This happened to me while sitting in a circle of 80 or more people in the function room of New Mills Town Hall, just on the Derbyshire side of the Derbyshire – Cheshire border, days before the UK went into lockdown.
A charismatic man sporting a hipster beard who had been prowling the centre of the circle skilfully facilitating the conversation was now urging us to participate in a group meditation. Some, who were presumably more used to practising meditation than others, took this in their stride. Others and I confess I was one, shuffled our feet awkwardly but then did our best to look like we were meditating because we didn’t want to stand out. Was I doing it right, I worried? What exactly should one look like when meditating?
Then a small child cried and shouted for their dad but it didn’t matter, we all smiled indulgently and laughed quietly out loud because we were that kind of crowd.
‘This is our chance to reimagine our town and help create a positive vision for us all’
I was taking my place in the circle because I had responded to an invitation to attend a New Mills Community Conversation as a resident of the town.
‘What would we like New Mills to be like in the future? How will it look, sound and feel?’ read the invitation. ‘This is our chance to reimagine our town and help create a positive vision for us all.’ I was intrigued.
This ‘community conversation’ was the next step along from the declaration of a climate emergency by New Mills Town Council in 2019. It was a day-long event organized by the Council in partnership with Transition New Mills, the local incarnation of an international movement whose purpose is to help find ways for communities to ‘reimagine their world’ and move towards a low carbon, post-fossil fuel future while having a bit of fun on the way. The intention was to give some substance to what can often seem the hollow gesture of ‘declaring a climate emergency’.
The day took the form of brief talks in the morning from local ‘provocateurs’ on such subjects as the future of the high street, environment, and transport while in the afternoon we split into group discussions, considering such topics as ‘rewilding’ in more depth. The day was surprisingly moving as people grappled to articulate their hopes – and fears – for the future of the town, living under the looming ‘existential threat’ (as it is often described) of climate change.
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