Can't help but smile

Hit with a usual bout of culture shock upon his return from Africa, Jonathan finds designing a carbo

Back from Sierra Leone – with a smile on my face. The last few days in the country were light and graceful, filled with the positive energy that comes with working alongside people who are serving the needs of the poor and marginalised in their midst. On my last morning, as a token of appreciation, I was presented with a beautiful length of woven cloth, hand-made by one of the groups that MAPCO has been training.

Back in the sterile half-light of Heathrow, it feels like God has taken the great remote control in the sky and turned off the volume, the colour and the heat – along with the smiles.

Bums and boobs moon off the top shelf of the newspaper stand. ‘Phwoaw’, roars the headline in one over a photo whose caption alleges Prince William is groping a young woman’s boob – he clearly isn’t, but what has that got to do with newspaper sales? A row of vacant faces stares at an item on the television in the lounge on the launch of Sony’s new Playstation.

The culture-shock involved in going to Africa is a mere shadow of that experienced coming back ‘home’. Countless times on re-entry into this country I have pondered on how impoverished we are in so many ways compared to our African brothers and sisters – how much we are in need of a comprehensive development package to address our profound social and spiritual poverty.

I learned that the African Union offered to send election monitors to oversee the last US presidential election. (The offer was politely declined.) I do think we should seriously consider receiving teams of experts from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Chad in community solidarity and the art of living.

Back in Findhorn, it is comforting to be greeted by Craig who is showing around a group of inner-city London youth. This visit is the first of a series to explore the suitability of Findhorn as a venue for workshops aimed at helping young people from the cities get exposure to the natural world. We are too white and bourgeois by half and the kind of energy they would bring in would likely help shake us up in the most interesting and creative ways. Fingers crossed.

Back at my desk, a really interesting piece of work has come in. A small team of us has been invited to design a carbon-neutral island – a notional rather than specific island, at this stage at least. The only specifications we have been given are that it should be off the Scottish coast and have a population of between 500 and 1,000 people. Scotland has been described as the ‘Saudi Arabia of the Solar Age’ and it is fascinating to begin to deconstruct the various elements of the carbon footprint knowing that, provided populations are prepared to put up with small wind parks, it may be possible to balance the carbon account-books.

Here at Findhorn, our four wind turbines make us net energy exporters. Not only is this very satisfying from an economic point of view. Also, every time I come over the crest of one of the surrounding hills on a windy day, at the sight of our wee turbines spinning merrily away, my smile extends from lips to heart.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.