Eastern Permaculture Gathering 2016
by Hannah Thorogood
On the 22 - 24 July, there was a small, but perfectly formed Eastern Permaculture Gathering at the Inkpot. We enjoyed perfect weather, fantastic food cooked by the lovely Fran Pickering, great company, inspiring conversations and a brilliant range of great workshops.
We had a wonderful diversity of people from 2 year olds to grandparents; single parents and whole extended families; representing people living in the East of England with backgrounds from Poland, Belarus, Germany, The Netherlands and Ireland.
After spending a year co-planning the International Permaculture Convergence in 2015, I really wanted to run a small, relaxed local gathering here with the absolute minimum of administration (minimum effort for maximum effect). So I decided not to publish a timetable in advance but to use the Open Space Technology method of collectively designing the plan. We did so at the beginning of the event with the input of all who were there, using the SADIMET design process.
On the Friday evening we ate together, we had a fire, got to know new friends and caught up with old ones. On Saturday morning we had a morning circle, grounding ourselves here, more introductions and a bit of Ninja playing (This game came out of the Permaculture Teacher Training Course held here in June). Then we all came together for a plenary / design session.
We decided a basic framework (our landscape) that we were going to work within. Setting the meal times and the end time on Sunday. We looked at the basic pattern of when the ‘average’ human can absorb information (in the mornings); needs more activity (in the afternoon) and is up for a discussion and relaxing (the evenings). We discussed a basic culture of the weekend, embodying the permaculture ethics:
- Earth care - composting, recycling, aiming to produce no waste; how the food was grown on site or sourced ethically.
- People care - to keep the event as friendly and relaxing as possible for all involved, to look after ourselves and each other during activities.
- Fair shares - everyone taking turns to wash and tidy up, to help in the kitchen so Fran could join in as much as possible. Some people attended on a working ticket, and were going to be helping out more and in other ways etc.
Participants offered potential workshops, explaining them then wrote them on post it notes and placed on the white board.
This is often the chaos in the Chaordic process… If there is a moment in a design process when you scratch your head and think it’s all too complicated and how will you get to a solution, you are probably doing it ‘right’. Trusting the process and being truly open to the outcome.
We all voted on the workshop offers, by placing our distinct coloured mark next to the offer on the board. This way we could start to play with the information.
- If offers had 1-2 marks, they could happen as a side activity at a time that suited those people.
- If two offers had totally different coloured marks, they could run concurrently.
- We decided that we would try to fit all other workshops in.
- Some things, we decided, could be ongoing throughout the weekend.
Using the magical wonder of post it notes, I then transferred the notes from the voting sheet onto a draft timetable to construct a working design. A great way to use planning for real in a non land based design. They could then be tweaked to ensure it all fitted in with everybody’s needs and availabilities etc.
We decided that there would be ongoing options of swimming in the pond, co-creating food with Fran, building the shed from scraps and cob & bottling with Dan [Boguslaw] Stanek, Ragwort picking, and asking Hannah Inkpot explanations.
We ran Pippa Vine’s bumble bee workshop alongside learning to lime render with The Inkpot’s current intern Dan Calaby.
The rest you can see in the final timetable photo.
The weekend ran very smoothly. I really wanted to ensure there was a maximum output for minimum effort for me as the organiser, as I was also parenting the girls and holding the space. As I had hoped, by co-creating the timetable with the participants, there was a transfer of ‘ownership’ of the event, everyone understood what was happening, when and why. The end result was that the event felt like it was being held and run by everybody.
Some sessions overran slightly, some had less or more participants than expected. The whole weekend took on a very relaxed feel and by Sunday afternoon nearly everyone on site was making a crochet hook from the hedge, under the guidance of Elisabeth Thorogood (aged 8) and we collectively decided we had no questions, thus dropped the Permaculture ‘Any Questions’ and did another yoga session with Helen White instead.
There was virtually no maintenance to run this event. I drew up 2 A1 timetables and placed them in the dining room and classroom, so everyone could see what was happening and when. The weekend very much ran itself and I would attribute that to Fran & I being very experienced at cooking for, and running permaculture events respectively. We both took a very laid back but mindful approach. Dan Calaby and Iain Somerville were on hand to help with anything that needed doing. Everyone on site had a lovely laid back, friendly, helpful attitude.
What went well?
Urm all of it? The co-creative timetable, the weather, the food, the people, the venue, etc. Watching my 8 year old daughter run a workshop, using tools with 12+ adults and doing a great job!
What was challenging?
Initially I was worried about the number being so low (12-22 participants, peaking on Saturday dinner). However, it felt like the perfect number for the first ‘gathering’ type event at the Inkpot, we didn’t need to put up any additional structures etc. It did mean that the financial income was very low, but again this was something that Fran & I both were very laid back about and after arguing to give each other the income, we agreed to split it between us.
Being able to share the wonderful things that have developed at the Inkpot - the timber framed reciprocal roofed, straw bale classroom, the swimming pond, the fantastic biodiversity and more.
Long term goals and visions?
To run the event again on an annual basis, potentially renaming it ‘The Inkpot Summer Skill Share Weekend’ - as that was effectively what it was. It does not need to be exclusively for people who have done a permaculture course.
Next achievable steps?
To survey potential attendees to find the best weekend to run the event next year, then keep that date every year for the foreseeable future.
I’m not sure there is anything that I would really change about it. However next time we will try to get the publicity out in different forums earlier and potentially have an early bird booking rate, to know how many people we have coming earlier and know if we need to put the marquee up etc.
Thank you to everyone who made the event what it was, see you next year!
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