A conference with a difference at Comrie Croft

The sun shone on those of us attending Scottish Communities CAN’s Autumn Unconference 2015 – Making Time to Take Time, at Comrie Croft on 5th and 6th of September.

The intention was precisely as in the strap line – to make the time to take time to meet and share with others involved in the challenging work of community climate action with the hope of coming away re-energised and refreshed.

unconference6The idea was to keep programming to the minimum, keeping space instead for people to focus on what they really wanted to talk about at the time. We used ‘open space’ and ‘world cafe’ to help this happen and from the feedback we got it worked like a dream! 

“I never want to go to a normal conference again after this!
” ● “There’s been time and space to make proper connections with others” 
● “It can be difficult to deal with the intensity of unconference1the subject matter (climate change) when you 
don’t have time to connect so deeply with others – it’s easier with more time and space” 
● “This is a more human way to meet” 
● “Sharing of information and ideas is much greater than in a more formal setting”●  “The diversity of people has been great” 
● “This feels more natural 
● “There are fewer people here, but it’s been more valuable” 
● “Everything has felt supportive, whether it’s been potato printing or more formal learning 
sessions” 
● “Gave permission to people to be themselves” 
● “You always think twice about giving up a weekend for something ‘worky’ relaxed, sociable, 
pleasurable – you have a nice time.” ● “Loosely structured networking – more like socialising”
● “fits with the values we’re always trying to express in our work” ● “nice environment is really important
”● “speaks to human needs – we relate to each others as humans!”

unconference9We deliberately opened the event up to children, who had their own ‘Way of the Woods’ programme, expertly led by Joanna Boyce and Philip Knight from Creative Artworks. This was very well received, both by the children themselves and their parents while everyone really appreciated having children present:

“I wouldn’t have come if there hadn’t been childcare”
●  “It is so nice for my daughter to have something fun to do instead of kicking her heels 
waiting for me while I’m at a meeting.” 
●  “Kids coming is REALLY helpful” 
●  “it normalises caring about climate change for kids” 
●  “no excuse not to come” 
●  “you don’t loose the whole weekend away from family – can spend time with them too” 
●  “Liked the session where kids and adults did potato print bags together – more of that would 
be good “

By contrast, ‘ordinary’ conferences were felt to often be unsatisfactory because:

“speakers may or may not be interesting” 
●  “I’m conferenced out” 
●  “Hard to meet the people you really want to talk to” 
●  “Don’t tend to go – worried I’ll be out of my depth” 
●  “More output focused” 
●  “There was one very powerful image of standing about at lunchtime, holding your plate, 
looking for the right people to talk to – and ending up feeling hungry, and only having had very superficial conversations”

unconference5We had conversations about how to revive flagging groups and reach out to new people; heard about a whole range of projects that people were working on; thought about how to walk our talk and live more sustainable lives; watched films; learned how to print and left with new, arty shopping bags; watched poppadum being made and pots being pit-fired (both very spectacular in their own ways); made land-art; ceilidh’d, sang, went for walks, ate fantastic food – including some wild foraged chanterelles and generally had a fantastic unconference7time. Make sure you come along next time – we missed you!

We also shared ideas about priorities for Scottish Communities CAN’s future activities –more on which shortly.

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