Two courses in Birmingham coming up

May 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m really looking forward to co-facilitating these two innovative courses in Birmingham later this year. If you’ve never been to Woodbrooke, it’s a beautiful oasis in Birmingham, easily reachable by public transport.

Bookings now being taken – click on the links below for pricing and booking details.

24 – 26 June (with Maud Grainger): Resilience in Ourselves and Our Communities

In this participatory course, we will be considering resilience; in ourselves and others as well as resilience in communities. Can we build resilience or plan to be resilient? We will reflect on our own experiences and look at scenarios where communities have responded to a situation (e.g. a flood or a riot). This course will take into account current events as well as opportunity to discuss situations in your area if you are willing to share these examples.

21 – 23 October (with Judith Peacock): Negotiating Permanent Change

This course is for professional practitioners as well as those with a personal interest; CPD Certificate available. The past decade has resulted in dramatic, irrevocable change that has affected our lives and our expectations for the future. Financial shifts, environmental changes, reduced security, ageing, and lowered expectations for our children and ageing relatives have left many of us feeling anxious, as well as shaken our faith. This practical, hands-on workshop is to help us share our feelings and examine our responses. Discussion, writing and art exercises can help us reflect, generate new options, and respond with a little more faith and resilience.

Both courses are at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, Birmingham.


Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m speaking in York on Monday 21 July.

Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

Learning from 18th Century American Friends’ journey to abolitionism: parallels for our responses to climate change

This is as a result of some personal research I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. My aim has been to examine how an organisation and its communities made a fundamental internal change over an issue which every member was connected to, directly or simply as a citizen of a society in which slavery was embedded. I hope that there is enough similarity between the two contexts to draw some useable suggestions for approaches and ways forward, today, in responding to climate change.

Chaired by Danielle Walker, Director, Friends Provident Foundation

Monday 21 July, 7.30 pm, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

Copy of my paper here: Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change.

Contact me for more information or to respond to the paper: 07986 016804,




“… a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was privileged to hear Piers Forster give a talk in Leeds last week – he is one of the lead authors on the recently-published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report

This two-size Summary for Policy Makers makes for easy reading:

From Dr Forster’s presentation, I took away the awareness that the carbon emissions to date are such that there will be little difference, regardless of the short-term steps we take, in warming in the next 30 to 40 years.

On that basis, adaptation (responding to the immediate effects of climate change on people and communities) need to be as equal a priority in the short term, as our efforts to mitigate future change.

Beyond those 30-40 years, however, the predictions change wildly based on whether we continue with business as usual or whether we can move successfully towards an economy and lifestyle low in carbon (and also low in methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two other atmospheric significant drivers).

So the more we strengthen now our capacity to mitigate future emissions, the more manageable the future will be.

The quotation in the title of this post refers to carbon emissions. The Summary for Policy Makers states:

“Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond (see Figure SPM.10). Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.”

In short, as regards carbon emissions, the legacy of the future is already set for years to come.

But I’m also struck by the phrase “a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”.

What if that phrase was used to describe our collective response: substantial enough and relevant enough to meet the scientific and social evidence, with a two-hundred year timescale in mind, and the commitment, energy and resources to match?

Learning from my own resilience

September 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Building on my previous post on resilience, I want to look at community resilience from the viewpoint of what I know about my own personal resilience.

My working definition of community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering.

If I reflect on my own resilience, my thoughts are:

My capacity for resilience fluctuates – in other words, it’s not something like, say, a hammer which once bought is pretty much always there, unchanging and available as needed.

I need others sometimes to help me find my resilience. One way of doing this is for me to watch when they are in my eyes acting resiliently, and to seek inspiration in their behaviour.

I can act in a resilient way even if I don’t feel very resilient. Is this just a deeper layer of resilience, which I need at times to dig deep for? In any event, at times I am like a bumblebee: science may say I can’t fly, but I sometimes I can fly only because I think I can.

For me, my resilience is fundamentally a mental rather than a physical quality. Physical well-being and exercise play their part in nurturing resilience. But it feels more that my resilience is about my will and belief to keep going regardless of my physical condition. And as part of my resilience relates to my Crohn’s Disease (an inflammatory bowel disease), the ability to find courage, strength and persistence in times of less-ability is crucial.

Again for me, my resilience to keep going is linked to my values and my beliefs. Resilience gives me courage to work for things in the future because they seem worthwhile to strive for, not necessarily because they have a good chance of succeeding.


If I take this into communities, perhaps the following might be helpful comparators:

If my own resilience fluctuates, my guess is that that’s true for others and on a bigger scale when applied to members of a community. This probably makes it all the harder to predict how a community may react, or to be confident in the durability of any one-off assessment of the community’s resilience.

Community members can act as inspirations for each other, enabling them to take steps they wouldn’t normally take (this can lead to negative as well as positive behaviours, of course).

And one way for community members to build resilience is by getting to know each other, building relationships and getting through tougher times together.

I finished the previous blog by wondering if resilience was about ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times. I might now add that they are relying on relationships created in ordinary times but which stand firm in extraordinary times.

Resilience: ordinary people in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things

September 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have been invited to a round-table on the theme of Resilience, taking place later this month. Though our focus will include building resilient Quaker communities up and down the country, the invitation has prompted me to think about resilience generally.

What is resilience in a community context? How can one diagnose the strength of a community’s resilience? And, how can resilience be encouraged?

This post is a record of my early thinking, and there is much out there on the subject already, so I’m not claiming any new learning. I would be very interested in any responses, or any useful resources you know about, and I’ll share here what people suggest to me.

Resilience seems relevant to a great range of events which have their impact locally. To name a few:

  • climate change
  • the ending of local industries or other significant employers
  • the local impact of national financial austerity or economic downturn
  • freak weather events
  • pandemics
  • corporate invasion, such as mining or fracking companies – see The Pipe for a great documentary example (
  • the threat of violence, or actual violence – whether from within or from external sources
  • high population churn, or the arrival of new residents into a previously settled community.

What is resilience?

The dictionary of course is a great place to start. Its entries on resilience gave me two ways in which resilience can be looked at. The perhaps more familiar understanding is resilience as the ability to withstand shock, suffering or disappointment. From a physical point of view, however, resilience is the ability of a substance to recover its form and position elastically. I like the image of that elastic rebounding, back into shape after managing a challenge.

So I take community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering. The sense is of a community ‘bouncing back’ – though unlike a piece of elastic, a community is likely to bounce into a different shape than it was before, with changes to relationships and probably some people in a place of greater or lesser resilience than before.

There must also be a link to the comparative fragility or strength of a community – if it was weak before, my assumption is that it will find it harder to respond to shocks. There will be communities that are resilient in anticipation of shocks; and there will be communities that develop resilience only once a shock or traumatic incident arises.

And before I get too far along this journey, I need to affirm that communities are made up of people; and so resilience – or its absence – will be expressed in what people think and believe, what they feel, and what they do. A community responding to a shock, will be demonstrating a network of human stories – with examples of altruism and generosity alongside moments of selfishness and aggression.

Can we then measure how resilient a community may be?

CarnegieUK Trust and the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice in 2009 published Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change. It has a simple model which leaps off the page for me. It identifies four dimensions of community resilience building, in which “work in one area is likely to benefit and amplify that in another”. It also works as a diagnostic tool: how far do we assess our community as having:

  • Healthy people: supporting individuals’ physical and psychological well-being;
  • An inclusive, creative culture: generating a positive, welcoming sense of place;
  • A localised economy – within ecological limits: securing entrepreneurial community stewardship of local assets and institutions.
  • Cross-community links: fostering supportive connections between inter-dependent communities.

If this model is taken at face value – and there must be many similar versions, highlighting different aspects of communities and of resilience – then we also have a model of starting points for the ‘how’ of community resilience building. I’m sure there is much more for me to learn about the how; and what of the many efforts in resilience-building around the world can be replicated or adapted.

I wonder how many examples of resilient communities are in essence the coincidental combination of ordinary people, in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things.

NB This is the first of four posts on the Resilience theme: click the Resilience tag in the right hand margin to see the other posts.

Tackling tough issues and working with hope

June 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

There’s no doubt of the value of people across diverse or divided communities, being able to reach out to each other, challenge myths and prejudices, and find ways of building local resilience.

Are you involved in, or interested in supporting this “good relations” work?

My friends/colleagues at, together with International Alert, and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, are running a series of regional meetings for practitioners and managers.

Starting next week, the events will explore setting up a national coalition of good relations organisations which could improve the voice, practice and visibility of good relations work in England. The events will include the chance to discuss local divisive narratives and how you are currently tackling them, and impact measurement.

My connection to this is that Talk for a Change and I are in conversation about how to establish rigorous and realistic impact assessment models for community dialogue and facilitation. And in my consultancy work with the Newcastle Conflict Resolution Network, and in shaping co-design processes for patients and clinical staff, I’m interested in how those who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, can find ways of hearing each other’s voices and build a culture of greater understanding and empathy.

Details of the Talk for a Change regional meetings are here. Organised so far:

24th June in Stockwell, London

27th June in Manchester

2nd July in Warrington

15th July in Newcastle

11th September in Leeds

With other regions to be planned.

Collation of guest blogs available

May 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Woodbrooke has put together a compilation of my three Good Lives’ Blog guest posts, exploring British Quakers’ commitment to becoming a low carbon sustainable community. The .pdf is available here.

In an authorly sort of way I’m very pleased with them, but would of course welcome any feedback, or be in touch to continue the discussion about these complex global issues.

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