Heading in for winter

The appearance of geese high in the northern sky after they've left their summer breeding ground in the Artic and head for over-wintering pastures signals a turning point in the year.

It is one that ties us in with the natural rhythms of this place and within the ecovillage where I live, Findhorn, we make every effort to reconnect with the patterns and flows of the natural world and with the traditions of our ancestors who lived here. Full moons are marked with meditations. We celebrate the old Celtic festivals – Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasa and Samhain – as well as the equinoxes and solstices with bonfires, songs and dances. But nothing we can concoct ties us in so magically and so surely with the web of life that surrounds us as these moments of the year when the geese arrive, and then depart again in spring.

To me at least it is unsurprising a blog aimed at exploring life in an ecovillage should begin with geese. For sure, the visitor to Findhorn is greeted with much of the conventional hardware that might be expected in an ecovillage. The first sight of the community from most angles is the four wind turbines, standing proud and tall, that make us net exporters of electricity. In the settlement itself, housing designed according to ecological principles is progressively replacing the caravans that housed the community pioneers who first settled here in the early 1960s; we have now built 51 eco-houses. A biological waste-water treatment plant – a 'Living Machine' – treats our sewage. A large amount of organic food is grown in our community-supported agriculture system, EarthShare. We have a community currency and bank.

Ecological footprint

Yet, at the heart of our lives is something less tangible. When visitors ask me 'Where can I find the ecovillage?', expecting to be shown the eco-technology or the houses, my favourite response is to whisper conspiratorially, 'It is invisible'. By this I mean that at the heart of what we are about is the creation of healthy and loving relationships – with ourselves, with each other and with the world around us. Our ambitions are much greater than merely reducing our resource consumption. (Although this is hugely important here. We recently received the results of an ecological footprint study of the community conducted over the last year which suggests that our footprint is one half of the national average – the lowest footprint ever recorded, as far as we are aware, for any population in the industrialised world.)

The core aim, however, is altogether more visionary and utopian: to facilitate a transformation in consciousness and to create a model of a happy and healthy community that is sustainable on all levels. This noble task is not without its paradoxes. The greatest of these is that, as a community built around a training centre, we are dependent on air miles. Lots of air miles. Around 3,000 people a year come here to do courses. A second is that while Findhorn has won admirers and partners in the United Nations, among universities in the United States (which send under-graduates to study as part of their degree programmes) and among activist populations as far afield as Japan, Brazil and California, it has had a harder time landing the impulse in its own Scottish backyard.

Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to explore further these are other dilemmas and to introduce you to some of the people wrestling with them. Two of the core metaphors of the ecovillage movement are the lighting of candles in the darkness and 'being the change you want to see in the world'. I hope that the stories I am able to share with you may generate some light and inspiration.

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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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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