COE Scotland - The BELONG Project

Lucy Thomas

Questions from Inspired Times to the organizers of the Belong project, Children of the Earth Scotland

Could you explain how Children of the Earth Scotland came about and when it was set up etc.

Our chairperson, Gavin Morgan met the founder of COE WORLD, Nina Meyerhof and she invited him to set up a Scottish Hub of Children of the Earth.  Gavin and i have often said we'd like to work together and when he told myself and Lorenz (my partner) about Nina's invitation and we'd looked at and been inspired by the guiding principles of COE WORLD (see it was a natural yes. Soon after Em Magenta and Steve Gasgarth came on board. We constituted the group in April 2011.

What does the organization do other than Project Belong?
We are a new voluntary group and the BELONG project is our first.  By doing it we hope to build a platform to realize our primary intention which is to provide a monthly gathering space for anyone living locally who regards themselves as a 'child of the Earth'. We want to do our utmost to make these gathering magnetic to local young people (16+) who often don't show up to such events.  The reasons for this are complex; we cannot hope to unpick them, however, our philosophy is that first of all WE need to be enjoying and provoking ourselves and each other during these gatherings and this will over time create its own magnetism.  The design of the Belong Project reflects our passions, if it didn't, it wouldn't be sustainable.

Who is behind the Belong project and what was the instigator for setting it up?

The belong project landed in me (Lucy) as an idea inspired by my experiences as a teacher, a student and an ongoing thirst to connect with Life and express myself authentically. However the particular blend of talents among the people in my community make the complexity of the project possible. By virtue of  their generosity and skills, BELONG is able to integrate creative performance- live and on film; nature connection and mentoring...

In addition I was inspired by an anti-bullying campaign called RespectME which in 2011 focused on cyber-bullying. Moray Council had previously commissioned me to do a small performance project on the same theme and what I learnt from the young people I worked with really made me think about the systemic causes of internet abuse in all its forms. These influences plus a week long experience in 2011 with Art of Mentoring UK (which puts personal connection to nature at the core of community regeneration) were the tipping points and helped inspire the structure of BELONG.

The Belong Project - COE ScotlandWho is it aimed at and why?

Its aimed at all the people it touches! This includes the core team I work with, the mentors, the local young people who participate and their families and its also aimed at the local professional agencies who serve young people, some of whom have been really inspired by the idea and are helping us connect to the young people who would benefit from participating.  A key aspect of the project is that it focuses on local action. Growth in the way we value it requires a lot of relationship and time so its important that even after the project is finished, people can still get on a bus or a bike and  visit with each other, get creative together or even plan another community project...

What do you hope to achieve from this project?
For the mentors and the participants we hope they will complete the project feeling nurtured, confident, inspired and connected by and to the people and environment they live close to, we hope they will be motivated to co-create together in the future with coe scotland to support them.  I hope that local youth services/agencies will be inspired to ask for more from us as a team and that BELONG provides a model for other communities to engage and create with....

What affect do you feel Project Belong will have on the local community?
So far eleven people from a 5 mile radius have stepped forward to mentor for this project. This is significant in light of the fact that professional agencies often struggle to find volunteers for other mentoring projects.  There is already in this area a strong feeling for community; Forres has more community groups than any other Scottish town its size, it is a Transition Town and the Findhorn Foundation community is close by. So we are building on our strengths, using this project as a means to better include the older teenagers/young adults in the web of community that already exists. We will be making a public presentation with the participants which will be an opportunity for us to make the project known to friends, relatives, press and youth care professionals. The participants will have an opportunity to express their own feelings about going unplugged for 5 days (which they do in the camp in stage 2) and hopefully provoke local debate around the theme. The project will also be documented on film which we will eventually show in the town hall and wider and so the potential is to create ripples that travel a long way..... We re definitely not against using the power of the screen to spread the debate!

Why is this project important to the team?
The theme carried in the question 'Virtual-natural, do you belong in both?' is a provocative one and it applies also to us as a team.  Ironically, I have spent more time on my computer managing the project than I ever have done! There isn't a convenient solution. We re not making a judgement about screens or the internet – they have their place (I'm using one now ;-) but we are asking the question ; is sitting inside, in front of a computer/screen a reality we want to nurture at the cost of other more embodied experiences? We need to ask the question now while we can still remember the blessings of climbing trees, going awol with our friends in the woods and so on. In addition, the cost to the environment with every computer, cell phone, T.V we buy is enormous... and there's a growing mountain of them in our land-fill as a consequence of our obsession with 'the latest version'.  As a team we all care deeply for our connection with nature and seek to balance time spent outdoors with time spent inside. We each do this in different ways but our love of all things green and  wild is shared.

Personally co-creating this project with talented and inspiring friends while nurturing connections between generations and between humans and nature feels like a blessing and a  privilege. it is the satisfaction of walking my talk. Rather than feeling depressed about what we re not doing for each other and the next generation, i'm weaving the talented people around me into a creative solution. It s about doing small things with great spirit.

What are the future plans for Children of the Earth Scotland - any other projects in the pipeline?
One of the CoEs guiding principles is 'allow decisions to emerge and embrace the process'.  One of our greatest strengths is that we are a small community group running mostly on love and without share holders who demand a profit! In a few months this first round of BELONG will be complete and we'll know then the next steps. The documentary will open some doors as will the relationships formed between team, mentors and participants.  We intend to nurture these by continuing to meet monthly, build our reputation locally as a unique community service and hopefully edge ourselves towards holding a youth symposium in the next year or so.  We do need continued funding though,the teams' generosity and Awards for ALL with Moray Arts Council chipping in have enabled the BELONG project to happen. I'm dreaming of the day my phone rings and a mysterious benefactor makes a huge donation !! Dreaming is a good beginning to every happening.

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