Let's be absolutely clear and realistic here: In Britain, the mainstream media, political organisations, and definitely the education system, are never going to routinely discuss the challenging ideas of heterodox economics or degrowth, critical arguments against corporate power, the reality of ecological limits for technological society, or alternative perspectives to solve the ecological crisis such as anarcho-primitivism.

If we want those ideas to be promoted, then we have to create our own public capacity to do that. More importantly, if you want people to 'do' rather than just 'know', you need to set up a training capacity to show people 'how to do' these things.

A workshop during a Free Range camping weekend
A workshop during a Free Range camping weekend

'Be the change you want to make': Workshops & events

When the Network first set-up, its main focus was on hosting workshops on single themes for people in a small area - who would not have otherwise been able to do it themselves.

As time passed, and our experience of working with groups around Britain grew, we realised that we needed to run more 'open' events - where anyone could turn up and learn, not just those in a small area with a specific local problem or site. This led to the creations of a set of 'standard' workshops we were able to tour around the whole of Britain in response to particular national issues.

The Anti-TWAT global on-line protest tipi, 2001
The Anti-TWAT global on-line
protest tipi, 2001 - the launch-point for a global protest against the Afghan War

First we organised 'educational' workshops. Then we ran more 'practical' workshops. But then we realised that by combining a general issue, with a camping weekend, we could better promote ideas like simple living and degrowth on the back of the theme for that weekend.

Since around 2005, our focus has been on running both: Stand-along workshops, often at other events or festivals where we can bring certain key ideas to a wider, general audience - while camping-out at the festival; and more intensive day-long or weekend events, where possible camping out - so we can combine practical 'simple living' activities to illustrate the issues being discussed.

'Educate, Agitate, Organise' graphic

Since 2017 our workshops have been pretty much on hold: With first Brexit, the election of a reactionary right-wing government, and then the pandemic, it's been impossible to plan how to teach people "how the system works" when that system itself has been thrown into mayhem. However, on reflection, those very factors will become the greatest obstacle to change over the next few years - which demands we prioritise work on them.

The failure of governments to react meaningfully to the ecological crisis, and the need for circumvent central authority in order to create change, IS NOW THE ISSUE people should focus on. We'll be developing new workshops around this over 2022 & 2023. Keep an eye on our web site for details.

The Free Range stall
'Travelling Exhibiton'

'Information as action': The Travelling Exhibition

The 'Travelling Exhibition' started as a one-off event back in 1999. When that invitation was repeated it got remade, and travelled more widely, and slowly grew into 'a thing' we did.

After a number of years it's become a process in itself: Coinciding with the government's release of annual statistics over June and July, we generate displays and handouts which explain the latest eco-trends in Britain and the world - and what they mean for the future; those resources then travel during the festival season right into the Autumn, and the best ones will be uploaded to the website for others to use.

The untold story about a cup of High Street coffee
An example from 2019:
'The untold story about a cup of High Street coffee'

The exhibition usually covers eight to ten different issues, selected because of their relevance to local eco-activists around Britain. For example, we were one of the first groups giving detailed information about the roll-out of fracking in Britain in 2010 and 2011 - two years before it hit the mainstream media.

In any year, one or two old/past issues might be dropped, and another one or two new issues added to take their place. This keeps the presentation up-to-date, and allows us to reuse content from year-to-year. We also continually tweak parts of the display with new data or interpretation, as our experience of communicating it to the public develops, to refine parts of the display and make it better.

Working on the stall is also a valuable opportunity to encourage new people into the Network, give them the opportunity to present their own work, or perfect their understanding of the issues by relating them to the public.

Networking ideas on the Free Range stall
The 'Travelling Exhibition' in action.

It's the 'live communication' element that is by far the most useful. We learn how to explain the issues to the public, and we can make the display better. That work then informs how we design the website, and what information to put on it.

At the same time the volunteers on the stall can first listen to someone else talking about the content; then try working as a stand-in on the stall to learn more by explaining it to others; and by learning the details, and how to explain them, they too can become 'experts' on communicating particular issues to the public.

During the pandemic, with festivals shut, we did consider creating a 'virtual exhibition'. In the end the idea was dropped because without the 'live' element, experimenting with different ways to explain information to the public, it was a pointless exercise.

Setting up for the Green Gathering in 2013
Setting up for another festival, 2013

Currently most of our travelling exhibition has been taken off-line due to the pandemic - having not been kept up-to-date due to lack of festivals! If the world restarts in 2022, we hope to upload some new, or improved, resources to coincide with the new festival season over 2022 and 2023.

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The Free Range Network logo
The Free Range Network logo