Two weeks ago, a group of around eighty people working with community projects all aroud the UK, were welcomed to the Eden Project’s Community Camp.The weekend was a residential packed full of talks by inspirational speakers, workshops, networking, story-telling and celebration of all the oridinary people doing extraordinary things for their communities. I was lucky enough to be one of those people, attending on behalf of Trees for Wellbeing.
The weekend started with a talk from a woman who had worked with the Eden Project from the very first ideas scribbled on the back of a beer mat seventeen years ago, through the funding bids, the draining of the old clay pit in which the project lives, the creation of the country’s biggest compost heap to make soil for all the gardens, and finally the construction of the famous Tropical and Mediterranean Biomes. With this, the scene for the weekend was set. From wild ideas to living reality, anything was possible.
An important part of the weekend was sharing our own stories, and one of my favourite, and most inspirational parts, was the ‘pitching’ of some of our own ideas in what was essentially an open mic session. There are some amazing projects going on around our country, often with very little funding but loads of passion and commitment from workers and volunteers. From the May Project in London who transformed a council house garden into a community garden and teach inner city kids about healthy food; to Mama D who took us on a Food Journey to the historical roots of our food and is an activist for Food Sovereignty; to the Soupervan which delivers soups, teas and coffees in a converted caravan to rough sleepers on the streets of Bedford: this guy, Matt Johnson, talking about commmunity energy and upcycled electronics (see Youtube video); to the One Love Community Centre in London offering a community space for workshops, furniture upcycling, yoga and creating Nomadic Community Gardens. That is such a small sample of the myriad wonderful things happening all over the country, and after beginning to feel bogged down by news of politics, wars and climate change, was just the tonic I needed!
There were workshops on using play, art and storytelling in our work with communities, to more pragmatic things like how to use digital technology, apply for funding, start a community business, and how to grow food and food enterprises for community.
Storytelling is such a vital and connecting principle of creating meaning and community that it emerged throughout the weekend in different ways, not least as part of a tour of the Biomes. The Eden Project use professional storytellers a lot to engage visitors with the plants growing there, and it certainly made an impression on me. On our tour of the rainforest Biome, we were introduced to the Coco De Mer tree which produces 25kg seeds shaped rather like a bottom, the African Greenheart tree used for building and for medicine, and the incredible Birds Nest Fern which is being trialled as a companion plant in palm oil plantations to help boost biodiversity and increase soils as it catches and stores bird droppings and insects in its leaves. We were also treated to a wedding proposal mid-tour by a couple of tourists, unaware that they had twenty Community Campers watching, and were surprised to hear an almighty cheer from below as she said ‘yes!’
The icing on the cake of the weekend had to be the fancy dress disco in the Mediterranean Biome, a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one I won’t forget in a hurry!
What I really took away from the weekend was the importance of connection to and celebration of our communities, stories and achievements. When we get to engage with each other and our stories, we are empowered to make real and lasting change in our culture and our environment.
Thanks to Beth and to Kathryn Garnett from Eden Project for enabling me to be there!
Written by Sarah Clifton, volunteer with Trees for Wellbeing.
Some of the projects mentioned: