The Pedal Powered adventure begins – training week at Felin Uchaf

8th July 2014 by

This year’s cycle tour are well on their way. Here’s their first team blog from training week!

Time! Time is a funny thing. These past five days have felt more like weeks. In the safe and supportive nest here at Felin Uchaf in deepest north-west Wales we have felt welcomed by our generous host Dafydd.

These action-packed days have been filled with intense Otesha knowledge – from bike maintenance to consensus-decision making, fun games to learning about anti-oppression with an exhilarating sea swim thrown in.

 

Today we embark on our quest to travel the length and width of the country by bicycle over the span of two weeks, sharing information and inspiration as we visit schools and community groups en route. How are we feeling you may ask?

 

We arrived ten strangers and set out as a close team of ten friends. We are ready to take on the hills, the weather, the roads… We feel GOOD! See you on the other side of those hills!

Totally Tasty hits Tuppenny Barn

24th July 2013 by

As I write this the sun is setting with pink and orange streaks across the sky. I’m sitting in a beautifully crafted living willow shelter with the rest of the team buzzing around me getting ready for tomorrow’s early start. I love watching them work together, helping each other out with humour and affection – I can’t believe that we only met less than two weeks ago, I feel completely integrated into our little community, like a cog in a very happy machine!

Today has been particularly wonderful. We are staying at Tuppenny Barn, a tranquil and creatively planted organic small holding run by a wonderful lady called Maggie who welcomed us last night with homemade elderflower cordial and a mountain of the ripest and best strawberries I’ve ever tasted.

Back in 2004 this land was empty except for a large barn burried in brambles. It is so inspiring to see how Maggie and her team have transformed it into such a paradise – a place bursting with delicious food waiting to be harvested, flowers and herbs, and orchard, bee hives, an amazing plastic bottle greenhouse and a soon to be completed community centre.  Maggie’s plans for this centre are really interesting – a space for the community to hire, fork -to-food cookery lessons, pop-up restaurants, a library of books about environmental issues and food growing, educational school visits, a farm shop and lots more. I hope to get to visit again in a few years when it is in full swing. This tour has reminded me of the importance of community so it is great to see people who are actively trying to nurture it in their local area.

We spent today gardening, learning new songs, picking raspberries, gooseberries and black currants and having lovely conversations amongst the plants. Our lunch was a deliciously fresh salad, including the first crop of tomatoes. Then at 5 we were treated to a cream tea.

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It has been a perfect day and we are so grateful to Maggie and Becca (the site manager) for the generosity we’ve been shown here. I’m really sad to leave Tuppenny barn so soon but am sure I will be back one day.

Jessie, Totally Tasty tour liaison 

Totally Tasty Ready to Ride!

27th June 2013 by

Hello, I’m Jessie, one of Otesha’s three liaisons for this summer’s Totally Tasty cycle tour.  I first came across Otesha cycle tours last year and though they seemed totally perfect for me I was too busy studying.  Finally, a year later, I’m very happy to be off cycleventuring, learning, laughing, teaching, eating, wild-swimming and deep-exhausted-tent-sleeping with a bunch of likeminded people!

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I’ve been here in the office since Monday with Lyndsay and Rowan, the other lovely liaisons, busy sorting logistics, packing up the (yet to be named) trailers, phoning tour members and hunting down maps in local libraries.  Now that these maps are spread out on the table with orange post-it notes marking our campsites – all in exciting foody projects that I can’t wait to visit – it is finally sinking in that we will be on the road in 8 days time!

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One lovely feature of the Otesha office is that everyone eats lunch together. Several times we have carried a table outside and eaten in the street, soaking up the sun and amusing the locals. Yesterday we were joined for lunch by a group of people taking part in Branch Out, Otesha’s new horticultural work training programme. Once totally stuffed with bread, humous and salad we joined them on a visit to St Mary’s Secret Garden, a local food community garden where trainees on the programme get their hands mucky working towards getting their qualification in practical horticulture.

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It was a beautiful garden, buzzing with bees, visitors and volunteers.  Phil, an Otesha volunteer and one of the first ‘branch outers’ showed us around.  I was particularly fond of the ‘sensory garden’ which had fragrant herbs, interesting textures and little poems hidden amongst the foliage ‘The bay tree is the shepherd, all the other herbs are his sheep‘… Seeing such an awesome, food-centred community project gave me a taste of what is to come on tour – 3 weeks of inspiration from the people and places that are reshaping Britain’s broken food culture – Bring it on!


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Alumni Spotlight: Ellie and Robin en route from the West Bank

18th June 2013 by

In the fourth edition of our ‘ alumni spotlight’ we’re speaking to Ellie and Robin – currently cycling their way from the West Bank (yes you read that correctly) to the UK.

1. What tour did you go on?

We went on the Land’s End to John O’Groats tour in 2010.

2. What were your tour highs and lows?

Tour highs (of many) include: pedalling along sunlit country lanes to the beats of Borris our boombox, conquering hills with trailor in tow, watching Sarah Hunn do a comic plunge into a canal (bike, panniers and all!), the play- especially the tuppaware rap, a little girl telling us her action point was to recycle dead hedgehogs. OH, and meeting each other was a
slight high!

Tour lows include: Robin’s day of 8 punctures, Ellie map reading her group 10 miles in the wrong direction, taking a dip in pond then realising it was filled with the run off from surrounding cow fields…and ending up with a suspicious rash.

3. Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

Since LEJOG we have been living and working in Bristol. Bike related extra curriculars have included volunteering with FoodCycle and Ellie with LifeCycle, a charity which gets adults and children with visual impairments out riding tandems.

4. Tell us a bit more about your project – Right to Movement.

right to cycle posterInspired by the power of conveying a message through pedalling, we have embarked on our most recent project. We are currently cycling from the West Bank to the UK – 4000 miles, over 3 months. We are doing this to raise awareness of movement restrictions in the occupied Palestinian territories, contrasting it to the freedom of our ride. In addition, we are fundraising for a village school bus. This village of 350 people is completely encircled by an Israeli settlement. Unfortunately, bright children are not receiving high school education as this would involve travelling through the settlement, which they are too afraid to do. There is no public transport for them and taxis are expensive. We are working in partnership with Amos Trust to raise money for a bus, costing in the region of £15-20,000. If you’re interested in finding out more about this have a peek at our fundraising page, or follow us on Facebook or twitter.

5. What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

Our Otesha tour had a big impact on us, and being part of it was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. It especially made us think about the impact of our daily decision making, and our individual responsibility to ‘be the change we wish to see in the world’. It inspired our yearly challenges including Ellie’s ‘dairy free’ year, and our ‘only buying second hand’ year. We’re thinking that next years challenge may be a ‘year without plastic’!

6. Are you still involved with Otesha and how?

Since LEJOG, Ellie has enjoyed a week alumni touring in Wales, and has attended one of Otesha’s planning days in London. We are both moving to London in September and look forward to being in closer proximity to general goings on! We love receiving Otesha’s updates and bi-monthly bemusings, it enables us to remain connected to what feels like an extended family network of people with similar passions, interests and ideas.

7. What advice would you give to new tour members?

Maybe up your pre-tour fibre intake to get yourself used to your potential tour diet (We decided to go vegan – which gave many of us good wind in our sails)! Perhaps double check the waterproofing on your gear in the case of any unexpected canals! Get out on your bike, climb some hills, and perhaps simulate the weight of a trailer with a heavy bag or two! And maybe make the most of your hot shower and soft bed pre-tour comforts. But have nothing to fear, as it is guaranteed to be an amazing, potentially life changing, adventure. And you will, without a doubt discover new and exciting things about cycling, how to create positive change, and yourself.

8. Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, or an action
Here’s a photo which sums up for me the joy felt reaching our destination together, donning facepaint and high vis jackets, energised by our oat-filled bellies.

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Alumni Spotlight: Amazing Abby

28th February 2013 by

bike scrapOur cycle tours have a huge, many would say life-changing, impact on those who take part.  They turn peoples lives upside down, inside out, shake them all about in a way that no one expected when we did our first tour in 2008.  Since then over 100 young people have joined our sustainable summer cycling adventures and thousands more have been inspired to make our world greener fairer and basically, much cooler for all of us.  We want to celebrate our alumni because they make Otesha what it is.  Not a week goes by when we’re not blown away by a past tour member doing something awesome.  So we’ve started an ‘Alumni Spotlight'; each month we’re going to shine our (green powered) spotlight on an alumni to showcase to the world how great they are.  First up it’s Abby Nicol.

OTESHA: What tour did you go on

Wild West 2008 around Wales and Caledonian Road 2009 as a tour liaison

OTESHA: What were your tour highs and lows?

Highs:

Swimming in stormy seas below rainbows on a huge white sandy beach all to ourselves in the Gower peninsula in Wales, ah hoc spontaneous street performances of the play, storming a bank in Carmarthen demanding (in song) to see their ‘ethical policy, collectively building a bicycle at a scrap shop, re-learning how to knit, bed time stories from a magical Welsh Story teller,  tea and cake stops in many picturesque villages, superhero days, reading poems around a tree filled with bike lights in Chai Ovna cafe in Glasgow, evening circles in a hand painted yurt in Moniave, meeting people behind inspiring projects- Magpie’s Nest in Govan, Greener Kirkcaldy, campaigning against open cast coal mining in Merthyr Tydfil and more, being impressed by school children during workshops, playing a compost bin, gaining confidence cycling on any kind of road, seeing the UK countryside from the seat of my bicycle, and on the whole meeting the bunch of mad and amazing people in my tour groups, collectively overcoming challenges, learning from each other and building a wonderful, supportive, crazy, nomadic cycling community.  
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Lows: 

Wales was wet and soggy, a mystery illness started going around the group pouncing on an unsuspecting member each night, I was actually one of two (out of 18!) who managed to avoid it so maybe this should be one of my highs. One day we cycled 70+miles up and down Welsh hills in the incessant rain to be greeted by a leaking, smoke-filled tepee in tepee Valley where fellow oteshites were huddled around the fire eating rice flavoured with marmite crying ‘this is an emergency situation!’ Very comical looking back on it but not the welcoming to the utopian community we had envisioned. The situation was turned around when we managed to all find shelter in a cosy yurt and snuggle down listening to excerpts from Roger Deakin’s ‘Wildwood’.

Scotland- Deciding to adopt a porridge-only diet in Glasgow (a solidarity action with people around the word who exist on very little and so to appreciate the wealth of food we have at our finger tips) now I’m a porridge fan but our first batch for breakfast was laced with charred oats and the flavour lingered for the rest of the day, we then somehow, in a wave of blind enthusiasm, decided to opt to continue porridge-day for a second day…this was when cracks began to emerge and bellies rumble at the thought of the tasty vegan meals we’d hastily agreed to give up, cue big long consensus decision making meeting which thankfully ended merrily with us abandoning the porridge and resuming our vegan feasts.

OTESHA: Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

I got a degree then fled to the fields! well..finished uni, environmental food projects with Transition Edinburgh University, traversed Spain just me and my trusty bicycle (Beryll the Mountain Goat), wwoofed, got horticultural working on organic farms around the UK, I’m studying Organic Farming at the Scottish Agricultural College, campaigning with the Combe Haven Defenders in Hastings, working on an Organic market garden and community garden in Hastings and exploring the quirky towns of the Southeast.     

sevilla OTESHA: Tell us a bit more about Combe Haven Defenders…

Combe Haven Defenders formed in summer 2012. We are a campaign group of people local to Hastings who are part of the “Stop the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road Campaign,” – the ‘first and the worst’ of over 190 new road projects that the Government, big business & local councils are pushing throughout England and Wales.  We are campaigning for an affordable, sustainable transport system for our area, that improves the quality of all our lives without costing the earth.

The BHLR is a 3 mile road planning to devastate one of Hastings and Bexhills’ most beautiful natural treasures, the Combe Haven Valley, at a cost of £100 million and rising. The East Sussex County Council are prioritising this at a time of mass cuts to public services claiming it will alleviate congestion (when new roads mean more traffic), create jobs (the numbers of which have been grossly inflated) and housing (opening up Trinity College Cambridge’s land for development). It is a road that the Department for Transport calls ‘low value for money,’ in a report that’s been heavily redacted. In fact our next action is called: Operation Disclosure, calling the DfT to release the report’s recommendations on the BHLR to the public by 5th April or we’ll peacefully come and get them ourselves. See: combehavendefenders.org.  As the Combe Haven Defenders we’ve been behind lots of actions: organising trainings, setting up and supporting protest camps, dressing up as Zombie roads, running information stalls, fundraisers, ceilidhs, exhibitions, public meetings and more and more, it’s been a busy 6 months but there’s more to come! Sign our pledge and receive updates,  join an action, support us.  The BHLR is the first of 190 new road projects we need to nip this madness in the bud.     

OTESHA: What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

Oh in so many ways- I’d just come back from a year in Canada and had experienced many incredible things there. I was feeling a little apprehensive about returning to what in my mind was a comparatively boring UK, Otesha blew that concept away. My first tour was an eye opener into all the eco/activisty goings on on this little island- permaculture projects a plenty, transition towns, inspiring youth projects, farms, education centres, bicycle projects. It catalysed my love of bicycles, I haven’t really had a day off a bicycle since my first otesha tour and because of it took off toute seule around Spain, I couldn’t have seen myself doing that without having experienced cycle touring with Otesha. It introduced me to wonderful friends, I’m part of this vibrant community of Oteshites who share similar values, follow their interests, question and work to change the norms and narratives that are taking the world down such a destructive path at the moment. It gives me hope!! Ha!

OTESHA: Are you still involved with Otesha and how?

Yes, once an Otesha member always an Otesha member! I cycled lands end to John o groats as an otesha fundraiser. I keep up to date with otesha shenanigans through the alumni newsletter, go to events where I can and keep up with the friends I met on tour.

OTESHA: What advice would you give to new tour members?

Ooo you’re in for a treat! Take in every minute, make a tour video even, embrace the consensus meetings they will end…eventually! It is such a unique time to have pedalling, performing and skill sharing around the country, every day is so full of experiences. An Oteshite from Canada came to see our play in Edinburgh and said “I’m so jealous, you’ll be hard pressed to find something that beats your Otesha tour” and he’s right. My tours have very special places in my heart. So challenge yourself, get some waterproof socks (my practical tip) and let the Otesha adventure begin!

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OTESHA: Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture, an action or video.

 Mad, challenging, hilarious.  In fact this video puts a smile on my face!

 

Alumni Power!

27th February 2013 by

Back on that snowy weekend in January, we had a bit of a special O-gathering. Right afterwards I wrote a blog, to share some of that joy and learning with the rest of you, but unfortunately a few technical hitches meant that very blog has disappeared into some hidden and inaccessible world inside my computer. It was once, but is no longer saved. So this little blog is a nice memory test for me! I’ll cast my mind back to that briefly pristine snow, the little slip and slide I had off my bike (perhaps I should get something like this if we’re in for more regular snow?)

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It’s always great to get a bunch of people together who between them have more ideas, passion, and desire to create change together than can possibly be expressed in a short weekend. Nigh on 20 Otesha alumni and friends met in Workshop 44 (our great new office space, do pop in!) to get trained up to facilitate Otesha workshops. The training ranged from trying out our workshops, to discussing and acting out ways to manage challenging behaviour. We explored innovative facilitation techniques and also ate plenty of dal, soup and some vegan chilli brownies. There were of course a few games thrown into the mix!

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Why did we do all this? Well, after every cycle tour, our avid cycling environmental-social justice campaigner friends become part of a strong network of alumni and loads of them want to stay involved, doing a bit of what they loved so much during their tours.  In London there are lots of opportunities for our alumni to stay involved through our Change Projects programme.  But, our alumni aren’t just in London, so we needed to do something about this. Our cycle tours visit towns and villages all over the country too, and sometimes these schools want a bit more Otesha joy, and just cannae wait until the next tour! So – alumni everywhere, schools everywhere, what’s the answer? That’s right, I think you got it – we train people up to outreach and deliver workshops wherever they are.

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By involving a few people who haven’t (yet) been on an Otesha cycle tour, we were able to increase our capacity. We now have friends in Edinburgh and Shropshire raring to go. So if you are an educator in and around these parts, get in touch (iona@otesha.org.uk) and you could be the lucky recipient of some inspiring, hand-on, creative workshops to help young people tackle the environmental and social issues through their everyday lives.

Western Quest go back to School!

27th September 2012 by

After a short cycle ride from Radstock to Frome along a beautiful abandoned railway, we arrived at Vallis Veg Farm.  Here we were greeted by our wonderful host, Cordillia and our Sustainable Frome guru, Alex.  We settled in quickly and in the evening we were treated to a bath under the stars, heated by an open fire.

Frome was where we were to give our first school performances and workshops.  We were kept fully occupied here visiting both the local secondary school and Oakfields Primary school.  In Frome Community College we were put to work helping a group of year eleven boys (known as the G Force!) with ideas on how to make their school more environmentally friendly and how to get more pupils aware of environmental issues.  We gave them various suggestions such as an ethical fashion show, putting up signs around the school for energy awareness and trying to promote cycling to school amongst the pupils and the teachers.  After our meeting with G Force we had a session with a year nine English class.

We ran three workshops on Media, Food and Ethical Fashion. The class was very receptive, they seemed to really learn a lot and fully enjoy the session.  Afterwards, one child remarked ‘‘You shouldn’t buy something just because an advert tells you to’‘ and another ‘I want to buy more Fairtrade things’. The following afternoon we had another booking at the local primary school.  Here we performed the play to the year six assembly, and explored some of the issues raised with the Food and Fairtrade scene with workshops.  This was our first real session of performing the play and delivering the workshops to a large number of children and it was inspiring to see how much they learnt.

During our stay here, we also had an evening with Sustainable Frome at one of their monthly meetings.  After a delicious shared meal with around 80 Frome residents we performed the play and then listened to a talk from guest speaker Mary Colwell who was speaking on religion and the environment.

We really enjoyed our time in the very pro active Frome – it’s encouraging to hear so much going on all over the UK and the world – have a look at the Transition Network to see what’s on near you.  We meet some very inspirational people and it was great to have such a warm reaction from our first schools.

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…

Tasty Tales from the south-bound bunch

14th August 2012 by

Once upon a time in a land farrr far away (well, in the Scottish lowlands that is), there lived a group of 20 intrepid young adventurers. They had come from far and wide to learn about local food production, to support Scottish farmers and to share skills for building a brighter future. High up on the plains of Mid Lothian, Macbiehill Farm stood ready to accept these eager young change-makers. Bread-makers Andrew and Veronica filled both their minds and their bellies to the brim, and before long they were ready to hit the road and spread their newfound knowledge. So, they split into two, one group bound for the rugged North, the other for the hilly South.

This is a tale of what befell that South-bound bunch…

Kerry, Ralph, Claire, Coraline, Tom, Hannah, Andy, Emily and Ellie packed up their tents, stretched out their dormant muscles and filled their lunch boxes, set for a day in the saddle. Out on the open road, their faithful bicycle steeds sparkled in the sunlight as they set a path for Pishwanton Woods. That night would be their first one under the stars away from their guides, and they were keen to set up camp in good time, having found food along the way.

However… Unbeknownst to the group, the mischievous scourge of all two-wheeled wonderers – the Google-Ro ute-Planner – had some tricks up his sleeve to torment the young cyclists. It fooled them into believing they only had 16 miles to go on their first cycle day, knowing all along that really they would actually have more than 35 miles to go! That mischevious young techno-tool rubbed his hands together and sat back to watch the confusion ensue.

By midday the cyclists had come to realise that all was not as it seemed. 14 miles had already passed, and they were not even half way through their mapped route … But their spirits were not to be dampened, and as the sun shone brighter so did their smiles!

Now, as we all know, no fairy tale is complete without either its castles or its wicked witches, and we would not want to disappoint! So, the food-finders bravely set a course for the rough and remote Oxenfoord Castle, deep in the heart of Pathead. Reaching the gates of the encampment, they strained their eyes through the thick trees, and there on top of a hill across a great bridge stood the giant stone strong-hold. Warily, the group wheeled across the bridge and all of a sudden they were greeted by a shrill cry from high up in the turrets. “Oi! What are you doing here, what do you want!?” Their eyes widened with fear as a menacing old woman bellowed down at them. “Ummmm, errrrr, eeeehhhhh… we’re looking for food. Do you know where we can find Oxenfoord Organics?” An outstretched finger pointed in the direction of the castle gardens, and the group turned tail and were off back up the driveway in a flash.

As they rounded the corner the path was blocked by a gate with a giant CLOSED sign swinging in the wind. But they would not be stopped by such a miniscule obstacle, and – with the help of a kindly old garden spirit (locally known as Ted) – they heaved open the gate and ventured into a field filled with polytunnels. There they met a kindly young man named Peter and his family, who happily filled two boxes full of fresh vegetables and homemade jams, happy to have the custom during such difficult times.

Back on the road, the team threw all they had into the last few miles, and finally the green expanse of Pishwanton woods appeared on the horizon. Up and down, up and down, through fields and hills and valleys they went, picking raspberries and singing songs along the way. Finally they pulled up to the woods, jumped down from their steeds and set up camp to prepare a delicious feast of Vegetable Wiffwaff. Yummmmmm!

A long day’s adventuring was finally at an end, and they crawled in to their tents, dreaming before their heads hit the pillows.

At 8am the next day, the wake-up fairy sounded his bell, and they all rolled out of their tents, energised and ready for a new day in a new place. They soon discovered that mysterious woods in which they found themselves was home to The Pishwanton Project, and held the learnings of a great wizard named Rudolf Steiner, who was a very powerful philosopher at the turn of the 20th century. Steiner’s teachings inspired a whole new model of food production and farming, known as Biodynamics. As well as being totally organic, biodynamic small-holdings are run as living organisms and draw upon the wisdom of the stars and planets to nurture plant development.

Once the group had absorbed all of this worldy wisdom, Margaret the matron of the woods whipped them out of their seats and in to the fields to spend the rest of the day building compost heaps and weeding the land for future generations of plants and wildlife to thrive in that magical place.

That night, after a dinner of scrumptious curry and salad, all 9 young volunteers finally crashed in to their beds – stomachs full, brains whirring, and the smell of soil firmly set in to their palms – satisfied with a hard-day’s work and ready to move on to pastures anew.

Who knows what challenges the next days would hold for the brave bunch, but it was sure to be filled with tasty treats and lavish learnings one way or the other.

Will they live happily ever after? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

To be continued…

It all makes sense!

25th January 2012 by

Felicity, of our Wild West ’09 cycle tour, talks about how Otesha has influenced her & the exciting new projects she’s been inspired to work on since!

Summing up how Otesha has influenced me is actually quite hard, simply because it has, in a bigger way than I could ever have imagined.

Back in Dec ’08 I applied for the role of Tour Liaison for Otesha’s 2009 ‘Wild West’ cycle tour. In an instant I knew it was an exciting opportunity, incorporating several of my key passions: cycling, performing & environmental issues. Staring right at me was my dream project.

After a trip to London & friendly interview, they gave me the role of Tour Liaison for Wild West ’09 (a 6-week tour of Wales from June-July).  10 days later I was flying to India to volunteer for 11 weeks, including time spent with The Centre for Tribal & Rural Development, a world away from the UK & all it has to offer. This was my second trip abroad volunteering in Tribal villages, having previously done so in Costa Rica. Understanding & knowing how a community can survive with no running water or electricity is humbling; add that to the daily threat of disease, poverty & natural disasters and suddenly I can no longer complain if I break a nail!

The Wild West Tour took me to some of the most beautiful & scenic places in Wales. Starting in Machynlleth we worked our way south along the coast, finally stopping in Merthyr Tydfil, an area of high deprivation & unemployment.

My memories of Wales & The Otesha Project filled me with such a warm sense of happiness it brings a huge smile to my face writing this. For six weeks the sun shone, the hills loomed & happiness followed wherever we went. I want to say it was tough & physically demanding but if it was, I don’t remember.

I do remember all the random places we slept – barns, fields, church halls & strangers’ houses. I remember all the friendly & kind people we met who humbled & inspired us. I remember rivers, fields, forests, towns, cities & the sea. I can’t decide if seeing dolphins in Aberystwyth, coasteering off St Davids or staying on a permaculture farm was my favourite experience – in fact it all was. Even the hills.

I’ve made friends for life, seen things that will stay with me always & proved to everyone that it is possible to get a tan in Wales.

And so life goes on. After Otesha I was filled with a feeling of great satisfaction as if it all suddenly made sense & I knew what I wanted to know. My next project was with a theatre Company called ‘Stuff & Nonsense’ working as a creative assistant for their new show ‘The Enormous Turnip’.  I had another incredible experience working on this show & even to this day, the reviews keep coming in thick & fast with the latest informing us that it was Jackson’s Lane best selling Christmas show in their 35 year history.

As a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, I found myself going on yet another journey after this, although this time as ‘Youth Arts Development Manager’ for Hampshire Museums and Galleries Trust, working on a specific project called The EDGE Project; Engage, Discover, Generate, Enthusiasm.

I was chosen to lead a three year programme of events, exhibitions & performances for & by young people in various locations across Hampshire. The brief was as broad as I wanted it to be – I’m given freedom to deliver & create what young people want to do & see in these venues. I’ve hosted band nights & exhibitions, music workshops & fashion projects.

But by far my most important & biggest project to date has been GreenSpace. A couple of my young volunteers came to me with an idea to create an allotment. My ears instantly pricked up with excitement as I knew the idea had room to grow (excuse the pun!).  I approached a local Art Gallery I was working with & GreenSpace was born.

November 2010 saw our first day on site clearing an area covered in brambles at the back of the venue. 26 people turned up to help the first day. After that it was planning & implementing the next stage.

The young people designed it to look as creative as possible, as well as having full disabled access & being practical. Donations were sought from all over the local area, including 32 planks, 20 tons of soil, various plants, child friendly wood chip & 2 compost bins. Subsequent donations saw us add to site with water butts, as well as being able to purchase tools for volunteers.

Over the course of 2010 we engaged with around 300+ people. We ran maintenance days, planting days, green workshops for children & young people. We had an extensive launch & registered as part of the Eden Project’s Big Lunch-with every event operating a ‘Bring n’ Share’ Lunch. We held a green exhibition, with 120 young people from the area exhibiting their green work. A harvest Supper & Art Cracker event saw us through to the end of the year & on to 2012.

We have now started our second site at a local art centre, with our next day planned for a few weeks’ time. We received more donations & funding to expand & are planning many more sites for the future. We’ve helped to educate young & old about gardening, sustainability, recycling, growing your own & much more. (Check out GreenSpace’s Facebook and Twitter.)

To ask whether Otesha influenced me in shaping this project? I can safely say, 100%, it most definitely has.

If you’re feeling inspired to join a six-week Otesha world-changing adventure you can find out more and apply here. See you on the road!


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