This sections aims to share my key learnings and yields on personal, professional, political and project levels.
Its aim is to survey what I have done, achieved and learnt from the process. I have also tried to observe the role of Gaia University in propelling these developments.
Feed Avalon CIC is the workers cooperative I established in July 2013. It remained ‘paused’ until I was financially able to leave Somerset Community Food, coming to life in July 2014. The aim of Feed Avalon is to cultivate the local food resilience of Glastonbury, Street and surrounding villages. We do this through grant-funded projects, popular education, grassroots organising and by selling services such as design consultancy.
My roles: I am one of the founding Directors. I have multiple roles & responsibilities. I coordinate the EAT Project, which means I organise all the courses, workshops and most events. I do land based design consultancy work, as well as updating the website, graphic design and accounting.
- Soil Summer School, July 2014 - 30 learners participated in a weekend course introducing DIY strategies for soil care, such as mulching, composting, plant teas & more.
- Growing Glastonbury Project - A two year project funded by the People’s Health Trust, to create a network of growing mentors that can support households to learn how to grow food, as well as running weekly gardening clubs & organising monthly skill share events.
- EAT Project - Diverse project creating learning opportunities including courses in harvesting & preserving food (the Abundance Course), Seed Saving, Starting a Plant Nursery, Growing Your Own Garden.
- People’s Kitchen - Building a kitchen that can host self-employed cooks, be a space for grassroots events, community cooking & more.
- To think ahead constantly.
- To try to honour different people’s needs, desires and skill sets.
- Huge learnings around employment law, business accountancy and so forth.
- Gains in cooperative working. The role of trust, friendship and mutual aid in successfully working together.
Role of Gaia U
- MSc has heavily influenced my strategic focus and the political nature of my work, through supporting me to think critically about the uptake of agroecology.
- My pre-capstone OP3 about anarchist economics heavily supported the development of Feed Avalon, as I was able to build an enterprise model aligned with my ethics, politics and goals.
- All of my project and time management skillflexes have been optimised through interacting with Gaia U over the last four years.
Wild Heart Permaculture / Empty Cages Design
From 2011 - 2014, I had a website detailing my activities and portfolio called ‘Wild Heart Permaculture’. This formed the backbone of my tracking and documentation and generated many opportunities. At the end of 2014/beginning 2015 I re-designed my ‘branding’ and built a new website - Empty Cages Design. This website profiles my design, writing and organising work, as well as my learning journey. The re-brand was a very conscious decision, rooted in my desire to optimise my own niche in political and plant-based system design.
- Generation of hundreds of contacts, opportunities and new relationships.
- A living portfolio that underpins my work and evidences my engagement in my fields.
- To ‘own’ my niche and optimise it. To be myself; authentic, passionate and non-apologetic about my worldviews and desire to eradicate domination.
- How to manage a website in a low-input way. Through this process I have learnt huge amounts about html, plugins, widgets, and all sorts that can aid me in the digital universe.
Role of Gaia U
- Gaia U ensures that I track my work and learning, which therefore increases the likelihood of blogging regularly.
- Gaia U has supported me to know myself more fully, to accept my niche and to optimise it.
- Gaia U gives me the professional confidence to ‘showcase my work’. It builds my self esteem through feedback that my contributions are valid and useful to others.
Brook End is the 4-acre smallholding that I manage with my family in Somerset. It is an abundant site with amazing vegetable gardens, medicinal garden, pollytunnel, orchard, greenhouses, wood, field and stream.
- LAND Centre status - which means we are a recognised permaculture learning an demonstration centre registered with the Permaculture Association GB.
- Large yields of vegetables, plants, medicine, firewood, pleasure, joy, beauty and more!
- Moving the cabin to the centre of the smallholding has allowed us to really create an educational space to support the work of Feed Avalon
- The land has largely been cared for by my Mum, Michele, since I have had intense/stressful employment and caring commitments. This feeling in my life that I am having to attend to emails rather than plants, has been a continual source of frustration. I have learnt how important gardening is for my mental health.
- The long term nature of the project, its cycles and timespan, has been a good anchor for me in learning about project management. I have strengthened my understanding of the permaculture principle ‘small and slow solutions’.
Role of Gaia U: Gaia U played more of a role in my BSc, when I was able to focus an entire OP on my Brook End design during my BSc studies. However I am still able to access support and skills that aid me in managing projects.
Somerset Community Food (SCF)
I was employed with local charity, Somerset Community Food, from 2011 - 2014. It was an incredible opportunity - well paid, part time work, in a field I am passionate about. I learnt huge amounts and have gained skills that will support me for a lifetime. However the under-resourced, grassroots charity, with poor staff support and little or no strategic vision, led me to burn out. I left feeling frustrated, worn out and undervalued.
- Working on a 250k Access to Land Project that supported hundreds of people to access land, learn new skills and create opportunities for community food production. You can read the end of project report we wrote here.
- Writing an access to land handbook in 2013 that captured our experiences & shared our learning for other people wanting to access land for community food production.
- Producing a series of short films about access to land in Somerset.
- Organising several events, including regional and county-wide conferences, gatherings, an access to land tour and other smaller events.
- Developing Incredible Edible Somerset, an online networking tool for community organisers and growers in Somerset.
- Developing FoodMapper, an online mapping platform for local food production.
- Creating the Somerset Master Gardener network, supporting 14 volunteer mentors that supported households to learn how to grow food.
- Supporting 14 learners to achieve a qualification in Community Horticulture, through the Growing Resilience Project, which I designed and coordinated. See the photographs from the sessions here.
- Without long term goals, thinking & planning, projects can feel meaningless and directionless. Direction is the key to feeling purposeful.
- Charities structured with trustees are a limited model that can harm decision making, be disempowering and create unhealthy dynamics in organisations.
- Intense skills growth in project planning, management, event organising, administration, grant application writing, community organising, media work, mapping, public speaking, conflict resolution, coalition working, navigating the planning system and more.
- Sometimes it is simply better to leave chaotic organisations that to attempt to re-design or ‘fix them’, especially if you have limited power.
- People involved in projects need regular feedback and support. Grassroots organisation are notoriously bad for people care. This needs to be designed into collectives and organisations from day one.
- I learnt a large amount first hand about the ‘not for profit industrial complex’ and the political limitations of certain models of organisation.
Role of Gaia U: Through the space for critical reflection that Gaia U gives me, I was able to make an empowered decision about leaving SCF and creating Feed Avalon, an organisation truly congruent with my needs, desires and politics.
Frack Free Somerset
Frack Free Somerset is a coalition of grassroots groups organising against unconventional gas exploitation in Somerset, the county where I live. We started in May 2012, following a public meeting organising by national group, Frack Off. I threw myself into organising and FFS was a ‘zone 1’ project for more than 2.5 years.
- Defeating company UK methane in their first and only planning application to drill in Somerset
- Supporting more than 30 groups to work together to build a county-level awareness of unconventional gas.
- Initiating the development of many totally new groups, with people that had never done any campaigning work before. This radicalisation was very empowering to witness.
- Organising two ‘Frack Free February’ months of action, with more than 30 events in a 28 day period.
- Supporting sites of resistance nationally, through solidarity sunday demonstrations, fundraising, moral support and more.
- Creating a one hour professional documentary called ‘The Truth Behind the Dash for Gas’. As well as producing several leaflets, resources and a comic.
- That I love organising with people that haven’t organised before. I love working with people in threatened areas and seeing them move to positions of power and influence, reclaiming their lives and unlearning many assumptions they had about the world.
- The sheer amount of ‘graft’ that is involved in movement building. Not much of it is very sexy (demos, actions, events). Most of it is emails, calls, late night driving, laborious website updating.
- That the growth of a movement doesn’t just rest on your own effort and input. It also rests on catalysing on energies generated by points of confrontation or struggle, for example the role that the community blockade of Balcombe played in propelling the UK anti-fracking movement.
- That I have the tendency to prioritise efficiency over participation. In the end, I was carrying far too much weight and should have delegated more of my workload to others and designed more resilient structures in our core group.
Empty Cages Collective (ECC)
ECC is a small collective that a comrade and I started and launched in January 2014. Its aim is to increase the literacy around prison abolition in the UK and built a movement that can change how we naturalise, normalise and justify prison in our society. It has been a ‘zone 1’ organising effort for me for four years.
- Always, always, always create a structure in the beginning that is resilient enough to cope with people leaving the group.
- That very few people care about the prison system, or at least prioritise it in their lives. Many ex-prisoners or those supporting prisoners, face so many challenges, financially and emotionally, this is perhaps why anti-prison struggle has been notoriously weak in the UK.
- Projects need achievable goals and targets. These need to be placed in the bigger context, and feel purposeful and strategic. Otherwise, you will never, ever feel like you are doing ‘enough’.
- Emotionally challenging subjects to interact with, such as prison and repression, need to be offset with joyful and nourishing activities. Its simply to emotionally heavy to dominate your life. I have learnt this the hard way!
- Through this project I have learnt how to turn my pain into power. To channel my anger, hatred and disgust pro-actively. I have developed a project that not only works towards my goals as an organiser, but has supported my own self-care and ability to cope with missing my friends behind bars.
Role of Gaia U: My pre-capstone OP2 of my MSc was centred heavily on prison abolition and resilience to repression.
Free to Fight
Free to Fight is a project in the pipeline, however I have included it as an overarching name for solidarity work I have been doing to support people hit by repression in the animal liberation movement. The main defendants include ‘Blackmail 3’ and ’SOCPA7’. After experiencing repression with little support or solidarity, it is now really important to me that people do not go through it alone. It is not just an emotional/caring act, its an important act of political solidarity, to show the state and vivisection industry, they will not tear us apart.
- Supporting defendants financially, emotionally and practically. This includes court support, prison visits, letter writing and hangouts. Maintaining support websites, social media, emails and so forth.
- Organising speaking tours, workshops and fundraisers, to raise awareness of the repression of the UK animal rights movement, and the defendants still facing repression.
- How little people in the animal rights movement actually care about individuals facing repression, and how little they have learnt from our recent history. I have since how scared people are and how the power has been sucked out of the movement. Much more work is needed to re-build the movement.
- My experiences of being in prison, of being in the ‘eye of the storm’ of such a huge political trial, are really valuable and can support and strengthen others facing similar challenges. I have learnt that I am emotionally strong enough to do this work.
Role of Gaia U: My pre-capstone OP2 of my MSc underpinned a huge amount of self education around resilience to repression and effective defendant solidarity.
Bristol Anarchist Black Cross
Bristol ABC is a prisoner-support group that work with others across the world to act in solidarity with political prisoners, prisoners of war, and those incarcerated due to our racist, sexist and oppressive society. Bristol ABC is a small, local group who organise events, fundraisers, maintain a blog, and generally keep prisoners at the centre of struggle.
- Bristol ABC have organised several events that have fundraised and generated solidarity for political prisoners.
- Bristol ABC have produced 2 publications in recent years. One called On the Out, a zine about life after prison. The second is Never Alone, a zine about supporting people in prison.
- An extensive blog with news from cases and struggles around the world has been consistently maintained.
- We have perfected how to organise fundraisers in a way to maximise donations and minimise costs.
- I have found a group of comrades that I really love and trust. They are great allies and continuing radical inspiration!
Vegan Organic Network (VON)
VON are an organisation that I have interacted with since cultivating my passions around food production. They produce a regular magazine, table at events, organise site tours and produce resources that encourage people to take up vegan organic (or stock free) growing.
Key outcomes: I helped re-design the VON website in 2012. I have also contributed to the magazine. I have promoted vegan systems at several events and through articles.
Key learnings: I have learnt through interacting with VON that sometimes projects depend on ‘relative location’. That is, most of the organisers are based in Manchester. The inability to sustain relationships has affected my level of energy that I want to invest in VON, as I crave to reduce the time spent on relationships mediated by technology. I think they are a brilliant organisationa and I would like to find a way to work more with them in the future.
Role of Gaia U: I have identified my niche in my field, professionally and politically, and feel that the work of VON is very congruent with this niche or wanting to accelerate the uptake of plant based systems.
Major Learnings/UnLearnings and Key Yields gained through my Project Work
- Over the two years completing my pre-capstone year, I have grown significantly as a ‘professional’. In my LIPD, the workers cooperative, Feed Avalon, was merely a dream, however through giving it attention and focus, it is now a functioning cooperative with four employees (and five freelance contractors actively engaged). We have physical office/workshop & people’s kitchen. We have funding for two-year projects supporting people to learn how to grow food, and we are constantly developing new ideas and strategies to support our community to feed itself.
- For a significant period of time during my pre-capstone year, I was an employee of Somerset Community Food, where I achieved a number of things professionally, including writing an access to land handbook, finishing off a four year access to land project, and organising several conferences and events.
- A large skill set I have been cultivating is my growth as a popular educator. A large professional achievement was designing and delivering the Growing Resilience Project and accredited Community Horticulture qualification for 14 learners in Somerset. I have also gained more confidence in being an advisor with Gaia U, and a permaculture diploma tutor in the UK.
- In terms of design, I finally achieved my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design, that I had been stacking with my Gaia U studies. I continued to learn about the design process through applying it to projects and output packets consistently through my first year of my MSc.
- Another large development, was re-branding my website to Empty Cages Design from its original, Wild Heart Permaculture. There were several reasons, however the main one was my increasing awareness of my niche in the fields I work in, and my desire to cultivate this niche. I recognise my self as being a leader in exploring the political relationships of permaculture and agroecology, especially around inter-species relationships and creating alternatives to animal agriculture. I am very aware I am not an expert in soil science or plant ecology, nor am I a pioneering market gardener or horticulturalist, however I am most definitely, an active organiser that will accelerate how these practices are implemented worldwide, with all the strength and determination I have. My strong background in radical community organising and clear skill flexes in project design and implementation allow me to optimise this niche and create political agroecological change.
Skill Flex Development
In terms of other skill flexes gained during this period, there are so many that it is easier to view them in table format. Please see this online spreadsheet here, to observe skillflexes that have been strengthened over the last two years.
Major Learnings/UnLearnings and Key Yields in My Life before my Capstone Year
- In my pre-capstone OP2, I undertook a huge design task - designing for my own healing. This was incredibly effective. I moved from barely being able to sit in a prison-related workshop to organising against the prison industrial complex on a daily basis, facilitating tens of workshops, writing articles & more. I had counseling, explored energy practices, defined what healing meant for me & gracefully moved on with my life, wiser and more complete.
- Self Care has been a huge area of focus and growth throughout my capstone year, including crafting a focused self care design during my pre-capstone OP3. While this area is always a constant un/learning in practice, I have anchored some nourishing self care practices. I have kickboxed regularly, made huge amounts of herbal medicine, worked on improving my sleep, and been able to ‘regulate’ my PMT through herbal tinctures that I’ve grown and made. This has had a huge positive and liberating impact on my life.
- I have also unlearnt many ideas around self care. A large influence was Crimethinc’s publication 'Self as Other', where it was made clear that self care is not always about ‘calming down’/yoga/meditation. It can be about fighting back. I gained acceptance in my life that how I cope with friends being imprisoned is through resisting the prison system. Yes it may involve loosing sleep, travelling too much, or being emotionally re-stimulated, but it keeps my heart beating and gives me strength more than anything else.
- Throughout my pre-capstone year I have had a few different relationships and no shortage of challenges, including falling deeply in-love and my partner needing to return to their own country. I have dealt with feelings of rejection, low self esteem, abandonment, pain and loss. I have grieved for my Nan and a close friend dying. I have supported friends in prison through failed suicide attempts, beatings, violence and brutality of the state, and abusive mental health ‘care’. I have emotionally supported people facing prison and experiencing repression. I have supported friends with life threatening illnesses and injuries and taken on huge caring responsibilities. Through these inevitable challenges of life, I have gained increasing emotional literacy and resilience. I am able to not only survive, but thrive, despite many huge personal responsibilities and pressures. With intelligent design I have been able to design support systems for myself that sustain and nourish me, whatever life brings! This focus and attention to this area, which Gaia U embraces and emphasises, has undoubtedly laid the foundations for everything else (political work, projects, professional development) being able to live and grow.
Major Learnings/UnLearnings and Key Yields
Below is a list of all the areas I have explored as part of my MSc pre-capstone year. As you can see it has been extremely abundant. All of this reading, research and reflection has contributed to my own organising efforts in untold ways. The outcomes of which can be seen in the projects section.
- Anarchist agroecology as a concept, including explorations of historical examples of resistance, agroecology movements in the Global South, land occupations & more.
- Anarchist economics including degrowth, gift economies, financial permaculture, regenerative economics, solidarity economies, DIY cultures.
- Anarchist pedagogies, participatory learning & popular education
- Animal Oppression/Liberation including different worldviews (speciesism, carnism, abolition, vegan outreach, anarchist persectives etc), movement and strategy analysis
- Anti-oppression analysis
- Broader extreme energy struggles including fracking & unconventional gas
- Class struggle & class politics
- Colonialism & decolonisation struggles
- Economics & agroecology: violence in capitalist food system, financialisation, non-commerical agriculture, land privatisation, access to capital, solidarity economics
- Economics including capitalism and the role of the state, the economic growth society, relationship to food systems and energy.
- Food Sovereignty: international peasant movements, access to land, seed sovereignty & corporate control of seeds, food cooperatives, food poverty, social injustices in the food system, Community Supported Agriculture, political permaculture, the role of state in food system change
- Gender (especially in relation to the prison industrial complex), feminist analysis of animal oppression, gender & agrarian movements
- Mental health struggles & the politics of self care
- Prison Abolition - Understanding the political, social and economic landscapes of prisons and how we can build alternatives and dismantle the prison industrial complex.
- Racism & Race in agrarian movements. Race & the prison industrial complex. White privilege.
- Radical community organising including differences between liberals and radicals, complexities of coalition building, liberating group structures, group communication & conflict resolution, group design processes, creative facilitation, participatory learning and popular education, power building in movements and communities, points of leverage, campaign designs, relationship building, community care & solidarity models.
- Radical Herbalism & Health Justice
- Resilience to Repression: extensive reading & research around repression including historical examples, and responses to it, analysis of the repression of the UK animal rights movement, post-prison controls, arrestee support systems, defendant solidarity models, political prisoner organising efforts, criminalisation of peasant movements & more.
My community organising work has always been prominent in my life. As explored in Output 5, I have rejected the word 'activist' as I honour the every day role of resistance and dislike the specialism of social change.
What skillflexes have I developed?
Community organising does require skills and the constant honesty of reflection and improvement of practice.
The table below identifies the skill flexes I'd associated with community organising. You can also my full skill flex attainment table here that explores some of the below in more detail.
- Communication - I improved my skills in facilitation, conflict resolution and emotional literacy on the Sustaining Resistance course. My project work with Somerset Community Food has also increased my ability to talk to more and more groups of people such as local councillors, farmers & landowners. My consultancy work has improved my listening abilities & freelance writing stretched my written communication skills.
- Project & Event Management - I have organised numerous large events & increasingly more simultaneous events at different scales, for example national Reclaim the Fields Gatherings as well as a district by district access to land roadshow which involved needing local knowledge & strategic publicity work to reach local people, often without access to computers or the internet. My biggest learning has been in managing multiple projects with skill for example balancing my paid work with grassroots organising and land management.
- Research - My radical enquiry skills have been stretched as I read more increasingly academic literature around social movement strategy in combination with evaluating numerous sources of articles and process real life experience, for example my liberation permaculture output involved a broad literature review as well as the processing of personal & collective observations of the permaculture and anarchist movements.
- Multimedia fluency - I have learnt to use new platforms such as Mahara and over the path of the year improved my website design and management skills massively. I have built sites including my Wild Heart Permaculture one, as well as Transition Glastonbury, Reclaim the Fields, The Vegan Organic Network, Brook End and more. Each has tested me in new ways, increasing my agility with html and understanding of the leverage of the world wide web.
- Strategy analysis & planning - As explored in the political section and applied in all areas of my life, from evaluating my work so I am more effective personally as an organiser (addressing patterns of burnout and so forth). I have also applied design to every step of my Somerset Community Food work as well as stretching my strategic edges in relation to my campaign design against fracking in Somerset.