Cultivating Community – the time is ripe!

Insights from Glastonbury…

Yes, we’ve been talking about strengthening communities for years, but now we really need them. This blog shares insights from two sources: one is the Deep Adaptation Conference held in Glastonbury in June 2023, the other is the impressive community resilience initiatives happening in and around the town of Glastonbury.

The conference was a rare chance to hear Jem Bendell speak, as he now lives in Bali. This event was partly set up as the launch of Jem’s new book, Breaking Together: you can see my blog review of it here. Another keynote speaker was Gail Bradbrook, one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion

Jem is best known as the initiator of the Deep Adaptation approach, back in 2018: it’s interesting to hear his take on it, five years on. Now, he is eloquent about the power of the elites, and the risk that they mesmerise us into focussing on them and wishing we had their power, instead of what we can do in our own right. He also observes that ‘global disaster capitalism’ is in full swing, i.e. big business using the crisis to make money. What Jem advocates is a ‘people’s environmentalism’, but he acknowledges that the networks to enable this are largely absent.

Growing food together gives a community roots: Plotgate Community Supported Agriculture, near Glastonbury

It’s equally interesting to hear Gail Bradbrook, five years on from the start of Extinction Rebellion. She said, “A lot of people in our movement want to keep it simple, but you can’t, it’s an ultra-complex situation.” For those of us in the so-called developed economies, part of the complexity is the mindsets of privilege and colonialism, which affect us often unconsciously.

She urged us not to face into societal collapse with an industrial-society mindset, e.g. still looking for ‘progress’, or believing technology will enable us to continue the same resource-guzzling lifestyle. As Gail put it, “in the global South, a lot of collapse has already happened: from the North, we need to listen with humility, and learn how they have lived with collapse.” She regards Hospicing Modernity, the book by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira, as a good guide to this.

Interestingly, Gail believes that the collapse of modernity will show up initially as a mental health crisis on a huge scale, of which signs are already emerging. Like Jem, she believes that positive change will come from below, from grassroots communities, and the global South offers us role models for adaptation which is collective and grounded, not hierarchical or cerebral.

Glastonbury’s adaptive initiatives

Another speaker at the conference was Indra Donfrancesco, a long-time climate activist, who is now Mayor of Glastonbury. The town has an impressive range of projects to cultivate resilience to the threats we’re already facing. These include:

  • 5FF: the 5-Mile Food Project: the aim is to grow most of Glastonbury’s food within 5 miles of the town. A People’s Assembly helped lay the groundwork, and involved several local growers. You can see more about the initiative in this 10-minute video, or in this blog.
  • Glastonbury Mental Health: this is a registered charity, with a really intelligent range of services and resources, both in person and online. One idea I really liked is to train staff in shops, who may be a key point of contact with people who are struggling. See their website here.
  • People’s Assemblies: several more of these are planned. Indra acknowledged that there are deep polarisations within this community, as in most. There are various different processes and names for People’s Assemblies. In Glastonbury, the processes used are those advocated by Extinction Rebellion: see more here.

If you’d like more resources to inspire your community cultivation, see my Natural Happiness website, e.g. Community insights from ecosystems, and the Adaptive Communities section of my other website: Just like growing plants, cultivating community takes patience, skill, and tolerance for failures, but it’s resilient and rewarding!