|“Visions of Alternative Futures” is a series featuring intentional communities I visited for my research on values-based approaches to transformational change. This is an experimental study working with principles of anti-colonial research, as well as more conventional methods such as questionnaires and interviews. Ultimately, I am hoping to learn more about which psychological values are relevant to transformational change, and how we can use those insights to promote social justice and more radical environmental policy. I am spending some time in each community, immersing myself in their everyday life and letting my research be guided by participants. It was of particular importance to me not to engage in researcher-centric, extractive methods but to give back to the communities so that they can also benefit from my project. These articles are part of this endeavour and serve to amplify the wonderful work the communities are doing.|
Braziers Park is a residential non-religious community and college in the south Oxfordshire countryside in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just a short bus journey from Reading. Through cooperation, it aims to discover principles that facilitate constructive action and personal development. As well as being made up of two dozen hard-working residents and volunteers, Braziers also has a unique group consciousness which can almost be seen as its own entity. At over 70 years, Braziers is one of the oldest secular communities in the UK which aims to create a space which integrates both learning and teaching, enabling people to find their full potential in all aspects – intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual.
The house is over 300 years old and was originally a farmhouse, before additions were made in the late 18th century, giving the building its current Strawberry Hill Gothic style. The 50 acre estate is surrounded by beautiful woodlands and fields, and I very much enjoyed exploring the area on my morning walks. In pre-Covid times, Braziers generated most of its income through hosting events, weddings, forest school camps and festivals such as Supernormal Festival, Wood Festival, and Elementary festival. Braziers has a beautiful permaculture garden and many community meals are grown less than two hundred metres away.
The community regularly hosts diverse groups of volunteers from all over the world, as well as researchers who can rent a room in the house whilst conducting their studies. Prospective residents are interviewed for specific roles and have to go through trial periods to see if they are a good fit for the community. Although residents have specific roles, there is an emphasis on non-specialisation in communal tasks, which are assigned at the morning meeting each day. Their cooking has a seasonal, local and organic emphasis, with any ingredients sourced from the estate garden and mainly vegetarian dishes being served. The whole atmosphere is informal, relaxed and supportive. I very much enjoyed my stay at Braziers and met some wonderful people who I learned from a lot.
Braziers was founded by Norman Glaister in 1950 as an educational trust. His key aims were to enable people to find new ways of relating to each other, and to reform individual and group processes by endeavouring to “be conscious of the process of which we are part, in order to facilitate its development more efficiently”. The philosophy of Braziers is rooted in the belief that there are two types of people – “Executive” (doers) and “Sensory” (thinkers) – upon which their decision making is structured. The Sensory committee discusses issues every week but does not make decisions, but rather feeds back and influences the Executive committee, who take into account this information when making decisions.
Braziers is unique in that the community is researching itself in real-time. Its aim is to develop conscious relationships between people and the planet, leading to improved understanding, a decrease in selfishness, greater respect for the environment and constructive solutions to global issues. At present, two researchers live at Braziers full-time while conducting their research on concepts of luxury and connecting communities. Braziers has a particular interest in group processes and communication and has been publishing a regular “Research Communications” pamphlet since its early days. The most recent one was published online in 2017, with another one planned for 2022 to which I will contribute.
Braziers has a wonderfully diverse education programme and hosts residential workshops for at least one weekend each month. Many of Braziers’ education courses focus on deepening relationships with the land, using different angles to facilitate this process – including arts, academia, and community-based approaches. Rather than re-creating conventional ways of teaching, Braziers aim to improve spiritual connections to the natural environment (e.g. shamanic retreats), the health of the land itself (permaculture), individual wellbeing through nature connection (foraging, herbal medicine) and more fundamentally, an understanding of the land around us (using methods such as identifying plants and journaling). People who want to experience the formation and development of an intentional community can take part in the Braziers Experience, an event that allows people to form groups and learn from that process in order to discover new ways of inter-being and functioning as a collective.
Braziers believe in the self, community and nature as being in a triangular, interdependent relationship and its education programme serves to explore and strengthen those relationships. This is facilitated by non-violent communication – the relationship of the self with the group or other – and building the community’s conflict resolution skills. There are wider community weekends with the local community three times a year, during which they experiment with different methods of growing as a group. The focus here is not on the individual, but rather on the group as an entity.
Braziers also has hosted a lot of arts events such as Braziers International Film Festival and residency programmes for international artists to amplify their work and present it in a community setting. Braziers believe in education through creation, facilitated by collective collaboration. Its alternative approach to education is refreshing, with all participants being both student and teacher simultaneously, challenging the binary education dynamic. Learning is facilitated by being part of an experience rather than relaying information, and everyone’s contribution is valued in equal parts. Braziers have succeeded in creating community life as an educational experience, and I believe that we can learn a lot from them in making our education systems more relevant to real-world challenges and the intersections of human experience.
|Braziers are constantly looking for volunteers to stay between 1-3 months. Follow this link to find out more and hear some previous volunteers speak about their experience. Watch the documentary about the community and its origins here. Find out more about future events at Braziers by following this link. My next article features the wonderful Findhorn eco-village in Scotland. Follow me on Instagram for regular updates, impressions and photos from the communities.|