What makes up community well-being in a time of financial constraints and climate uncertainty? This was the question twenty five people turned up to explore at Sustainable Bungay’s first Green Drinks of the new year at the Green Dragon. The evening also marked the start of our new Arts, Culture and Well-being sub-group.
Well-being has been the subject of several recent studies, such as the New Economics Forum’s ‘Five Ways to Well-being’, as well as the focus for many Transition initiatives. We live in a culture based around a market economy, and money and material status (or the lack of it), have become the driving force of most people’s lives. However this has done neither the planet, nor ourselves many favours. Apart from living in a badly degraded environment, we are as a collective suffering from ill health, depression, loss of identity and lack of connection to nature and other people.
What would it mean if our lives, instead of being determined by GDP, were based on our mutual well-being and happiness – not just our personal well-being, but within the communities and neighbourhoods we all share? What would it mean if instead of striving for our own comfort and security, we valued sharing our resources and knowledge? How would our attitudes to each other change, and what kind of changes in the environment would that bring?
Much of the work Sustainable Bungay has been doing over the last five years has this co-operative learning at its base – from creating the Community Garden at the Library to hosting Happy Monday meals at the Community Centre, to organising bicycle rides, sewing circles, Give and Take Days and the Pig Club, At the recent Living Together day about co-ops and intentional communities in East Bergholt we found we had over 30 practical skills between us – just in one workshop! As well as sharing these skills, we’ve learned that working together brings a certain kind of happiness you just can’t pay for.
For example, you can go and forage for blackberries on the common on your own, but how much more fun to do it together, share a picnic and then take some to the Abundance table and for a Happy Mondays pudding for others to enjoy. This simple activity has all those five ways in it: connection, action, learning, taking notice and giving. Most of all it involves the place we live in and the wild spaces we are surrounded by. One of the greatest causes of unhappiness is a lack of connection to nature, as our two films this Spring show: Play Again about children’s lack of access to the natural world, and Queen of the Sun, about how honeybees (and other pollinating insects) are affected by our growth-at-all costs industrialised culture. Bungay Community Bees and Save our Wildflowers and Hedgerows scheme are both working hard to reverse this process.
At our Green Drinks we have focused on the many ways we can reconnect, from learning about medicine plants to the restoration of the River Waveney. In January the ideas were flowing, as people paired up and asked each other what community well-being meant to them and what creative or practical skills they had they would like to pass on to others.
A common thread emerged: well-being meant belonging to a place and not feeling on your own. So plans for a wide range of communal activities were mapped out, from walking and exploring the local countryside to river swimming and canoeing. to sharing skills such as food growing, cooking and meditation. Creative workshops were designed, including storytelling, theatre work and body percussion.
Giving ourselves more time and space to connect with people and the neighbourhood was something people thought was vital and creating a well-being map of Bungay was enthusiastically discussed. Our next Give and Take Day in March will feature a discussion on the Gift Economy – sharing what we have with others in times of austerity and in April we will be walking around the neighbourhood as part of our Well-being map.
To chart the year we are having our first meeting this month on Sunday 17 February at Lodge Farm, hosted by Dano and Jon. Please bring something to share for tea. The meeting will start at 4pm, but if you would like to come earlier there will be some energetic group activity as the pig club fencing will be taken down from 3pm. All welcome.
For map and directions see comment to post from Dano (below)
For further information about the group email Mark Watson firstname.lastname@example.org
Images: well-being in the community is mapped out at Green Drinks in January; Living Together workshop on consensus-decision making in East Berghold; Mark leads a Plants for Life walk in April 2012