Welcome to Research Communications 2018
by Balthasar Petrelli
Summer 2017 ……………………………………………………………. Video, Balthasar Petrelli
Editorial ……………………………………………………………………………………. Duncan M. Hamilton
Introduction to Mixed Media Submissions …………………………………………… Duncan Hamilton
Prowling ……………………………………………………………………… Audio & Visual, Melanie Clifford
The Irresistible Call of Braziers Park …………………………………… Poetry, Kate Wregglesworth
Sensory Discussion on Deep Adaptation …………………………….. Video, Duncan Humphries
Enduring Underpinnings …………………………………………………. Essay, Cliff Jordan
Education and Washing Machines …………………………………………………….. Essay, Anna Vavrova
The Road Makers …………………………………………………….. Poetry, Alan Clarke & Alan Kipps
Unleashing Braziers’ Potential ………………………………………………………….. Essay, Seanna Rock
Vision Talk …………………………………………………………………………………… Essay, Tom Glaister
Who are you? …………………………………………………………………….. Poetry, Charlotte Lochead
“Intentional Community: The Art of Living & The Science of Life” ……………………………………………………..………………… Video, Nick Jordan & Clara Casian
by Duncan Hamilton
Long ago, and still to this day, sensory, education and executive meetings have often touched upon the topic of ‘who we are, what are we doing, and where are we going?’
Akin to the ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, this question has a habit of re-occuring at Braziers Park. If the inner reflects the outer, then we can agree this is true also of individuals, societies and our reality. When we set off to undertake this revival of Research Communications at BP, this question (as newbies) was at the forefront of our minds too. We wanted to be clear about what our group agrees. Of course, the founding materials seem to have a very clear idea of what BP is and what it is for. Though it felt apparent that these values had become diffuse, watered down. It’ll always depend who you ask. Certainly though, if someone asks what Braziers’ purpose is, there is usually not a simple, straightforward answer, but rather, a meandering and precarious speculation. The suggestion by some questioners that there is an imperative necessity to answer these questions today invariably receives resistance and reticence, perhaps quietly followed by a diversity of suggestions.
This feeling is further echoed by the submissions and engagement we received following our invitation for submissions and research. As you’ll no doubt notice below – from some of the artworks or written submissions – many suggestions about ‘what we are’ and ‘what we’re doing here’ abound; and they’re diverse despite there being relatively few submissions. This eternal soul-searching is perhaps symptomatic of the nature of communities such as this – places where many people come, I think, to question and find themselves. We shouldn’t conflate this with navel-contemplation, however, for this work of knowing thyself was once a cultural maxim upon which the Greek Renaissance was founded: γνῶθι σεαυτόν – know thyself! Or, as Socrates taught it: “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
When I undertook this project, I knew it would take a lot of time, be frequently relegated to lower priority, and we probably wouldn’t find much support in bringing the project to fruition. I also thought that it would invite plenty of criticism. They were both at least partially true, evidenced by a poor response rate to both the call out for contributions and also, personally, to my intended research project. Unfortunately, a lack of plentiful responses to the latter compromised the data producing meaningful qualitative results, I decided to abandon the effort for this reason. Although disappointing, the responses received were enlightening, in themselves. To summarise the findings very briefly, those that gave insight generally reported feeling ambivalent about BP at that moment (2017) and stated that BP was remaining static, and that they felt disappointed with the educational output at the time. Considering this from my subjective perspective, I note that our lack of clear definition, group agreements, and mission, along with a dash of unhelpful cultural practices, contribute to this stacis, lack of commitment, and breed a highly critical environment.
Anonymised quantitative data is available via this hyperlink.
This having been said, the contributions to this edition give a clear impression of some of the qualitative nature of lived experiences of BP today. What strikes me most in their similarities to one another, is how each contributor shares their take on BP, their perspective and makes a guess at ‘what we’re doing here,’ each uniquely contributing to this discussion. Whether through elucidating ‘the Rules’, sharing a poem from the heart, a video of moments spent, political cartoons that make you laugh at yourself, or a new perspective of something not seen before in beauty — each are all being shared from a place of sincerity and generosity. Is this perhaps an echo of the spirit that drags us in, to come and offer service to one another, and this place?
It seems to me, after two years of residency and witnessing the eternal ‘Washing Machine’, that the answers were never individual, nor (perhaps) quantifiable – but rather, can be found in the in-between places. Why is it the same hats get worn by different people, from where do these repeating stories manifest – and what do they mean to us all?
Perhaps in our sensorial tradition, it is better to raise more questions than pretend we truly have any answers.
(Special thanks to Petra Čarmen, Sarah Wood & Duncan Humphries for their support and guidance in bringing this project to fruition).
INTRODUCTION TO MIXED MEDIA SUBMISSIONS
You’ll notice there are a lot more submissions this year of a text-less nature. One of the added benefits to moving over to digital media is that we are able to share more creative submissions, works of art and labours of the immaterial world without the necessity to write about them.
Amongst these, you’ll find some familiar political cartoons from Ruth Garwood, audio & visual from Melanie Clifford, videos of special moments, and a smattering of poetry. I hope these may move you in ways that essays alone could not.
Without further ado, I leave you to enjoy the rest of this edition.
by Melanie Clifford: Supernormal Braziers Park Residency 2016
Melanie presents works featuring observations, research and ideas formed during her residency and previous Supernormal festivals. She says “Each Supernormal Festival hatches new collaborations and unforeseeable connections. Beautiful accidents and discoveries abound.”
Description of Audio Submission
Melanie works directly with sound and its location: performing site-specific sound pieces and recording found sounds and her own slight interventions, to be edited, reconstructed and broadcast. In this track multiple short wave radio signals are recorded, sped up, slowed down, cut and layered to yield various harmonic relationships and beat frequencies. Woodland birds enter after rain at Braziers in the spring of 2016 (including red kites in middle distance from 04.14!) – multiple recordings, re-composed. 35mm slide glass percussion. Played vinyl crackle, wow, flutter and hum.
Track A1. Birdsradios (05.29)
About the Artist
Melanie Clifford works in translation between moving image, sound, drawing, broadcast, material and site, with research interests bridging art and neuroscience. Her work includes silent film and constructing visual scores for variable sound interpretation – soliciting sensitivity to detail, to minor fluctuations and structural disintegrity.
Her work is exhibited and broadcast internationally, and she co-produces a weekly live improvisational radio test transmission for Resonance 104.4FM, London.
Melanie has participated in each previous Supernormals with: New Work Network in 2010; Resonance FM’s Bermuda Triangle Test Transmission Broadcast Engineers 2012 – 2014; the Women, Art & Sound Programme 2013; legendary Scottish/London band Cindytalk in 2014; and as a volunteer in 2015. For Supernormal 2016 she worked towards a site-wide distributed installation of many quiet, interconnected elements, together with a sequence of very short films for live & field-recorded sound, and some prowling about.
Braziers themed postcard made by Clifford are featured throughout this issue.
THE ROAD MAKERS
by Alan Clarke & Alan Kipps
For Braziers friends: offered as a footnote illumination of the spirit in which Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research was founded (and in which much of its 1950s, at least, had to be conducted).
J. Norman Glaister [JNG] was not conspicuously a poetry-reader (and, incidentally, R. Glynn Faithful [RGF] was only slightly more of one, despite his Dante studies) but I have retained the recollection that this was “JNG’s favourite poem”. Possibly he told me so himself, thought I cannot vouch for that as a memory. Recent correspondence has caused me to seek it out on the Web & to put together this version. As yet have established nothing about the author beyond her name. The poem must date from the 1940s at latest, so could be a war-end composition – or by its style might perhaps date from earlier
Alan J. Clarke, 21 Jan 2008
“Go through, go through the gates. Clear the way for the people. Build up, build up the highway. Remove the stones, lift up a banner over the peoples…” Isaiah 62:10
We shall not travel by the road we make
Ere day by day the sound of many feet
Is heard upon the stones that now we break.
We shall but come to where the crossroads meet.
For us the heat by day, the cold by night,
The inch-slow progress and the heavy load,
And death at last to close the long, grim fight
With man and beast and stone: for them the road.
For them the shade of trees that now we plant,
The safe,smooth journey and the ultimate goal:
Yea, birthright in the land of covenant.
For us day-labour, travail of the soul.
And yet the road is ours, as never theirs;
Is not one thing on us alone bestowed?
For us the master joy, oh pioneers —
We shall not travel, but we make the road!
V. Helen Friedlander
THE IRRESISTIBLE CALL OF BRAZIERS PARK
by Kate Wregglesworth
What is it about this place which draws me back time and again?
The elephant-grey walls, the lofty all-seeing eyes of the magnificent windows
the soft spring of summer grass underfoot or the eye-pleasing sweep of the broad yew hedges
the cries of red kites as they guard the skies, dipping and soaring?
Could it be the billowing and tossing heads of leafy trees in a strong wind
like giant hot-air balloons tethered to the earth,
the magic fairy-dust glitter of a sharp frost on a winter morning
rendering twigs and leaves brittle and sparkling?
Perhaps it is the smell of ‘old house’, nay, ‘old English house’
of faded flowers and long-since eaten meals, of dust and polish
toast, tea, coffee and still-warm ashes from last night’s wood fire
the warm musty clinging odour of the cellars, hiding unknown treasures
From days gone by?
Or maybe it is the sound of joyful singing,
the tinkle of piano keys drifting back and forth and tiptoeing up the stairs
the steady drip of rain from trees and gutters on a grey drizzly day
the slam of the front door, the welcome bong of the dinner gong and
the rattle of the disobedient trolley bumping down the corridor?
Perhaps it is the challenge of doing something useful,
making a small brush stroke on the huge canvas that is Braziers,
something which says ‘I was here’,
as countless others have done before me over the years.
Possibly it is the pleasure of friendships picked up from where they were left off
the daily sharing of the burden of mundane chores, cheerfully undertaken by some
and carefully avoided by others,
the wonderful sense of familar surroundings mixed with the delightful anticipation of
of views to be aired and
stories to be shared…
Yes, that is what draws me back.
Without a doubt.
Sensory Discussion (27/11/18):
by Cliff Jordan
The invitation for this issue of Research Communications was to write about some contemporary aspect of Braziers. It struck me that there are features of Braziers which have applied for a long time, since the founding in some cases, As they still apply, I consider them in some way contemporary.
This article addresses those aspects of Braziers which can only be changed (if at all) by reference to an outside body. Some may still be welcome; others might be seen as constraints that Braziers would be better off without. I sketch out some options.
(The many persisting and repeating patterns of thought and behaviour which conceivably could be changed solely by an act of will or consciousness on the part of the members are outside the scope of this particular article.)
The legal structure: The Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research (BPSISR) is a Specially Authorised Society, registered in 1950 under the Friendly Societies Acts 1896 – 1948, and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
Thus far is factual; how it is understood at Braziers can be wonderfully obscure and contentious, and can spark Members into interminable rehearsing of old disagreements.
“Specially Authorised Societies” are an uncommon legal form, no longer available to new organisations. Together with Friendly, Industrial and Providential Societies, Specially Authorised Societies are ‘mutual’ – originally conceived as organisations set up to enable their members to provide each other with mutual support before the creation of the Welfare State. (As such, they are precursors to the “Society for the Benefit of its Members”, a legal form now available to new organisations). The Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research, however, includes explicit educational aims in its governing document (“The Rules”) and an “asset lock”: together these enabled it to gain formal recognition as a charity: that is, for the benefit of the public rather than for the benefit of its own members.
Some have argued that this allows the organisation to enjoy the advantages of both forms. Actually, it restricts the organisation to remain within the laws governing both forms. BPSISR must make an Annual Return each year to the FCA, and can only make changes to its Rules as permitted by the latest Friendly Societies Act plus, like other charities, it is legally required to operate for ‘public benefit’ and explicitly NOT for the benefit of its members. See below for more about charitable status.
The Financial Conduct Authority is responsible for monitoring and regulating the Finance Industry in the UK; supervising organisations such as Braziers are a miniscule part of its responsibilities. In practice their involvement is to receive a report each year (specifying any change in Trustees, how many members and how much money has passed through), and to register, or not, any changes to our governing document that we wish to make. Such changes only take effect once registered. It has been argued that the FCA take far less interest in actively regulating BPSISR than the Charity Commission would (which would be the case if we converted to a Registered Charity) and that this is to our advantage.
One way in which a Specially Authorised Society differs from, for example, a company is that it offers no “Limited Liability” (Many charities also have Limited Liability, although not all smaller ones) This legal invention may have been the lever that enabled and accelerated the emergence of mercantilism, imperialism and capitalism in Britain. It allows a group of private individuals to create a collective body (a corporation – a legally recognised ‘person’ in its own right) in which they invest for purposes of profit, BUT with the protection that their liability for any debts that that corporation incurs is strictly limited to the extent of the value of the shares they own, or in the case of a company limited by guarantee, to the limit of the guarantee they enter into (often £10). Hence the company can take risks no sane person would individually take, knowing that any profits are shared amongst them, but any disastrous losses can be written off with the sanction of the State. Sugar, slaves, spices, weapons, textiles, opium, timber and gems: the international trade in these that built the wealth of the British Empire was developed by entrepreneurs excited by the possibilities this opened up. When they were successful, they profited enormously. When a risky venture did not pay off, the company concerned was dissolved, and the shareholders walked away having lost the value of their shares, but no more. This is what is meant by the label “Limited Company”, or the suffix “Ltd”.
Braziers offers no ‘limited liability’ – the members are jointly and severally liable for any debts the Society might incur. While the Society owns a substantial asset in the shape of a country house and estate, this is solely a theoretical risk, but in event of misjudged loans, poor financial management and unexpected major costs the debts could exceed the assets, and any creditor could pursue through the courts any member for all the money owing. The creditors can choose who they pursue, and would be likely only to sue those with personal assets worth seizing.
This may be the source of member’s historic resistance to taking out loans (reluctance put aside several times in recent decades when individual members have loaned money for specific purposes.) There is also a keenness that insurance cover always be adequate: one uninsured fatal accident could cost the whole property and more.
Our current legal form allows us to continue as at present, and may continue to do so indefinitely, although at some point legislation could change this. (It was briefly a matter of political interest earlier this millennium when the outrageous benefits enjoyed by Public Schools were noticed. The possible stripping of their charitable status might incidentally have included Braziers. The response of that sector was to lobby its friends in Parliament and the senior Civil Service, and to present a fig leaf of public benefit in the small number of ‘disadvantaged’ youth they admitted at no cost, and the few steps they took to support state schools. Currently they seem to have been successful in seeing off that threat to their privileges although it could conceivably return if a socialist government were elected.)
There are several legal forms currently available. The most suitable for Braziers might be a “Society for the Benefit of the Community” (SocBenCom). In this instance, ‘community’ refers to a geographic or interest group external to the members of the organisation, maintaining the centrality of service to the public, or at least one segment of it. If Members were so agreed, a new organisation could be set up and registered, and then all assets and ongoing commitments could be transferred to that new organisation. Alternatively, several vehicles could be created, such as one holding the real estate, one operating as a social enterprise; and one focussed on delivering education, each with a legal structure and governing body most suited to that function, and of course all interconnected and mutually supporting.
The advantages could include
- Limited liability, thereby attracting a wider pool of experienced and skilled Members willing and capable of serving on the Committee of Management, and more creative financial agility.
- Ring-fencing risk, and therefore freeing us up to take more of it, which is the essence of experimentation.
- Comprehensibility: common legal forms would make it easier to engage lawyers and accountants as needed. Familiar structures would enable clearer lines of accountability (and liability)
- Locating decision-making power in those closest to the consequences, with necessary checks and balances.
Who owns Braziers? The short answer is the “Braziers Park School of Integrative Social Research”. There are two important caveats:
- If BPSISR were “incorporated” in an appropriate legal form, ownership would unambiguously lie with that organisation, but it is not clear that a ‘Specially Authorised Society’ is a legal person, in the way that a Limited Company clearly is in law. So ownership of all the Society’s assets lies with the members “jointly and severally” ie individual members cannot claim sole ownership of any part of the whole (although individual members could be pursued for any debts). This is closely related to Limited Liability (see above).
- As a charity, all the assets must be used for the benefit of others, not the owners, so in effect this is a stewardship, where the property is held in trust for the benefit of others (in this case, the ‘public’). Rather than enjoy any rewards or benefits from ownership, members have the burdens and responsibilities to ensure the assets are properly looked after and used for the charity’s aims
BPSISR is recognised as an ‘Exempt Charity’ by HMRC (meaning we are exempt from having to register with the Charity Commission, on the grounds that we are already registered with a different competent authority, NOT that we are exempt from the laws concerning charities).
The benefits of charitable status for Braziers are primarily:
- Council Tax and Business rates are much reduced for Charities, estimated fifteen years ago to be worth approximately £20,000 each year for Braziers
- Braziers can reclaim Gift Aid on donations from UK Income tax-payers. Currently this is worth a few hundred pounds per year.
- The reputational advantages: the public can easily recognise the organisation does not have commercial or selfish aims.
Potentially, charitable status makes it easier to raise funds from some grant-giving bodies; in practice though, those bodies which only grant funds to charities often stipulate ‘Registered Charities’, which Braziers is not. Most charities in the UK are established under the Charities Acts and are registered with the Charity Commission, which oversees them. This is not the route that Braziers took
One of the consequences of being a Charity is that Braziers is subject to an ‘asset lock’. This means that the assets of the organisation can only be used for the purposes of the organisation, and no amendment to our Rules can change that. Basically, it would be illegal for anyone to extract or divert wealth assembled under the privileges of being a charity, to other ends. Hence there is no dividend paid to the owners, and in the event of dissolution, all remaining wealth is required by law (and by our Rules) to go to other charitable organisations.
As a charity, we do not operate to produce a profit (a surplus available for division amongst the owners), but to carry out our aims. This does NOT rule out generating a surplus in any given period of time, in order that we can carry out our aims more effectively.
The law (and our Rules) obliges the organisation to use its assets SOLELY for its aims, and not for other purposes, however charitable, such as supporting the poor or providing social housing. If the members and residents at Braziers wished to do such things, we would have to create another vehicle for doing so.
It is fairly straightforward to register a new Charity to carry out aims in addition to the current aims (as “Friends of Braziers” currently is).
It is more complex to set up a non-charitable company that makes use of Braziers’ assets, and to demonstrate that this trading arm is not in effect using Braziers’ charitable status to subsidise it. Charity law exists in part to prevent the wealth of charities being extracted for personal or commercial gain.
It is probably impossible to take BPSISR out of the charitable sector altogether. To free up the community to pursue its own interests (rather than serve the public) would probably require it to raise the substantial funds required to purchase Braziers Park from BPSISR at a fair market rate. (This would then endow BPSISR with a substantial sum to support its educational activities into the future, and potentially free it from the cares of looking after property or generating income to support itself, so it could be a powerful win-win avenue to pursue.)
In the absence of this, those living at Braziers must accept they do so in service to altruistic goals, and cannot expect their own interests to be furthered except insofar as they are compatible with them continuing to serve those aims.
Braziers is governed by “The Rules” – a document of 27 clauses defining what the organisation can do (the Objects), how people are admitted ( Membership), how decisions shall be made ( Meetings) and who shall be responsible for carrying them out (Officers and Committee of Management), plus sundry other clauses. Anyone is entitled to a copy of the rules (upon payment of 10p) and Members are encouraged to familiarise themselves with them.
There have been a number of amendments over the years, although not as many as might be desired. (The Act under which the Society is regulated was updated in 1974 and 1992 and some of the changes from 1974 have still not been incorporated into the Rules.) To amend the Rules, proper notice must be given, a Motion passed at a General Meeting of the members, and the change be registered with the FCA ,who decline to register any change that is not in accordance with the relevant laws. No amendment takes effect until registered. So for example, a decision in 2009 to move the Annual General Meeting (AGM) from May each year to November was not accepted by the FCA, because the law requires our accounting year to run from 1 January to 31 December, and the AGM to occur within a set number of months of the end of each financial year.
The Rules lay out how members can change them with a motion to AGM or SGM (with the exception of a few ‘fundamental’ ones which cannot be changed, such as
- Rule 3 (i) The society is established for the purpose of promoting education pursuant to the Friendly Societies Act 1896 and the special authority of 10th April 1890.
Rule 4 Application of funds
- All monies received by the Society from any source shall be applied in carrying out the objects of the Society according to the rules
- No payments shall be made to Members of the Society other than such reasonable remuneration for their services…
The work of revising the rules requires patience, perseverance and some political judgement as to what members find palatable. To bring them in line with the latest Friendly Societies Act would require care and a mind capable of reading legalese; to bring them closer in line with how we actually (or wish) to operate would require some consensus as to what this would amount to, and a willingness to negotiate between the ‘best’ and the ‘achievable’; and to bring them to reflect contemporary standards of governance would require additional patience, perseverance and an ability to present such concepts to the members so that they would embrace them.
If we do not embark on creating a new legal vehicle for Braziers, it is basic good housekeeping to review and update the Rules on a regular basis. Even once a decade would be more responsible than our current level of neglect, however awkward the issues raised.
Regulations and other operational constraints
Owning property, accommodating people, providing services (accommodation, meals and tuition), employing people etc are all regulated by the State with innumerable laws and regulations.
Many are reasonable, although they are not necessarily compatible.
South Oxfordshire District Council has separate Officers concerned with different sets of rules, such as Planning Officers (to do with changing the use of land or buildings), Conservation Officers (to do with Listed Building issues) and Building Control Inspectors (to do with compliance with Building Regulations)
Local Authorities also supervise compliance with regulations regarding Fire Safety, Public Health, and Food Hygiene.
There is Employment Law, which pertains to the relationship with those who are regularly paid in return for work, and the Housing Act, relating to provision of rented accommodation.
And the Government requires us as an employer to collect and remit National Insurance and Income tax, and as a merchant to collect and remit VAT should our annual turnover for non-charitable activities exceed the threshold. (Recently the Exchequer floated the idea of bringing this threshold down to include virtually all trading sufficient to provide a livelihood)
Differently, we have insurance cover for various things including Public and Employer’s Liability, and our insurers also make requirements of us, without which we forfeit cover.
All these constraints are unexceptional and thousands of organisations comply with them as a matter of routine. Braziers has a tendency towards an amateur approach which disregards these laws, and would like to behave as if we are private householders, and possibly even as if the laws of the land no longer apply within our gates.
If we intend those coming after us to have no more difficult a challenge than ourselves, we have no option but to operate within the law. Or at least to be cognisant of the risks we take by operating outside what is normally legally permitted. (One example of this would be to develop property without consent and successfully gain a Certificate of Lawful Development if it is not contested after the legal interval – four or ten years depending on the details. The two caravans behind the dutch barn have such a certificate. The risk is that the Local authority might issue Enforcement Orders during that interval, with the ability to impose penalties if we do not comply)
The sensible course of action for us is to induct residents and new members of the Committee of Management into good practice in all these areas, and maintain connections with professionals and others in similar organisations to keep up to date with changing regulation.
Braziers both enjoys and suffers from its obscure legal structure. With a compelling vision (for example, a convincing picture of a radical institution designed to seek out the expertise and experience necessary for delivering an innovative education relevant to contemporary needs, and cognisant of contemporary funding possibilities) or through compulsion from changes in the Law, we might choose to alter our legal structure radically. Otherwise we shall probably carry on slowly improving and degrading between crises of competence and confidence.
EDUCATION AND WASHING MACHINES
by Anna Vavrova
I came across a record of a sensory meeting from 1997; I was struck by the fact that, at that time, the residents were asking themselves the very same questions we ask nowadays. The educational purpose of Braziers and its aims and purpose in general are issues that have been revisited again and again. What is it that Braziers should be offering to the outside world and is it doing its job well? What should it offer to the residents? Is it a place for living, a school, a business venue, a place to meet extraordinary and talented people, or just a way of life? I would like to offer a response to such questions from the perspective of a volunteer, who has revisited the place many times over a decade.
Braziers is certainly a home to a number of residents. It is also a business venue, since it must earn the money needed for maintenance of the buildings and the estate in general. It often becomes a life-changing experience for a great number of volunteers. Some may see it as their last stop, an idyllic and holistic way of life, surrounded by people, in a beautiful building in the countryside. For many, it is a transfer station, a junction stop for people who are at a crossroads and need a space in which to redefine themselves, relax, find a new sense of their existence, and move forward.
The name ‘School of Integrative Social Research’ implies education. But the form of education is quite unclear. Does it mean Braziers should be a place where researchers and academics live and work on their studies? Should it be a place where the residents offer and organise courses and events for the local community and use their talents and expertise? Or, should it be predominantly a place where people from outside come and organise courses and events on a variety of subjects such as permaculture, herbalism, druidism, yoga, or meditation?
Maybe Braziers is a school in the sense that all the people who come through it, whether as volunteers or residents, learn something new, be it maintenance skills, cooking, English, or the ability to communicate effectively and solve conflicts within a group. Braziers occupants may develop themselves in their acceptance of others’ religions, views, political opinions, and in their own spirituality, self-acceptance, and self-confidence. What if Braziers was a school like any other, a place where you go day after day and learn practical and theoretical things as well as acquire soft skills, and then continue on with your life, using what you have learnt and experienced at school?
The practicalities of life faced daily by residents and volunteers, such as generating enough revenue, repairing the buildings, looking after the estate and animals, and preparing food, are something like classes in maths, geography, and language. Everybody comes through the same school and learns the same things but uses them differently in their lives. Maybe this is the educational purpose of Braziers – to provide a ‘playground’, a safe space, in which the people who come through its doors can face challenges and problems, learn something about themselves and others, gain new skills and confidence, and then from this enriched experience make the world a better place.
Braziers is like a washing machine. It is always the same machine, doing the same circular movement but, all the time, it is different ‘laundry’ that comes in, improves itself, and comes out fresh and beautiful. Just as with a washing machine, there is an ever-present risk of shrinking, of colours fading and of damage and, therefore, it is important to know what type of ‘laundry’ comes through the door and how to set the machine correctly, so that it does not do any damage to the precious objects inside itself nor, indeed, to itself.
The fact that Braziers is maybe doing its schooling role successfully enough already is not to say that it cannot become better and more effective in achieving its goals. It is essential not to rely on the fact that it will always be here ready to be used and exploited; it is important to look after Braziers’ functional and spiritual development, experiencing new challenges and solving them, updating methods and practice to meet current needs while not forgetting its history and the lessons that others have learnt for us; we need to invest energy into using our potential and the potential of the place to make it into a better place both for ourselves and for those who will come after us.
UNLEASHING BRAZIERS’ POTENTIAL
by Seanna Rock
This edition of the research publication is focused on Brazier’s current identity and its connection and responsibility to a wider community. This article will consider those points on a global socioeconomic scale. There is a growing awareness of the need for a fundamental systemic overhaul to the way society works, if humans intend to have a place in the future of this planet of course. It will then be discussed that a growing number of intentional communities all over the world each have access to unique experience, information, skills and resources that need to be shared with each other and mainstream society. Specifically what resources does Braziers have to offer and what resources we need to source? This open source framework will improve what we all do and will also demonstrate that there are alternative ways to live together in harmony with each other and nature. Finally consideration will be given to creating a role within Braziers for someone to be responsible for making, maintaining and maturing links with other communities and the benefits of sharing the results with a seriously struggling but quickly evolving human race.
It is no secret and no longer contested that the 400 year reign of global capitalism is coming to a natural end. There is an endless production line of books from economic and social experts addressing the issue and considering alternative solutions. Also our ability to use the internet to freely exchange information without relying on biased propaganda machines is making it increasingly difficult for anyone to ignore the glaring inequality present all around us. While half the world are throwing food away the other half are starving. While six families control the vast majority of the world’s resources, the rest of us are getting further and further into debt. The only question that remains is ‘what next?’ as it is widely accepted that this system can’t be fixed, it has to change. In the fairly recent past this realisation has resulted in ill-fated discussions considering the merits of the known alternatives, namely communism and socialism. At a grassroots level these conversations are no longer necessary, people are waking up, taking action and many social movements are taking shape. There is an undeniable shift in global consciousness with unending reports about ‘millennials’ growing tired of the competitive uncooperative nature of the world into which they were born with little or no prospect of improving their lot through social mobility. Desperate attempts to get rich quick on reality TV and by buying lottery tickets is not a surprising result of the economic climate. Something has to change but there is very little point expecting that change to come from our world leaders. The change will come, as it always has done, directly from the people.
Community living and the idea of a sharing economy have become very real solutions to very real problems and Braziers residents have been practicing the art for much longer than most. It is time for us to share what we know and to find out what we can learn from the new kids on the block. The business aspect of Braziers is a necessary evil as survival in a capitalist world without money is near to impossible. It is time to consider how we can improve our commercial ventures to be more in line with our core goals. Education seminars, permaculture classes, meditation workshops all run by volunteers and residents and not for profit but to expand the knowledge of those outside the community and provide enough income to keep the operation running. Working towards self-sufficiency must be a higher priority and the skills and knowledge to do so are readily and freely available in other communities.
This year the Fellowship of Intentional Communities celebrated 30 years of collaboration with communities all over the world. To mark this occasion there have been a number of reports and blogs published with a clear theme running theme all suggesting that the last 30 years were a rehearsal, it is now time to get serious. There are 1484 communities listed on the FIC website alone, and there are so many more communities that haven’t yet registered with them. Each of these communities, whether they are co-housing, cooperatives, ecovillages, community gardens or tiny house projects have unique knowledge, insight and skills to share. Imagine the possibilities if all of those dots started to connect. We at Braziers have the opportunity to do that and be part of something truly remarkable. There has been a culture of seclusion from the outside world in the vast majority of intentional communities, which is not a surprising development. These communities are born and grow from their members’ desire for an alternative to the norm and, therefore, escapism and isolation is to be expected. However, individually each community cannot hope to become a fully sustainable isolated pocket of utopia within a world system that is increasingly unsustainable. There is huge potential if we start to connect and a wasted opportunity if we don’t. Intentional communities don’t need to be limited to grand houses, camps and abandoned lots. They can develop on city streets, in tower blocks, in village squares and leafy avenues. They are the future and it starts with us.
So what is Braziers at the current time? It can be argued that the answer to that is threefold. Braziers Park is currently a community, a commercial educational facility and an ongoing experiment into group dynamics. Now is the time for the experimental and educational elements of the project to get much needed additional focus and it could even be argued that this is a matter of some urgency. It is time to consider the responsibility Braziers has to gather and share the knowledge accumulated over the 60 years since its establishment. The potential impact Braziers could have on the world stage at this pivotal time in human history is not to be underestimated and we could get started immediately.
I have previously proposed that the position of a Community Exchange Co-ordinator be created for Braziers. This was primarily in response to the problem of ‘resident burn out’ which was described as a recurring issue resulting from residents failing to take time away from the responsibilities they have at Braziers in order to manage their long term health. Being a permanent and dedicated member of any community can be an immersive and consuming experience and taking time away from ones duties is often a consideration that is given too low a priority. The proposal was that a CEC would be responsible for arranging and facilitating member exchanges between communities to share skills and knowledge. However, it is now my assessment that a role of this type is even more important than previously stated and as well as arranging physical exchanges would also be instrumental in keeping Braziers connected and to and involved in developments in online communities. The benefits of having a resident who is dedicated to the facilitation of mutual exchange and cooperation include but are not limited to;
- Skills exchange
- Improved relationships between communities
- Physical and emotional health benefits for residents
- Global connection of communities
- Enriched diversity of experience and knowledge
- Opportunity for personal, emotional and spiritual advancement
- Lower turnover of permanent residents
- Outreach to local community
- Improved morale
No one involved with Braziers Park would disagree that with all its frustrations and limitations that it is the community spirit and sharing that makes it a wonderful and special place to be a part of. It is easy to see how mainstream society would benefit from adopting similar approaches to life. It is time to reach out to each other and start sharing skills, knowledge and best practice and demonstrate that Braziers is not an anomaly for a special type of human, but a model for how society could be. While we delay this natural progression the environment is running out of time to be saved. Those who have solutions and examples of alternative models for society have a duty and a responsibility to do all that they can to let the world see what is possible. It is time to unleash Braziers full potential and take this long running and incredibly successful social experiment to the next phase.
by Tom Glaister
We have nothing to sell but plenty to teach at Braziers, which is priceless. If we were running a business the first thing to go would be the resident community social experiment in integrative social research, and Braziers would no longer have a purpose. Whatever our integrative process it must be capable of adaptation and change. Therefore, it will inevitably become more complex over time as we consciously facilitate its development in order to live a life whole.
We are all conscious at Braziers of facilitating the efficient development of an organic process as our organizational and educational methodology. The following would be our unique selling point if we had anything to sell: “teach by being and learn by doing”. But I digress – what is the nature of this process? This integrative process follows the principles of biology, of which a basic understanding is essential, and is a living social organism capable of change and adaptation. It is a perpetual process of differentiation and integration with no particular end in mind. Differentiate/Integrate; Differentiate/Integrate; Differentiate/Integrate, ad infinitum (or some would say ad nauseum). This integrative process is not about achieving homogeneity. It is therefore capable of accommodating and celebrating our differences and unlike minds. It is a journey, which is of greater importance than any possible destination. The process is based on the idea that Human Nature is not static and can be changed. Therefore, for example it is about time that humanity realizes the competitive instinct is redundant and no longer relevant in a world where most get their needs met i.e. generally speaking a world of plenty. It is only the remaining gregarious instinct, promoted through intentional relationship and the innate need to understand “the self” at the individual level, that gives us, and therefore ourselves as humanity at the group level, a purpose.
Originally these ideas were developed at Summer Schools held at Whitwell Hall, the last home of Forest School, preceding the purchase of Braziers. The main contributors were Faithful, Whyte (who officially opened Braziers in 1950), Macmurray, and Glaister. Reading of The Next Development in Man by Whyte, The Self as Agent and Persons in Relation, by Macmurry, and Greater Things and The Gregarious Habit in Man by Glaister are essential to an understanding of the foundation of Braziers and what it has become today in the process of development.
John Macmurray challenged the notion of Descartes that “I think therefore I am” and said the correct aphorism is “I do therefore I am”. BPSISR took this to heart and decided that action over words was required. It was all very well talking about solutions to resolving conflict and willful destruction but something had to be done in the real world. So they purchased Braziers to put ideas into action.
Whyte spoke about how to resolve the problem of dualism with unitary thought through the development of process. More recently Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, who inadvertently planted the seed for behavioral economics in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, describes how the mind works according to two systems. If these two systems go unrecognized bad decisions result and they need to be consciously integrated in order to avoid delusion. His “system one” thinking could very well be describing Executive and “system two” Sensory.
After 65 years I wouldn’t say that the Social Organism using the voluntary resident community as our social experiment and the core basis for our research has made very much progress or taken significant constructive action in the world as intended. However, to my mind this isn’t a sign of its own failure or lack of relevance. It will take a long time to resolve and change the destructive and unconscious dualism of western culture, which is deeply ingrained in hearts and minds. It was why according to Greater Things Jesus chose to be crucified; because his disciples misunderstood and were incapable of carrying forward his message. One only has to look at the current dissatisfaction with geopolitics and the fact that globalization as an economic solution doesn’t work except for the rich and powerful (and not even for them ultimately). There is even now a lack of any coherent workable plan following the credit crunch of 2008 and in increasing desperation the people are now asking the lunatics to take over the asylum; so much for “power to the people”?
Many people who come into contact with Braziers can understand it intuitively, but not necessarily consciously or in a tangible way (those with an academic mind find it the most challenging). If they love Braziers they stay and contribute and if they don’t hopefully they have the good sense to leave in good time. If not they are either driven insane by perpetually swimming against the tide or eventually leave very dissatisfied but somehow thankfully unconsciously changed. Part of the beauty of the integrative process represented by the social organism is that anything has the potential to be changed. Unfortunately perhaps for them not our charitable purpose which is the organic integrative process itself! Therefore although comprehension of Sensory is not necessary in order to turn up and voice an opinion it is helpful in order to consciously facilitate its development i.e. growth through change. The problem is that to wholly comprehend the integrative process is also ironically to destroy it – because it is a perpetual learning process that never ends. There can never be a definitive definition of our integrative process because as more is learnt and understood its perpetual development is facilitated.
Part of the difficulty in the comprehension of Braziers integrative process is that a parallel development in language is necessary without which the multiple minds from which it is created cannot efficiently communicate according to a common set of agreed principles and therefore becomes impossible. A new language is essential to provide an accurate description of the (Multi-Mental) Social Oganism (“MMSO”) that can be communicated sufficiently to consciously facilitate its efficient development. This is a classic Catch 22. Communication along the neural pathways of the social organism, or the central nervous system perhaps, is essential to its development. At the moment the Social Organism is not particularly sophisticated and its growth limited by the abilities of the people currently willing to contribute. It is perhaps still embryonic. But it can only develop at a pace necessary to its proper development, which doesn’t make it wrong. At least Glynn expressed satisfaction with its progress over the first 40 years in Research Communications 13.
The social organism is potentially a multi-cellular living organism, which currently at Braziers is only comprised of two cellular types: one analogous to the soft adventurous interior of an organism, which is Sensory, and the other the hard protective exterior, which is Executive. Each made up of many minds and therefore the term MMSO. This MMSO can become anything it likes so long as it is recognizable as an organism, and a record of its development available for scientific validation. Therefore it must exist and be in development, whether you are conscious of it or not, otherwise Brazier doesn’t theoretically exist – and yet as you can see it really does!
In order to achieve differentiation Sensory and Executive are kept deliberately separate. Perhaps, for example each are comprised of different people meeting at different times. This is because the thought process of each is almost entirely and inherently different. The minds that make up Sensory have a different outlook on life to those minds that make up Executive and they must remain separate and differentiated. There is then an integrative synthesis between the two, which is in the main the responsibility of Executive, culminating in some form of consensus even if only fleetingly in a moment of time.
Inevitably this process cannot be strictly speaking hierarchical, particularly as it further develops, and therefore not strictly speaking legal either. Within this context thinking strategically is impossible and is to misunderstand the integrative process as something that is effectively an alternative to that narrow type of framing. A strategy is designed to achieve an outcome that ends once achieved and is often used to win something over somebody else, whereas the integrative process at Braziers is open ended and continuous. It defines itself as it develops. To postulate that Braziers needs to think strategically is to essentially miss the whole point.
Sensory seeks “excitement and adventure” and Executive seeks “safety and stability”. Of necessity for survival Executive will make expedient decisions based on what may have worked in the past, whereas Sensory will be more deliberative and want to work out a different way of doing things; perhaps completely different. There will be a perpetual tension between the two with Executive seeking stability and continuity and Sensory seeking adventure and change. Therefore it is part of the role of Sensory to question the assumptions of Executive. The whole process is defined by Whyte as “continuity within change and unity in diversity”.
Braziers will ultimately become one of many connected social organisms to form “the worlds largest local community” to adapt the propaganda used by HSBC to give the impression that there is nothing wrong with a global monolith because it can still operate effectively to meet local demands. However ours will be bottom up and not top down. Power at the level of individual communities which by definition are limited in size will replace the global elitism of the wealthy and powerful who whether capitalist or communist only have their own interests to heart rather than those of humanity as a whole. Once achieved there will be no need for an army or a police force as the local communities will be by definition self-governing. In the meantime the wealthy elite are busy willfully destroying our planet by control of the state who have been elected on a false platform with the general population under the illusion that they have been democratically chosen by them.
The integrative process at Braziers by its very nature is difficult to describe and can only become more complex as it further develops. In a consumerist society where everybody wants digestible sound bites and easy answers the social organism does not provide it. It cannot be described by a simple set of hierarchical club rules of the standard or “normal” organization; the type of organization that our educational system leads us to expect as normal. It can’t be understood by those standards, but inevitably that is what most people will attempt to measure it by and find it failing. The integrative process attempts to set a new standard. None-the-less we welcome all who share our aims and values as described in the foundation brochure contained within our rules; those who are willing to consciously facilitate further development of our integrative process.
The resident community is not a commercial proposition and doesn’t make financial sense in isolation, but is permitted to benefit from our charitable resource in return for carrying out a social experiment as the basis for Members integrative social research. We are our own research material. Without the aim of facilitating development of the social organism the resident community could not justify its own existence. It is too expensive. But in the context of a social experiment it is worth the price (hence my use of the term “priceless” at the beginning).
Therefore in summary the two component parts of the social organism in development think in very different ways: in a nutshell Sensory thinks outside of the box and is slow and deliberative and constantly questioning its own efficacy, whereas Executive has the easy job and thinks predictably and expediently making quick and obvious decisions. The synthesis of the two is the integrative process.
The important thing to remember is that the social organism is changing all the time and has an impact however small on the world by making people think about how it is possible to change human nature and that there are indeed different ways of exploring how to “live a life whole”.
WHO ARE YOU?
by Charlotte Lochead
Tired old man, alone but
Mostly often in the dark.
Now connected, smiling, holding
Orphaned lamb close to his heart.
poets, words of value,
Life in woodland with no rhyme;
Living, taking, kings and cowards,
Meaning what in space and time?
friends on well-trod byways,
Leaning heavy on their sticks,
Finding comfort, words on wild geese;
Muddy lifepaths where we slip.
brave warriors, stamping action,
Dancing, weaving, hands held tight;
Players playing, fiddlers fiddling,
Laughter rising through the night.
healer travelling homeward,
Buying shelter, owning tears;
Plan’s in place around the margins…
Peddling hopes, finding fears.
listening, teachers sharing,
Bread and stories from within;
Past and future, voices, choices…
Supper wasted in the bin.
pixie, grey-haired elder,
Finding space, and place, and part
Among the orchestrated wonders:
Kindness, glory, and a dart.
thieves, in cobwebbed corners
Now exposed by open doors.
Abusers spotlit, shining darkside,
‘Ignore it’, ‘Take that!’ ‘Is this yours?’
Finding, giving, time-shaped futures,
Meanwhile processing our pasts.
Moving on now, who will follow,
Out beyond the icy blasts?
you live here? Can we join you?
Are the faces misty eyed?
Still not there yet, changing game rules,
No one heard us, we’re outside!
‘Thank you’, thank yous, all love rounding.
As we live, so maybe learn
That there’s still fire out on the margins –
Grateful, warming, sometimes burned.
(Written the night of the Braziers Park Wider Community Weekend, 17 Feb 2018. With thanks to Aggie Forster and Cliff Jordan for making it happen!)
Just in case you haven’t already seen it, here’s an embed version of the documentary about us.
Especial thanks to Nick Jordan and Clara Casian [(c) 2017] for making this film and for allowing us to share it on.