To create a radically different, sustainable, people and planet friendly future we as individuals and as communities need to need to learn a lot of new things and re-learn a lot of old things. In Transition communities this is known as re-skilling or even the Great Reskilling to denote the magnitude of what needs to be achieved.
Likewise, The New Economy Coalition (NEC) has a mission to:
“support all those who might contribute to an economy that is restorative to people, place, and planet, and that operates according to principles of democracy, justice and appropriate scale. ……We support a just transition to a new economy that enables both thriving communities and ecological health.”
The (NEC) defines re-skilling and its effects in these terms:
“The Great Re-skilling continues the emphasis on re-localization, starting from the position that greater local production will require us to relearn many skills that have been forgotten. From agriculture to manufacturing to the provision of local finance, returning to appropriate scale means equipping ourselves with the means to do so. Becoming less passive in terms of consumption and production we will start to regain our autonomy, which will extend to culture and arts, where we see the beginning of a life-enhancing renaissance. This is not the case only for the economy and for the arts, however; local decision-making based on active participation will be most effective when people are well informed about what makes their local economy tick and what makes public services able to achieve the best outcomes. Achieving consensus requires as full an understanding of these issues as possible.”
In practice this means the general population getting to grips with a potentially huge number of new skills. But not everyone needs to learn everything, we can choose what we enjoy and pursue that. Phillip Barnes of Transition Town Media lists an inventory of skills featured in the 2014 Transition US Survey:
“Canning food, gardening skills of all sorts, demonstrating solar and alternative energy systems, soap making, weaving, bee keeping, animal husbandry, creating a sense of place, maintaining bicycles, making rocket and masonry stoves, creating and using greywater systems, cooking and preparing food, sewing, mending, darning, making cheese, making bread, teaching and employing permaculture principles and techniques, making herbal and natural medicines, practicing meditation, butter churning, seed saving, making homemade cleaning products, practicing vermiculture, preparing for emergencies, rainwater harvesting, building and constructing with natural materials, practicing hugelkultur, sailing, practicing aquaculture, making paper, mushroom growing, knitting,composting, solar cooking, foraging, dehydrating food, trapping gophers, planting and pruning fruit trees, felting wool, making yogurt, making charcoal, fish seining, producing videos, deer hunting, yurt building, scything, carving spoons, home brewing, spinning fiber, practicing shiatsu massage, making furniture, making tools, welding, soldering, purifying water, making fire, making music, storytelling, crowdfunding, making ropes and cords, practicing first aid, preparing and tanning hides, woodworking, knife and tool sharpening, repairing small engines, designing environmentally friendly houses to passive standards, maintaining a chainsaw, making tofu, butchering a chicken, wreath making, smoking meat, building wind-powered water pumps, conducting green funerals, making maple syrup, building electric motorcycles, grafting trees, making sausage, making beeswax candles, tying fishing flies, maintaining horse hooves, and making biodiesel.”
There is a lot of fun to be had in the process of learning and transmitting these traditional skills, crafts and practices as well as inventing new, appropriate ways that fit for our current and future situation. Many of us do not have the luxury of earning a living doing something we are passionate about. But we can use our leisure time to develop interests and skills that we love and in time perhaps master one or two things to a very high standard. Some of the things I grew up learning such as sewing, mending and darning don’t necessarily sound that much fun (to me) if I was doing them on my own, but if you create a community gathering around these skills you may find people will come out in all weathers to participate. This has been the experience of Caroline Jackson and the ‘Sewing Cafe’ in Lancaster.
There are an incredible number of opportunities to learn new skills. Many Transition groups run re-skilling events, but there is no shortage of other free and low cost options around. I will be making as comprehensive a list as I can on the re-skilling page of this blog, but that will take some time. So to be going on with here are a few examples of the myriad of choice that is on offer:
The Down to Earth Foundation, runs courses including making a straw bale courtyard, building your own wood burner, basketry and more.
Lincolnshire County Council runs a Heritage Skills Centre with courses including blacksmithing, pottery and tile making, plus much more.
In Shropshire, near my home there is Acton Scott Farm which runs courses in working with donkeys and horses, blacksmithing, smallholding, wood working, stone walling, hedge laying and more. It is where the BBC TV Victorian Farm was filmed and reminds me of the option of learning through volunteering at a living history museum or similar organisation; for example Blists Hill Victorian Town (also in Shropshire) or Bede’s World in Jarrow.
Then there are the historical re-enactment socieites such as Weorod in Hampshire. Such societies know about fighting and battles but also have huge expertise in old ways of doing things. Understanding the history, geography and archeology of your area is also potentially a valuable part of re-constructing the future.
In a more technological vein the courses on offer at The Centre for Alternative Technology in Machynlleth range from short courses in eco refurbishment to post graduate courses in sustainable technologies, architecture and more.
Or if you want something that is global and all encompassing see what is on offer at Shumacher College such as the forthcoming course on Right Livelihood.
“Join us for a year-long transformative learning journey that aims to align your livelihood with a deeper purpose in service of happiness and well-being of people and planet. During this programme we will explore what is wrong with the current system and why it is not delivering well-being for people and planet. We will look at the seeds of new possibilities and what it is we need to let go of for the new to emerge. We will search for the path towards our own right livelihood.”
In the United States there is already a big emphasis on Re-skilling within Transition and also a rich heritage of homesteading and associated crafts and skills. Some examples of what is on offer include:
“The Ann Arbor ReSkilling Festival and monthly events aim to help people learn skills for resilient, low-energy living—from canning to meditation to quilting and starting a garden. The concept of reskilling is about preparing for our low-energy future by acquiring new skills related to what we eat, wear, use and live in. As Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins points out, “We no longer have many of the basic skills our grandparents took for granted.” Reskilling means providing for ourselves and our communities by growing, preserving, creating, building, and teaching.”
“A2FS is an organization composed entirely of volunteers who team up with the community to provide free, accessible and inclusive classes, skillshares, workshops, discussion groups, and events that promote the mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, skills, and smiles here in Ann Arbor (and Ypsilanti) Michigan, USA!”
What a brilliant idea is a Freeskool! I have now found out that there are 27 other Freeskools, US and Canada andbefore I began the research for this post I had never heard of them.
And of course I must mention training in permaculture which is a brilliant foundation for the future. I think you will get the idea by now. There is actually an enormous range of things available to do and all we have to do is to go and join in. With a bit of research I can just about guarantee that you will find something that you would just ache to do once you know it is possible.
As I’m asking you all to learn something new I have to say what I plan to do – for a number of years my main focus has been making my garden more edible and productive, but I now I want to extend my skills in other directions as well. I am particularly interested in fermenting foods, getting back to making bread, making leaf curd and also learning to spin, and possibly then to weave. I am fascinated by the possibility of growing my own fibre – from flax or nettle perhaps (but there are other possibilities as well); then processing the fibre and making things with it. Over the coming twelve months I will write about how I get on with these things.
And finally please click on the link and read this post from Well Being Farm, a place that aims to bring all these threads and more into an organic whole. It is quite long but very inspiring, the quote below gives a brief flavour:.
“The mission of Wellbeing Farm is to provide the means to survive the decades ahead as individuals, communities, and bioregions; to determine pragmatic implementable methods of transitioning away from the use of fossil fuels, and to do this as peacefully, equitably, and intelligently as possible. We will help to create ethical lifestyle changes, teach appropriate technologies that provide benefits rather than cause harm, foster self-reliance, and promote Slow technology through hands-on practice for students, professional practitioners from rural, suburban, and urban areas. We will do so by taking lessons from nature, through care and love of the environment, by developing the skills necessary in all areas of life, and by incorporating the values of care of the earth, care of people, ethical sharing of any surplus, and by teaching that actions have consequences, and that we have responsibilities for ourselves and others.”
“We live at a fascinating point in history. The convergence of challenges, most particularly global warming and peak oil, have brought us to a point where we are profoundly challenged to act. We are surrounded by “experts” telling us that this means the end – that we have gone too far, that it is inevitable that life as we know it will collapse catastrophically and very soon. Yet, at the same time, something very powerful is stirring and is taking root the world over. People are choosing life and are manifesting that in their lives and their communities. People are starting to see “peak everything” as the Great Opportunity, the chance to build the world they always dreamed of.”
For my part I am sure that our collective future can be very bright – with a population growing in both skills and becoming more connected within their communities new ways of being and doing will begin to coalesce into new ways of living we cannot as yet foresee. So here’s your chance to play your part – find your passion, use it, grow it, teach it, spread it.