It has been an amazing year for the Ulex Project. In the spring 2017, we received the generous support of friends and colleagues to raise finance for the renovation of the new centre.
That enabled us to dive into a round of building work and get all the basic infrastructure set up. A new onsite team formed, Germán covering the logistics and Sana taking care of food on the residential courses. And then it began!
In October and November, we ran our first courses. We launched with a Regenerative Activism training, which built on the sustainable activism work we’ve been developing since 2009. The gathering brought people together from as far afield as Greece, Poland and the north of England, working in diverse areas of progressive social change – zero-carbon municipalities, migrant led activism, tackling the rise of the far-right, and anarcho-economics! What an inspiring crowd.
The event enabled us to bring new people to work with us. Sham Selvaratnam, joined us on a break from her work with post-conflict Tamil communities in Sri Lanka and May MacKeith brought her wonderful nature connection education to enhance the course. It was also the first chance for Germán and Sana to get a feel of running the new centre. They did a fantastic job working through the inevitable teething issues and adapting the systems to the needs of participants and trainers. We’re incredibly lucky to have the support of two people so well embedded in the local community and activist networks in Catalunya.
With the place set up and the systems in place we dived into a second course on skills for collaboration. A similarly diverse group of European activists spent the 9-day training discovering about their own tendencies in groups, the ways we can work well with power in our organisations, and a whole host of key organising skills. It was great to see several organisations send small cohorts of participants. There’s real benefit in people who work together learning together. The connections and understanding they make add resilience and increase their capacity to integrate their learning through shared practice.
The last two courses of the season were our Creative Tools for Social Change course and a training exploring issues related to working with trauma in activism, called Resourcing Resilience. The last of these is an area that we are recognising as increasingly important to address. The course brought in professional therapists with a strong background in trauma work, but the translation of these skills into an activist context presented them with some significant challenges. We’ll be building on the feedback from that course, bringing in other people working in the field, and redeveloping it for 2019.
The last couple of months have seen the Ulex team working on partnerships and strategic development. We’ve been working with teams to design several completely new and innovative trainings for later this year – Ecology of Social Movements looks at theories of social change and movement building, Thinking Diversity Radically explores the subtleties and challenges of anti-oppression work, and Organisations Revisioned draws on systems thinking and recent notions of agility to help us design and run effective social change organisations.
Another aspect of programme development has spun out of last-year’s work with Transgender Europe. Together with transgender groups in Ireland, the Czech Republic and Sweden, we’ll be running two transgender specific courses next year, to help add strength to transgender organisations and allies.
We are also developing a training for trainers programme to build capacity for migrant-led activist education and to enhance leadership and facilitation skills within networks tackling issues facing people of colour. We’re working on a bursary programme to enable access to training that can be exponentially spread through those communities.
Working on our European reach, we’re currently involved in active partnerships with dozens of social movement organisations in 18 countries. Less than six months since we launched, we’re delighted at the interest in our work and excited by the scope that seems possible. By this time next year, the centre will have supported learning and sharing with over 300 activists from across Europe. The benefits of that will be spreading out through networks resisting social and ecological damage, creating new social realities, and building collective agency to contest our future in vitally important ways. We’re glad the journey has begun and the adventure is still to unfold.
The Ulex Core Team – Gee, Omar, Lindsay and Ella