Ahhhh its not often you go to a conference and feel your heart swell with happiness. But, that’s what happened at CUexpo, Community-University Expo: Engaging Shared Worlds in Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. Not only did i meet a very interesting bunch of people that cared passionately about social and environmental issues, but they were also doing lots to make a difference, not just rabbiting on about it.
I was invited to join a group of Brits, led by Professor Sarah Banks, from around the UK to deliver a workshop on ethics and participatory based research. Previously, I’d used the guidelines to review the participatory (citizen science) experiment that I coordinated, Turing’s Sunflowers.
I decided to make the most of it, by tying in a visit to New York to attend the Social Games for Change Festival and to visit urban garden projects as part of Everyday Growing Cultures, which i was making a film about.
I landed in Toronto and stayed alone overnight at the airport before heading out to the Grenfell Campus of Memorial University in Cornerbrook via teeny tiny Deerlake airport. I think the community spirit all started at this airport. There was only one shuttle service operating and lots of people wanting to get to campus – so it went without question that you shared a cab.
The Grenfell campus was very much like what i imagined going to University would be like prior to stepping foot onto a campus. Before I started as an undergraduate at the University of Manchester I imagined that all the students would go to breakfast in a huge sports hall and lived in tiny jail-sized rooms just off the sports hall. The Grenfell campus was exactly like this and suited me down to the ground. Breakfast was served each morning before 8am in the giant Pepsi stadium, and promptly followed by an opening plenary, workshops all over the campus and long walks out into the countryside. Whilst there were the usual dignitary and academic high faluting plenaries, community folk had the chance to inspire and fire up our imaginations too.
I was particularly touched by community activist, Susan Gust’s, plenary, where she invited us to live inside our hope for change. When times are tough and you have no control over what happens to you, sometimes, hope is all you have…. hope and creativity…
One of the questions for the forthcoming Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Grantholders Day’s is about community. I liked this video by Ali Campbell, which uses performance to create a temporary community.
In essence, how can you make people feel at home? Welcome enough to take off their coat, to sit in the chairs, to eat the food you’ve laid out, to voice their opinion, to ask questions, to challenge you, to explore, to go beyond what you both know.
Anyway, the change of scene, weird food, new people, the greenery, telling stories by candle light, the contradiction of incredible beauty in the heart of rural poverty, exchanging books and songs, swimming in the early afternoon, all brought my heart back from the middle aged brink of wondering, what’s life all about anyway?
AHHhh SIGH 🙂
Afternote: My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living. Anais Nin