Playing for our lives

08 Young boys with play a street game in Spanish Harlem in January 1947

One sunny afternoon a few years ago, my then 9-year-old son uttered those words every parent or carer will be familiar with: “Mum, I am bored.” I gave him my usual response: “Go outside and find someone to play with.” He went out and returned five minutes later: “There is nobody out there.” I looked out the window to check that it hadn’t suddenly started raining, but no, the sun was high in the sky and not a cloud in sight. And indeed—not a kid in sight either.

Between June and December of 2016 researcher and urban explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison walked “the length of Britain and a bit” wearing an EEG headset that monitored his brain’s responses to the different places he visited. In an interview on BBC Radio 4 earlier this year he was asked to share some of the things that had stood out during his journey. “There are no children playing in the street,” was his first remark, “except in Newcastle.”

According to research conducted by Play England, 71% of adults say they played out in the street every day when they were children. For today’s children that figure is only 21%. Continue reading

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Six Steps back to the Land  

tuscany-grape-field-nature-51947In Britain, over 20% of us are now considered obese, 40 % of our food is imported (with serious implications for food security and sovereignty), youth unemployment is at 14.4% and social isolation is on the increase.

What bright idea might offer a solution to these seemingly unrelated issues? The answer according to Colin Tudge, author of Six Steps Back to the Land, is a million more small-scale farmers.

In his book, Tudge calls for those of us ‘who give a damn’ to get involved in nurturing a vibrant food culture grounded in the practice of enlightened agriculture.

Enlightened agriculture—a term he coined in 2004 and often shortened to ‘real farming’—is defined as, ‘farming that is expressly designed to supply everyone, everywhere, with food of the highest standards, both nutritionally and gastronomically, without injustice or cruelty and without wrecking the rest of the world.’

It involves transforming our current food system of large-scale, industrial, high-input, low-waged to zero-hour labour monocultures to one that is maximally diverse, low input, tightly integrated, complex, skills-intensive and, in general, small-to-medium-sized. Continue reading

To never be forgotten

24 hours of photos

“24 HRS in Photos, Erik Kessels”

“He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world.”

Funes the Memorious – Jorge Luis Borges 1942

~~~

I am holding a photograph of a young woman. She is wearing a white dress and gloves and is sitting on the floor in a bare room. To the left of her sits a man, but only his shoulder and part of one hand are visible. The photograph has been torn in two.

The woman in the photograph is my mother. I have only ever known this image with the second person missing, and when I was little I would stare at the empty space beside her as if staring long enough might reveal the mystery person’s identity. I once asked my mother who he was. “Oh, I can’t remember,” she lied. Continue reading

Economics and the Art of Living

Think about your week. Did you spend time with a good friend? Get a chance to stare out the window or look up at the clouds and let your mind wander? Did you share a meal with somebody you love? Was there an opportunity to learn something new, express your creativity or play with a child? If you were fortunate enough to do any or all of these things you may be surprised to discover that your actions made a positive contribution to the economy. Or at least a certain kind of economy. Continue reading

Faceless bureaucrats? Cumbersome regulation? Welcome to rural England.

fern shotImagine finding an opportunity to make a long held dream come true. It would require determination, sacrifice and a hell of a lot of work, but, given the chance, most of us would dive in and devote every waking hour to manifesting our vision.

In 2007 Doug King Smith dreamt of finding a small woodland to take care of and grow into a resource for his community. Not only to develop a sustainable wood business, but also to create a place where people could learn rural skills, celebrate community and connect with nature. He began working as a volunteer on a piece of land in Dartmoor National Park, located between the villages of South Brent and Buckfastleigh. It was a plantation on an ancient woodland site, which had been largely neglected over the years: it was run-down, over-run with invasive species and over-crowded with untended trees. Nevertheless Doug fell in love with what he calls ‘the magic of the place’ – a river running through a hidden valley, deep dark woods and steep valleys with springs popping up here and there. Two years later, through working as a wood sculptor, drawing on his savings, and with help from a friend, he managed to buy it. He named this 45 acre upland farm The Hillyfield (after the original ‘Hillyfield Plantation’) and the hard work began. Continue reading

Behold my friends, the Spring has come!

“Behold, my friends, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbours, even our animal neighbours, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.”

Chief Sitting Bull

fabrizio angius

Saturday was the first day of spring. It was also the day a number of us had been working towards for the last six months or so. Inspired by our friend Tal Leshem we got it into our heads that we wanted to organise a land conference, bring people together to discuss issues around land ownership and rights and find ways to answer the question ‘How can we grow a proper relationship between people and place?’ We knew it was important not only because it mattered to us as a team, but because there was no getting away from the different crises around housing, food, climate change, inequality that were upon us in our own country and worldwide.If we are to solve any of these issues we have to start thinking about our relationship with the land. So we posed a question and on that very first spring day 130 people piled into Totnes Civic Hall to try to answer it. Continue reading

Regarding the Land

“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
― Wendell Berry

Several years ago I was invited to work on a ‘Soil and Story’ project for the Soil Association.  It was a wonderful opportunity to do some research into different cultural approaches to soil and earth. Now that I am in the process of co-organising A Land Conference in Devon  I decided it might be worth looking up some of what I discovered working on that project. What follows is an extract from some of my research.

“The world’s indigenous peoples revered and still revere the soil as a power in itself, rather than as merely a provider of food, minerals or structural support. Native Americans say ‘the earth is our mother’ and refer to the soil as ‘our mother’s flesh’. The Maori of New Zealand call themselves ‘tangata whenua’, people of the land, and call her ‘the mother that never dies’. For the Australian Aborigines the land is the place of ‘dreaming’, and dreamtime stories explain how the land was created by the journeys of the spirit ancestors. Continue reading

The long remembering

 “We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.”

Maya Angelou

Last week I was walking on Dartmoor when I stumbled upon The Mariners Way.

The Mariners Way is said to be the track which sailors walked from Bideford in the north to Dartmouth in the south. As I made my way down it I couldn’t help thinking of the many travellers of all kind who would have trodden this stony path over the centuries. Each with their own thoughts, in reminiscence or anticipation, walking in company or alone, in good health or ailing, by day or by night. Each leaving their imprint on the soil, their sounds on the air, exhaling their warm breath into the ether. Each in turn feeling the cool night air on their skin or the sun gently breaking through a dense cover of leaves.

As the path descended further into the valley I, like my fellow past travellers, was greeted by the sounds of the river Dart. Continue reading