It was a bright April day as I set out towards the farm where my van was parked up for the winter. I was about to swap my car for the motorhome and embark on a voyage into the unknown. All I knew was that we had a series of Campfire Conversations lined up, many being hosted by people I'd either never met or barely knew, who had seemed attracted to the idea and wanted to give it a go. I was winging it on trust. That seemed instinctively to be the way to do this.
The Conversations idea wasn't new. We'd had a short season of events in 2016, all as part of other larger events, club nights or festivals. The idea has stemmed from a chat with Paul Darnborough, a club promoter in Manchester who actually drove down to the Midlands to pitch his ideas to me. He wanted to incorporate a Campfire Conversation into his Psychedelic DiscoTech club night in Whalley Range. It turned out to be a wet, cold night in Manchester but we had a good turnout and everyone enjoyed themselves. We followed it with another of Paul's initiative in Todmorden and then in October, @Dave Atkin latched us onto Musicport in Whitby, a good friend booked us into Hartlepool Folk Festival and @John Tree offered us his Sunday morning hangover slot at the largely-hedonistic Beatherder festival in Lancashire. All our first Conversations were in the north of England and they all went well.
It was clear that people wanted to talk. They desperately needed to talk. Times were turbulent and things were changing faster than anyone had previously imagined. The unthinkable was becoming commonplace. Trump was in the White House, incredibly, and the UK was leaving Europe. Corbyn was close to being in government after a vicious trashing from all corners of the media had still failed to destroy him. Talking to others around us, making sense of the nonsense, sifting through the crap and coming out with some positivity, some coherent visions and practical solutions was all we could do. Keeping hope alive.
I was amazed to the extent that these meetings became group therapy sessions. People wore their hearts on their sleeves were astonishingly open and told their own stories. There was a collective sense that we needed to step up. It was a fascinating snapshot of a largely broken nation looking for ways forward, longing for some semblance of social glue that had evaded most of us for far too long.
And so on that bright late April day, I pointed the van towards Hay on Wye for the first session at The Old Electric Shop. Hannah has allowed us use of her space and it was packed for a lively but reflective meeting, where it was clear that with elections just announced, many were fearful that things could only get worse. Reading back on my notes from the meeting, it was good to see that hope triumphed over fear by the end of our session. It was clear that we needed ways and methods to keep the conversations going so this prompted the idea of the Beacons on Campfire. Even though Hay has still to create its Beacon as I type, some are already up and running and starting to arrange regular sessions. The Malvern Hills Beacon has had two meetings and our latest, Bournemouth has activity planned.
Themes were emerging already and through the summer months it was clear that people wanted to work out how they could engage and make a difference, how voices could be heard, how local initiatives could empower, how our systems and politics needed a revamp. We needed a response, although its definition and clarity were yet to make itself obvious.
There were some very moving personal stores - the woman in Winchcombe who caught HIV from a partner and tales of agression at the hands of Alzheimer's victims, @Sean Prentice's struggle with his disabilities and their impact on his and others' sense of identity, Sheffield's twenty years of struggle to fund and finish Meersbrook Hall as a neighbourhood project that could impact so positively locally. There were many more.. these are just a few...Then there was poetry - Liv Torc received a standing ovation her memorable end of session poem at Frome.
What I haven't been very good at is any systematic recording, archiving and follow up. As well as organising the events, getting involved in creating online spaces to publicise them and travelling from one to another, I've just not had time to do the follow ups justice. Campfire has offered up itself as a platform for keeping the momentum going and we have to draw on our expereinces for how best to build on this for next year.
So thanks to those who made this happen in 2017
LEWES 22/03 @David Pope in Lewes where we convened in the very room that Thomas Paine used to gather his Headstong Club and probably discussed The Rights Of Man and who knws, maybe even the US constitution.
HAY ON WYE 29/4 Hannah Burson in Hay on Wye and @Jaime Jackson for his tireless promotion. A packed house and some lively discussion about hope triumphing over fear.
BRIGHTON 5/5 Thanks to @Paula Knee and @Jeremy Allerton for organising - a packed room turned out at The Southover pub to hear @Indra Adnan talking about changing the political game.
FROME 25/5 @Peter Macfadyen and @Annabelle Macfadyen for their inspited vision for the Frome event in the wonderful setting of the Rye Bakery and to @Indra Adnan and @Pat Kane for coming and talking about their Alternative UK project which shares so much synergy with Campfire. Frome is a hotbed of non-confirmity and creative sparks - that's one of the reasons I'm moving there. Peter's Flatpack Democracy (which I first encountered at a 38 Degrees meeting in Lewes in early spring) has been an inspiration for how we reimagine politics. An evening of three parts - the outside campfire, a meal inside the venue followed by Indra and Pat's talk and closing discussion. And Liv's poem.
ASHBURTON 26/5 @Andy Williamson and @Ian Wellens put together an evening in front of the Methodist Church in Ashburton, Devon and Andy explained what he wanted to do with the building if their bid was successful. It worked and they can now look at how they plan for a future there. @Pam Barrett talked about the success of independent politics in neighbouring Buckfastleigh.
BATH 28/5 Onwards to the fine city of Bath and thanks to @Michael Heap and @Emma Heap for hosting this afternoon session in their indepedent hostelry. This meeting had quite a heavy political bias and almost became pre-election hustings betweem Labour and Greens who were both locally represented here.
SHEFFIELD 3/6 it was good to be doing one in the north, in one of my favourite cities and in the grounds of Meersbrook Hall on a fine sunny afternoon. Thanks to @Russ Jackson and @Kate Souper for organising a lively session featuring an inspired talk from Andy Jackson from Heeley Development Trust about his struggles to maintain and fund the upkeep of the hall we were sitting outside.
AXBRIDGE 10/6 A spectacular success for @barry cawston's vision for an all day Saturday event which took in seven speakers over seven hours in the garden outside an old house on the hill overlooking Glastobury Tor and the Cheddar reservoir below and brought in Mexican Food and a DJ for the evening session. This was out biggest turn out for a Conversation, around 60 people, some of whom camped out overnight
COLWALL / MALVERN HILLS 11/6 Located in the green setting of Colwall allotment and orchard and thanks to @Suzi Glantz for organisaing, we had some lively conversation including poignant talks by @Sean Prentice and Nick Boughton-Thomas on the ecenomy, feudalism, blockchain and web free (3.0)..
HAY ON WYE 14/6 The only Conversation that didn't work as no one organised or publicised it locally (a lesson learned). Hence, a low turnout but neretheless, some lively conversation between those who did.
EDINBURGH 18/6 A long trek up the east coast during our summer heatwave and great to finally meet @Eileen Inglis @Amy Rew and @William Knox - great thanks for organising our first Scottish event. Waiting for the review / debrief but I remember @Bosco Santimano making a lively contribution. Subject matter was wellbeing : Is individual wellbeing essential before we can truly progress or contribute? @Amy Rew presented for Girls Film Club.
CHESHAM 2/7 Small but perfectly formed and brilliantly conceived by @kirsty hawkshaw getting in an inspired guest speaker @Jonathan Leighton I hadnn't considered Chesham as a potential hotspot for Campfire but this trip has contantly surprised me.
WINCHCOMBE 5/8 Another inspired vision from @hannah clarke and Tony France who I'd met by chance a few weeks earlier when they'd seen my van (and web address) parked up at a local and pub and emailed me even before I'd emerged with my pint, asking if they could host a Conversation. In their paddock and involving music and camping, this was a memorable session, a cathartic unloading for some, a bonding for many. Some great @James Rock (JAMES_ROCK)@ photos
THE GOOD LIFE EXPERIENCE 16/9 Another bolt-on event around the fire at a festival which we made the most of (after our PA system didn't appear) with some lively conversation around our eclectic guest speaker topics - clean language, consumer choices, reimagining politics and the health benefits of pelvic floor exercises.