The Truth Behind Going Local.

By Jo Barker.


“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

― W. B. Yeats


So we’ve reached the halfway mark on our our social, environmental experiment Going Local, Going Green. Each month has brought about a new set of realisations for me, but this morning at the 6 month bench mark I had a very grounding realisation.

The morning began with a close friend and I meditating on Narroways Hill in St. Werburghs, colloquially known as The Mound / Strawberry Hill . The Mound is a longstanding Bristol landmark for nighttime shenanigans, early morning post party stumblings, wildflower wanderings and the luxury of sticking your head above the parapet of the city for a short while. Whilst contemplating the work I’ve been doing, I realised what the real truth of this project was for me. Going Local didn’t necessarily mean geographically, it meant my internal terrain.

Having grown up around environmental activists and then consequently dabbling in environmental activism myself, I quickly realised that unless you spent a good dose of time working on yourself and healing what’s going on inside, your ability to deal with external pains could overwhelm you. I’ve witnessed this with people close to me and it pains me to see them backing away from causes and work that they once took great love in and were bloody good at. We've talked at length about the balance needed to do this work and the honesty of looking in upon your own damage or pain, to deal with that alongside the activism work if not first and foremost.

Without consciously considering this thought, the structure of Going Local Going Green has been just this. Using an Action Learning framework involving a monthly meeting of reflecting and setting future aims, these sessions have quickly changed from being a “catch up” to a bloody counselling session...of which no one quite prepared me for! The act of reflecting on the work I’ve been doing for that past month and analysing why some of it may not have gone to plan or diverted from my previous month's aims, has illuminated where my true passions and struggles lie.

When committing to going local to make it work and to make it as easy and painless a transition as possible, a certain element of trust and connecting needs to happen. Before and throughout this project I have attended workshops, group sessions, community engagement events and each time an element of fear and apprehension sprung up. The idea of being in a room full of strangers and forming new relationships can at times fill me with exhausted dread. What if I have nothing relevant to say, what if I’m terrible at this activity, what if no one talks to me? It’s enough for me to go fuckit, I’ll stay in and watch a self help video on green wood working and buy the idiot's guide to food growing. However if I’m truly invested in this project and want to delve into what it means to be a local, I have to invest in my community and stop giving so much airtime to insecure, defensive, chitter-chatter bullshit.

“Stay here long enough... stay here long enough to revive your hope, to drop your terminal cool, to give up defensive half truths, to creep, carve, bash your way through, stay here long enough to see what is right for you, stay here long enough to make the finish line, it matters not how long it takes or in what style…”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés - Women Who Run with Wolves.

So I’m investing, I’m localising, I’m staying put in Bristol for the foreseeable time and with that has come connections. I’ve quit my job as an edit assistant in a large television corporation to take a one day a week role with the National Autistic Society as project leader of a club for children with autism. I’ve gone freelance with my film work making shorts for environmental causes such as Soil Culture at Create, TreeSisters reforesting campaign and the Earth Heart Center self help courses. These changes do not come without sacrifice though. I’ve had to greatly reduce my outgoings as my income is laughable and have had to wrestle with my ethics due to my Locavore diet  vs my weekly budget. None of this is easy, but there are ways of making it easier. Connect with your community.

I recently went to a community growing scheme Sims Hill Harvest Dinner where the totally delicious locally sourced food was catered for by Greg McHugh from the restaurant Runcible Spoon, for free. My trepidation sprung up again at being in a room full of people I hardly knew, eating, talking, making a tit of myself, but I pushed on through. If I’m committed to going local I have to get to know my locals. The night was amazing. A lot of thoughtful discussion and playful banter lead some of us afterwards to the pub for more in depth chats and twatting around.

For internal work I attended the Rising Women Rising World workshop as part of Bristol Big Green week, filmed and participated in various workshops at the Earth Heart Center and went on a weekend herbal retreat of deep introspection and learning. In a time when mental health funding is being drastically cut, refuges and community outreach is being squeezed by an unsympathetic and reckless government, I am fully aware that these are luxuries that a large portion of people can not afford. I am one of the lucky ones to be able to invest in my mental health in this way but there are other ways too. The Swan Project in Bristol is originally a counselling service for alcoholism but now broadens out to other areas of mental health and payment is an assessed / sliding scale for the individual. Also the various buddhist centers around the city work on a donation basis such as Amitabha Buddish Center or Bristol Buddhist Center and have been invaluable with my internal work. I would also totally recommend to anyone a book that changed the path of my life by Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön 'The Places That Scare You'. 

“He who cannot howl will not find his pack.”

― Charles Simic

Friends of mine often ask don’t I ever get nervous or tired of meeting with people I don’t know all the time? I sure as fuck do. Recently I was so tired and hungover at Windmill City Farm’s open day that I paid my entrance donation, scurried away to a rhubarb plant and fell asleep under it for the entire day. I still turned up though. I still supported my community but I allowed myself to do it in my individual way as my introspective work has told me that you can still get involved, you can still be apart of something whilst remaining true to your individual needs. The idea of looking inwards and asking what that individual looks like and what she needs from her community as much as what she can give, is at times terrifying. But I feel without this internal work I don’t really see how I could ever fully understand what I am asking from my community, or how I wish to be apart of the process needed to shape it.

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