Blazing a trail

Approaches to leadership evolve, and one man's vision for an art centre enriches the whole community

In recent weeks there has been a series of meetings organised by the Foundation and the New Findhorn Association (NFA), on community building. The theme of the latest was Leadership. I did not go to this meeting, so I will not write about it - but it has got me thinking about leadership in the community and how it’s perceived.

Leadership is a word that comes up often here. It features in the titles of workshops and meetings - and is generally a topic of interest. This is perhaps not surprising as we don‘t have really have leaders in the generally understood sense of the word. The Foundation has a management group who make decisions about budgets and policy and so on. Their function is basically administrative which is not the same thing as leadership. This is not to say that members of Management aren’t leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily go with the territory. In any case, Management’s writ does not run outside the Foundation and the majority in the community are not Foundation staff members.

In the early days, leadership was very straightforward. Peter and Eileen Caddy with Dorothy Maclean founded the community through following divine guidance. Eileen got the guidance from a higher source and Peter, to whom God did not speak but who had utter faith in the validity of what came through Eileen, carried out whatever that guidance suggested. The style was autocratic but appropriate for the time. Without Peter’s intense focus, the community might never have been built.

This changed when Eileen received guidance that she should no longer give guidance to the community. Her inspirational messages could be found in her books but she no longer gave practical directions to the community. It was now on its own and had to experiment with new forms of leadership.

Today the concept of leadership has evolved into the idea that anyone can be a leader. It is not dependant on position or popularity or divine authority although inner authority is a necessary part. For me, leadership is demonstrated when someone has a clear vision that they firmly believe in and then take the necessary steps to bring it into being. If the vision is a good one and the timing is right, support will naturally follow.

A good example of this is the Moray Art Centre. Until very recently the arts at Findhorn were housed in a few shabby pre-fabricated bungalows, which apart from the pottery, were little used. Randy Klinger, a painter who lives here had a vision for a proper art centre, one that would serve not only the Findhorn community but also all of Moray. There would be studios, exhibition space and room for craft shows, classes and lectures. It would be a focal point for the arts in the area. It would not be cheap.

Randy had no money himself and the Foundation were unable to help, but he held to his vision even through times when support was lukewarm, found supporters and funding and the Art Centre is now a reality. Not yet completed nor totally paid for, it is already active and providing a venue for the arts at Findhorn.

I find it very inspiring to see how one person, without financial resources, without sanction from any other ‘authority’ has a vision and makes it happen. That is real leadership.

An inspired individual is one thing but the question that comes up for the community is, how do we, as a collective, demonstrate leadership. Guidance, group process, being the change we want to see—these are among the elements that go into the ongoing work of defining and embodying that elusive quality known as leadership.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.