Between the 15th and 17th September I was lucky enough to be able to attend Offline Festival where I was offered the chance to unearth the power of community!
This is my account of the weekend. - John Lakey
For me it all started a couple of weeks before and finding the details on Facebook.
While I was debating to buy tickets or not I received an email from the team at Eden Communities with offer of a ticket if I wanted to attend. They know that generally when I go to things like this I get quite pro-active and I make a massive effort to join in; that I certainly did at Offline.
After seeing the event on Facebook, I noticed that it was advertised as child friendly and with that I also booked a ticket for my son who apart from being our number 1 volunteer, is also a very experienced festival goer and has been attending them since being in nappies and now aged just 12 knows his way around them quite safely. Here we had no fear and he knew exactly what he was going for... The archery and wood carving.
So, we set off on the Friday with google maps telling us that the 4 hours and 15 mins it would take us was generally problem free and with fine weather. Being typically British, no sooner had we reached the M5 the clouds opened and the tailbacks began. Soon enough the 4 hours turned into 6 + hours and the need for good coffee and chips was in really high demand.
When we arrived, we checked in and straight away were made to feel very welcome. This is what makes events like this so special; community workers, activists and groups really do go out of the way to make sure you are looked after well. Offline may have been in the first year and behind the scenes it may have been a little more chaotic but up front, to the attendees, you couldn’t fault it. They were ace.
With the tents put up quickly and with the need to explore, we set off to see what was in store for us this weekend. We first and mainly came across the Dangerous Dad group up from Devon and again, straight away we were made to feel so welcome. In fact, no sooner than we had said hello, my son had the axe out and was whittling wood like a pro! 2 hours later, conversations coming to a natural end and wooden sculptures finished we took ourselves off to bed.
Sleep may have come easy but 6 am I found myself wide awake. Not the noise, not through coldness but I think, excitement! I knew some people who would be here, who had travelled as far, if not further than me and those people I hadn't seen since April 16 at an Eden Community Camp. That’s what woke me up 6 am on a Saturday morning in a field in Milton Keynes!
Kettle on, face washed and coffee found; all as quiet as I could as not to wake others; then… Hello Mate -- I hear from across the campsite. Its Emma! Emma from `Landan` and someone who makes me just burst out in a massive smile when I see her; then… Who’s that ? Its Suzi! Suzi from Belfast, she’s brilliant and so inspirational.
No sooner than the kettle had boiled we had a nice little gathering, all bearing cups and hopes for spare coffee but, mainly all bearing stories of achievements and their frustrations from over the previous year.
The morning soon turned into an impromptu Big Breakfast and soon, bearers of gifts came from across the site, drawn in by the smell of coffee and the sound of laughter. We had croissants, cake, salads and wraps. We had teas of every description and from all corners of the world and coffee; we had the only coffee on site! Strange but true, somehow, we had the only coffee and being natural born sharers we done the best thing we could do, we shared. And all while we shared, we talked, we discovered and we learned. We managed to meet so many people; Bee Keepers from Central London, volunteers from the Grenfell fire, the people behind Toast (the social enterprise food waste project who turn waste bread into beer)! plus so many others.
That morning was the reason I was there, the reason I had driven 6 hours, slept in a tent for the first time in 15 years and was prepared to rough it for the weekend. Just to meet these people and to have these conversations over coffee. I caught myself a few times with a huge smile and I often had to pinch myself to remind myself that this was real, that I was awake and I was part of this. You see, these people I read about, I read their stories on social media and on Crowdfunder and through other outlets but I do read their stories. These guys and girls are my secret hero`s and the work they do, I can only admire from afar and here they were, all in a field and all just normal like you and me. This is what I loved about the weekend; no judging, no inhouse politics or councils to battle, just people who wanted to share, who wanted to help and to talk about what they love most; the communities they live in and what they are doing to try to make them a little bit better. So, full bellies, full minds and clean plates, showers done (they were ace by the way and rare to see at the festivals I normally attend) it was time to see what’s going on.
I managed to catch the talks in the Power Form and especially got a lot out of the talks from Phil Geraghty from Crowdfunder as the company has helped us deliver some excellent projects through turning to our community for help (5 project through Crowdfunder so far). Then I had the chance to listen to a man I offered coffee to in the morning but turned it down due to being late for something. What I didn't realise he was going to be late for his first talk. The man in question is Alex Smith from Alara Cereals and until today I had never heard of him or his company. Others there had and especially those who came from London. What I liked about his talk was his early roots and his experiment to try to live with no money when younger. It’s something I had tried here in Cornwall during the Thatcher years but, often not by choice so, it was refreshing to hear somebody else’s efforts and what happened next. I found that I was naturally drawn to that tent of talks as for me, the way it was set up, the natural vibe that came out from both crowd and guest speakers was my kind of language and easy to understand.
The afternoon saw us get out the giant bubbles! For this I can firmly place thanks towards Leo and Emma who brought their equipment and mixtures with them to brighten the day for so many. No sooner had the first bubbles been blown then the first children turned up. Bubbles are like magnets for children and smiles. The smiles come from all ages but the children make the best ones. As we were far from a shy little group we soon managed to drag people over to take part. Drag may seem a little strong really, as very few needed persuading and most gladly came to try out and go large. The effects were brilliant as the mixture Leo made up really worked well and soon we had massive bubbles 6 feet plus floating across the site. Amazing rainbow colours shining through and giggles of laughter as they popped on people’s heads. A brilliant time had and across all ages.
Later that afternoon I also managed to meet another person that greatly inspired me. The work she was doing is not to dissimilar to the direction we seem to be heading and with this in common and over a crowded table in a marquee we talked and again I learned and again I was inspired. This seemed to be a thing this weekend, talk and inspiration was flowing fast and in plentiful supply.
I then ended up in the middle of a Celtic dance fest where arms were flying and the music reminded me of home. In and among this fun mayhem I managed to have a 10-minute chat with Phil Geraghty, the chap from Crowdfunder. I simply wanted to thank him because he has actually backed some of our campaigns on Crowdfunder before as he believes in what we do. Also 2 years ago I was honoured to be asked to attend the Crowdfunder Christmas party and as it was such fun I wanted to say thanks for that and to let him know how much this was appreciated. He has also helped us out on the delivery of an Erasmus Project we held in Cornwall the year before. Another reason why I wanted to talk to him was for my son. Once he found out that Phil was sort of Mr Crowdfunder for the event he just had to meet him. It was brilliant, at 12 years old my son had met a sort of hero of his. I had to stop him just short of asking for his autograph! This kind of thing really has an effect on me, my son not only knows of crowdfunder at 12 years old, he has now met the man behind it and has full bragging rights at school. For my son, Sam, that was the highlight of his weekend, although the archery was great and bulls-eyes were plenty, it was nothing like meeting Phil and the memory that will come from that.
Sunday morning came around after a full night’s sleep. The sound of gentle rain finally getting me asleep in the early hours of the morning. The plan for the Big Breakfast was at Emma`s and Loe`s tents as they had more room out front and with more passing people we could entice to join. The fact was that we didn’t have to do much in reality, to entice. The smell of coffee worked it magic and others being a little more prepared brought goodies that made it a fantastic cornucopia of foods and drinks for breakfast. Fresh fruit, cereals, breads, danishes and again, teas of all descriptions. We had flat breads, crackers, humus and concoctions that I have never seen before but they tasted bleddy wonderful! This was organic, this was unplanned and this is why I came. This was my weekend.
I needed this more than i actually realised. These people re-enforce in me the reasons why I do what I try to do. They inspire, they balance and they impress. Each and every one I place on that peddle stool and look up to. I wish I could be more like them and one day, if I keep going, I think I will. Because of them, I have the courage to be me.
Offline... I am coming for you again next year. I thank you for this year and all that you gave. And I give massive thanks for the invitation from Eden Communities because without you I may not have gone at all.
The weekend was so much more than the people I have mentioned here. I will be following up with as many as I can in the near future and If I don’t then it may be because I failed to get your details.
My only regret over the weekend was failing to meet Nick Gardener - Project Dirt, as we both come from a community organisers background and I wanted to say hi from a few he will know in Cornwall. My other regret is having to leave just after lunch on Sunday to drive back to Cornwall as I had a flight to catch from Bristol the next day that saw me getting up at 4 am the following morning. Next year I will not make that mistake and I will also make sure Nick is invited for breakfast. – John
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