Schumacher North Annual Gathering

Our third Annual Gathering was held on Saturday 9th February at Swarthmore Education Centre in Leeds. It was an opportunity for all Schumacher North suppporters to help build a programme of activities that will enable us to contribute more effectively to the ongoing challenge of creating a world that is both economically and socially just as well as ecologically sustainable, in the face of sustained attacks on these goals by the present government and the global neoliberal austerity ‘consensus’.

The day was roughly divided into two parts: the morning was devoted to general discussion of the question of how social change is brought about and how we can be effective in our own activities; and the afternoon to discussion and decisions about the direction and activities of Schumacher North over the coming year. At the end of the morning we also held our official AGM.

The morning session began with input from several invited speakers, telling us about the campaigns and projects they are involved in, and leading on to general discussion of the issues raised by campaigning in general. After a coffee break we continued these discussions in small groups – the outputs from these groups can be found here.

We’d like to thank our speakers for giving us their time, and for the information they brought us which stimulated a great deal of useful discussion. So that people can follow up these campaigns and projects, the contact details are as follows:

  • Pauline Neale from Oxfam Leeds discussing the “Enough Food IF” campaign – see www.oxfamleeds.org.uk . Also see World Development Movement: WDM Leeds on facebook.
  • Chiara Tornaghi discussing Leeds Urban Food Justice Platform (www.urbanfoodjustice.org ) and the Feeds Leeds Network (http://www.turnstone.tv/ProjectFL.html ) – there’s a list of all the partner projects, individuals and organisations with contact details.
  • David Smith, active in the Green Party, Keep Our NHS Public (KONP – see Keep Our NHS Public-Leeds facebook group) and others; David and Sarah also spoke about the No Incinerator Leeds Campaign (see facebook group NIL – No Incinerator Leeds).
  • John Davies from Hands Off Our Homes, discussing the campaign against the “bedroom tax” (cuts to Housing Benefit for social housing tenants deemed to have spare bedrooms) – see http://handsoffourhomes.org.uk or email handsoffourhomes@gmail.com to be kept in touch
  • We missed Amy November and Matt Carmichael from Leeds Fuel Poverty Action Network, who were both unable to come on the day, but you can check out the facebook group, and also find info on the TIDAL website www.leedstidal.org

The afternoon session began with a whole group discussion around issues of inclusivity and access. We looked at various options for making our events more child- and carer-friendly. We reached a consensus on the principle that anyone organising an event should take responsibility for ensuring that provision for childcare was in place (eg by doing a call-out for people to be on a rota), and that the arrangements should be advertised to make clear to carers that children are welcome.

We discussed several other dimensions of accessibility: the location of events and how it affects people from outside Leeds: the way in which events are publicised; and the possibility of taking events and activities out into communities and using local venues rather than trying to get people to “come to us”. We agreed that this would need to be done in collaboration with local groups/venues rather than us “descending” on a neighbourhood as an outside organisation.

The remainder of the afternoon was devoted to the core business of the annual gathering: the proposal and discussion of events and activities for SN over the coming year. We approached this Open Space-style, with people making their proposals to the group and having some general discussion, then (after the break) splitting up to explore the ideas which interested us and signing up to be involved in making them happen.

Proposals included the following (not all of theese will be progressed in the short term!)

  • Improving our outreach, and especially e-communications by more consistent use of facebook, etc., and via other groups’ events– eg mentioning SN at Green Drinks events (and vice-versa).
  • Creating a regional network concerned with biochar. This could include research into uses of biochar, technological problem-solving, production, and creating public awareness.
  • A “dispersed programme” of SN lectures, workshops etc., to begin to build a regional network with local SN Groups in other parts of the region taking on organising events such as Schumacher Lectures, weekend courses etc. Possibilities for this exist in Newcastle, York, Manchester, Sheffield and Hebden Bridge.
  • A retreat in the Yorkshire Dales (there is a promising possible venue in Keighley, Currer Laithe) – to include discussions, walks, film-showings, dance sessions, meditation etc as well as home-cooked food and chill-out time.
  • Community events in local venues, eg Oblong in Woodhouse, Burley Lodge Centre, etc. These could be one-off talks, a series of evening classes, or we could take on coordinating something in which a number of groups took part.
  • Clive Lord is keen to talk to any groups about the Citizen’s Income – we felt we might be able to support this by having a session on CI as part of a programme of community events as above. NB Clive’s blog is at www.clivelord.wordpress.com so do have a read and spread the word!
  • Pauline Neale is keen for SN to get behind the “IF” campaign (see www.oxfamleeds.org.uk). Again, we felt we might be able to incorporate this into our community activities. Of course, there may be energy for a food justice working group to do something bigger…
  • Film nights – These could be small cosy events at people’s houses, and/or could be part of the community events – we’ll collect suggestions for films – please send in!
  • A series of dialogue days involving TRUG, (Transdisciplinary Research (Urbal) Group (aka Sustainability Think Tank), Leeds Permaculture Network and Schumacher North.

Thanks very much to everyone who attended and made the day a success; please stay in touch and get involved if you can. A special thanks also to the staff at the Swarthmore Centre for hosting us and being friendly and helpful as always.


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