a hedge - time for lunch!|
Last November, Angus Soutar delivered an evening talk at The Eight Day in Manchester. This one of a series about food, art and community. The organisers wanted to explore the ways we operate in the world and how to make it more sustainable, looking at ‘that which sustains life, nourishment, food’. In all, they hosted nine speakers over as many weeks, drawn from across the diverse realms of art, science, food production, activism and permaculture to "span the possibilities of sustainable living".
Angus's contribution was titled "From local to global and back again", with the programme note: "The challenges of an increasingly complex and care-less world will not be overcome by more complexity and insensitivity." There was a good turnout and lively discussions ensued, although on the night there were hardly any of our friends there, and no recordings were made of the proceedings. So we asked Angus to give us his summary of the evening.
"I started off with the events leading up to Peterloo massacre which was almost exactly 200 years ago, and less than a mile from where we were meeting, looking for some roots and a local context for the talk. It was an interesting period in our history, when the disruption of the Industrial Revolution really began to take hold. It was time of environmental disasters leading to crop failures and food riots (Manchester 1812), a time of foreign wars (with the government running scared of what had happened in France in the 1790's) and an overall outcome of economic austerity and xenophobia. I spoke about the Luddite protests (again, of great regional significance) and used Kirkpatrick Sales description of them as "Rebels Against The Future".
I used Kirk's key headings for the birth of the Industrial Revolution to provide some structure to the talk:
I pointed out that about 50-60 years were to pass from the onset of the Industrial Revolution (1790's) before there were any meaningful attempts to ameliorate the social and economic "disruption" it caused. I argued that the region's greatest export had been the export of Industrialisation itself and gave some examples of the "dark side" of this dubious achievement, quoting some fairly recent commentators such as Toots Hibbert and Gil Scott-Heron to emphasise the carry-over into modern times, with no signs of it easing yet.
I attempted to show a thread in the UK that runs all the way through from the Luddites and Peterloo through to the Battle of Orgreave (Miners' Strike, 1984) and the Battle of the Beanfield (suppression of the travellers, 1985).
Then I outlined the current dangers: the decline in the Energy Return on Energy Invested (relentless increase in energy costs), the ideologies of Disruptive Innovation and Surveillance Capitalism (which could well lead us into another fifty years of exploitation and human sacrifice), all in the service of "The State" as it embraces "disruptive" technologies.
I made light of "the destruction of Nature" showing the site of Agecroft Power Station (in Salford) 25 years after it had been abandoned. There are trees growing all over it. I told the audience that "It's not Nature, it's us that I'm worried about".
Up to this point, my audience was subdued, perhaps baffled. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Northern School Permaculture where we are quick to questions and challenge ideas (especially when they are posed provocatively by me).
Undaunted, I pointed out that, with everything remaining in "the service of The State", that resistance is futile - although defiance is possible (Lily Maxwell, Lydia Becker, 1867 was one small example). To dispel the gloom (and perhaps some of the puzzlement in the audience) I went on to make a powerful case for localism and I pointed out that permaculture gives us the tools to achieve this. We are diametrically opposed to exploitative systems - if there is any "exploiting" to do, we do it creatively, where we are, by gardening the world around us.
Once more, I was a champion of the "small and slow" approach and I explained the advantages of taking a pragmatic, as opposed to an ideological, approach. To back this up, I presented some heart-warming projects from the region such as Incredible Farm, The Old Sawmill, Pennine Cropshare and The Well project (just some of the ones that we know about).
|Winter at The Well|
By this time, the questions were coming thick and fast and the audience had livened up. Perhaps they needed permission to ask questions? They were, at first, reticent about expressing contrary views? My own inner questions were answered afterwards, when I was told that this was the first time in the series that anyone had made such strong links between social and environmental issues, between the present and the past, and the patterns of history and society. The previous eight talks had all been "quite technical".
I began to feel the dead hand of the Universities smothering the proceedings. The Eight Day is surrounded by University buildings and many of the speakers had academic credentials. The lack of connection between topics and disciplines and the ignorance of context leaves me deeply worried about a city that purports to be a worldwide leader in The Knowledge Industry. But these worries were mitigated by the good nature and enquiring minds of many of the people in the audience."
We would like to thank all at the The Eight Day, and Clara in particular, for inviting us to take part in their series.
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