CHE Voices

 CHE Voices — the Centre’s new blog — is a space to deepen and reflect on the themes touched on in CHE’s ongoing community education programme, and current thinking and practice in human ecology.


5 March 2018

The winds of change for education

By Dr Anne Winther

Transcript of a speech at the “Education for young people: Revolution or Evolution?” Firestarter Festival event,
Edinburgh College January 31st 2018

Twenty-five years ago, I left university excited about embarking on my graduate career. Ten years later, I abandoned that career – disillusioned with corporate life and heart-broken with the state of society and the planet. Since 2002, I have been exploring the causes of our environmental, social and economic crises. I have come to the conclusion that education, especially tertiary education, is a significant contributor to these crises.

I ask you this question: what is the purpose of secondary and tertiary education?

Is the purpose of education for the betterment of the individual, to pursue wealth and social status?
Is the purpose of education for the betterment of society: the communities in which we live; the generations that come after us; the environment on which we rely; and our collective wellbeing?

The first purpose is competitive – it is the notion of we must get on, as described by Ulrich Beck. It emphasises the extrinsic values of money and status, creating elites in society, who have the ability to create, but also to destroy: destroy society through inequality and pursuit of the self; and destroy the environment through consumption, squandering valuable resources and creating toxic waste that is destroying the planet.

Those with the highest qualifications, who end up being corporate achievers, tend to have the biggest ecological footprints. I have witnessed the scrum of the Oxford graduates competing for the coveted jobs at the highly paid big banks and FTSE 100 companies – some of the most qualified and brightest people are going to these companies, yet most of the companies won’t feature on an ethical investment list. Many of my peers went to Goldman Sachs, McKinsey and Co, UBS, Aberdeen Asset Management and me Exxon Mobil. Why is so much of this graduate talent going to businesses that are contributing to global inequality and planetary destruction?

What is wrong with our education that when faced with the biggest multiple crises of humanity we educate young people to perpetuate our planetary and societal destruction? Why doesn’t education encourage young people to challenge the systems and institutions to adopt different values and co-create innovative and beautiful alternatives– alternatives that might actually save the human race from the crises of biodiversity collapse and uncontrollable global warming?

This year is the 50th anniversary of Paolo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I have a feeling that Freire would criticise our education system by asking why does it not:

  • pursue justice (both social and environmental)
  • foster peace and love for humanity and our planet
  • embrace and nurture the questioning of our society, the one in which we live, that causes such destruction

So, I ask you as educators and leaders, why is education failing our society? Why have the people who have been educated at primary school to ask critical questions through Curriculum for Excellence, end up pursuing wealth and self-advancement? What has happened to people in secondary and tertiary education to lose this ability to be critical and live as responsible citizens, building human capacity and wellbeing?

What can we do? In my view, education at all levels must

  • First, incorporate intrinsic values and world-views to enable ethical, joined-up and holistic critical thinking.
  • Secondly, foster the passion for service to society, rather than service of the self;
  • Thirdly, nurture deep listening skills and listening with the head and the heart; and
  • Lastly, build courage to act with ethical conviction and to co-create change in service of society and the planet.

I hope Paolo Freire would agree with me.

Earlier this month Otto Scharmer summarised it well. Comparing 20th and 21st century education, he said that “The modern [20th Century] university has been based on the unity of research, teaching, and application. The emerging 21st-century university, I believe, will be based on the unity of research, teaching, and civilizational renewal.” Otto Scharmer, Jan 2018.

The winds of change are blowing across Scotland and this is being recognised internationally. There are many people, networks and organisations working for civilizational renewal, such as:

I ask you to feel the winds of change in Scotland and either seek out or build networks for change. We’re running out of time for humanity and the planet, but if we act now, there is still hope. Be honest and look into your heart. In your work, are you destroying civilisation or fostering civilisational renewal?

Please be critical of what you do and take action

Thanks go to
Nicky Bolland, founder of CAMINA – my critical friend –
and to
Matthew Stibbe, founder of Articulate Marketing – for starting this conversation ten years ago

Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Sage, London.
Beck, U. 2000. “Living Your Own Life in a Runaway World: Individualisation, Globalisation and Politics”. In On the Edge: Living with Global Capitalism (eds. Hutton, W. & Giddens, A), pp.164-174. Jonathan Cape, London.
Crompton, T. 2014. No Cause is an Island: How People are Influenced by Values Regardless of the Cause
Crompton, T. 2015. Perceptions Matter: The Common Cause UK Values Survey
Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Continuum, New York.
Harvey, D. 1996. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Difference. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford.
Harvey, D. 2005. A Brief History of Neo-liberalism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Scharmer, O. 2018. Education is the kindling of a flame: How to reinvent the 21st-century university.


15 January 2018

By the Belly of the Beast: Degrowth Summer School 2017, Germany

By Svenja Meyerricks

On a warm Sunday in late August, I cycled through the sleepy Rhineland village of Holzweiler on a borrowed bicycle, past the traditional village farms which are typical for many regions in Germany, but mostly no longer operational. I overtook another cyclist, an older man, and decided to ask him for directions. “Excuse me – how do I get to the viewing platform of the open cast coal mine?” The man didn’t know. “I live here,” he replied. “I went to nursery and school here. But I’ve never been to the mine. I don’t want to see it!”

Garzweiler — the mine in question — begins only a couple of miles away from the village and stretches across an area of 3.096 ha. It is only one of the gigantic open cast coal mines the energy concern RWE runs in the Rhineland region, where up to 40 million tons of coal are extracted every year (source). After cycling past several warning signs informing me about the proximity of the edge of the coal mine, I arrived at the public viewing platform. There were a couple of policemen on motorbikes and a couple of climate activists on bicycles, taking in the view. An outdoor exhibition about the mine was designed by RWE to demonstrate their sustainability efforts and the benefits of the mine to the region and to Germany as a whole. Behind it, like a gaping wound in the earth’s crust, the mine stretched as far as the eye can see – and far beyond.

Image of open cast mine

The sounds of the conveyor belts transporting some of the byproducts of the mining operation interrupted the shimmering silence of the summer day. The gigantic excavators were looming in the landscape motionless. Attached to the fence surrounding the outer edge of the platform were a few padlocks on which lovers publicly declared their affection. A striking juxtaposition of Eros and Thanatos, life and death, romance in the face of climate breakdown.

 Desolate image of mine with vehicles Image of red padlock attached to fence, with the mine in the background

I took the detour to Garzweiler open cast coal mine while I attended Degrowth Summer School, which took place at the Klimacamp (climate camp) in a field only a few miles away. The camp, which was attended by around 3,000 people, combined talks and workshops around climate change and a wide variety of related environmental, social and political issues with camp life, art and culture. The camp culminated in the “Ende Gelände” act of civil disobedience to blockade the train tracks which supply Germany’ s dirtiest coal-fired power plant Neurath with coal. The messages and actions of the camp and Ende Gelände, under the slogan “system change not climate change” had as an ultimate aim that coal, often dubbed by campaigners the dirtiest fuel, is phased out in Germany altogether as a source of energy because of the scientific consensus about its significant contribution to climate change as part of the energy sector. However, so far the German government is clinging firmly to its continued use of coal as a major energy source.

Image of a red and yellow striped marquee in a filed with lots of parked bicycles. More tents and people can be seen in the background.

Now in its third year, the Degrowth Summer School was attended by over 300 people. Infused and informed by the proximity of the “belly of the beast” of the extractive economy, short courses, workshops and panel discussions took place over four days which covered scientific topics, practical skills and activist strategies around building Degrowth societies. The summer school was run by the Leipzig-based think tank Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie (concept new economy), which faced a major headache as 46,000 Euros of funding were withdrawn due to its proximity of acts of civil disobedience. It managed, however, to fundraise most of this money in a short period of time through the generosity of its benefactors.

In a nutshell: What is Degrowth?

We pump oil out of the increasingly hard-to-reach fossil layers, we pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we pump freshwater out of the ground faster than it can be replenished and we pump money out of our communities and into the 1%’s financial stratosphere. With our lifestyles dependent on extractive industries, our planetary limits have been increasingly pushed or exceeded. While local decimations of forests and wildlife forced people to migrate throughout human history, awareness of global limits has emerged only relatively recently. At the Club of Rome meeting in 1972, the paradoxical doctrine of infinite economic growth on a finite planet was problematised for the first time. Nonetheless, in the more than five decades that have passed since, the prevailing economic paradigm has remained fixated on growth. Not only in the global market, but also in the universities and colleges that teach future generations of economists. Meanwhile we have continued and accelerated the depletion of global resources and pushed or exceeded more ecological limits.

Voices calling for an end of economic growth have become louder in the last few years, while advocating ‘Degrowth’, defined as the “downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet” (Schmelzer, 2014). The Degrowth movement gained momentum especially in several European countries, where international Degrowth Conferences in Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010), Venedig (2012), Leipzig (2014 – the largest with around 3,000 delegates) and Budapest (2016) were key for enabling activists and academics to converge and discuss, develop and refine the discourse. While there is a wide spectrum of political positions and priorities, proponents of Degrowth argue for alternative models of organising society and the economy, either because they believe that a slowing down of economic growth is inevitable, or because they promote the goal of stalling or shrinking economies, at least in the global North.

Degrowth discourse advocates decreasing production and consumption in the global North and alternatives to ‘development’ in the global South; a good life for all, measured not in GDP but in wellbeing indicators determined by research around human needs; different work patterns and ways to organise time which allow for working towards, for example, self-sufficiency, shared childcare and commons resources; democratic decision-making processes and regional interconnected circular economies. In the global South, the discourse tends to revolve around critiques of mainstream development models. Alternative pathways include Buen Vivir (‘the good life’), a concept emerging from Ecuador which is informed by indigenous ways of life; post-development theory such as that by Colombian-American scholar Arturo Escobar, arguing that even new ‘softer’ forms of development constitute a form of cultural imperialism; and Vandana Shiva’s feminist, anti-corporate activism in India.

In the global North, the Degrowth discourse tends to revolve around critiques of affluent lifestyles, which cannot be afforded or aspired to, as this would lead to ecological disaster. This view can be summarised as follows:

“Global justice … can neither be a project of cultural homogenization, nor can it be reached on the economic level alone. It is not the South that has to be ‘developed’, but the North that has to be materially disarmed.” (Nico Paech).

At the 2017 summer school, there was a particular focus on “Degrowth perspectives on the future of the Rhinish lignite region”, “Psychology of change” and “Skills for System Change”. As I joined spontaneously, most of the courses were already fully booked. I joined a course on the role of social movements in a Degrowth society, with a particular focus on Via Campesina. One of the organisers has written up a summary of the experience of running the summer school. A highlight was a panel discussion in the nearby town of Erkelenz around the topic “What comes after lignite? And how to pave a just transition?”, where climate activists and trade union representatives of energy companies were present to discuss their respective points of view. At the end of the discussion, the points of view had not shifted; it was agreed that there was a clash of cultures between the two groups, but that it was good to remain in conversation.

The variety of courses and approaches reflected that there is no blueprint for what a Degrowth society could look like, and many of our discussions revolved around the question whether ‘Degrowth’ is a social movement at all. The discourse is characterised by regional differences and priorities, and the pluralistic, international and inclusive outlook was reflected in simultaneous translations of the panel debates – all in the spartan conditions of a circus tent. Many, if not most, of the participants were young people from Germany and other European countries – especially students who sought to engage in discussions not offered in university courses.

I returned from the summer school refreshed and inspired by the dedication and passion of the organisers and participants alike. In Scotland, and in the United Kingdom as a whole, there is no discernible movement or major public discourse around Degrowth. While the concept is known on the fringes, not even the major think tank New Economics Foundation lists Degrowth on their website. This is perhaps surprising, given that ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ was published in 2009 by Tim Jackson, who then was the Economics Commissioner for the Sustainable Development Commission, a governmental advisory body which closed down in 2011. The descendant of the UK-wide Climate Camps, Reclaim the Power, focuses on campaigning against fracking, to prevent yet another extractive industry from emerging in the UK’s energy sector.

Yet the need for an interconnected analysis of the economic root causes of the social and ecological crisis is becoming more urgent. As Brexit unfolds around us, the Department for Energy and Climate Change was scrapped and all around us there are signs that current social and environmental policies will be weakened after the UK has left the European Union. It becomes increasingly apparent that the UK government will not make global ecological emergencies such as climate breakdown and the decline of the biosphere a political priority. While the British economy is facing great uncertainties, economic growth will become a priority before all others.

Given the UK’s current ecological and social trajectory, the Degrowth discourse offers an interconnected analysis of various social, economic and ecological dimensions. The explicit international dimension and focus on present and historical global justice connects the root causes of contemporary issues such as the growing refugee crisis with an explicit anti-colonial stance, which can help address the kind of imperial nostalgia which has at least played a role in the outcome of two referendums – on EU membership and on Scottish independence. In addition, building a movement around Degrowth specific to Scotland and the rest of the UK and each of its devolved administrations would strengthen solidarity between European grassroots movements. As the UK metaphorically drifts a little bit further away from the European mainland, we will need to maintain and strengthen our connections along the faultlines of shared values.

If you are interested in getting involved in organising or contributing to events around Degrowth in 2018, please email the CHE.


16 December 2017

The Co-operative University

By Anne Winther

On the 9th November I had the absolute pleasure of attending the UK’s first Co-operative University Conference at the Co-operative College in Manchester. I was expecting a small gathering, so I was blown away by the large loft style conference venue full of approximately 80 delegates from across the UK and Europe; all had the same dream of creating a Co-operative University. Representing the Centre for Human Ecology, I thought I was the only attendee from Scotland, but by chance sat next to the group of students from the Edinburgh Student Housing Co-operative, who own and operate their own student lodgings in a city which has some of the most expensive accommodation in Europe.

There’s an array of adult and higher educational institutions in the UK that are already operating co-operatively outside the traditional university system. It’s not just CHE, but the Free University Brighton, R.E.D. Learning Co-operative, Social Science Centre Lincoln, and Leicester Vaughan College are all examples of co-operative institutions that wish to become co-operative universities. Some already have graduate and post-graduate level courses, but none have acquired the official title of “university” and the ability to award degrees. Obtaining this coveted accreditation is no easy task requiring: evidence of five years quality education; a minimum of £60,000 to pay for the academic and financial scrutiny; and the Privy Council to grant degree awarding powers (N.B. the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 gives a new body — the Office for Students — power to authorise a registered education provider to grant degrees, but this is English, not Scottish legislation. One of the actions arising from the conference is to investigate what this means in practice for a UK-wide federated co-operative university.). This makes the dream of being a “university” out of reach for any individual institution, unless it has a wealthy benefactor.

At the conference, we heard how Mondragon University in Spain operates as a federated co-operative university — a model which offers one of many possibilities for creating the UK’s first Co-operative University. In the afternoon, we broke into workshops to generate ideal models for the University’s governance, finances, accreditation and curricula for the Co-operative University. These ideas are going forward to a new Co-operative Academic Board and CHE is excited to be part of this Co-operative University development.

For me 2017 has been full of synchronicities; one of these was the outcome of the curricula afternoon workshop almost identically mirroring Luke Devlin’s synopsis of the CHE’s vision for co-operative education:

I see three elements to CHE’s version of co-operative education:

Education AS co-operation. The structure: hybrid co-op. Multi stakeholders. Worker’s co-op for academic/admin roles. Students join as stakeholders taking responsibility for education and ‘learning by doing’: creating possibilities for work opportunities upon ‘graduation’

Education FOR co-operation. Elements of the proposed curriculum contain needed training and education on co-operative values, methods and history. Overview of history of the movement domestically and internationally, overview of models, methods and ways of working.

Education WITH co-operation. The building of each year’s student learning community is an exercise in applied practical educational co-operation, built on educational principles emerging from the generalist democratic intellect. CHE has a recognised history of this unique approach, often called ‘the Scottish school of human ecology’

If you would like a full overview of this approach — including descriptions of what the courses historically looked like in practice and how they fostered a distinctive type of co-operative education — see the two chapters The Challenge of Radical Human Ecology & Teaching Radical Human Ecology in the Academy by Alastair McIntosh in Radical Human Ecology: Intercultural and Indigenous Approaches (Ashgate 2012).


Cook, D. (2013). Realising the Co-operative University. A Consultancy Report for The Cooperative College.

Neary, M. & Winn, J .(2017). Beyond Public and Private: A Framework for Co-operative Higher Education.

QAA (2016). Degree Awarding Powers and University Title in Scotland Guidance and Criteria for Applicants.


16 October 2017

Good neighbour, bad subject — Solidarity and resistance in the age of Brexit

By Jonathan Robertson

On a large piece of paper in the Pearce Institute is written a Henry Thoreau quote: “I am as desirous of being a good neighbour as I am of being a bad subject”. As part of the Unbrexable conference, Isabel, James and Nicky from CAMINA* took inspiration from this to run a workshop exploring ‘solidarity and resistance in the age of Brexit’: What does it mean to be a good neighbour? And what does it mean to be a “bad subject”?

Participants were invited to respond to a series of photographs – a man in a balaclava filling in a pothole, protestors blocking a detention centre, people helping at a food bank – projected onto the wall. How high a level of neighbourliness did they depict and how high a level of civil disobedience did they portray? Is there a time to stop being neighbourly? Does civil disobedience have to be dangerous? Can an act be both neighbourly and civilly disobedient, as Thoreau aimed for? When people are faced with the multiple challenges of Brexit Britain, whether they see it on the streets or on the news, what are the pathways towards solidarity and resistance. And what are the blocks? “There are many people who dare not participate in a strike or other political actions”, educator Augusto Boal once wrote. “Why? Because they have cops in their heads. They have internalised their oppressions”.

The remainder of the session was an opportunity for the participants to be part of an activity created by Boal called ‘Cops in their heads’. The design of this activity was based on a European context where oppression is more internalised and less outwardly apparent than in Boal’s native Brazil. James and Nicky acted out a scenario set in the office of a refugee support organisation. Nicky’s character wanted to attend a rally at a detention centre, which her boss permitted her to do as long as she completed her work-tasks around it. In the end though Nicky’s character found excuses not to attend. After running through the scenario once, we focused in on Nicky’s character and the voices within her head which ‘talked her out of going’. The participants were invited to act out the voices in Nicky’s head — “it could be dangerous”, “I should really prioritise my paid work and my health”, “what difference would I make anyway”…

The final stage of the activity gave space for the other participants to approach and enter into dialogue with the participants who acted out the voices in Nicky’s head. This was a chance to both challenge and reflect on the blocks and self-limiting beliefs that, as Boal says, prevent people from participating in strikes or other political actions. At a time when fresh causes for civil disobedience emerge daily, the ‘Cops in their heads’ activity gives the chance for all of us to really dive into and pick apart the blocks and internalised oppressions that prevent us from acting.

* Critical and Alternative Methods & Ideas Network for Action (CAMINA) is a project which hopes to support and connect critical education activity and those practising critical education, across Scotland and Spain. See


5 September 2017

Emotional citizenry: Building connections with hearts and minds

By Kye Askins

“Good morning, my sister!” Samira beams at me, almost every Thursday morning.

“Good morning to you, my sister!” I smile back, and we hug warmly.

We’ve been greeting each other like this for nearly two years now, at a Drop-In centre in the southside of Glasgow, where we both volunteer on Thursdays. Our verbal conversations haven’t gone much beyond basics, since Samira speaks little English and I speak no Tigrinya. Yet we talk to each other with our bodies: hugs, smiles, eye contact, hands on arms or around shoulders; and we listen to each other’s body language, moods and intentions. As we cook together, do arts and crafts together, drink tea together, sing together, set out and clear up the Drop-In space together, we increasingly build a connection: a bond that is embodied, emotional and thoughtful. I care about Samira, and I feel that she cares for me.

People sitting at a table, doing craftwork

I see this kind of relation everywhere across the Drop-In: between staff, volunteers and attendees; between people of diverse ethnic, age, educational, religious and national backgrounds; between people who come regularly and people who maybe only attend once or twice. People find their way to the Drop-In for different reasons, and come with different support needs, whether volunteers or attendees. It caters to local – broadly defined as the Gorbals and nearby, but open to all comers – people who generally share marginalised and fragile socio-economic positions, with one or more attendant issues across a range of physical and mental health capabilities, housing context, under/unemployment, recovery from alcohol or substance misuse, seeking asylum or settling in as a new migrant, and so on. We are diverse in many ways, yet we come together with a desire to engage, a will to be part of something, a searching for company and connection.

People talking, sitting in a circle of chairs.

So, despite the differences that politicians and the media constantly emphasise through narratives that serve to fragment society – around migration, ethnicity and religion, especially Islam – people have plenty in common (not least precarious financial situations in an era of austerity). Many conversations, including between people who share little common language, revolve around politics, receding welfare support, and care from government. There is deep anger at changes to benefits and the sanctions system, the detention and deportation of asylum seekers, a lack of affordable housing, the use of zero hours employment contracts, and rising mental health issues. Anger at wider structural inequalities amid a concern for each other.

Brexit has been a central topic of conversation. The Drop-In is used by migrants from across Europe and the world, all worried about being less or unwelcome, and about their continuing place in Glasgow. Scottish attendees and volunteers rail against how this wider political landscape and the withdrawal from Europe contradicts how they perceive their country; as Chris says, “We’ve always been a welcoming country, my Scotland is an inclusive Scotland. Now we’re painted, as part of the UK, as xenophobes!”

The thing is, people recognise that, while they face different barriers, having to struggle is what connects them. The Drop-In is a space where people can think about and discuss their positions, planning how to survive and improve their lives; a place where links can be forged through debate and ideas.

People looking at a wall mural with a sign saying "sharing ideas"Shared emotions
This thinking and talking is already caught up with other senses and emotions. At any given time, we don’t necessarily have or experience the same emotions or feelings as each other, but everyone has feelings, and we can recognise each other as emotional beings. We interact through emotions which emerge from the ebb and flow of our talking and listening, playing games, doing arts, crafts and other activities, preparing and eating food.

Jim teases Adama about his recent haircut, Adama rubs Jim’s bald head and says at least he has hair to cut, and both men laugh…

Christine teaches Julie to arrange flowers, and as they both breathe in the scent they reminisce about gardens they remember from before/elsewhere…

Cath is washing up after lunch with Ibrahim, when Scottish country music starts playing in the hall. They both drop what they’re doing and start dancing arm-in-arm round the kitchen, laughing…

Michael, struggling with depression, hasn’t attended the Drop-In for a while; as he comes in, a loud chorus of “Hi, nice to see you” rings around the hall. Dan gets Michael a cup of tea, and they sit sombrely, talking now and again, but mostly just being beside one another in silence. Later, Romy persuades Michael to join him for a game of table tennis, which gets very energetic, ending with smiles and a handshake, though still few words…

Maryam is more talkative, discussing problems with her asylum appeal while cutting onions, standing next to Tanya, also chopping veg. Conversation moves on to Tanya’s issues with her teenage daughter, then a companionable quiet punctuated by both women’s sighs. Later, as they serve lunch, Maryam and Tanya pass plates and pans to one another wordlessly, connecting through the task at hand. Before they leave, they arrange to meet next Monday for a cup of tea at Maryam’s house…

Sonya is talking on her mobile. She finishes the call, and sits down heavily on a nearby chair. Susan goes to sit next to her, and within a moment, as soon as Susan says “Is everything OK?”, Sonya is in tears and Susan is holding her, comforting her. These women met a year ago at a nursery their children attend, and Susan (Scottish, grew up locally) introduced Sonya (from a south African country) to the Drop-In. They now see each other all the time, around the area, and their kids play together…

Making bread, Bob, raises his eyebrows with a comical face, points to his very misshapen loaf and shrugs. He doesn’t need to say anything, we’re being invited to giggle with him. Sandra pats him heartily on the back with floury hands…


Two people hugging, one dressed as a chefPeople cookingFriendships are fostered though activities, through sharing space, through bodily connections, through being, thinking and feeling together. There is a palpable desire to engage, to build local community, and to (re)make society at the local level. We may have uncertain futures, but we are claiming our right to belong.


Emotional citizenry

I’ve been volunteering at the Drop-In for over two years, and recently also did some research with people there. The findings resonate with previous research in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, conducted with a befriending scheme that paired more settled residents with asylum seekers and refugees. In that project, we developed the idea of emotional citizenry, which sets out a broader, more inclusive kind of citizenship that goes beyond a fixed status (with passport, based on defined state borders) that people can or cannot achieve. Rather it is citizenry as a process, grounded in the complexities of places, lives and feelings. Such a process is clear at the Drop-In. People encounter one another through everyday practices: emotional citizenry is living as part of interconnecting communities that reach across all kinds of scales, and is already taking place.

People eating a communal dinnerFraming citizenship in this way poses some questions. How might individual relationships anticipate collective change? What policies and actions are required to support living together in the super-diverse and mobile societies of the 21st century (which Brexit cannot un-make)? It points to how grassroots initiatives may disrupt top-down politics and dominant discourses, and to a role for third sector organisations in facilitating social change.

I see Samira and other folk from the Drop-In quite regularly around the neighbourhood, and sometimes in Glasgow city centre. We always wave or nod across a street, and often stop, say “hi” and have a chat. And that’s really important to me. I feel recognised, part of (albeit loose and fluid) community, that I belong.

I feel Unbrexable. We are Unbrexable!

(All photos are courtesy of Magda Kaminsha. All names, other than the author’s, are pseudonyms.)


18th August 2017

Unbrexfast — A Reflection

By Juana Adcock

Brexit by now seems like a giant train wreck that nobody knows how to shift or lift, and which is rapidly becoming an accepted part of the landscape. Any concrete decisions are stalled and the same tired arguments are rehashed time and again, making us feel the opposite of ‘strong and stable’ and encouraging us to lose interest. But through this boredom, we risk missing the important decisions that are being made without us, so events like Unbrexfast are an important way of reigniting interest, providing critical education and reflecting as a means to guide our actions in the future, and helping us imagine ways in which to move forward.

After a round of introductions, we shared a delicious vegetarian/vegan breakfast and chatted away amongst ourselves, before coming back to the larger group and describing some of the topics that had come up: our food system and food security, the aspect of care in our society and how it relates to grassroots movements, and communication and xenophobia. We then split into three teams and each was asked to look at one of these issues: defining it, talking about the resources that were already available, and thinking about what else would be needed to address that issue.

Our food system
This group decided to talk about ‘food system adaptation’ rather than ‘food security’, because the word ‘security’ may have some negative connotations. They also spoke about the local and the global: how to address local issues with global responsibility – for example Fair Trade – and supporting transparency in the food chain.

There is currently a lot of talk about rising food prices, but actually many prices are artificially depressed (e.g., products such as milk have no fair trade standards for a large part of their production). So what we’ll really be seeing is the actual price of food, which will be a shock and could be quite traumatic, especially for people already needing to use food banks. So how do we protect the most vulnerable and educate ourselves about food and its production? Food standards, workers’ rights, permaculture, animal welfare, GM free crops: all of these are needed. Examples given as good models were the Emilia Romagna cooperatives in Italy and the amazing Via Campesina movement that started in a little town in Spain. The main idea was that we should not leave it up to someone else, but that we need to take action ourselves.

Realising what networks we already have locally in regards to food can help us to understand how to better address the issue, and tools like the Green Map initiative can be useful (and has already been done for Glasgow’s West End). But at the moment, there are no easy answers to a lot of hard questions.

The Good Food Nation Strategy came out of the Community Empowerment Act. Every local authority has 2 years to write their food strategy, but currently don’t really know what to do, and are undergoing consultations. Talks are still underway as regards to what a “good food nation” means. It was suggested that the consultation was maybe not asking the right questions, Perhaps the important questions are how we can make food growing relevant to people? How can use this to create jobs? Can we create market gardens? How much food do we need? Do we need a specific target e.g., to produce 50% of our food in Scotland? And how do we link to European peasant movements, as well as the existing local food movement? Overall, more thought needs to be given about how we do things, especially if there is need to scale-up food production in Scotland. For example, a number of community gardens previously maintained by grants have now been abandoned, indicating a lack of joined-up thinking. However, It’s important to note that there need not be a single model for this; several models could exist at the same time, tailored to the specific needs of different communities.

Care and grassroots movements
The group discussed the global trend towards eroding communities, breaking them apart by various political mechanisms: the processes of gentrification, urban planning strategies, and the restructuring of economic activities. This means people become more isolated, feeling very unsafe, at risk of physical violence from other groups, and feeling powerless because they don’t always understand what is happening and the decisions are always being made elsewhere. So it is important to create safe spaces for those affected, offering them the time and resources that will allow them to think about things beyond their own immediate survival.
Community and communal spaces, integration networks, and places like Galgael, provide people with safety in the face of different kinds of vulnerabilities. Although equality policies may often seem paternalistic, and organisations may be seen to be merely ‘ticking boxes’ to adhere to them, they are still worth defending. But it’s important to actively nurture emotional connections rather than just focusing on gestures of solidarity; to support diversity and not just push for integration.

This group had quite a broad discussion, noting that a lot of communication consists of people trying to advance their often rather narrow and set views, seeking to justify those views rather than engage in a dialogue. However, in some communities in Scotland, there’s a growing interest in the Art Of Hosting approach, Theory U and the U lab platform, and the perspective of Living Systems i.e., how people are inseparably part of the natural world but are often seen as being isolated from, or somehow immune to the effects of, natural processes.
In terms of ways forward, there are a number of very active groups around different themes, but what they need to do is to improve their communications. There are a range of really good thinking techniques and practices available, including those listed above and other practices such as Non-Violent Communication (NVC), but it’s necessary to find ways to practice these, and add to them and change them. The notion of “Act as if you own it” was repeated several times, as well as Harry Burn’s theory of “Just do it” (rather than hoping for the government to eventually solve the problems). How can communication be achieved across Scotland, to join up different networks and get a stronger civic voice for Scotland? The problem is that if each network acts alone, they tend to run out of steam, and then 10 or 20 years down the line not much has changed.

So the best chance for survival is if different networks can find ways to link up. More opportunities are needed to meet and engage with those people that we wouldn’t normally meet in everyday life. Training in communication techniques is needed, as well as the space to practice and be supported in using them. Currently in place are the Centre for Human Ecology, Galgael, and the Govan Folk University. These are all a start in creating our own institution of learning; one that truly comes from those community voices and encourages real, engaged communication as opposed to the arid and divided discussion that often arises from party politics.

An ongoing conversation
Through events like Unbrexfast, the CHE is looking to build channels of communication and see where it takes us. The next step is all an all-day Unbrexable event that is taking place on the 2nd of September, which will be more in the style of a conference, with a full day of workshops and more guided conversations. Stay tuned!


The Centre for Human Ecology is an independent academic institute, network and registered charity based in Glasgow, Scotland, with an international membership of graduates and fellows. It exists to stimulate and support fundamental change towards ecological and social justice through education, action and research, drawing on a holistic, multidisciplinary understanding of environmental and social systems.