Informing the Campfire Community every day

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Pete Lawrence - 22 Aug 2016


In a post capitalist world, new community initiatives are needed and this is the time we have been waiting for. When the community prospers, we all prosper and share the fruits of our successes.

The text of the speech. Saturday August 12, 2016 10am

Photo credit : James Rock

Firstly I’d like to pay tribute and give thanks – to the many people who have come together in order to make this inaugural event happen. Not in any ordinary way but in a quite spectacular show of strength and purpose..

Firstly, I’d like to thank Glyn and Gisela and all the staff at the pub for being with us from the start. When Andy Cleal and I drove into the pub car park just before Christmas for a lunchtime break and looked at each other and without speaking I think we both realized we’d pulled up at a perfect spot to bring people together.

I wanted this one to be different, a gathering rather than a festival

I’m glad I’m out of the festival business. As I was browsing a festival special in the Observer Music magazine earlier this spring and my first thought was that it read like one big corporate advertorial.

  • The Guardian proudly supports 'Camp Bestival'
  • ‘On Blackheath’ in partnership with John Lewis
  • ‘Latitude’ - sponsored by Smirnoff, Tuborg and BBC Music
  • Barclaycard presents ‘British Summer Time’
  • Cuffe and Taylor present Simply Red at The Races

This was a world away from what I wanted. So the idea was to shape this from the ground upwards and do it organically - as generally that’s the way I do things rather than starting from a balance sheet.

The most exciting aspect of that has been the way that the team has started to come together. My call for volunteers in March inadvertently turned into the first Campfire Circle – 23 people turned up at my barn in Braunston, some traveling a fair from Whitley Bay, two from west Wales, two from Brighton. By the end of the day we knew we had something special…

Since then a couple of the group have had to duck out but the others have formed the most supportive and driven team you could wish for …and we then had a second Campfire Circle here on a sunny weekend in late spring, an opportunity to walk the site and imagine how we might put an event together. Five more members came in then. Debbie told me that she’d made “new best friends”, Caroline told me she’d started pushing herself beyond her comfort zone in ways she could not have envisaged. Lee told me he wanted to be the ‘firemaster general’ and look after our flames. Paul and Caroline both hosted Campfire Conversation events and I was invited to speak at three other festivals. New ideas collided and colluded, stars emerged. We were on a roll..

Many Campfire volunteers insisted on paying for their tickets to support this event, even though they’d be working some of the weekend. 

After months on another network’s social chat we finally move to our own Campfire forum last week as we prepare to open the doors. And I’d like to extend an invitation to everyone here to come and see what our developers have been working on for the last 15 months at Please make sure we have your full details at the box office / info point and we’ll invite you on as soon as we’ve arrived home and unpacked.

Since my days with The Big Chill – my last project, which incidentally was born as an outdoor event just the other side of Offa’s Dyke in Llanthony – I’ve placed great value in community, in the essential social glue that we all need as we come together to make sense of what often seems like a mad world. An unpredictable world which is changing faster than we’d ever imagined it might. A world which might just run away from us unless we get organised and work out ways we can collaborate, share and develop ideas and initiatives. For it is those initiatives that will give us focus and a sense of purpose. We are all creative, we can all imagine a world as we’d like it. Now is the time to coax those creative juices into full flow and come together to start to build collective wisdom - and I offer up Campfire as a potential space for doing those things.

I see my role as ‘Firestarter’ - sparking the tinder and watching what happens from here. Anything is possible! Campfire is about everyone’s input and participation and it will be interesting to see what resolutions result from this weekend in terms of where we can go as a community, both online and at our events. 

Gathering around the Campfire will be a great start. There’s something about the clarity of thought and sense of overview that can be attained more easily when we have space for thinking and I feel blessed to be able to do it here in this natural setting – we have a primal need for both collective joy and a deeper connection with nature. We will aim to do as many of our future weekend events as possible in this sort of setting, heading for the hills…away from arenas, showgrounds.. locations where inspiration can bubble to the surface.

The Campfire is symbolically a great leveller, a meeting place where social bonding occurs, a space that taps into the essence of how we communicate with each other, fostering a culture of listening to others’ stories, a spirit of open-mindedness and a duty to work for the good of all. A recent study of the Kalahari bushmen by Polly Wiessner at The University of Utah recognized that the firelight chat not only aided our cultural and social evolution, but also differed markedly according to time of day. “Day conversation has a lot to do with economic activities – working, getting food, what resources are where,” she says. “It has a lot to do with social issues and controls: criticism, complaints and gripes.”

“At night, people really let go, mellow out and seek entertainment. If there have been conflicts in the day, they overcome those and bond. Night conversation has more to do with stories, talking about the characteristics of people who are not present and who are in your broader networks, and thoughts about the spirit world and how it influences the human world. You have singing and dancing, too, which bonds groups.”

Wiessner suggested that firelight stories, conversations, ceremonies and celebrations sparked human imagination and “cognitive capacities to form these imagined communities, whether it’s our social networks, all of our relatives on Earth or communities that link us to the spirit world.” She says they also bolstered the human ability to “read” what others are thinking – not just their thoughts or intentions, but their views toward other people. She says “Stories are told in virtually all hunter-gatherer societies; together with gifts, they were the original social media.”

So a recognition of empathy and respect for listening to others’ views and ideas will be at the heart of our Campfire, also ensuring a voice and a future for younger people who will shape our world. It’s important to talk about the hope that we can contribute to future generations at a time when society is so fractured and polarized and how we can harness and build collective wisdom.

It’s not difficult to sense that people want something more meaningful and are hungry for change..big change - and they’re looking for ways they can get involved and make a difference, of gathering a bunch of people around them that they can input to and learn from. I sense that people are looking to challenge themselves, push themselves in new directions and into new projects. Social networking has become central for many people but still it largely revolves around corporations who want our data as the fodder for large profits for their shareholders. Campfire can provide a more niche alternative and build a community that is not only shaped by its own members with a strong collective ethos, but also pays back to them, one which creates wealth, but for all of us not just a few.

We have already started to explore the potential of co-operative intelligence at a time when it must surely be argued that we're already moving into a phase where capitalism isn't really working any longer as a model. We have to look to communications networks to lead the path, away from market forces as a primary motivator. Much of the focus is coming down to networks vs hierarchies in many ways, neoliberal economics colliding with network technology and many traditional, unquestioned ways of doing things are beginning to look outmoded. We need new structures for the means of production of intellectual 'goods' to move into the hands of the many. New models must emerge – ways that people can start to earn a living from things they enjoy as the boundaries between work and leisure blur. We live in an age of abundance but we’re certainly not all benefiting.

More direct forms of democracy will be discussed at our first panel and we have the technology to support this. Initiatives such as Ed Dowding’s Represent can become major players in shaping a democratic world as it should be. Campfire is putting together a community-led constitutional convention that sets out its stall as a truly modern co-operative, based around initiatives such as our Kudos scheme and our call for Trailblazer politics. It’s time for us to shape our politics - personally, economically and socially - around the notion of ‘we’ before ‘i’. What can I give to those around me?  What nourishment and benefit can I take?

In a post capitalist world, new community initiatives are needed and this is the time we have been waiting for. When the community prospers, we all prosper and share the fruits of our successes.

I think many of us are also aware that we have to move fast, to make the most of the changes that are opening up everywhere. We need big visions, we need people able and willing to articulate their own utopian thinking for ways forward and who can relate them to the here and now in pragmatic ways. Making those bridges between ideas and initiatives rational, grounded in sound economic thinking and accessible.

Alongside that, we need vehicles for new media to be organising, adding new perspective and getting the message out. Not just to middle England but globally and we can use the power of the internet to our advantage to do that. 

So how do we build our fire? 

What are we aiming for? Obviously a thriving community, a vibrant website and exciting events, but our vision can extend a lot wider. We can play our part in social change, in helping create a fairer society and in empowering our own membership, both individually and collectively by providing an environment where ideas can lead to inspiration, debate can lead to determination, co-creativity can lead to collaboration and realisation, which in turn can lead to recognition, confidence and financial rewards too.

What will the Social Network offer?

The website offers its members opportunities :

1) A space where we can share common interests, discussions, chit-chat and feed off and inspire each other.

2) A portfolio space to show our best creative work / play highlights. 

3) A project space where we can develop solo or collaborative ideas and keep them all in one place.

4) A magazine element which combines blogging with a daily diet of topical links to discussion-worthy articles, galleries, videos, playlists - all condensed into relevant Guilds (common interest groupings).

5) A resource library where we can build and reference key articles via tagging.

6) Real life events where we can meet the people we've been chatting to.

My proposal is to fund an advert and sponsorship free network via subscriptions – micro payments of £4 or £8 a month which I’d suggest aren’t significant sums in most people’s budgets but would hopefully be enough to sustain our server costs and finance much-needed future phases of our technical development.

But the key element of the underpinning ethos is that we will be a modern co-operative that aims to reward input. Those who step forward with editorial skills, writing skills, photographic excellence, and general engagement, whether on the site as it grows or in the spaces we do our events will be rewarded, literally, with an ongoing profit share scheme based upon 'kudos' points earned for the above, or however we as a community vote to measure its metrics. 

How political should Campfire be?  I sense that this will also be one of the key discussion points, and not just this weekend. Kath Cockshaw, one of our members offered a quote as her reasons for coming to the Campfire “I’m looking for new ways of bringing people and organisations together across communities of interest to address big issues, not least the current defunct political system resulting in impactful action. Which is why Campfire Convention appeals so much”. 

Campfire has the scope and potential to be a progressive force for change as it unites and connects, ultimately works towards a world without borders, where we join the dots but respect the differences and always look for the common denominator, the common cause through which people can connect and feel inspired. 

One way of formulating policy might be to appoint representatives via our Guilds through an election process.  We can have discussions, for instance, about the extent to which we are able to develop and support specific policy – for example the increasing momentum towards universal basic income, the idea of an elected second chamber, of proportional representation, of cross-party alliances, of tighter environmental controls to counter global warming, of free education, towards shared resources in the public interest, against privatisation of many of our basic services. 

These discussions can become policies central to Campfire and our role will quickly become clear, whether as pressure group, think-tank or activist campaigners, whether working alongside progressive political parties or trailblazing our own initiatives in the absence of those from the major parties. It’s high time to remind ourselves that we should be thinking about how we live the life that we want to live.

So this tentative toe-dipping exercise at the first Campfire Convention hopefully gives a glimpse of where we can go with our events..perhaps we’d like to break away a little more from the performer / audience divide and organize into our 15 Guilds (they’re on the flags) by area at our next event and low each Guild to curate its own space. Much of this will be down to our activity and discussions on the network and even before launch we have no shortage of ideas coming through.

On the subject of ideas, I’m dedicating this weekend to a valued member of our team who sadly passed away a few weeks ago – his name is Andrew Cowen and his clear vision for Campfire shone through the many days work he put in for us, nurturing ideas, writing with a keen sense of wisdom and an innate belief that Campfire was always going to work.

I will be posting some of his articles on the site when we open but for now I’d like to quote him in a piece where he imagined what Campfire could become

“I have been excited about working on the beta version of the Campfire site for several months now, writing articles, testing the software and contributing to brain-storming sessions to help define the ethos and functionality of the site. I give my time freely and enthusiastically because, the more I consider the potential of the enterprise, the more excited I become.

For me, the watch-word of Campfire is “creative”. The whole navigation and ethos is designed to encourage and provide a platform for members’ creativity. It is geared towards collaboration, sharing and exhibiting the work of creators in a supportive and friendly environment. Because it was conceived by creatives it is best-placed to understand and serve their needs.

My vision of Campfire as the greatest social network is based on the following points:

·        A reliable, moderated and edited source for news.
·        A central meeting place for friends and source of meaningful new friendships.
·        An online identity modeled on local community rather than multi-national greed.
·        A proper manifestation of co-operative governance and equality where every member counts.
·        A source for innovation and ground-breaking creative projects, collaboration and fair trade.
·        A grown-up playground of fun and discovery.
·        A site of unlimited potential which benefits all, becoming a source of income for both members and administrators.

So both Andrew's and my own Campfire vision is rife with possibilities – as an online community with a sense of soul and purpose and as an event that is democratic in its scope and intentions. And, I’m sure, in other ways that we’ve not yet imagined. Everyone will have their own vision.

I’d like to offer thanks to all our speakers, panelists, thinkshoppers, musicians, DJs and volunteers who have come together here in Michaelchurch Escley to get the campfire started. Now it’s time to get on with a full programme over the weekend and I really hope you enjoy it. Oh, and look out for Perseid shooting stars overhead by night.

I’m especially delighted that our keynote speaker accepted my invitation to open our first event. He’s a man I’ve worked with before – his art installation 77 Million paintings opened many peoples eyes at The Big Chill and his music has accompanied me through life since the early 70s…. please give a very warm welcome to Mr Brian Eno


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