New chair for Otesha

24th May 2014 by

Otesha needs a new chair of our board of trustees, to take on the challenge of leading a non-hierarchical organisation.

We’re looking for a chair with excellent facilitation skills, who’s into making non-hierarchical organisational structures work and supporting charities in a strategic and governance way. Although the staff team at Otesha has a flat structure, as a charity we still have a board who have overall responsibility and so need to approve, and take responsibility for, all the big decisions.The board ensure the charity is well run and support our staff team to achieve Otesha’s aims.The chair will take on additional responsibilities of facilitating board meetings, ensuring the board acts well as a team together and being a spokes person for the organisation.

Otesha mobilises young people to adopt more sustainable lifestyles and become inspiring leaders on climate change, social justice and ethical consumption. Since 2007 we have worked with thousands of young people aged 11-28 from a diversity of backgrounds across England, Wales and Scotland. We work with young people and schools; organise educational cycle tours around the UK which resemble a two-wheeled sustainability circus; and work to combat growing youth unemployment by helping young people find their way into fair, decent and meaningful green jobs.

The role of the chair:
– Facilitate board meetings
– With staff and other trustees facilitate and participate in quarterly strategy days
– Ensure strategy is developed by the staff and trustees in strategy days, board meetings, staff meetings and by working groups
– Keep the board functioning well as a team and ensure all board members are fulfilling their roles
– Review board performance
– Recruit and induct new trustees as necessary
– Oversee staff team appraisals
– Maintain a risk register for the charity
– Be a spokesperson for the Otesha Project UK

Commitment required:
- To attend bi-monthly board meetings and quarterly strategy days
– To participate in board working groups and additional meetings with the staff as needed
– Be willing and able to take on tasks between board meetings, and communicate over email between meetings
– Able to commit to this role for a minimum of 2 years

Please apply if:
– You’re interested in non-hierarchical structures and want to support this one|
– You love what Otesha does and stands for
– You have time for occasional evening and weekend meetings
– You get that being a trustee is quite a bit of commitment (you take on legal and financial responsibility for Otesha) and are only a little bit fazed by that

To apply: please send a CV and covering letter telling us why you want to be a trustee for Otesha to by Monday 30th June. (Interviews will take place early July with a new chair invited to our next board meeting on 21st July, 6.30pm)
If you think this is you, but aren’t totally sure about it, email me ( and we can arrange a time to chat about it.

Please note: The Otesha Project UK is an equal opportunities organisation and encourages applications from underrepresented groups. We do not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, place of origin, class, citizenship, system of belief, gender, sexual orientation, language, marital status, family status, physical and/or mental disability. However, all employees (and trustees) will be chosen on merit.

Riding the airwaves – our visit to Stroud

29th August 2012 by

Putting the kettle on, Otesha-style..

Western Quester 1: How ‘bouts we brew up a nice cup of tea?

WQ2: I’m game, but hadn’t we better put it to the group? Consensus, consensus, consensus!

WQ3: Good shout. Roll up, Questers: a decision is to be made! Shall I facilitate?

WQ4: Sure- I’d be biased by my intense hankering for tea right now. Still, does the warmth of a steaming mug in the hands justify all that gas to heat the water? [Fingers waggle all round]

WQ5: And don’t forget the vegan food mandate: oat milk’s an option, but there’s nothing on this Tetrapak to suggest that these are even vaguely local oats. Uh-oh…Tetrapak…

WQ6: Problem-led solution: that empty carton’s perfect for our next recycled wallet-making workshop!

WQ7: Phew, thank goodness: I love a dash o’ milk in my tea. And look: the tea’s fairly traded, too…

WQ8: May I make a Proposal? It’s blowing a gale, most of our tents contain at least one puddle and a team of slugs and we’re cycling 45 miles today…a cup of tea is just about justifiable…[all hands waggle frantically…brew time…]

And so on… Otesha tours try to organise themselves through a process of reaching consensus wherever possible. Using facilitation, hand gestures and an ethic of careful listening, the rainbow of personalities, lifestyle preferences and communication styles among us thus get a chance for equal airing in discussions. It’s getting us along just fine, for the most part. There are certain things that consensus can’t help us out with, however. Rain/sweat/hills: recurrent pests, those. ‘Roads’ that peter out into tracks whose clods and pits are obscured by knee-long grass. The flatulent results of the copious quantities of dried fruit and nuts required to keep us conquering all those hills. The fact that said fruit and nuts are generally shipped from China (not ideal for a ‘preferably local’ food mandate). We are heartened to hear that Totnes has christened itself a Nut Town, and we’re going! For now, snack nutrition and snack origin ethics are a challenge to balance, but the cooking teams have been producing most winsome meals for our trusty Tupperwares.

 We were sad to leave the Stepping Stones co-op at Highbury Farm, after a busy day off in Monmouth seeing to our laundry, bikes and grubby bodies (thanks to the kind folk at the leisure centre for the use of the showers!). An intense yet laughter-packed training week was rounded off by an evening of Olympian treasure hunting and feasting, sealing our Otesha initiation with suitably recycled tour t-shirts and bike bells. Proudly clad, it was time to finally get on the road!

Our first cycling day took us 45 miles from Redbrook to Stroud. We snaked along the broody woodlands of the Wye Valley, passing Tintern Abbey, the majestically spooky ruins of 12th century monastic life, whose setting inspired the following snippet from Wordsworth: “O Sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer thru the woods, How often has my spirit turned to thee!”. These wanderers admired the sublime nature too, in between handfuls of raisins and wondering whether those Team GB-clad tandem cyclists scoffing coffee cake were the real deal…indeed, the Sunday sightseers were out in force- vintage cars, Harley Davidsons, hot air balloons; but what we were most cheered by were the many cyclists- from families to the lycra-laden Competitive Camp. We crossed the Severn Bridge and swooned at the steel above and sand below, before joining part of the National Cycle Route all the way to Stroud. There were plenty of thatched rooves, cottage gardens and memorable place names to admire en route: Tomtit’s Bottom, Bendy Bow, Muzzle Patch… Lunchtime shade from the glorious sunshine came in the form of a grandfatherly oak tree on a village green. The day was also peppered with foraged blackberries, as the autumnal hedgerow harvest of sloes, hawthorn and rosehips begins to ripen. August seems rather early for this, we thought, but this has hardly been a meteorologically sane year. The food producers we’ve met so far have almost unanimously reported the worst growing season for decades. Rain-logged soils. Potato blight. Slugs with 10-foot fangs (actual quote, accused pest unverified by us).

Despite the setbacks, our hosts at Stroud Community Agriculture furnished us with a box of delicious, biodynamically-grown veg to cook upon arrival. The community-supported agriculture (CSA) model allows risk to be shared among the 190 members, who pay a regular amount for their veg box (or simply a donation) but accept that content and yields vary. The food and the setting were beautiful: they’re based at Hawkwood College, an adult education centre inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and featuring such courses as ‘making your own Tibetan singing bowl’ and ‘The Sacred Clown’. After our long ride, the warm shower was all the enlightenment we needed for one day…

We were looked after most handsomely by Mark and Rachel at SCA and by James from Transition Stroud. We spent Monday morning weeding kohlrabi and holding an impromptu play rehearsal in a churchyard (thank goodness for the right to free speech, but apologies to the snoozing man bolted awake by us practising our human alarm clock). James had organised us a slot on Stroud FM, a community radio station: we got all stage frighty but managed to overcome the shyness to transmit the media scene from the play down the aerials of Stroud. The Stroudies weren’t exactly out in droves for that evening’s performance (our first!) at the Market Tavern, but that suited us fine: the audience were a lovely, encouraging bunch who gave us some tips and told us about some of the many Transition projects bubbling away: Stroud Community TV, open days to showcase edible gardens and eco homes and a hub system to distribute and exchange locally-grown produce. Stroud, in the growing trend of ‘specialising’ Transition Towns, is to be an ‘Apple Town’: we look forward to being able to replace our raisin addiction with Stroudian dried apples on future rides. James also told us about Bicycology, which organises bike tours and activism-based projects: we’ve been inspired to cook up more awareness-raising street action to shout about our growing love of all things bike, so watch this space…

On Tuesday, we met Helen from Ecotricity and learned about their aim to increase provision of wind-derived electricity and to widen the growing infrastructure for powering electric cars. A reviving vegan cappuccino in café Star Anise was followed by a magical interlude in Dennis Gould’s cosily cluttered woodblock letterpress studio. The walls are jewelled with Dennis’ musings, more often than not amusing: digs at the Powers That Be; odes to anarcho-cyclists, Lorca and Colin Ward; ditties, wordplay and quotes galore, many printed on thick handmade paper. Showered with little gifts and most with a new wannabe career in printmaking, we prised ourselves away to grab another quick session in the recording studio to record a little piece for James’ Transition-themed radio show…getting media-savvy now… (Click HERE to hear the the team performing on Stroud FM )

The evening was dominated by a lot of daily bread: two groups of us, unbeknown to the other, had stumbled across shops about to throw away vast quantities of bread, sandwiches and pasta salad and so decided to rescue the abandoned fare. The ingredients lists took us way wide of our democratically-decided food mandate, as did the horrendous packaging, but purely in the name of preventing food waste, we dined predominantly on sarnies. Breakfast, too, was a breaded affair: with hunks of the stuff in our bellies, it was time to wave goodbye to Stroud…

Tastetastic South 1 : Hills 0

25th August 2012 by

Bonjour, Guten Tag from the French-German connection of the Tastetastic Southern Tour live from the beautiful rainy Cumbria (England!). We are deeply sorry that this won’t be more multilingual but we had to step back in consensus decision making process and accept English as the dominant language. Donc this blog entry will be in English ;-)

Welcome to Fairyland….

Over the last few days a happy bunch of cyclists managed to get through the dangerous and hilly Scottish Borders thanks to many fairies along the way. Magic pastries created by the fairies of the Dunbar cooperative community bakery, which was set up by Sustaining Dunbar, helped us power all the way to Westruther (once we were set free by the very knowledgeable fairy Mark who told us stories about local wind farms, landfills and nuclear power stations). Soon after having left the caring Dunbar fairies and after an impressive thunder, we were welcomed by more of them in Westruther. The local fairies kindly offered us the village hall as our shelter and soon we met many nice and interesting and curious little pixies at Westruther Primary School and taught them about fair-trade and food production.  As a final goodbye to the wee town of Westruther we spent a night of festivities in Angie’s local pub next to a heart-warming firewood, playing pool, the ukulele and singing songs.  Our charming landlady fairy finally offered us some yummy mange-tout which nearly gave us enough strength to cycle to the far far away Headshaw Farm next to Hawick passing via lovely Midlem where we were lucky to experience local Scottish hospitality…

Indeed, the big hairy hill fairy nearly attempted to kill our entire team by putting a massive hill at the entrance of our 5 star hotel in Headshaw Cottage… Comfy beds and hot showers were waiting for us but it was not long before we all had to jump out of our sleeping bags and cycle for more than 10 miles in the worst weather that the angry Scottish Gods could have created. All of our happy jolly team landed in St Margaret’s RC Primary School looking more than soaked but, the great pupils and teachers’ fairies helped us recover our positive spirits and deliver our 4 fun and informative workshops about energy, fair-trade, grow your own and transport. We final ly paid a visit to the marvellous and generous bike fairy Julian, from Borders Cycles, who took a lot of his time to repair all of our unhappy bikes… Thanks again!

With another good night’s sleep in the comfy cottage, new knowledge about passive houses and heat pumps and the feeling of having made a difference to the local primary school in Hawick we set off towards Low Luckens Organic Resource Centre in Cumbria, England. Unfortunately the local bike fairies were on holiday that morning and after an hour of punctures and little bike troubles we were saved again by our faithful bicycle fairy Julian at Borders Cycles in Hawick, we can only recommend him!  With lots of enthusiasm, a smart cow distraction fairy from Cambridgeshire to clear congested country roads, many fairies among us to push the trailers up many hills and brilliant cake fairies in the local teashop in Newcastleton, we reached a beautiful woodland camping ground next to grazing cows at Low Luckens. Now we’re ready to reach more youth with our sustainability workshops and eager to learn about the Organic Resource Centre…

A bientôt und bis bald

(Coraline & Ralph)

Leah's cycle tour tales

14th December 2011 by

A guest blog from the lovely Leah Kirby of Tartan Trail 2011. Find out what motivated Leah to join an Otesha adventure, and the impact it’s already having on her life just a few short months later.

Otesha had been a long time coming; during my years at university I had been involved and committed to a number of projects with the Permaculture Society and worked for the conservation charity the Fairyland Trust. Several friends had taken part in previous Otesha Tours and I was totally intrigued by the challenges of a cycle tour adventure, communal living and performing! In my daily life I enjoyed trips to the allotment, used my bicycle to wheel around the city and recycled at home. I even made my own draught excluder dog called Trev!

But for me what was integral to my motivation for coming on tour was the opportunity to facilitate educational outreach – to work with and mobilise young people to make them aware of the impacts their choices had on the world around them.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the thought of performing and leading workshops in the school, but by the end of the Training Week I not only found myself playing the lead role in the play, but also kitted out with lots of fantastic skills in workshop facilitation, consensus decision-making, conflict resolution, public speaking, essential bike maintenance and was updated with some sustainable know-how from the trusty Otesha Handbook and numerous discussions on anti-oppression, organic food and wind-turbines!

Before we knew it our Tartan team were wheeling into Edinburgh to start our mammoth journey across the Scottish hills and through the twinkling lights of the cities.  Indeed living 24/7 with twelve others can make for a bumpy ride, but by working together using consensus and open discussions we managed to work through the problems we encountered.

Running the workshops turned out to be LOADS of fun and the young people we worked with were delighted and engaged with both the play and workshops, the teachers would tell us how amazed they were that the children had been completely absorbed in the adventures of Gilly. It was also extremely rewarding to receive such high praise after the workshops with one child shouting out ‘It was fandabudosi!!!’

When I think about the impact tour has had on me, I realise how much confidence I have gained public speaking coupled with developing sensitivity to dealing with people. I am currently searching for work and I find myself far more confident when meeting new people or facing a nerve-racking interview. I have also noticed the difference in my physical fitness and how much more energy I have to complete daily tasks as well as continuing to enjoy cycling everyday! I also am trying my best to avoid big supermarkets opting for the local green grocer and finding seasonal and where I can organic produce, as well as getting my staple grains/tins from workers co-operative initiatives.

Being a tour member has inspired me to get the wheels rolling for my own project ideas, which I hope to make a reality – it now feels far more possible with the help and support that is available from the Otesha Team and Alumni Support.

I wish to work with a friend who specialises in textiles to run workshops to unravel and reveal the processes at play within the textile industry, developing a series of workshops that stand up against throwaway culture by re-conceptualising daily objects and utilising reclaimed fabrics and traditional craft processes.

I was directly inspired by the fashion workshop on tour and the need to share my love of making tetra-pak wallets! It was also a visit to Starter Packs community initiative in Glasgow, which had a profound effect on me. Sarah and her loyal team found practical approaches to recover the symptoms of social marginalisation ­– poverty and homelessness. By providing packs for individuals going into new homes, basic items that we generally regard as fundamental to a dignified standard of living.

So not only was the organisation a benefit to people, it was coupled with awareness to the environment as most of their furniture, fabrics and crockery had been donated, reclaimed and thus recycled. It was the textile studio at the back of their store that captured my imagination – the piles of beautifully textured/patterned reclaimed fabrics – which had me desperate to grab some scissors, a needle and thread and get crafting!

Without my two-wheeled Otesha journey and meeting so many inspirational people from many walks of life, what I might have thought of as just a dream has transformed into a feeling of empowerment – to recognise my ability to carve out my own path and help to create the more sustainable world I wish to see.

Summer 2012 Cycle Tour applications are now open – find out more and sign up here.

Twinkle twinkle little fingers – consensus in action

7th November 2011 by

For the first time recently I’ve taken part in meetings (one small, one very large) where decisions were made by consensus. That’s not to say ‘We turned up and happily it turned out that actually we all agreed, so that was nice and easy’. Rather it means that we were making decisions under a formal ‘consensus decision-making process’ with particular ways of operating and reaching conclusions.

An Occupy LSX general assembly in progress using consensus decision-making

As someone who had only had experience of this through one workshop at a conference, putting it into practice – and using it with others to make important decisions – was a whole new bag for me. So this post is not a 101 in consensus decision-making, because I’m still learning, but more a ‘How it was for me’.

But essentially, the basic principles include having no votes where a decision is decided by majority – any decision made has to have the buy-in of everyone. And that really means everyone. A ‘no’ is in effect a block, or a veto, which sends a message that “I am so unhappy with this proposal that I would feel unable to stay in the organisation/camp/etc if it goes through”, and this can be exercised by even the smallest minority present (though there is an unwritten rule that anyone should limit themselves to one or two of these in a lifetime).

The 'I agree!' twinkling-fingers signal

To try to avoid blocks, however, there is a whole menu of ways to facilitate genuine discussion, listening and negotiation, much of it communicated via hand signals while speakers talk so that the meeting’s general warmth or coolness towards what’s being said can be gauged quickly, or so the type of intervention someone wants to make (clarifying question, direct response, technical point, and so on) can be understood by the facilitator.

That’s not to say it’s a quick process! Even those who are passionate about the value of consensus decision-making admit that it can take frustrating long hours to reach consensus even on simple matters. And a skilled facilitator seems to be really key.

So my first active experience was in an Otesha team meeting recently. We are keen here on using non-hierarchical structures and processes wherever possible, and it’s something we try to pass on also to the people who take part in our Cycle Tours, so it makes sense that we use it ourselves.

My next active experience of consensus decision-making was very different from our small Otesha team meeting. This time I was sat on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in a very large, diverse crowd, gathered for one of the twice-daily ‘General Assemblies’ of the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest camp. [Anyone, by the way, is allowed to turn up for these open-air meetings and contribute to decisions made about how the camp is run and what its strategy should be.]

This was an extraordinary experience. In a large crowd, the use of hand signals, and the eagle eyes and inclusive instincts of a skilled facilitator, seem even more (or perhaps just differently) important. [Here, there was a microphone (unlike Occupy Wall St which uses a ‘human mic’ technique thanks to a police ban on amplifiers).]

Josie Long addresses Occupy LSX

It was deeply impressive. This time it was held very efficiently and quickly because it was to be followed by a scheduled roster of speakers for a rally (including Otesha’s patron, Josie Long, who was as funny and passionate as ever). But that does not mean that dissent was stifled.

One or two voices objected to a proposal to pay travel expenses for Occupy representatives from other parts of the country to visit London, because it had not been made clear what proportion of the camp’s finances this might swallow up. These voices were heard, and in fact the rippling sea of waggling up-turned fingers showed it was a popular point, so the decision was deferred until better financial information would be brought to a future assembly.

Fascinating was that this all took place open to passers-by, tourists on open-top buses, any Londoner within earshot. And as many of the speakers pointed out, the stereotypes and insults flung at the camp by sections of the media often dissolved for curious visitors when they saw the collective discipline, inclusivity and openness with which decisions are being made in the lee of St Paul’s. Consensus decision-making is at the heart of the Occupy protests, not as a nice add-on but as an integral part of their agendas in itself, as the core of what is an experiment in finding alternative or deeper modes of democracy and organisation. That the protests do not have one hard and fast agenda is criticised by outsiders. But ‘the process’ is the agenda: experimenting in how society can feel its way to alternatives that just might work better than current systems.

So how did I take to it? Well, the positives:

  • It felt good to have a recognised process that values everyone’s views – something that can act against the conscious or unconscious shouting-down, pulling of rank, brandishing of expertise, machismo or bias in favour of extroverts that you might find (and probably have found) in standard meetings.
  • It makes sense to have a process which seeks everyone’s buy-in to a decision, even if for some that means ‘It’s not my favourite option, but I’ll accept it for the good of the group’, because it seems obvious that this stands a better chance of there being good morale, and therefore of loyalty and low turnover of staff (if it’s a ‘staffed’ organisation in question).
  • If people feel they and their concerns really will be listened to and so they really can speak their minds, important information is likely to be brought out and discussed that might otherwise have emerged later in a way that causes problems.

The negatives?

  • I’ve got a nagging feeling that it doesn’t eliminate the various ways in which we human primates will ruthlessly try (consciously or unconsciously) to ensure we get our way, whether by body language or anything else. This is where even a skilled facilitator will have to work hard to be very aware and find ways to circumvent these tendencies.
  • Sometimes I might find I’m not ready to have an opinion on something but am expected to give my view. We might all have different ways of mulling over a subject, and not everyone will deal well with being called upon to think aloud in company in this way and express thoughts that might not yet be fully formed. On the other hand, it can be good for those of us less comfortable in thinking aloud to actually do it, practice it and become comfortable, to ensure we are being active rather than passive.

I’m sure I’ll come across lots more positives and negatives as I get more experience in this way of working.

Occupy LSX at St Paul's. Can this many people really reach consensus?

As one Occupy Wall Street participant has pointed out, the movement has been confounding those who assumed it might be impossible to operate consensus models on this scale. The camps may fail or ‘succeed’, whatever that means. Their methods may be flawed in many ways. What is clear is that for those with direct experience of the camps, whether as a one-time drop-in or a pavement-hardened camper, they have already scored a success of kinds by demonstrating for many for the first time the thrill of finding they are capable of joining with others to participate in experiments in direct democracy. They are often messy, often frustrating, but they prove the falsity of claiming that there is no alternative to current systems.

The First Epic Tartan Trail Journal Entry

1st August 2011 by

There’s just one week to go until the second cycle tour of the summer, Tartan Trail, hits the road. Our two trusty tour liaisons are here in the office making last minute preparations and confusing everyone by both being called Lucy (or Luci, but spelling it differently doesn’t help much in conversation).

Good day to all! Luci and Lucy here, tuning in from the Otesha office, Tower Hamlets, somewhere in East London…

We’ve been working away feverishly all week surrounded by piles of maps, cups of coffee and endless roasted corn snacks to keep us sustained in our mission to have everything prepared for a week today, when the Tartan Trail adventure begins!! The lovely Otesha office staff have welcomed us with open arms and loads of amazing home grown/ prepared and cooked food, every day for lunch! Lucy very quickly stopped bringing in her peanut butter sandwiches.

The route is coming along nicely. We’ve got some epic days planned and lots of lovely surprises. We’re particularly excited about staying and performing in a tiny village called Gartmore, which has ONE ROAD. JUST ONE!! Well, one main road anyway.

We’ve also had some serious chats about serious things, and we’ve learnt about consensus decision making which involves lots of strange hand gestures! All very very exciting and new.

Right we’re off now to eat lunch at the Foodcycle community café nearby (it’s a tough life), can’t wait to meet our lovely tour members next week at Whitmuir Organic Farm and commence our epic summer adventure, being sustainable and inviting others to join us!

All our bicycling and eco-love,

Lucy and Luci (your neighbourhood friendly tour liaisons)

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