We have lost touch, literally with the food we produce and seasonal aspect of our lives. Few of us have weekly community of meeting with other people. This used to be fulfilled by belonging to the WI and going to Church on Sunday, or playing board games with friends and family after a simple supper (pre TV days). There was a community aspect to living up to about thirty years ago that suddenly ceased with the passing of a generation that had allotments, and went through a war together.
The structure of family life has been eroded through not having an evening meal where everyone is expected to be sat down at the table for a given time, without the TV on, and a simple blessing for the food we eat today, and that we have come safely home together.
Now we are fighting for our survival in a different war, its called ‘the rat race’. The values that have been placed on social aptitude and acceptability are more covert than the previous generations. What kind of house and neighborhood we live in is of huge importance, more than it has ever been? The car we drive, the clothes we wear, all ‘brand’ us. We have mortgages, car loans, children who ‘need’ more stuff than any other generation before them, because we have been brainwashed to be ‘brand conscious’ about every aspect of our lives.
The dire problem is that we are all so consumed with staying afloat in this sea of desire, that our time for relaxation, hobbies, and simple low tech pleasures have been squeezed out of our lives.
Allotments have been built on because no one had the time or inclination to manage one. We live in huge estates of houses that have social problems because we have forgotten how to be communities, let alone the patience or desire to be involved with each other any longer.
There isn’t any need to bottle or preserve our own produce, because we can buy it from the freezer in the supermarket, along with a ready meal because it’s cheaper and quicker than making it at home form the ingredients. A lot of people just don’t learn to cook anything for themselves past a few cookery lessons at school any more.
I love buying home made jam from a charity fund raiser it’s the taste of ‘someone gave themselves’ to do this, for a cause they found worthy. They put care and attention into their effort, and wrote the label themselves. It doesn’t matter that the jam might not be perfect I have bought something that is priceless.
Many simple things that give us a sense of achievement are what constitute a quality of life that makes us happy. Giving our time and effort to something within our community gives us a sense of being part of a worthwhile collective challenge.
Having a load of financial commitments that you have to support to the detriment of getting a balance between work, leisure and community is a recipe for a slow but eventual breakdown of your relationships, and any sense of pleasure in life. When the stress and pressure of this gets to overload you will break like a toffee apple.
When communities of people cease to have cohesion and personal involvement with each other, the country becomes a Petri dish of disaffected culture.
It has been proven that the optimal amount of a community group or workforce is between 100, to max 150 people. Once people do not know their immediate community on first name terms, and their personalities and skill contribution to that community, there is a breakdown of cohesive structure.
When our communities are lacking in diversity of age, gender, and status, there quickly becomes a moral and cultural decline in that area. The optimum model is village life, with its local shops, and community hall, and dare I say it parish life with local council that is concerned with the welfare of each parishioner.
Where I live in Jersey there is also an honorary parish police force that works in hand with the police force. The constable of the parish honorary police is often referred to as ‘Father of the Parish’, (even if it’s a lady constable!) and is elected for being someone who is genuinely involved and gets the job done.
This person also represents the Parish in local government, and makes sure that Island wide decisions and policies are good for community.
I enjoy being part of our local Trinity Parish twinning with Agon-Coutainville in Normandy. I love going to fund-raising concerts at the parish church, now that I am getting to a point where I can cope with daily life.
I am thinking of doing a year at the local college to do the foundation course for building work. Yes I am a 53 year old (ex) Hairdresser, but I love working with my hands. I have got a lot of maintenance to do on my house, and if I knew how to do a good job I could offer myself to do repairs and decorating for other people who need simple jobs done around the home but can’t get anyone, or it would simply cost too much on a pension. My Husband hasn’t been very encouraging about this idea! I know it’s not practical at the moment, but I have a sneaky feeling I will do it within a few years. I could also go on overseas building projects.
I do know what will make a huge difference to most people’s lives, but it’s a pretty ‘off the wall’ idea. It would fulfill many needs, and be a place for people to come together.
What I’m writing has come about because my social worker said the British government were looking for people to write about how they recover from mental illness. There is a problem for them that once someone has had a breakdown they don’t seem to ever really recover.
It just got me. The whole concept that you can simply ‘recover’ and go back to the same conditions that caused anyone to get ill in the first place seems ludicrous.
I guess really the vision I have is one that other people have had, but perhaps not for the same reasons. It’s made up of lots of snippets of good things that I have seen from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall helping to set up a community market Garden on waste land next to a council estate, to understanding the principle of communal living in a traditional monastic sense.
The main problem as I see it for anyone who has had a breakdown in their life is how to find a meaningful and worthwhile life afterwards. What to do if you can’t go back to your old job. What to do if you have become homeless. How you can cope with just the simple everyday tasks of shopping, when you don’t have enough money, or you are terrified of going outside, or having to meet someone you know and they ask you ‘how are you’!
There is this incredible trap that becomes inevitable, unless you have family that can support you. Really this applies to a whole segment of our disaffected society. Many people are living in cities that have to sleep rough, and perhaps sell themselves to buy food, or more probably a bottle of vodka or drugs to anesthetize the next few hours.
Perhaps my ideas have come from the friendship I have shared with another special lady over the last few months. I was doing her hair in February, and we were talking about gardening, and she said how much she would like to be able to grow her own organic produce but had nowhere to grow anything. I suggested she might like to come and help me get my garden under control!
We hired a rotivator for a weekend and her thirteen year old son spent two days taking off the grass, and rotivating the ground underneath. I renovated my greenhouse and started buying and planting seeds in a heated propagator on my kitchen windowsill.
One of the incredible successes was a packet of mixed perennials I bought for £2.85. I put the seeds into two trays, and just kept them watered in the green house. They have produced over 180 plants. It’s now end of May and half of them are now in the garden border that up until now I found a nightmare trying to keep weed free and looking reasonable. I haven’t got a clue what flowers we are going to get from them, or even if they will flower this year. The idea with perennials is that they keep coming up each year. Looking at the same type of plants in the garden centre they are all about £6 each. Now I have about ninety perennials that are surplus to requirements. If I knew other people that are doing the same thing, I wouldn’t mind swapping my plants for their surplus plants.
I wouldn’t have done any of this without my friend. Another great friend of David’s has been moving this year and guess what; he gave us all his garden equipment!
A friend from Trinity Church just called by with our copy of the parish magazine. We had a great chat about how well the open gardens have been doing at fund raising for the renovations done to the Parish church. This is the lovely aspect of community I mean.
My Husband was given a huge catering tin of black olives by his friend, and has been making tapenade for the last half hour. It tastes good. It keeps in the fridge, and it can freeze. He is also putting some of the olives to marinade in olive oil with herbs. The next open garden is next weekend, so he is going to do olives and tapenade to put on the stalls, and I will get the plants re-potted and give the remainder as ‘surprise’ perennials.
There is a process of awakening about the ecology of our environment, but I wonder if we also need to awaken to the ecology of friendship as well. Friends, who do things together to achieve each other’s hopes, dreams and fundamental need for acceptance?
My friend is going through life changing times, and admitted recently what a long period of depression she has been through. Also that until recently she thought I was a real ‘oddball’. Talking has changed all this. Her ‘dream’ would be to have a retreat centre where people could come and re-discover themselves.
My background is having a hairdressing salon where I have successfully provided training for a number of people to become excellent hairdressers, and who have chosen to stay with my business, because of the strong sense of loyalty and ‘family’ we have together.
In 2002 my salon was nominated for a ‘training in business’ award, and I value training very highly. I also have a clear idea of what I want the quality of my working environment to offer for my team, and the quality of service we can offer to our clients in a sustainable and effective way every visit.
I wouldn’t be sat here at my laptop on a Saturday afternoon 18 months ago. I became ill again two days before Christmas 2007. The salon had to survive without me from then on, or not at all. The teamwork by all of them has been remarkable. I now go in just to do a few clients, keep on top of the bookwork, and have started trying different ways of attracting new clients.
The main problem with the psychiatric service is that there is not a good enough ‘life after’ training process for people. There is a hospitalization service, and social services for helping people to get benefits. It is simply a management and damage limitation exercise.
If you were a ‘casualty of war’ you would undergo a very comprehensive re-habilitation program. You would be taught how to live with physical disability, and how to care for yourself. You would have access to counseling and be a part of a network of war heroes.
You will have perhaps had to cope with the period of depression, and mental struggle that comes from leaving the job you trained to do. You may even be offered training in a new skill that would be appropriate for you. As a member of the armed forces though, you already had a disciplined way of life. You know who you are, and your unit is always going to give you respect for the battle you fought with them. You will always ‘belong’.
This is obviously not the case in civilian life. ‘But why not’? What is the point of letting someone go home from hospital, or simply sending them home from work with no-one to help them develop a new life? Where can people go to get the holistic approach to redeveloping a meaningful and worthwhile sense of self, in a safe environment? Certainly not in a block of high rise flats that is due for demolition, or at the other extreme perhaps hiding in a beautiful house appalled at the thought of answering the phone or opening the door.
Mental illness is a great leveler. It doesn’t respect your social standing, your wardrobe, or your education. It throws you together with people who are extreme in many and varied ways. It is actually completely liberating when you realize the patients in a mental hospital seem saner than the staff. It is funny in a ‘black’ kind of way that My Husband and I have often been sat waiting in a psychiatric waiting room for my appointment and someone else has started talking to me, saying ‘how long has your husband been ill’? I used to say actually it’s me that is here to see the consultant. The tragedy is that My Husband always looks haggard and worried sick when I am ill.
I think all these fragmented ideas come together in perhaps what might seem a rather altruistic, and idealistic plan, but it would be possible to try.
One of the problems for a high percentage of people who have experienced mental illness is that they have no accommodation, and no job and often no profession or skill. The term ‘funny farm’ is one used of a psychiatric hospital, but perhaps one that could be turned on its head!
There is no point having homeless people roaming the streets in city centers. I would propose developing communities in rural areas, where an ordered way of sheltered living could be offered. Recovering takes a long time. During that time new crafts and skills can be offered in real workshops with artisans, who would like to be paid to teach classes. Gardening, farming, small animal husbandry, how to cook for healthy eating, build in time for reflection and leisure, time to learn basic numerate and reading skills, where needed.
The fundamental key to recovering from mental illness is an ordered routine way of life, with good food, sleep, and a staged process of learning and doing life in a different way.
I guess a little bit like a cross between a boarding school and a kibbutz! Also renewal is helped by working with trained counselors who pace each person’s revival. You may used to be a high flying banker before you had a breakdown, and then find you love looking after free range chickens, or keeping pigs.
The aim would be for this community to become self sufficient, and to have enough diverse skills to enable people to earn a living outside the community doing the gardening, carpentry, painting and decorating etc that they have learned, until they feel they have the confidence to either go it alone, or help start a new project somewhere else.
The interesting thing is that I guess many people from all walks of life would like a week of ‘retreat’ now and again, and drawing from My Husbands catering and hotel past, I think there would be a ‘farm holiday’ aspect to something like this.
There would be a number of people who would simply need ‘looking after’ in a project like this. But this actually gives a purpose to another person, who would be a potential buddy and caretaker for them. There is a sense of the original monastic hospitality here.
Something like this could be a massive project, and a huge idea. But it’s do-able. It’s sustainable with the funding that is already put towards simply managing a huge ‘problem’ for the taxpayer and the politicians that have to watch millions of pounds spent on this part of the health budget that is not getting people ‘better’. The politicians are in the straight jacket, and we are considered on the scrapheap. Scrapheap challenge is another favorite program of mine!
The next step would be to ask people who have found this worked for their renewal to start other communities. It would be a great project to try out.
I also think there are vast areas of housing that is due for demolition in cities. Why not just demolish, and create inner city farming. Community gardens, allotments, good community halls set within lovely grounds, so that people have somewhere to come at the weekend. People who have been unwell will then have somewhere locally to go to.
The rules and regulations about employment now are completely prohibitive when trying to organize community projects. That’s why the only way anything like this could work, is through volunteers. If I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, and I knew I could work on a community project for four hours a day in exchange for three meals, I know where I would be. I would also want to learn some kind of skill that would give me the prospect of getting a job of some description. If there was a sheltered flat with a warden offered to me, so that I could get into re-habilitation from drinking or drugs, I would want to try it.
What society seems to think is that if you have an opportunity to ‘make life better’ for yourself, is that you actually want to take the opportunity, and to become ‘just like them’.
For people like me each day is a victory. I don’t do drugs, (other than what I’m prescribed!), and more than one glass of wine makes me feel really ill, but I smoke. I sometime give myself grief over it. I know David hate’s that I smoke. It doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. Will it make me a better person if I stop doing it?
It’s the same with any kind of self abuse. It offends other people. It’s a sign we aren’t ‘happy’, or have a psychological and physical need for something addictive. Telling someone they ‘shouldn’t’ do something isn’t going to make them stop doing it. Making someone stop harming themselves, might give a temporary relief, but nearly always, without something that gives back to that person a real sense of self esteem and inner worth, they are likely to become self abusive again.
Does this mean that someone who is struggling with an obvious outward problem like addiction or self-harming, is any less valuable to society than someone who has a 9-5 office job? Like they say, ‘work harder you guys, millions on benefits depend on you’.
Giving people real value is a huge step towards renewing our fragmented way of life.
I have wondered for a long time why education has become fixed in academic syllabus. Yes we need to be able to read and write, and to understand how to follow the instructions to operate some gismo we buy.
For many people though this is not really relevant, and the system of education simply leaves many ‘casualties’ who have been considered ‘low achievers’.
I wonder if there is a viable alternative. Perhaps beginning with the whole aspect of the changed family structure, where we have so many single mums living on state’s benefit, and not being able to get work, or access to some kind of further education or training.
It would make sense to me that if you can look after a child, you have incredible gifts and talents. You have the ability to become a child care assistant at least. There is a huge need for excellent child care facilities provided at reasonable cost for working mums. Why not offer state nurseries and child welfare facilities and nursing provided by single mums, who can undergo their training while their child is in nursery with them.
We have a huge need for nurses. Many of these mums can train as community nurses, and enter into nursing college while their children start at primary school. The possibilities are endless, if further education is based around the needs of the individual.
Most of us don’t want to be bombarded with paperwork. When the previous generations took on apprentices, there was a real commitment to the young person’s development.
Now the process of training has been hi-jacked by further education colleges. The NVQ process for apprenticeships is incredibly burdensome for the employer, and the training provider is governed to the point where delivering anything but the exact letter of the syllabus means the assessment process becomes unmanageable. This doesn’t always mean that the trainee is actually going to have the ‘soft skills’ and employability they will need when leaving college.
One of the most impressive renovations I have ever seen is of Fontevreax in France. It has been undertaken by teaching people who have been in the prison system, or young offenders how to do traditional stone carving, and wood craftsmanship. The project when I last saw it was unbelievable. When these guys and girls come out of the system, they will have a lifelong skill, and a huge demand for further workmanship of this standard.
All our old buildings need constant restoration. What’s wrong with giving people the skills to work on restoring churches and Cathederals, country houses, even dry stone walls that have simply been neglected because people don’t know how to fix them, or can’t afford to.
What about learning how to create old textile finishes, so that interior furniture restoration can be undertaken. We had a visionary arts and crafts movement at the turn of the last century. I wonder if those skills can be re-taught to a whole new generation. Things like plaster moldings, and gilding that form part of our heritage crafts. Stained- glass renovation, plaster techniques of gesso and frescoes. We need the creation of wonderful new projects in our local environment that enrich our every day life.
Please don’t say that people are not gifted enough to learn these things. If a young person is bunking off school it’s because the experience is not offering them what they need.
They are simply becoming disaffected, and unemployable. They are getting into trouble because there isn’t anything else to do, and no one to show them what else they could be doing.
How many of our young people become disillusioned with the system, is pretty evident.
I wonder if there had been an opportunity to try out different skill based activities that had some end purpose; if the outcome would be different. Some people are simply not ready to do conventional education until they are much older, then it’s much more difficult to become a ‘learner’ again.
We are locked in to the idea that education is about sitting in a classroom, and passing exams. Schools are rated on how well they can keep their pupils attending, and what results the children get in exams. It seems pretty obvious the moment a child starts to ‘bunk off’ the system is not working for them. They might be there in body, but their spirit is quietly and slowly being killed. By the time they are of school leaving age, they will be unlikely to get some kind of job or further training. It’s too late for them already to undo the damage of disillusionment.
Most big companies expect prospective employees to do psychometric testing before employing the candidate for a particular role or position. One of our clients used my staff for her ‘study’ for getting her qualifications. Apparently it was a hugely interesting study.
There wasn’t any previous data to compare us with, because no-one had done psychometric testing on a team of hairdressers before. I have to say I thought my report had me to a tee. It also showed how some members of the team were good at thinking on their feet, and others liked to have everything ‘planned out’.
What came up most strongly was that none of us had any preference to do any written work or figures. This didn’t mean we couldn’t, just that it wasn’t what we liked doing!
Surely it would be far more profitable to find out during a child’s progress what their preferences and likely strengths are. Why try to address someone’s weaknesses, and undermine their confidence because you have told them they are not good at doing something you have pre-determined they have got to be good at.
If they don’t like it, and show no desire to succeed, are they a failure? The simple truth is we all have a unique talent and skill set. If as infants children and adolescents we don’t have an opportunity to experiment with things we find fun, challenging, engaging, we simply won’t learn anything about ourselves, and our process of learning. We won’t really know what we are good at and why.
I would rather see young people who have been playing truant, and vandalizing or stealing cars, given a tutor and garage workshop in the school grounds. Surely it must be more fun to be taught how to fix up a wreck of an old car to get it through the MOT, and then get the school IT department to advertise it for sale on the school website.
I would rather see someone leave school with the ability to do panel beating and paint spraying or general car maintenance, than no skill at all.
It’s also surprising how much leaning there is involved in understanding the internal combustion engine. Once you start talking cc’s and torque most youngsters with an interest in cars light up like a Christmas tree. If you had to engineer a part for a car, you have to learn lathe skills, and how to read enough to learn how to use PPE equipment correctly.
If a young person can’t bear to be sat in a classroom all day, and has a genuine desire or aptitude for a skill, why not simply start teaching that skill in workshops, school maintenance, building projects, garden projects as soon as possible.
If a classroom or corridor needs painting, why can’t the building skills group do it? If basins or toilets need fixing, again the boys and girls learning those skills should be given the opportunity to look after their environment. At least everyone benefits and young people get very annoyed if they have fixed something up and someone else comes along and trashes it.
If someone likes graffiti, you can bet they will be good at art and painting and decorating! Teach these guys to do plastering and frescoes. I actually like graffiti. It is incredibly creative and I admire it as an art form. The whole point of it is that it is intended to offend! However I love it when a school has done the hoarding that goes up around building sites as well. I think it’s a wonderful way of making building projects more tolerable. I very much appreciate the artwork such talented young people can offer building firms.
If it’s impossible to keep young people in school where they don’t want to be, why not help them to make a difference in the community. So why not go clearing up litter, and helping make the local area look better? I guess it makes them part of a solution not the problem.
If they can show that they can turn up for a ‘work program’, at least a prospective employer would be more likely to hire someone with practical skills, and shown they have personal qualities that are reliable.
An obvious place to give practical work experience is such job within local council departments, a good place to offer ‘early start’ employment education. At least when these guys leave ‘school’, they will know what a real job looks and feels like. It’s a dangerous thing to leave young people out of the picture, just because they don’t have an obvious place in the jig saw we call ‘education’ and ‘society’ right now.
It is well known that broken windows and neglected areas promote crime and violence. If a derelict area is left, it will cause crime, delinquency, and social decline. If there are derelict areas and buildings, it’s where the disaffected gravitate to.
It’s as though these areas need to be populated somehow, and then awful things start to happen. People become frightened of these areas, and the incidence of attacks goes up because people are scared, and no-one wants to get involved to intervene.
There is a housing complex due for demolition just opposite my hair salon. Recently the windows were boarded up. We have had a 10% drop in business in the last four months since this happened. We have no exact date for this housing to come down, and I do hope that at least if we have a car park for the next few years it will be made to look reasonable. I do know that the work to cap all the services is underway, so this is just a process we have to put up with.
If the Demolition hasn’t started by the Beginning of July, I will start to make a lot of noise! I don’t mind having a work in progress, but having this estate left to go derelict will not just affect my business, but the whole of the town area. To put it crudely it will attract flies like a cowpat. There will be an increase of vandalism, and people just won’t want to visit this part of the town.
Perhaps something that is not accepted at the moment is how much television and computer games are played. I have had to be very careful what thoughts I expose myself to for a long time. I choose not to watch violence, pornography, or programs with any verbal arguments or swearing.
I feel as though we are inviting violence and unpleasant patterns of behavior into our home when these types of programs are viewed. If you think that what you are watching on TV or by playing games is something that only amuses you during that episode, just think how many times you start to watch a program and you suddenly realize you have seen it before. All this stuff is stored in your memory, and the chances are your memory has become overloaded with complete trivia.
In a way I find this an anesthetic process as well. Just imagine how many hours we spend watching TV, without meaningful conversation or interaction with other people. It’s as though a whole evening passes without any relevance. My Husband and I did switch off all the power in the house for ‘Earth Day’ recently, and sat talking over a candle for an hour. It was wonderful. Imagine what doing this for even half an hour could do for relationships every day.
Our addiction to TV or game playing has stupefied us. We are also ‘informed’ by what we watch. This continual mental diet of programming is exactly that, programming!
It is engineered to have us as a captive audience so that we can be bombarded by commercials. I have to admit that I now don’t watch programs as they are screened.
I simply watch recorded programs I want to see and fast forward through the adverts.
I am also concerned at the level of electromagnet junk we have in our home.
I have been much better since refusing to sleep in a room with a TV. I am sure mobile phones affect me as well. There is the old cliché of the tramp sitting with a colander full of tinfoil on their head, but there are a lot of people who are susceptible to EM radiation at low levels. I think it disrupts our whole physical brain process, from what endorphins we produce, to getting problems with co-ordination.
Since there are so many mobile phone masts now, and other EM junk littering our living space, we have no way of knowing what the long term aspect of this will be. I know I prefer to keep my mobile phone switched off. Someone showed me a little sticker to put inside my phone recently that reduces EM emissions. If it wasn’t a recognized concern, I am sure this wouldn’t have been produced.
We do leave a lot of gadgets on standby, I am sure both from an environmental point of view it’s responsible to cut down the energy we use, but also perhaps we owe it ourselves to try to cut down on EM emissions in our home and workplace.
Let’s get back to what we can provide for kids in the community. Boys Brigade? Brownies? Guides? Scouts? Athletic clubs, Café’s and drop in centers. Youth clubs....
....Go Carting, Motocross, BMX biking, Weekend Survival, ‘Escape the town clubs’!