Community Earth Festival

When the Community Earth Festival was conceived by Esk Valley Camphill Community in late 2021, none of us could have imagined what it would grow into.

Indeed, so varied and wide-ranging have been the 40 odd events across the area over the summer, that it is really very hard to provide a comprehensive review. The best I can do is to offer a few reflections on the handful of events I myself had a connection to.

The launch event took place on 22nd April (International Earth Day). The venue was a workingmen’s club in Loftus, a local town characterised by high levels of deprivation. It brought together community organisations from across the moors and coast, most of which had little or no previous contact with each other.

The whole event felt like a huge gamble. With a heavy beat pumping in the adjoining bar, as the locals limbered up for a normal Saturday night, about 200 people assembled in the function room, and began cagily ordering their drinks at the bar. A few large plants brought in for the occasion helped to soften the ambience ever so slightly. 

After a few opening words from the local mayor and the organisers, the mood began to warm as a number of local choirs (EVCC’s included) made their beautiful contributions. Then came the clog dancers (a throwback to working-class culture in the industrial-age mills of northern England). This was followed by poems from a local poet in full Teesside dialect, speaking from the heart of the local people, their land, and their story. It was then the turn of India from EVCC to deliver a poem of her own creation. As she spoke, one could feel the mood shift palpably from good-humoured indulgence to rapt attention. Finally, to add to the evening’s many incongruous juxtapositions, a Eurythmy performance by Jonathan Reid, was received with varying shades of mystification.

It was only later, as the band played the second or third piece of the ceilidh, and the disparate gaggles of people began to get caught up in the whirl of the dance, that I myself began to realise that a strange kind of alchemy was beginning to take place. 

And this is what seems to have characterised so many of the events and activities that have taken place since that strange day.

We have joined guided walks across the area, offering glimpses into the many-layered secrets contained in our landscape. There have been foraging talks, bio-blitzes, and wildflower walks. We have explored the local coastline, delved into its rock-pools, and we have heard the tragic story of the recent dredging of the Tees Estuary, resulting in a colossal marine life die-off.

Our own resident writer, Lydia Gill, led a highly-praised inclusive writing workshop entitled ‘Land of the Witch’, which brought together published writers, members of the public, children and adults with learning disabilities. Meanwhile, another EVCC coworker, Hans Steenbergen, led a series of workshops and talks with a group of earnest local seed savers.

On a more cerebral level, there have been two public showings of the recent film ‘Riverwoods’, setting out the urgent need to re-wild the barren uplands of Scotland. The parallels to our own denuded landscape in the North Yorkshire Moors were lost on no one. This set the scene for a community discussion planned for our local village hall, at which a panel of experts set out how we can restore biodiversity and resilience to our own Esk valley. We hopefully sowed the seeds of ideas of how the area’s environmental challenges can be met by the local community.

And having reeled off this eclectic collection of events, I have still omitted most of them! From the very beginning the Community Earth Festival seems to have taken on a life of its own, becoming something bigger and richer than any of us could have imagined (never mind organised!)

Few people today can still be ignorant of the enormity of the multiple environmental crises we face. And yet, how many of us continue to lead our lives as we always did? Perhaps it all feels just too big, too overwhelming?

However, in the Camphill movement we are well acquainted with the creative / healing power of community. When a group of people begin to identify with each other; to root themselves in a landscape; to reckon with the forces that shape it; and to assert a claim to a common future- then we are dealing with powers bigger than all of us. 

One is reminded of Victor Hugo’s famous words: “Nothing in the world… is so powerful as an idea whose time has come”.