Unwinding at an Un-conference, Transition Scotland and SCCAN Sep 4th-6th

Hi again T,

Following on from the previous theme of different ways of learning, I thought I’d tell you about the recent Transition Scotland and Scottish Communities Climate Action Network (SCCAN) Un-conference. It took place at the beautiful Comrie Croft in Perthshire, which basked in sunshine the entire weekend. It was a refreshing event as it moved away from your typical organisational get-togethers – which tend to focus on certain outcomes that need to be realised, goals that should be reached or results that ought to be achieved. Instead importance was given to the process, and making sure that we shared enjoyable and meaningful time together. As one participant put it: “We’re socialising rather than networking.” It sums up my feelings from the weekend, whether it was through mushroom picking, philosophical breakfast discussions, clay-burning, or music – I felt like I was connecting with the people around me, rather than trying to understand their particular project and how that could be valuable for me, or vice versa. One evening we had a ceilidh – one of those rare things where the point of the exercise is to get it wrong and to laugh about it, which to me seemed to capture the entire spirit of the weekend rather well.

Incredibly (or perhaps predictably), through not trying, we managed to have some very good discussions and reach many conclusions about the nature and future of environmental community action in Scotland. We talked a lot about how to get people involved in projects, and how environmental action is often seen as a privilege, something you can engage in once your basic needs are met and you have some spare time and/or cash on your hands. How do we reframe environmental action and our projects to become relevant for everyone in society?

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I felt a widespread consent that actually, we don’t need many more projects telling people to buy organic or install solar panels. What we need is space and place in our communities where everyone can pause and reflect together, get to know each other in a compassionate way that enables sharing and caring. It’s about treating everybody as the humans we all are and finding the common values that unite us, and exploring and nourishing them. We may well find that we share a common value of well-being, which, as we are interdependent in a community, needs to be considered in all its interpretations, all neighbourhoods, and all manifestations. Consequently, we saw very little distinction between environmental action and work for social justice, and had some lovely conversations about how the two could work better together in Scotland today.

There was also quite a lot of excitement regarding the future strategy for SCCAN. Many of the Scottish projects today are defined by funding, which acts in a great enabling, but also restraining, way. We talked about how SCCAN could facilitate the sharing of different resources between our projects, whether that be government funding, mentorship, communication, or even transporting people from one project to do a site visit at another. It then got really interesting when we rather playfully started dreaming about how SCCAN could provide its own income, e.g. by buying a wind turbine or setting up an agroforestry project. It could then help provide right livelihoods for people in the projects it seeks to support, by giving them an employment opportunity, and use whatever revenue it generates to fund other projects. Wouldn’t that be amazing! It would be sidestepping the entire economic system that we are seeking to reduce the influence of anyway. All we need is some brave people to take the first steps – and I’m sure many will follow…

On the Sunday afternoon we visited an impressive sight – Cultybraggan, an old Prisoner of War camp newly bought by a development trust. The barracks are now used for community enterprise – artists, caterers, artisan chocolatiers, they’re all hanging out where Germans were once imprisoned. Some of the huts are pretty run down, but community members can rent them for free in return for restoring them to functioning condition. There is also a community orchard producing an abundance of fruit and a sheltered area for kids’ playgroups.

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They are still experiencing some challenges in terms of grey water systems and electricity on sight, but that’s not anything some good permaculture design can’t solve! So instead of paying the entry fee I did some bartering and got myself my first design project.

I left Comrie Croft and the Un-conference more convinced than ever that connecting with each other on a personal level and having conversations without an agenda is so much more enjoyable, productive, and worthwhile than any formalised discussion. It lets you engage with mind, heart, and soul, and I bet the results are so much more humane for it.

xM

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