Teaching Permaculture at Grow Heathrow

Yesterday I had the privilege to go and teach a session about permaculture at Grow Heathrow.  I responded to a request for a permaculture teacher to come and do a session introducing permaculture to the group of artists that were staying there for a residency.  I loved the idea of combining permaculture with art and activism.  What an exciting edge to be working at.  I felt really strongly permaculture and activism because of the people care ethic that is integral to permaculture and often omitted in activism.  This seemed like a great opportunity.

During the ToT course, I realised that it wasn’t just a great opportunity for me, but also for others.  So I mentioned it to a few of the trainee teachers.  A few of them ummed and ahhhed, so I figured I was going by myself.  So I packed my bags and was just about to set off to get the train when I got a text from Bex. ‘Hi is it today you are going to Heathrow?  I’m not sure I can… are you getting the train? …’  After a brief chat and a Plus Minus and Interesting Evaluation, we agreed I would book a ticket online for her, she would pack some lunch, juggling balls and hula hoops.  In less than an hour we were on the train munching our picnic and planning our session.  Then we were on the underground and then tried to walk to Sipson.  Impossible.  You have to get a bus out of the airport.  So then we got a bus and then walked.  We deliberated got there early so that we could see the site in the day light and get a sense of the place.   It was worth it.

all photos in this post are by Bex Harris

Grow Heathrow is one of the most inspiring projects I have been to for a long time.  That is nothing to do  with their political stance about the runway, or squatting the site, for that matter.  What was inspiring was what they were achieving: greenhouses were being repaired, bixes were being fixed, clothes exchanged, houses built, community developing, art programs running, food growing, chickens running around, showers being had, a free shop being run and much more.  All with minimal negative impact on the site.  In fact quite the reverse.  They were re-using and recycling and really bring back the market garden that it once was, and so much more.

There was a real sense of care that seemed to underlie everything that happen.  The little details reflected that care.  There was a real sense of belonging and not just to the site but to the community. The artists that were there were designing an exhibition they were hosting on Saturday that was very much directed to the local community.  This is done inspite of a court order and not knowing what might happen to the project in the long term.

We observed some of the artists residency, in particular reflecting on ideas people had and thinking about how to pull it all together.  It was fascinating to hear a group designing something without the permaculture design process.  It was clear to both of us that they were going between survey, assessment, design, implementation in no particular order.

Despite the session happening before dinner when everyone was pretty mentally exhausted and a bit tired, people really participated in discussing the ethics and the design process.  We designed the session to be pretty lively, and started with a bit of a jig which was fun.  Given that we had about an hour and a lot that we wanted to get in, we had to design in carefully.  We did a definitions game, gave a bit of background.  Went to explain and discuss the ethics, and then moved on to the design process with a brief design exercise.  Bex ended up teaching most of the session, and did really well.  She was much more nervous during the ToT compared to doing for real!  Many carried on the conversations over a lovely dinner at which we were made to feel very welcome.  It was fascinating to hear the responses to the design cycle and the  reactions against spending time doing the surveying, assessing and designing before implementation.

We both left feeling like we there was so much more to share, and hear how they might incorporate permaculture into their art, practice and lives.  As well just wanting to come back and help out.

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