Shedding the Past: how you can help re-grow Barrow in Furness.

Art Gene want to build a shared community growing space on the Island of Walney in Barrow in Furness, UK, based on permaculture principles, ensuring a holistic approach to sustainable, ecologically sound horticulture, art and design.

They have undertaken many community consultation events which have demonstrated the need for a new, inter-generational self-managed community growing space in the town: and they have been given a 1.5 acre site by Barrow Borough Council for a pepper corn rent to base the project upon.  They have also identified over 50 Barrow residents, some with multiple health and social needs, who are interested in leading and participating in the project.

They now want to deliver a community engagement strategy through which we will grow the community’s knowledge of, and skills in, permaculture by:

* Delivering a two day training programme for up to 20 adult volunteers;

* Host three public ‘growth’ weekend events in April, June and September led by volunteers.

* Organising two day long visits to other exemplar wild flower sites in the North West between April and June for the volunteers;

* Organising a one day celebration event in October which celebrates what they have achieved.

The project will result in:

Providing permaculture skills and knowledge for local people;

Animating a local barren green site with horticulture and design;

Developing a cluster of community architectural spaces on the site.

And they’re getting it done by:

Employing local artists, designers and architects to provide the visual elements

Employing local horticulturalists to support the permacultural elements

How can you help?

You can help in a lot of ways:

Volunteering Team Building skills in how to build and sustain teams,

Volunteering marketing and promotion skills in promotion and communications,

Volunteering to assist with the site development by providing advice on how to sustain a wild flower sanctuary.

Making a pledge to our crowdfunding site which is collecting donations from people from all over the world.  Just click here to see how easily you can help

if you’d like any more information, just drop me a line – and thanks for helping us re-grow Barrow in Furness.

Why is Coca Cola thanking us for ‘sharing’ our summer with them?

Sharing – that ancient tradition of passing something onto someone which may be of mutual interest – has taken on a new dimension recently with the advent of social networks and the desire of many commercial operations to generate compelling content which can will be transferred painlessly from customer to customer in a mimetic act of contagion.

Marketeers – and we’re all marketeers now apparently, even if its a simple matter of telling others about our pet dogs foibles – are sighing a huge sigh of relief now that bloated advertising budgets have been replaced by viral videos, popular posts and contagious copy. It costs them a fraction of what it used to and the happy conduits of their marketing message are now the rest of us and we’ve taken on this mantle of the surrogate marketeer through our adoption of the concept of sharing.

In the old days, per-social networks, sharing as a young boy used to mean pretty much one thing. I have something – a dead hedgehog –  I think you’d be interested in. I’d like you to experience it in order to strengthen the bond between us. Usually this act was reciprocated. You had something – a frog in a bucket – which you thought I might like to see. We swapped hedgehog and frog, back and forth in acts of unconditional sharing. There was no other agenda and pretty soon we moved onto other objects of our desire and affection- axolotls were big in those days.

Post social networks however, sharing has come to mean something else. Not only do I have a dead hedgehog which you are interested in, but I also have an old copy of The Beano I’m trying to get shot of.  I give this to you in an act of sharing, even though you’ve read it a thousand times and have moved onto 21st Century Schizoid Man. Likewise, your frog in a bucket eventually loses its interest to me and I’d rather you share your mountain bike with me, even though I haven’t passed my cycling proficiency test yet and you have no desire whatsoever to ssee me wreck your shiny new acquisition.  In social network protocols, I will continue to bombard you with requests to share my Beano in return for you sharing your mountain bike with me for a week.

Coca Cola, in their recent campaign which thanks us for sharing our summer with them know this meaning of sharing only too well.  I had no intention of sharing my summer with them and would have much rather banned their empire for a month than have negotiated their sales camps set up in the local supermarket. And whilst they were after my hard earned cash in the spirit of sharing, I would have much rather dumped a shed load of dead frogs in buckets on their door step in return for knocked down bottles of black fizzy nastiness which rots your guts, social networks and moral fibre.  Coca Cola – I didn’t share my summer with you and I will not be sharing anything with you any time soon. Not even my Beano.

It’s World Spinach Day! A salutary warning.

It’s world spinach day!

No, really it is. Time to dust off all those Popeye cliches and remind ourselves what an impertinent little vegetable that spinach is. Frisky, unreliable and a complete lack of deference to greens everywhere.  If it wasn’t for spinach, our dining tables would be much quieter places with less haranguing by parents of their offsprings reluctance to engage with the Big Green. Without spinach in our lives, we might have taken to the 5 A Day mantra a little easier, with a little less rebelliousness in our eating habits. If it were not for spinach, the teenage years would have been a time of studiousness; of youth knowing their place in the wider world; of people everywhere knowing their place.

The early introduction of spinach into our diets has, like rock and roll, clearly been a major disruptive force in the last part of the 20th century on the youth of today. National Spinach Day does at least allow us to sombrely reflect on how the world might have turned out had it not been for this most troublesome of vegetables.

Self esteem is part of your body!

Workshops and Activities at the Healing Space have been offering workshops and a self help service which aims to:

* Take Care of your Skin
* Take Care of your Immune system
* Take Care of your Nervous System and Stress Response
* Take Care of your Digestion
* Take Care of your Self Esteem

Answers on a postcard please as to where your ‘Self Esteem’ is located in your body.

Why is Health and Safety a contradiction in terms? Some advice for Human Resource Managers

If a healthy mind and body can be associated with minimising fear, hence reducing insecurity, increasing confidence and so on – then why does a combination of health AND safety in policy documents and organisational habits actually cause the opposite – ie encouraging tendendencies to be risk averse, to be fearful and anxious – and hence feel less secure, less confident?

Being healthy is not the same as being safe. “Health and Safety” as a policy mantra has the makings of  a phrase which has a capacity for its own inbuilt contradiction and self destruction. It’s a fallacious concept behind which many human resource managers cower and attempt to frighten their resources into behaving and moving in particular ways. They would be clearer in their intentions if they were to relable their policies as “health and risk” or  “fearfulness and safety” or  “health and insecurity”.

Being risk-tolerant (and attractive even)  is possibly one of the key features that makes us healthy, alive individuals instead of cowered, withdrawn amoebae.

Might the arts be bad for your health?

There is a wealth of data, strategy documents and rhetoric out there which make the case that participating in, or experiencing, arts practice, is good for one’s health and wellbeing. This ‘good’ is frequently expressed in psychological terms, in social terms and of course with the usual economic justifications somewhere, sotto voce, off-stage. It seems that there’s nothing that a good dose of arts workshop, performance, practice or building can’t fix – or at least ameliorate – these days.

But is there a risk that in promoting this all-encompassing goodness of the arts that we risk exaggerating and glorifying what effects they can achieve? Our ever-increasing instrumentalisation of the arts might be good for the arts economy but is it good for the arts? And actually is it all that good for us?

Lets face it, if we break a leg, we go to hospital, we don’t go to see the local choreographer and ask them to repair the bones and ligaments. If we need come root canal work done, chances are we’d rather have an injection of some rather powerful lignocaine in our gums rather than opt for the opportunity to sing away the pain.

Perhaps the best we can say is that the arts don’t actually do us any harm and that after a broken leg or that excruciating root canal work the best thing we can do is read some poetry or listen to some Beethoven whilst we keep taking the Neurofen.

But perhaps not. Perhaps there’s a possibility that drama work we so fond of might actually be damaging our mental health. Perhaps learning the guitar is tantamount to smoking 5 cigarettes a day. Perhaps the choir we joined is actually increasing infection rates of airborne diseases by factors which we can only wildly guess at the moment.

These are possibly quite preposterous suggestions and the evidence, strategies and rhetoric will flatten them in the matter of seconds. But perhaps not: there might well be a nasty surprise in the middle of all that goodness which will come out to bite us when we’re least expecting it.

Lifelines – how to use arts based research to help improve local health services

We’ve all been ill at some point in our lives and many of us may have called on the help of the NHS to help us through those difficult times.  Even if we’ve been lucky enough not to have to needed their help, we’re all too well aware these days of the importance of staying fit, keeping healthy and doing the right thing for our health and wellbeing for ourselves and our families.

But sometimes this is more difficult than it sounds. Sometimes the services  we need are difficult to access; sometimes it seems that health professionals aren’t listening to what we’re saying; sometimes we know more about our health than those professionals do and it can be frustrating for our experiences not to be heard and acted upon.

Lifelines was a  South Liverpool research project has a made a modest contribution to changing all that.  Working with artists from the Aspire Trust and health professionals from Liverpool Primary Care Trust, we ran an arts based research programme across South Liverpool which listened to residents’ experiences of  local health care services: and are now using those experiences to improve the health for future generations in the community.

We generated story telling, poetry and arts techniques  to  understand critical moments in the health experiences of South Liverpool residents. We produced into a book, audio recording and exhibition which toured South Liverpool and went onto the Bluecoat Arts Gallery in Liverpool, as well as a formal research technical report for the policy makers.

As well as some important findings which have been reported back to the PCT, GPs and other health professionals in the region, the project identified some important aspects of why arts based research is useful in health contexts: its non-invasiveness, its ability to generate responses from participants rather than interrogate – and its ability to co-construct data with research participants rather than mine it from their souls.

Today is our preparation for tomorrow: how to be happy at the end of the world

A reader recently asked me to compose a blog about the possibility of the world ending in 2015. Mindful of the wisdom of Harold Camping who predicted the worlds end at 6pm on 21 May 2011 (and then adjusted it to October when his apocalypse awkwardly failed to materialise), one might be inclined to be a little bit circumspect about those kind of high risk predictions. Especially now we are facing another imminent global meltdown some time in the next two minutes given the claims that Facebook has gone down has heralded the next end of the world as we know it.

However, it is stating the obvious to say that for many people, the end of their world as they know it has arrrived in the last few minutes, hours and days. Many, many people of Syria, Nigeria and the Sudan have seen their worlds end many times over recently in the shape of insurrection, warfare and mass murder. Those left behind will be facing new emotional, social and geographical landscapes daily. Their worlds-as-they-know-it are frequently ending.

For the rest of us who aren’t (yet) faced with those kind of catastrophes, the end of the-world-as-we-know-it is also happening; perhaps more discreetly, in a more nuanced fashion and perhaps with less obvious public impact. But end it does. Our engagements, our relationships, our actions all bring about the end of the world-as-we-know-it sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Again, this much is obvious.

One question which arises from this is how do we face up to the ongoing end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it phenomenon? Too much change of this kind of order is surely too much for anyone to bear? Sonja Lyubomirsky from the University of California has the answer to dealing with the end of the world: be happy – today.

According to Sonya, happiness is the ability to…

1. Express gratitude
2. Cultivate optimism – visualise a future then write it down
3. Avoid obsessing over things / paying too much attention to what others are doing
4. Practice acts of kindness – more than you’re used to
5. Make time for friends – be supportive and loyal
6. Develop coping strategies – write down your feelings when youre upset – traumatic events make us stronger
7. Learn to forgive
8. Immerse yourself in activities and be open to new ones
9. Savour lifes joys – linger over rather than consume
10. Work towards meaningful goals
11. Practice religion and spirituality
12. Exercise.

So next time you’re aware of your world ending, just tick Sonya’s checklist off against your state of being. Your end-of-the-world-as-you-know-it might not all be doom and gloom. Either way, today is your preparation for tomorrow. In whatever guise it takes.

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