Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jonathan's Story: Diggers & Dreamers and a Summer of Love!

Jonathan is having a Summer of Love to celebrate his 60th birthday! Jonathan relishes living life a little differently and so instead of celebrating this milestone in the traditional way he has decided to invite his friends and family to visit him over the summer, at his home in Penzance.  Rather than a few snatched moments with each guest at a party, Jonathan is enjoying spending quality time with those near and dear, but has also extended this invitation to people like us, new friendships he made just recently!

We met Jonathan a couple of months ago while attending the Findhorn Conference on Communal Living and Sustainability.  We didn’t know it was his Summer of Love when he said come down and spend a couple of days with him in this South Western corner of England that neither one of us had previously visited.  We’ve taken him on up on his offer…and are here to further a friendship but also to learn about the Transition Penwith movement and Jonathan’s involvement with Diggers and Dreamers - but more  on that later.

Jonathan has picked us up from Monkton Wyld Court on his way back home after visiting his sister up north.  It saved us a complicated train trip to this western edge of England so we really appreciated the lift.  We stop for lunch along the way and share stories of our adventures since the last time we met when we had said goodbye 2 months ago at the Forres Railway Station in Scotland.

We arrive in Penzance to find that Jonathan lives in a charming stone cottage painted white complete with ocean views.  Steve remarks it reminds him of the cottages in Greece.  Penzance is a delightful town, rather bigger than I had expected but with a lot of charm and character.  Cobbled stone pathways and stone cottages line the streets in this town that I now realise
was made famous in the Gilbert and Sullivan musical The Pirates of Penzance! 

This is actually the first time Jonathan has owned his own home, having lived in community for a good part of his adult life.  I am curious as to why he was drawn to communal life and later that evening, Jonathan shares his story…

He starts his tale by saying he was a shy and private person as a teenager and my eyes meet Steve’s and we laugh.  So many friends who live in community have started their stories thus, and it is reinforcing a statistic we heard that almost 90% of people drawn to live in community are introverts.  Jonathan says it was while in his last year of school that he had an instant realization that we should all be living differently and that we need to start with ourselves.

It was 1971 and there was a lot of protest going on which, until that point, he had not really understood.
He says: "It sounds corny but I'd just been to see the film Woodstock the day before!"  While on a walk and searching for answers he found himself re-designing his village in his head to make it a friendlier place. All the pieces of the puzzle of life fell into place for him and he realised that aspiring to the white picket fence would not only take long hours in the office but also be counter productive in global terms. "If you're not part of the solution then you must be part of the problem" was a popular phrase at the time and he could see all sorts of contradictions coming up if he went for a conventional life (like putting the kids through a school system you don’t necessarily believe in). So he dared to dream of an alternative life.

Soon after his journey took him to London where he enrolled in university to study architecture.  It was
an interesting time to be in London.  As Jonathan described it, he had been a goody-goody all his life but now began to be increasingly intrigued by the "naughty" people around him. To him, adults had always portrayed naughtiness as something that disobedient people did for its own sake but now he realised that if we all behaved like goody-goodies and did what we were told then we'd mess up the planet. Changing the world might involve quite a lot of naughtiness!  He started hanging out with people who were squatting in London and although he didn’t become a squatter himself he started thinkings about alternative futures. He vividly remembers reading an article about communes in an alternative newspaper of the time called Ink.

Throughout his adolescence Jonathan had longed to live in London but the reality didn’t quite meet his expectations.  In University he found people who said, “I want to be an Architect” with a capital A and Jonathan found himself saying, “I want to be a human being who maybe does architecture!”  He did a couple of jobs in architecture but soon realised that his heart wasn’t really in this profession. However, he has remained involved in design and feels that architectural problem-solving techniques - which often involve looking at issues from a number of different perspectives - can be employed in any sphere.

Jonathan says he hasn’t had a ‘real job’ (meaning Monday to Friday, 9 to 5) since the late seventies.  Yet, he has always found freelance work to support himself and has lived an interesting life.  He wears this badge with pride because he thinks that, all too often, people who see themselves as wage slaves are often very unhappy and use this to justify high levels of material consumption which they feel they then "deserve" as compensation.

After completing University, he moved back to his home town of Aylesbury and set up an alternative newspaper.  He also got involved in setting up a co-op with a smallholding that was in the business of flour milling.  Jonathan started the co-op with others in the hope that they could ultimately form an intentional  community.  Unfortunately the majority of the members who might have been interested in 
this kind of thing also felt that Buckinghamshire was too expensive and not really a cool enough place to live! But amazingly another group of people had setup the Redfield Community close to where he was living.  Jonathan established links with many of the founders of this community and about six years on he eventually moved in.

His involvement with the Diggers and Dreamers group also came about through the Redfield Community. The Communes Network group was using the communal house to hold regular meetings and it was at these that Jonathan met Chris Coates, one of the original drivers of this group who encouraged him to get involved.  Chris is now the President of the International Communal Studies (ICSA) Group.

After innumerable meetings and discussions Communes Network finally decided to put together an Information Pack, which would include a directory of communes around the UK as well as articles about them.  The directory was a great resource for communal living.  It
gave an insight into the many different communities around the UK and it was hoped it would be an incentive to create movement between them, enabling new friendships to be made and new ideas to be born. The descendent of the Information Pack was the book (and now website) Diggers and Dreamers. They also organized events such as an inter communal volleyball tournament where people from all over the UK were able to meet each other in a very informal way and exchange news and ideas.  The tournaments were also a sneaky way of getting people to understand that the challenges they were facing in their own community wasn’t unique to them at all!

Diggers and Dreamers is the public face for communal living in Britain.  The name describes the two types of people who make up the human population and hence who also form the two main archetypes of people you will find in a community.  The Dreamers are those of us who are visionaries, who always think big picture, have idealistic visions and dreams of what the world could be.  The Diggers are those of us who like to get stuck in, and get on with it; the people who make things happen like the builders and gardeners…you get the drift.

Jonathan describes himself as a dreamer who realizes the importance of digging…and I can identify with this.  Perhaps I too would like to think of myself as sitting precisely in the middle of this spectrum!  At any given time, I have at least 10 different options for my life, but I usually choose one and get on with living it…

Jonathan recalls his time at Redfield fondly.  Being a fiercely independent person myself, I have always found it difficult to function and fit within a group mentality.  A non-conformist to the core, I have always wondered if a community would be just another iteration of traditional society.  Jonathan recalls that he always managed to keep his own identity and personal space by ensuring that he escaped after meal times to get his work done.  Sometimes, when needing a bit of perspective,  he
would disappear to a café down the road where he would breakfast alone rather than sitting in the communal space.  He feels that this kind of thing enabled him to live a communal life far longer than many.

Things were not always rosy at Redfield.  Like any new organization it went through the stages of forming, storming and norming.  Communities such as this are often born from the ideas of very dynamic Dreamers and it is inevitable they will have different ideas of Utopia and how that might be achieved.  The Diggers on the other hand just want to get stuck in and plant the crops and keep the place maintained and ticking over…

After a particularly bad bust-up in 1983, many of the founding members left Redfield.  Many of those who stayed were the Diggers.  Jonathan joined at that time and stayed for nearly 13 years but eventually a number of personal circumstances in his life including his father’s ailing health led him to leave Redfield.

His journey has eventually led him to buy his first property at Penzance where he is now involved in the Transition Penwith movement. It is an initiative that looks to engage all sectors of the local community in addressing the issues, which arise from Energy, Economics and the Environment.  There are groups of people working on numerous issues that range from arts and culture, energy, food, and transport to heart & soul, money and livelihood and waste & recycling. 

During our 2-night stay here Jonathon takes us on a tour of Penzance and the surrounding area.  We learn about the local culture, visit the rich seaside suburb of St Ives where the Tate Gallery has a second branch and stop for coffee at Harbour Beach.  I am intrigued by how the seaside is used by British families.  The kids come armed with various digging tools and construct incredibly sophisticated sand castles while their proud parents erect windbreaks and tents where loads of goodies are stored to sustain them during this outing.  Often, families will rent out little changing rooms, which are also stocked with food and utensils for picnics that will last all summer.  Perhaps, this is in response to the cold waters of the English ocean and the wind, which can often spoil a summer’s day at the beach.

However, we have struck it lucky once again.  Our day out exploring Penzance is blessed with brilliant blue skies dotted with specks of white cloud that makes for perfect landscape photographs.  It was interesting to visit the Botallack tin mines and learn the history of this industry and the struggles people went through to put food on the table back then.  The mines would often stretch into the Atlantic ocean adding another layer of risk to the lives of the people who toiled here.

As we dig into a Cornish pasty for lunch Jonathan shares with us the history of this local delicacy.  The original Cornish pasty was filled with a savoury filling on one side and a sweet filling on the other.  A miner would hold this pasty in the middle; eat it from both ends and throw the middle bit away.  Back then a miner’s hands was laced with arsenic so this sacrifice was a precaution against arsenic poisoning!

We stop for tea at the Apple Tree Café in Land’s end – another hub and community space for local artists.  Our day ends at the Merry Maiden’s Stone circle where we learn that the English had their own version of the Irish Fairy Forts - except they were Cornish Piskies who habited them!

We drive back for dinner and Jonathan entertains us with a slide night.  We are given a tour of the communities around Britain and are surprised to learn there are so many.  We are especially intrigued by how many large mansions are now habited by communities.  Many mansions were abandoned after the First and Second World Wars.  The loss of the male householder meant their families could no longer sustain this lifestyle and many such houses were demolished because of the prohibitive cost of maintenance.  Hundreds of mansions were destroyed before the British realized they were destroying their heritage and charitable trusts started to acquire these properties.

We are due to leave Penzance on Tuesday afternoon but fit in a visit to Bosavern Farm, a local community farm where Jonathan has arranged for us to meet Lynne – the Local Food and Community Coordinator.  Lynne is involved with the core Transition Penwith group and shares with us her passion
for growing food locally and thus reducing imports.   We learn about their version of community-supported agriculture (CSA) and the plans to expand the farmers’ markets in town.  The farm was originally Council owned but the privatisation policies initiated during the Thatcher era has ensured that government no longer owns assets such as this.   The farm was bought with a lottery grant as well as the community investing in non-returnable shares.  A share could be as little as 1 GBP or as much as 20,000 GBP and they raised 17,000 GBPs in this way, which is commendable.  There is no return on this investment but a shareholder gets to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing he/she has given something back to his/her local community.  We wonder if this concept would easily translate to Australia…?

There are many such ideas in Penzance, and Jonathan is enjoying his new life and the chance it gives him to make new connections and to make a difference in the place he now calls home.  It has been a privilege for us to visit a town engaged in the process of strengthening community energy and our dream is to make some of these ideas a reality in our own suburb Down Under…!  We are grateful to Jonathan for sharing his Summer of Love with a couple of strangers he met at a conference two months ago.  Jonathan – we wish you well in your journey…and thank you for inspiring us with your story!

“It is not the broken dream that breaks our hearts, but the dream we didn’t dare to dream”

No comments:

Post a Comment