Friday, 29 May 2015

Is your smart phone a problem or a solution? 7 ways to get the most out of it without it sucking the life out of you.

by Irene Soler and Hedvig Murray

In this day and age, we need to be always connected. We need to answer our emails immediately. If you run your own business, you always need to be updating Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to increase likes, followers, tweets etc. At least this is how it can feel. What's more, you can quickly get sucked into a world of cat videos and photos of people’s food, leaving little time for getting out into nature, or having time to see your friends.

We don’t like it, but we know this cycle all too well. Both of us are self employed so we rely on the internet and our phones to run our businesses. Irene works in Brighton as a web designer and she starts her days by listening to a podcast on her phone while eating breakfast, then sitting down to a day at the computer, and then some evening entertainment on Pinterest and Instagram. But as a result she was getting back pain and RSI in her wrist.

Hedvig is a permaculture teacher who has set up online platforms for her students, does diploma tutorials via Skype and writes a blog to share her findings. At some point earlier this year, she was waking up and checking her phone first thing in the morning, last thing at night and most of the time in between.

Why? Because it can be a great way to connect with the people we are friends with who live in different countries, people from our PDCs and other people who inspire us. We can connect with people we have never met, and help them to use permaculture in their lives.

When we started working together on HIP Permaculture, we wanted to re-design a new culture of how we could use our phones to do what needs to be done, and free up time to do other things.

So we set about doing a permaculture design on how we use tech in our lives.
From this, one of the design aims was to limit our access / reduce temptation and we found some things worked really well. Here are our tips:

Irene’s tips

1. Schedule computer free days.
I started with Computer Free Fridays. I would still do work by doing things like brainstorming on paper, making physical models, mapping out work plans or meeting up with others.

2. Take regular breaks.
When I have a full day at the computer, I set a timer to ring every 25 minutes (The Pomodoro Technique). This is a reminder to get up, move around and stretch.

3. No Facebook / No email.
I don’t have a Facebook app on my phone and I don’t check emails either when I’m away from my computer (unless I’m not near a computer for days!)

I am more productive when I am online these days and I have less issues with my back. I’ve developed new offline ways to work with clients that are both fun and unusual for a web designer. I’ve had great feedback from clients who have found this less daunting than online stuff.

Hedvig’s tips

1. Switch off your wifi when not using it.
I started doing this when I was living by myself. This is particular helpful as it helped me
kick the habit of checking my phone all the time.

2. Switch off notifications on your phone.
If you can’t switch off your wifi, you can switch off the distractions. I was constantly distracted by peeps and bings, which interrupted my thinking. Change the settings on Facebook and emails, for example.

3. Check your emails and social media at set times during the day.
I try and check twice a day. I check when I have time to actually answer the emails, rather than just keeping up with the emails. If you need to, add a note to the bottom of your emails saying ‘I only check my emails x times a day and if there is something urgent call me’.

4. Manage social media posts.
For my business social media accounts, I use an app to collect interesting links and then sit down once a week to schedule when I want them to be shared.
The results have been that I am now more efficient and I feel less guilty that I am not answering my emails. I have freed up headspace for other things. I feel like I have gained more time to do things that are really important for my well-being, like going out for regular walks, having time to read in front of the fire and also to meet up with friends.

Hedvig Murray and Irene Soler are the founders of HIP Permaculture. They aim to create useful and beautiful products to inspire people to use permaculture.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Planning a fabulous new permaculture life abroad - people care tips

by Jo Holleran, Permaculture Association member

Jo Holleran is a permaculture practitioner, designer and Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design tutor. Newly located in Poitou-Charentes, France.

Planning a fabulous new permaculture life abroad? Here are some People Care tips for the transition…

Sometimes, wild dreaming reveals a vision of a permaculture paradise in a new country. There is so much potential, perhaps a lush food forest dripping with exotic fruits, an eco-renovation project for a fabulous home, eco-village living with like-minded people, a new cultural experience…

Equally, relocating abroad can place great demands on personal resilience. It can be hard going at first, at a time when we have made a break from so much that is familiar.

‘Fresh off the boat’ for the second time, these are some of my personal experiences and tips for the transition to an abundant new life abroad.

Integrate, don’t segregate

Make connections before arrivalIt feels so much better to be welcomed to a new home, to see a few familiar faces and to have others to turn to for help and to share the learning with. We can listen to our instincts with new friendships, they transcend any language barriers that may exist.

Keep in touch with the important people in your life
Our loved ones represent our support structure and our personal guild and we are equally important to them. Staying in touch links and involves family and friends so they can also be part of an exciting new future.

Design for integration

Successful integration into the local community is important for social fulfilment and is worthy of a design in its own right. There are so many exciting opportunities: attending local events; meeting key community figures; joining hobby groups; taking a language course; meeting the neighbours; chatting and listening in the bakery; volunteering locally; finding work, the list goes on!

It is good to observe and understand the local ‘grapevine.’ Used wisely, it can be a helpful communication tool.

Check-in regularly with your partner
In times of change, new skills, strengths, anxieties, ideas and priorities emerge as we tackle new things together. Regular check-ins provide the opportunity to re-align with each other.

Health and Wellbeing

Prioritise a suitable living space
If we plan to get cold, wet and muddy, it makes sense to plan to get warm, dry and clean again afterwards. Challenging living conditions are an energy drain and can contribute to health problems. The more efficiently we can perform basic functions and the better we are able to feed ourselves, then the more enjoyable the experience and the more time and energy we have available for other activities.

Plan for good health
When we are passionate about achieving our goals, it is easy to push ourselves beyond our physical, mental or emotional limits. Working with nature by listening closely to ourselves and keeping a personal observations diary and/or maintenance plan enables realistic goal setting. It can also help to identify the ‘tweak’ points before they become break points.

We need to establish our healthcare entitlements in our new country, identify any gaps and work out how to fill them. It is helpful to have a list of emergency numbers and some basic language by or stored in the phone in case of need.

Work/Life Balance

Set your own pace
Others may be working to their own agenda causing them to push for quick decisions or actions. We shouldn’t feel embarrassed about slowing things down if that’s what feels right for us.

Make time for leisure and hobbies
Many of us take on hugely demanding projects and it’s really easy to spend every waking moment working on them. We can refer back to our wild dreaming regularly and plan time out in the here and now to pursue our other interests.

Record your progress

As we look forward the task list can seem quite daunting. However, we can also look behind us to our achievements for encouragement. Recording progress in some way, either privately or within our guilds reminds us that we really are moving towards our vision.

Celebrate your achievements
There are so many different ways to celebrate both our own achievements and those of others, we can be really creative. Personally, I love to celebrate in simple ways, with friends, with food and with a toast.

So, here’s to your good health and to your new adventure!

Inspiration and insights from a Teacher Training Course

by Nenya Milne

The Permaculture Association bulletin advertising funded places at European training courses came just at the right time. I was feeling increasingly stuck for impetus to pursue the many permaculture projects I had ambitiously hatched in my head. I knew I needed to improve on my skills to engage with different audiences, and to gain confidence in the more democratic forms of education compared to the university framework I was used to. 

Nenya and family
Somehow I had never seriously considered a teachers’ training course – perhaps because the scale of investment, both in terms of time and money, was completely out my reach. 

Having already made plans to pack my two-year old off to granny’s for most of October, the opportunity to apply for funding for the October Permaculture Educators’ Course in Denmark was too good to miss. With only a few meaningful questions to answer, my application was soon on its way. Incredibly, I got the answer in just three days – and I was going to Friland!
I arrived in Denmark feeling slightly intimidated yet excited about the course, but both emotions soon gave way to an almost palpable sense of being just where I needed to be. I made friends with some of our group even before leaving Copenhagen on a 4 hour bus journey to Friland, which lies about an hour’s drive north-east of Aarhus. I met the rest during the charming candlelit dinner at our course venue – a spacious eco-building called The Raven (Ravnen). Our accommodation was partly in Friland’s equally amazing and varied family homes, made from wood, straw bale, or cob, and partly in the ‘normal’ Danish village of Feldballe across the road from Friland.

Friland is an unusual intentional community in that it was set up NOT to become a parallel alternative community, but to demonstrate that you could lead a green, low-impact life while staying fully integrated with the rest of society. Friland’s children attend the local school in Feldballe, and the preconditions for getting a plot to build your own house in Friland were not being in debt, and having your own (not necessarily land-based) business. There were also limits imposed on how much you could sell your house for, to deter anyone with the ambitions of a would-be developer, and attract people with a long-term commitment to the community. Many of the houses in Friland were still being built (and from what I heard the strain of self-build proved too much for a couple of families), and it was in no way a postcard picture of an ideal village – though it did not stop people from wanting to visit, get involved, or seek to replicate Friland’s experiences elsewhere. And for good reason, everything that succeeded had withstood the tests of both time and usefulness, and Friland is a well-functioning as well as a deeply inspirational place.

In addition to getting insider perspectives on Friland, staying in family homes meant that we got the chance of a decent rest during the night (unless paired up with a snoring roommate…), as well as a daily change of scene and some space of our own. I even had the benefit of a cat’s company which was wonderful for relaxation! We were also very well looked after at the course venue: we were spared cooking and other house work by our incredibly efficient hosts Jo and Lars and their kitchen helpers Nicolas and Alison, who also provided wholesome and delicious food and freshly baked bread, and yes, “Mmmm, garlic..!”

There was also time for fun and games, mushrooming in the local woods, gentle warm-ups to energise us in the mornings, and plenty of socialising in the evenings. All of this was important given how intensive the course proved to be, and it was amazing to see how it was carefully designed to enable maximum learning and retention of useful information – packed and interactive sessions alternated with time set aside for reflection and opportunities to practice teaching in a safe and supportive environment. 

We gained useful insights about how we learn (the process and the different learning styles), the importance of thorough preparation and timing, of a good learning environment, and of tailoring the methods and content to specific learning outcomes. We practised teaching in pairs and giving feedback to each other, while each of us received useful feedback from our tutors Andy Goldring and Cat Dolleris, as well as an insight about how to improve our body language and ‘presence’ from a fellow trainee Armand, a dance teacher with a keen interest in bodily awareness.

Although we all had different starting points in terms of confidence and experience in teaching permaculture, I can safely say that the course was useful to everyone, but especially the beginners, and it will continue to bear fruit for many years to come! For myself, things that seemed insurmountable before suddenly appeared doable and far less intimidating, and as the ten days of training progressed, I felt increasingly empowered – as well as grateful and incredibly moved by the emerging friendships, wisdom, and mutual support.

Our stay in Friland was not without incident: a couple of days before the course ended, one of the huge straw piles not far from the venue went up in flames. Speculation abounded as to whether the moisture that penetrated the bales had led to such high levels of microbial activity that the straw ignited in the generated heat (much like an overly hot compost pile), or whether our group or the bus tour of pensioners that happened to visit Friland on that day harboured an unconfessed pyromaniac… One thing was definite according to the firefighters: our quickly improvised bucket chain helped save the nearby building from catching fire as well.

Discussing the first micro-teach
while on a DIY tour of Friland (Photo by Cat Dolleris)
Now, almost 6 month later, I still feel a very strong sense of connection to all my course folk, and I am looking forward to meeting at least some of them at the September IPCUK in London. I also feel their support in all I am doing to put my newly honed skills into practice: since returning from Friland, I have enrolled in Diploma; ran my first Permaculture Introduction course, a homemade cosmetics course, and started shadowing an established teacher’s PDC; helped teach a permaculture practical on Edinburgh University’s 3rd year biology course; organised a collective design exercise for a local park; started a project to create a forest garden in the local school grounds and am now working on a Forest Gardening course to accompany the project in the autumn.

About the author:
Nenya Milne lives in Edinburgh with her husband Richard and their son Lawrence. She is a self-employed gardener and permaculture designer and teacher, enjoys botanising, gets ridiculously excited about plants (especially unusual edibles), and is working on involving her local community in the Inch into food-growing projects.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Networking at The Green Gathering 2015

The original off grid festival to host IPCUK Permaculture Ambassadors, Beatfreeks, Reclaim The Power and Patrick Whitefield memorial.

More than three decades after the first Green Gathering was held on Glastonbury's Worthy Farm, this solar and wind powered festival has forged alliances with a range of social enterprises, campaign groups and art collectives to create a sustainable event based around social justice and environmental issues – while retaining the intimate music stages, traditional crafts and community vibe of festivals past. 
In recent years The Green Gathering has hosted the Off Grid College, a Radical Routes Co-operators' Camp, Transition Towns, and an Occupy camp. 

In 2015 festival organisers are working with the Permaculture Association to raise awareness about the International Permaculture Convergence to be held in the UK this September. Permaculture Ambassadors will be at The Green Gathering to share their knowledge of ecological design systems from around the world – and to dispel the myth that permaculture is only about gardening.

Pioneering permaculture author Patrick Whitefield was instrumental in organising early incarnations of The Green Gathering. Patrick died recently at his home in Glastonbury and in recognition of his inspiration, a memorial for Patrick will be incorporated into this year's festival.

One of the UK's top events for families, The Green Gathering won a Festival Kidz Gold Award in 2014 and The Spark Family Award in 2013. With a view to expanding activities for teens, Green Gathering organisers have recently confirmed a new collaboration with Beatfreeks, an award-winning social enterprise set up to provide platforms for growth and expression to young people while addressing social issues and bringing benefit to broader communities. At GG 2015 the Beatfreeks collective will provide a series of youth-oriented workshops in poetry, music, dance, enterprise, leadership and media, culminating in a poetry slam and performance jam on the solar powered Floating Lotus Stage. 
Those attending the Gathering will also have the chance to network with No Dash for Gas and Reclaim The Power activists who've been responsible for raising awareness of climate change and fuel poverty, occupying power stations and organising action camps on the anti-fracking frontlines of Balcombe and Blackpool.

Green Gathering director Em Weirdigan says:
It's amazing how many people say 'The Green Gathering changed my life'. It really is a festival beyond hedonism, where you can party then wake up and hatch plans for a better future with your mates from the night before. It's a place outside the mainstream where your eyes will be opened to fairer and more fun ways of living and working, and where you can learn practical skills to transform your world”.

Line Up 

The line-up includes live music from Martha Tilston, The Undercover Hippy, Seize The Day, Roving Crows, RDF, Dapper Cadavers, The Don Bradmans, Krankschaft, Tallulah Rendall, Formidable Vegetable Sound System, Will Tun and the Wasters, Suzy Condrad, Smiley and the Underclass, and Tori Reed. 
Spoken word and open mic venues will see poet and author Salena Godden, the legendary Artist Taxi Driver, Jazz Gnome Assassins and many more appearing over the four days of the festival. Bristol's Libby Lawes/HippyPunk will curate a late night dance venue.

The Green Gathering will be held 13-16 August 2015, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Welsh borders just 18 miles from Bristol. 
Advance Winter Tickets £85, Spring Tickets (from April 1st) £95. Youth Tickets £54 (11-15 years). Children under 11 go free. Tickets from Bristol Ticket Shop

Permaculture Association members get a discount to this year's Green Gathering! Please e-mail membership[at] to gain your discount code. Not a member yet? Join today.

A Green Gathering Charity was established in 2013, with a remit to promote education for sustainability. 
More information about The Green Gathering:

Friday, 1 May 2015

Nurturing Your Local Permaculture Network - more...

by Nicola Bell, Membership Coordinator

Welcome to the second in a series of posts aimed at giving support and ideas to help new local permaculture networks to germinate. For the first, click here!
Get more done, working together!

What sort of group are you?

Permaculture groups vary widely in size and activities across the UK. If you're just starting out as a new permaculture group, it's worth looking at other successful groups across the network, to get an idea of what you could potentially achieve together, or how you would like to evolve. 

Here are some examples from different regions:

Please let us know more about your group if you would like to be featured here or in future features. Many of these groups have Group Permaculture Association membership, and benefit from listings in the newsletter 'Permaculture Works' - click here to join as a group member.

Activities to do as a group

It is sometimes daunting to coordinate a series of events if you're just getting started. Take it easy, why not get to know one another first, and see how things evolve! Here's Lausanne of the fantastic new Hull Permaculture group:

"We first thought about forming our Hull Permaculture group after our permaculture design course had come to an end. It was formed as a means for us to keep in touch and continue learning together.
We try to meet up on a monthly basis. During the winter months we usually meet up at a local pub, have a chat, bring books, magazines and questions to share, and have group discussions.
When summer comes around we take advantage of the lighter nights and visit each others sites, projects and allotments.
One of our members, Janet, works for the NHS and has an allotment space set up to nurture positive mental health and well-being, and this has been very inspiring.
We will also organise socials and meals at each other's houses, and one of our members has recently started running a permaculture picturehouse from an outhouse in his garden!
We are planning visits to other local group events they year, such as Leeds Permaculture Network, and we also hope to visit some LAND Centres.
- Lausanne Tranter, Hull Permaculture Group and Permaculture Association member

Hull Permaculture
Hull Permaculture members: Lausanne Tranter, Tracey Henry and Ashley Forrester at the Constable Street field. Photo: Simon Renilson

Some other ideas for activities include:

  • Organise a permaculture film evening - you can now watch 'INHABIT - the permaculture perspective' online!
  • Host a seed swap
  • Organise a skill swap
  • Invite a guest speaker to come and talk to you
  • Hold a permaculture coffee morning
  • More examples coming up in the next post!
Are you part of a regional group? Please let us know what you get up to, so we can share with the network.

Engagement and gaining new members

As I mentioned in the previous post, twitter, facebook and mailing lists are a great way to encourage others to engage with your activities. Having a Flickr page to share your achievements together is another option - just check out these great active Flickr sites made by Permaculture Association members and tell me you're not inspired!
You could also consider getting a website or blog to bring all of this together, including a calendar of upcoming work days and socials. 'Wordpress', 'Drupal' and 'Joomla!' are all free and user friendly content management platforms that allow you to create beautiful websites.
Permaculture Association members can also add their courses and events listings online, as well as jobs and opportunities. These are promoted via our monthly ebulletin which goes out to over 7,000 subscribers, so it's well worth it. Find out how to join here.

It is as important, if not more, to get the word out offline. There are those of us who do not have access to the internet, and those who are always out and about and you're more likely to engage away from a screen - you want to make sure everyone gets the invite to learn about permaculture, and benefit from being actively involved in their community. Here are some ideas of locations you could approach to help promote your activities with simple posters (remember to get permission first!):

  • Allotment noticeboard
  • Library
  • Community Centre
  • Health Food Shops
  • Cafes
  • Universities and schools
  • Community Centre
  • GP surgery
  • Places of worship
  • Yoga Centre

If your group chooses to become a Group member of the Permaculture Association, you'll benefit from a listing in 'Permaculture Works', which helps new members near you to find you.

You should also spread the word to other regional networks who share your ethos; it's all about working together to bring about positive change after all! Here are some ideas of organisations who may have regional groups in your area:

Need a venue?

If you're the sort of group that's going to out grow your local cafe or pub as a meet up space, you might want to start looking for a venue to hold monthly socials. A lot of the establishments listed above may also have meeting rooms and break out spaces that you could potentially hire for an evening, so it's worth enquiring. 
Permablitz in action!

You may also find that some venues would welcome the addition of a permaculture design. For example, Cecil Sharpe House in London, which hosts the annual London Permaculture Festival, won an award after permablitzlondon transformed the entrance into an edible and wildlife haven!

If you've got a good idea for a possible permaculture group venue space, let us know here.
Once you've put the word out about the exciting events and activities you've got planned, enjoy connecting and enhancing your community with permaculture! :)

Please help more regional permaculture groups succeed

We are facilitating the creation of an FAQ with help from our experienced permaculture groups across the network! If this is you, we want to hear from you! Please share your experiences of setting up and running up a group, so that more can succeed.

Next time: More great activities to do as a group, and some social media tips - permaculture style!

Become a Group Member of the Permaculture Association and get your group listed in Permaculture Works here!