Returning to Findhorn

The Findhorn eco-village has had to work hard to avoid becoming a 'New Age old people's home', but i

Let me introduce you to Michael. Now in his early 30s, Michael spent the first 18 years of his life here in Findhorn before heading off to the US to seek his fortune and see how the world might look when viewed through different lenses.

Barely a day passed, however, when he did not think about the community where he grew up. And, in early 2002, just in time for the Findhorn community’s 40th birthday and the launch of his mother’s book, ‘In Search of the Magic of Findhorn’, he came back – and decided to stay.

Michael’s journey runs parallel to that of a good number of his peers and now, a happy group of the generation of children he grew up with here has moved back and today plays a variety of important roles in the community.

Michael notes two significant changes in the community compared to the one he left in the mid-90s. First, as it had grown in size and complexity over the previous decade, it had become easier for young people to stay on and find a niche for themselves in the community. Several of our enterprises – notably the shop, bakery and Bakehouse restaurant – actually favour young people in their employment policy.

On the other hand, and also part of the process of enlargement and diversification, the body at the heart of the community, the Findhorn Foundation, had shrunk back to its area of core expertise, namely the provision of educational services.

In the process, many activities that the Foundation used to finance and manage had been shed, delegated or sold off into private or cooperative community enterprises. One of the activities thus shed was the funding of a coordinator for the Youth Project, the core focus for youth activities in the community and also often attracting children and young people from neighbouring communities.

As a result, on his return Michael found that young people were less consciously held by the community than previously and that intergenerational conflict and misunderstanding were on the rise. He also noted a strong demographic imbalance, with a large gap in the community’s population between the ages of around 18 and 40.

This was symptomatic of wider trends in the community as a whole. For, with the Foundation clearly defining its remit in terms of the performance its core educational business and the welfare of its hundred or so employees, it became ever clearer that we were lacking an overarching governance body for the entire community, a majority of which did not and never had worked for the Foundation.

The Youth Project was just one of a number of areas of areas of activity that were in danger of falling between the cracks. Who was responsible for recycling, for care of the elderly, for decision-making and conflict facilitation outside of the community of Foundation employees? Who, in short, was to manage the community’s welfare state?

As you would expect in this place, necessity became the occasion for a fresh bout of creativity and the New Findhorn Association was born with membership open to and encouraged for all members of the community. Michael was one of a number of young people who got involved in helping to steer the NFA in the direction of more actively holding the young people and giving them a greater voice in community affairs.

Today, the NFA funds two part-time youth positions – one a project worker, the other a youth advocate who sits on the NFA council. There is a growing range of youth-oriented cultural and educational programmes. Findhorn is one of the core nodes of NextGEN, the Youth Council of the Global Ecovillage Network. And, if we are still not demographically representative of the population as a whole, the 20 – 40 year-old age group is no longer as sadly sparse as it has been.

Work, of course, remains to be done, a key challenge being that of providing reasonably well-paid and responsible jobs for our youth. But a corner seems to have been turned. One of the community’s pioneering figures suggested years ago that a real challenge facing us was to avoid the trap of becoming a ‘New-Age old people’s home’. If we have succeeded in at least postponing that dread fate for the time being, we have much to be thankful for to Michael and the other young people who have been so active over the last five years or so.

And the latest news from Michael? Well, he has recently come back from the most recent gathering of the Young Scotland Programme, a week of debates and presentations on themes of importance to Scotland’s youth. And, on the back of a keenly and passionately argued speech on the potential for renewable energy to transform our society for the better, he has returned glorying in the title of Young Scottish Thinker of the Year.

Bravo.

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.
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.