I first registered for the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design in late 2012, when I became the first ever apprentice of my tutor (and former Transition Durham colleague) Wilf Richards. I finally completed my portfolio and received my diploma in late 2021, and have since qualified as a permaculture diploma tutor.
Action Learning Pathway
The diploma includes ten designs that together chart how I have integrated permaculture into my professional and personal life. Design 1, the Action Learning Pathway, charts this learning journey over the near-decade over which this took place. A key theme is the interweaving of my three main strands of work: as a researcher, a community activist and a shamanic practitioner. Each of these is the main focus of one group of designs.
Durham Local Food Research
Designs 2 to 5 cover successive stages in how I adopted permaculture as a design methodology in my core professional activity as an action researcher working within and for grassroots environmental and social initiatives. The overall philosophy – of using permaculture techniques such as ‘stacking’ to create a site of mutually beneficial interaction, or ‘edge’, between permaculture and research is described in an extended version of a chapter I wrote for the Para-Academic Handbook. The application of that philosophy, through approaching research activities as exercises in social permaculture at successively larger scales, is described in a scientific paper in the journal Ecology and Society.
Design 2 describes the accidental origins of this philosophy in a research collaboration between the Anthropology Department at Durham University, where I was based at the time, and the Durham Local Food Network, brokered by Transition Durham. Reflecting on the project retrospectively, we realised that we had approached it as an exercise in permaculture design, which was our habitual way of doing things in Transition Durham. The delivery of the project demonstrated all twelve of the design principles identified by permaculture co-founder David Holmgren, in ways that could support their systematisation.
Design 3 describes the first deliberate application of this methodology, in a research project developed to support Transition Network to find ways to support more effective collaborations between Transition initiatives and researchers – an area of clear under-fulfilled potential, and a source of many negative experiences. Its implementation ran parallel with the establishment of the Transition Research Network, which cross-fertilised very productively with many of its activities and outputs.
A Pattern Language for Transition Research
Design 4 systematises the knowledge generated during Designs 2 and 3 in the form of a Pattern Language for Transition Research: a set of common methods, approaches, principles and values that can support effective collaboration between community groups and academic researchers. It was developed in collaboration with, and draws on the wisdom of, the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action at Durham University, along with various collaborators from the Transition Research Network, permaculture research, and fields of engaged academic research.
The Communities for Future Knowledge Commons
Design 5 completes the ‘research arc’ in the diploma. It describes the functional integration of insights from designs 2, 3 and 4 into the organisation of the ECOLISE network, as a Knowledge Commons for Community-led Action on Sustainability and Climate Change.
The Narrowboat Innisfree
Design 6 and 7 together describe how I made my home of four years on the narrowboat Innisfree on the Rochdale Canal at Redacre Community Growing Project in Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. They are the most conventional designs in the portfolio, being focussed on physical systems, and in this way help ground the other, more abstract designs.
Allotment at Redacre Community Growing Project
Design 7 focuses on my allotment plot at Redacre, taking into account its interrelationships with my boat and the wider setting of the Upper Calder Valley. Treating home, vegetable garden, community and professional life as nested spatial scales within a single systemic overview, it provides an example of how living as a commoner – on community-owned land and water – can provide a high quality of life without buying into the conventional housing market.
Shamanic Political Ecology Training Programme
Designs 8 to 10 map out a professional and life Transition that I initiated during 2021, at the time I was completing my diploma write-up. The key theme here is of further integration of my key life interests: weaving attention to shamanic practice into the existing combination between permaculture and research.
Design 8 explores the development of my work as a shamanic practitioner and teacher, and in particular the creation of a new training programme in Shamanic Political Ecology.
Design 9 focusses on my writing programme, building towards upcoming books on Permaculture and Shamanism, and a new line of work in Sacred Political Ecology.
Design 10 is an example of what is known as ‘Zone 000 design’. It considers my practises for inner growth and spiritual development and aims to ensure they are mutually reinforcing inter-relationship with my outward-facing work.
My accreditation event took place online on February 4th 2022, with my diploma tutor Wilf Richards as presiding diplomate. A recording of the event is available here.