Small things creative projects

By Liz Postlethwaite 

Hello! My name is Liz Postlethwaite and I am a participatory artist and creative facilitator based in Bury, Greater Manchester.

Like many people I came to Permaculture through a desire to deepen my connection to the land. For me the land took the form of an allotment that I wanted to cultivate in a way that was wilder and more in tune with the natural world, and which lead me to enrol in a Permaculture Design Course. For me, as for many, this course was a transformational experience. It gave me a new sense of clarity in the hopes and fears that I felt for the living world, and it connected me to a community of folk who had similar concerns, but also similar aspirations for a future where a more beautiful and equitable world is possible.

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Having embarked upon my PDC with this desire to connect to the land, it was a great revelation to discover that Permaculture Design could be used to create absolutely anything. And that in that it could help all elements of my life become more aligned with a regenerative way of being on this amazing, abundant planet that we are lucky enough to call home. On completing the course I was still excited about how the tools that I had learned could be used on my allotment, but in many ways I was more excited about the way that I now realised Permaculture Design could bring a new perspective to all aspects of my life.

It was for this reason that I decided to embark upon a Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design that would become a space where I could explore how this set of tools could enable me to bring together the different facets of my life as an artist, an activist and a community organiser. I was inspired to consider what would happen if a started to do this and how in doing so could bring a stronger ethical basis to my life with particular focus upon ecology, natural systems and regenerative cultures.

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That all sounds very worthy but what would it mean in reality? Well here’s a thing for me…when a garden, smallholding, allotment or farm is regenerative it's easy to observe what that means in terms of the abundance and flourishing of natural systems. But in the context of creating a liveable future that will be radically different as a result of the climate and ecological crisis it isn’t just our growing spaces that we need to approach from a regenerative perspective. Every single interaction that we make needs to take this focus and make this radical shift, so in those terms what might a regenerative education system look like? Or a regenerative healthcare system? Or library? Or transport network? 

The challenge is huge but it was immediately clear to me that Permaculture Design offers a uniquely accessible set of tools to help us envisage and build these things. Particularly for those of us who live as part of an extractive, industrial culture which means we have lost connection to regenerative ways of being, akin to those observed within indigenous wisdom all over the planet across millennia.  It allows us to begin thinking and living regeneratively, and as we do that we may also start to reconnect naturally with our own ancient traditions and practices in a manner that does not appropriate or claim that which is not ours to take.

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So in practical terms what has this meant in my own life?

Bill Mollison himself advocated that as Permaculture Designers we should start at our own backdoor and work outwards. For me that has meant deep thinking about how my family live, but also in a professional context has led to an exploration of how Permaculture Design can help re-envisage the cultural sector in a time of radical change and transition. And in doing this explore how the sector may better engage in dialogue and action around the climate and ecological crisis.

Permaculture ideas are now central to the work of my social enterprise Small Things Creative Projects which is an artist led company that explores how the arts and creativity can be used to encourage the development of regenerative cultures and more healthy, resilient and adaptable communities. The permaculture ethics in particular have served as a guiding compass helping us to choose the paths that we follow. Currently this has taken us in four specific directions.

Firstly we develop work that builds connection and conversation. We do this by designing, curating and managing public engagement activities and projects with focus upon wider themes around the climate crisis and regenerative cultures. Most recently this took the form of a six-month residency at The Turnpike in Leigh supporting a group of young people to create an exhibition exploring their hopes and fears in relation to the climate and ecological crisis.

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Next we focus on projects that build knowledge through the provision of a number of unique Permaculture Courses with focus upon artists and creatives. This includes an Introduction to Permaculture for Artists and Creatives that has supported hundreds of people to take their first formal learning step in permaculture over the last two years.  We also convene a full Permaculture Design Course for artists and creatives which takes place over a year and provides a totally unique learning space for exploration of permaculture design and regenerative culture from a creative perspective. 

Thirdly we have a strand of work that cultivates and grows community. We do this through Creative Roots our free online forum for artists and creative’s. The group meets monthly to explore ideas around the use of Permaculture ideas and tools within creative arts practice. Alongside we produce a zine about Permaculture, creativity and imagination, which informally broadens the reach and scope of conversation around these themes.

Finally we develop projects and relationships that build and grow knowledge over longer periods of time. We do this by developing and delivering bespoke training, mentoring and development support for organisations and individuals. Over recent months this has included work with an arts organisation’s team and board exploring how they can bring regenerative focus to their business planning, with an arts charity working with neuro diverse young people thinking about how they may take a regenerative approach to their engagement work, and mentoring a number of young creatives who would like to build their practice in this area.

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When enrolling for my PDC I don’t think I could ever have envisaged where it would take me, but now here I am and Permaculture Design is central to my life both personally and professionally. It is incredibly heartening to see how much demand there is for this work. As a sector, the cultural sector like most, has a long way to go and many changes to make but it is very encouraging to see the growth in organisations and individuals who want to make that change and who are inspired to see how Permaculture Design may help them do so.