Tuesday 22 November 2016

What A Time For A Party… By Phil Ralph

So, I spent three weeks leading up to what shall henceforth be known as Trumpageddon away from home on a combined silent meditation retreat and workshop with my teacher, Margaret Wheatley. Without going into detail suffice it to say that in this crazy, frenetic, overstuffed world I heartily recommend some serious silence and contemplation.

Before I went away into the silence, my partner Fern – creative powerhouse and all round innovative thinker and doer – had nothing whatsoever planned. Some reading, some thinking, some dog walking. I would get back in early November and we would slide our way into the dark, cosy days of winter without too much on the agenda.

Imagine my surprise then when I reconnected to the internet, checked my emails and discovered that, almost overnight, Fern and a group of serial troublemakers – sorry, fellow creative powerhouses – Chris Bird-Jones, Phoebe Gauntlett, Thom Hill, Yanis Paikos, Jo Langley, Anna Piggott, Donna Males and Patrick Driscoll had decided that, a year on from our three events to mark the COP21 climate talks in Paris, we should host a one-off party to celebrate the amazing and innovative work that is going on in Swansea.

The event – entitled COParty 22 to coincide with the final day of this year’s COP (Conference of Parties) 22 in Marrakech – would bring together changemakers and innovators from around the city and county of Swansea to highlight and celebrate all the extraordinary grass-roots work that is going on in the areas of sustainability, environmental activism and community. And, most important of all, it would be a party! A celebration of all that is positive and outward looking. A (deeply compassionate) two-fingers to the doom-mongers and the naysayers who insist that 2016 has been the very worst year on record. They might not be completely wrong but they’re certainly not wholly right and we can prove it!

Friday 18th November 2016 dawned bright and breezy and the team began work in the same fashion. Yanis and myself convened at the home of spectacular cook, Judy Roots, to prepare huge, steaming pans of vegan tagine made from vegetables grown locally by Cae Tan (about whom more below), alongside tray after tray of carrot cake and luscious chocolate brownies. Meanwhile, Fern, Chris, Anna, Nazma and Phoebe – alongside various other assorted helpers, met at Volcano Theatre in the Iceland Building at the heart of Swansea’s now-famous High Street Cultural Hub and proceeded to transform the space into a little piece of Marrakech for the evening.

Judy Roots serves Vegan Tagine

Doors opened at 7pm and the space rapidly filled up with a wide variety of enthusiastic people, keen and eager for some good news and some good times. There was plenty to occupy them. In the small pop-up cinema, trailers and films from all the projects to be featured in the evening’s presentations played on a loop. My personal favourite being the incrediblymoving and beautiful film of the Awel Aman Tawe wind turbines being lifted into place on a cold autumnal morning. There was also a book shed where a range of publications dealing with issues around environmental activism, sustainability and spirituality could be perused. Another corner featured a table tennis table which did good service throughout the evening. And popping up throughout the space, Ross and Peter offered anyone who asked a game of 5asideCHESS, a terrific initiative seeking to generate conversation and connection through the oldest board game of all.


And, of course, the wonderful food provided by Judy Roots!

Once the crowd had reached critical mass (and we’re delighted and also saddened to say that we rapidly reached our capacity of 200 people and were forced to turn a few people away…) the evening began in earnest as the Aber Taiko drummers focussed everyone’s attention before Fern and I took the stage to set the scene. Then Jo and Ronnie brought more of the North African flavour with some beautiful belly dancing (which was a VERY tough act to follow) and then Fern and I began to introduce the evening’s speakers.

MC's Phil & Fern in Action

First up was Dan McCallum of Awel Aman Tawe. This extraordinary local initiative has, after 18 years of opposition and prevarication, harnessed local support and raised the funds to erect two huge wind turbines that will power 2,500 homes with all profits going towards local initiatives. This is a true example of local people working together to support each other towards a better future and it was a delight to have Dan with us. Shares are still available to support the project.

Awel Aman Tawe Turbines at Sunset

Next up was Tom O’Kane from Cae Tan, a Community Supported Agriculture project located on the Gower peninsula that is growing and supplying fabulous, locally grown organic veg to members throughout the year. They also offer opportunities for volunteering and learning for schools groups and local visitors. The food they produce tastes so much better than anything you can buy through mass produced agriculture and it was terrific to hear Tom speak about it so passionately.

And so the evening progressed. Speaker after speaker proved time and again that Swansea is teaming with local initiatives in the arts, creativity, sustainability and ecology – Down to Earth, the Environment Centre, Swansea News Network, Gower Power, VocalEyes, the Gaian Eco-village Project – the list goes on and on. As each speaker spoke it became apparent that this is a town and a community that is simply not waiting for those in power to decide to change how we do things. People in Swansea are doing it already! An crucial part of the evening was the significance of connecting the arts and creativity to sustainable initiatives. Increasing numbers of artists are committed to 'socially engaged' arts practices, and are now in Lucy Neal's words, "making art as if the world mattered". Hearing from Creative Wales Ambassador, Owen Griffiths and creating an enormous mural with Nazma Ali were high points of the evening for many.

Kate Denner from Down To Earth

Another burst of awe inspiring (and stomach massaging!) Aber Taiko drumming punctuated the evening in style before the party began in earnest. Those who wanted to follow up the speakers and ask more about their initiatives scattered to the four corners of the huge space at Volcano whilst Owen Griffiths and DJ Dave Phillips span the vinyl to keep the party going.

Aber Taiko Drummers in Action

It was a great night.

Now, those that know me will know that I’m usually the cynical, dour, ex-Yorkshireman predicting doom and disaster from the corner of any party of optimists. And, heaven knows, there is much to be afraid of in the current global and political landscape. But on this night, in this old shop, in a city where, as comedian Frankie Boyle recently said, “life would go on asnormal” in the face of global catastrophe – on this night I could see how being together with others, putting aside divisions and differences and working together for the good of all, could lead to a new and enriching way of life. Not only could it, it already is doing. We don’t have to imagine a more positive future. It’s already here. All we have to do is stand up and say we want to be part of it.

Frankly, if this is what Fern and Chris and Anna, Yanis and Jo come up with when I go away on retreat then I may have to go away more often… but then I’d miss all the fun.

Philip Ralph is a writer and a Director of Emergence

Images by Thom Hill and Ross Smith

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