I have several decades of hands-on experience, as researcher, activist and spiritual practitioner, in community-scale initiatives and networks for environmental and social change. My new work in Sacred Political Ecology explicitly integrates these three strands in order to more powerfully mobilise the potential of grassroots action for environmental and social justice.
Research on Indigenous Environmental Knowledge
I explored the importance of community as a vehicle for self-organised collective action on sustainability while living and working in indigenous communities in Guyana during PhD fieldwork. I originally saw this as a route to a career in international conservation and development, but increasingly came to see these as industries that actually depend upon, and perpetuate, the very same conditions of injustice and exploitation they are supposed to address. The Wapishana people who hosted me for most of my fieldwork are presenting their own case for indigenous self-management of their ancestral lands. I concluded my fieldwork with the realisation that my best contribution lay in returning to Europe to work at addressing the source of the problem, in inherently unsustainable lifestyles and societies that rely on extraction of environmental and social value from ecologically richer parts of the world.
Permaculture and Eco-Community
Over the same time, I heard about permaculture from a friend who had visited Australia, and became aware of the ecovillage movement. Both seemed to me to hold promise of a fertile combination with the technological, medical, material and other benefits of industrialised society with the freedom of social, cultural and economic self-determination that indigenous peoples enjoy when permitted to retain control of their own lands and livelihoods. Disillusioned with academia, I headed to Spain in search of land and community, gained skills in solar power, low impact building and organic horticulture, and helped found El Minchal Ecovillage close to the Granada Coast.
Transition and Community Energy
After returning to England in 2008, I became actively involved in the emerging Transition movement. I got involved in my local initiative Transition Durham, taking a coordination role until my departure from the area in 2013 and joining the Transition Bristol steering group while living in Bristol from 2013 to 2015. I was also active in the community energy sector, notably as a founding director of Northern Community Power, a CIC set up to support and enable community-led action against fuel poverty. I completed Permaculture Design Certificate training in 2011 and registered for my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design the same year. I eventually completed my diploma portfolio, which describes in detail the design and delivery of several key professional and life projects, in 2021, and am now registered as a diploma tutor with the Permaculture Association (Britain).
Over time I increasingly linked my community action with my professional background as a researcher on sustainability and social change. I co-founded and for several years coordinated the Transition Research Network and led a major national research project on Transition and participatory research. This work led to me playing a key role in the foundation of the ECOLISE network for community-led initiatives on sustainability and climate change, serving as an elected member of the ECOLISE Council from 2015 to 2017 and working as Research Coordinator from Spring 2017 until June 2021.
Growing Shamanic Community
From 2015 to 2020 I lived in Hebden Bridge in the South Pennines, resident for most of that time on a houseboat at Redacre Community Growing Project and working out of an office at the Birchcliffe Centre, home base of Pennine Heritage. During that time, my outward-facing work in the local community mostly focused on shamanic practice, hosting regular gong sound baths as a member of the Deepsong Sacred Sound Collective and a regular shamanic journeying circle as preparation for the later integration of that work with sustainability activism through the Shamanic Political Ecology programme.
Sacred Political Ecology
I am now working towards a deeper integration of community action for sustainability with research and shamanic practice, in the context of the new research, writing, learning and action programme in Sacred Political Ecology.