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Design for Sustainable Living Now

'Design for sustainable living now' said the promotional leaflet. Who could resist? Walking (or driving) through our urban jungles we are posed with numberless ethical dilemmas about our way of life that tweak our consciences daily.

Most of this tweaking goes on unconsciously because we have screened out a vast array of unsustainable practices that are part and parcel of living in modern Western society from the tonnes of waste, the polluted environment, the inefficient use of resources from water and electricity to our own talents and capabilities.

The design course run by Naturewise at the nursery school on Crouch Hill (and what a better place to teach us fledglings?) subjected many of these things to a thorough and constructive critical examination.

Constructive is the word, for Permaculture is about turning problems into solutions that benefit the environment, find application in our own lives and spiral out to the wider community.Its constructive approach gave us a renewed sense of creative power over our own lives that so many of us felt we had lost. For those searching to retrieve it, the Permaculture course provided a serious avenue of investigation. Of the best things about it? No guilt-trips!

Over seven full weekends that ran from April to June we looked at permaculture philosophy and its principles of design, forest gardens, green economics, bioregionalism, transport and energy efficiency, zone and sector analysis, water, LETS, edge effects and much more. That was the theory side of it. The practicals were spent in the forest gardens that Naturewise had created locally, where we learned about such varied subjects as the uses of the plants grown and how to chop down a tree.

Each of the tutors had taken principles of permaculture into their own lives and this came through in the teaching - both the theoretical and the practical sessions were inspirational and packed full of useful and fascinating information. The effects of this and the bonds that developed between the participants as the course progressed, made it more than the sum of its parts.

Over the seven weekends a palpable change occurred in our thinking and our approach to problems. Linear thinking became lateral as we were bombarded with practical examples of solutions to apparently insoluble problems, such as how you create soil on naked rock. A strong sense of community emerged as individuals shared issues and dreams that were closest to their hearts, from developing new communities on sustainable principles to dealing with interpersonal conflict in constructive ways.

The subject of how to create sustainable lifestyles is a vast one, and most of us found the course offered an extended opportunity to contemplate things that had been too daunting to tackle alone.

From the first weekend connections were formed and ideas began to germinate which culminated in the design projects presented by many of the participants at the end of the course, some of which were ambitious and required funding over several years, and others were simpler but no less significant and all demonstrated how deeply the principles and concepts had been assimilated. It was heartening and exciting to witness so many positive developments.