MCA Taster course 2

Many thanks to Virginia Moffat for some of this text and Lucia Possehl, Judit Davis, Daisy Pearson and Kriszti Campbell for the photos

We are all buzzing after holding our second taster course on commoning, held in the beautiful Lake District the weekend of 20th-22nd January 2023. 

The weekend was free to participants. Those attending only needed to pay the costs of getting to the Lake District, and many kept costs down and practised commoning by sharing cars. We stayed and worked at Field Study Centre Blencathra, a former TB sanatorium, which offers stunning views of mountains and lakes. 

Over the course of the weekend we explored the meaning of commons and how it relates to all aspects of our lives, the tension between acting outside capitalism and the state and resisting the negative aspects of these structures in our communal lives, while aware that our ideas and efforts are often reincorporated by capitalism and the state. To better understand the practicalities of these challenges, we interrogated three excellent case studies presented by specialists who have worked to common places, resources and relationships. The first, presented by Audley Genus, Emeritus Professor at Kingston University, detailed a Community Energy project in South East London (South East London Community Energy co-operative). The second, presented by Dr Kostis Roussos (School of Health and Social Care, University of Essex), explored community-operated primary health care clinics in Greece following the 2008 financial crisis. The third, presented by Justine Loizeau, Ph.D Candidate in Management & Organisation Studies at Paris Dauphine University, engaged with the communal efforts in western France to create a ZAD (Zone à Défendre - Zone to be Defended) in opposition to  an airport development near Nantes. All three of the case studies included consideration of how communities respond to crisis, how they solve problems (even those that are very complex), and how people sustain their material and social lives while working to build new and innovative types of community and governance. 

The keynote address was delivered by Professor J.T. Roane, from Rutgers University in the USA. J.T. traced the history of Black commons as an insurgency against the deprivations of slavery, and how those spaces persist into the present. His lecture looked at archival examples of how slaves grew food to feed runaways, how post-Civil War communities found spaces to cultivate pre-Jim Crow, and how contemporary Black communities develop gardens. His talk was drawn from his recently released book Dark Agoras: Insurgent Black Social Life and the Politics of Place. The weekend ended with seven ‘lightning talks’ on some of the key themes and a reflection from the group which will feed into the team’s thoughts around the programme. All of the presentations were accompanied with guided discussions in small groups and ‘report back’ presentations from the smaller groups to the whole cohort. In this way, the weekend was designed around the principles of co-learning, as participants brought forth new and innovative perspectives on the themes and examples.

The participants were drawn from a diverse set of backgrounds, both geographically and in terms of expertise. There was a wide age range, from 20s to 60s, with participants originating in places such as Mexico, Syria, USA, Sweden, France, Ireland, Italy, the UK, and Vanuatu. All were involved in community building projects in some way, whether through academic institutions, NGOs and charity groups, and development organisations, and participants drew from both training and expertise to engage with the case studies.

The weekend was also accompanied by a number of social or informal activities that kept the group connected to the specific place where we were working. One of the organisers, as an experienced open water swimmer, led morning swims at Derwentwater. On the second day, we broke from classroom-based work for several hours to walk and hike along Blencathra Mountain, with options for both climbing up Blencathra and for taking lower paths, depending on ability and comfort. In addition to providing exceptional views of Derwentwater and the Skiddaw range, the group had free and creative conversations related to the weekend’s themes. 

A few comments from participants:

“I had many fascinating conversations which will take me weeks to unpick and was so touched by the kindness of so many.”

“For the last five years I have felt hopeless - now I have more energy than I have had in years.”

“The weekend has been fantastic and I have loved every element of it.”