We were well into our training course, Facilitation for Change when I found myself looking at a poster on the notice board, expressing ‘HOLTDAYS‘. It just happened to be in the room of the community centre we were working in.  I wondered what on earth were HOLTDAYS? I’d also started thinking about what had brought me there, to this course with the strangely sounding name, Facilitation for Change?  What needed changing? Or was it me..?

Certainly people were talking about the big issues, such as global capitalism and climate change, artificial intelligence and our common beliefs and values. I realised one of the reasons I was there was to take stock of the many changes in my organisation after restructuring. We discussed how much power we had as individuals and groups to influence change as well as expanding our focus to seeing how positive and negative changes in society have come about through collective action, for example, the National Health Service (NHS), free school education and fascism. 

It also helped to focus on the personal too. We were asked to consider a time when we’d acted positively to challenge something. And I recalled an intervention I’d made in the care home for my elderly mum with dementia when her care fell below an acceptable standard. For many of us, this was enlightening, believing it was a time when we had spoken ‘truth to power’.  And we felt energised by this greater self-awareness.

When we completed a process task on the state of Britain today, in stages, analysing what it looked like, how we had got here and gazing into the future, it looked a gloomy picture. It’s fair to say the group consisted mostly of people, liberal and left-leaning in outlook, though I did try to lift the mood by performing pop-up Tory adverts, often describing an optimistic vision of a vibrant, robust Britain, emerging from austerity, standing proudly, a soon once again to be an independent state in the world with, moreover, nearly full employment. And there are not many countries that can say that! And I popped down again. I’m not sure I convinced anyone. 

But look, we still have much to be grateful for – nature, the countryside and seas, our parks, if we’re lucky; legislation, such as the Equality Act. And we have learning, I argued, providing space for people to discuss and grow.  And I thought it would help if we smile a bit more. Actually, we were doing a lot of smiling amid the intense focus of small group work.

How would this go down as a training exercise in the boardroom, one of us asked? I’d read once that many managers nowadays at middling level aren’t required to think to do their jobs these days. Their plans are pretty much set and their role is to get people to perform them. 

So, for some organisations, bringing people together to think creatively in ways they may find a little challenging is a good way, surely, to help build a team and invite create solutions from everyone, not just from the more vocal? So I thought. Yes, so long as people can see the purpose behind the exercise and how it fits into the overall day…as we had come to think creatively about changing, becoming re-energised.

Well, was I feeling re-energised? We’d just been through a massive restructuring at work which has left us all, I think, not a little shaken. For me, this training was just the tonic I needed to reconnect to what I feel is vital for the health of a good society, namely, learning. Our beliefs and values are being shaped to a large extent by careful news management, polarising people too easily into opposite camps. Learning may help us hear each other more clearly, if we are to make progress in society.

And suddenly I noticed I had been reading HOLTDAYS all wrong. Suddenly, it jumped out at me. How had I not seen it? It wasn’t  HOLTDAYS, it was HOLIDAYS and I smiled, feeling re-energised, more self-aware and grateful to be part of this group, knowing that, together, we formed a small part of the chain, which both held society together and was the agent of its transformation.


For more ideas and information…

This training was organised by Liverpool World Centre.

The training was delivered by Partners Organisation Dublin, skilled in facilitation work over many years. For WEA tutors, the participatory learning resources and ideas are saved on WEAVE.

Robert Chambers, Participatory Workshops, a sourcebook of 21 sets of ideas and activities, earthscan, ISBN 978-1-85383-863-7

The Barefoot Guide Connection

Community Development Resource Association




I’ve started a sustainable life, by which I mean on an online Woodbrooke course, run by Doug Gwynne, with contributions from two other American friends, Brian Drayton and Marcelle Martins, among others. But do you not have a sustainable life already? Well, how do I know? What does one look like, anyway? I have a life, of course, but is it sustainable? What would it look like? What would your sustainable life look like? Hopefully, over the next ten weeks, I’ll gain some answers to a few of these questions and probably many more questions. I almost prefer the questions to the answers now.

During the introductory session last week, we started to get to know one another. And yes, questions came up. How does one live an integrated life? We often think of sustainability to be about climate change and resources. But what if it’s also about equality and housing and neighbourliness? You can be overwhelmed and paralysed by the enormity of the problems facing the planet. I thought of my small, active meeting. Not many people really but a growing number of small clusters of friends who are interested in particular areas, including Peacework, Quaker Life, Children and Young People, Young Adult Friends, many, more than one, and who all contribute to the rich life of the meeting. Their activities and prayers connect us together in tangible and intangible ways. It feels like a community and it’s also part of a wider Quaker one and  society in general. How on earth do we all get on? ‘That’s a question.’ ‘So, give me an answer!’

Well, last evening, Brian Drayton talked through his article, Why climate change is a spiritual challenge, written in 2011.  He said it came out of a conference of botanists, who all spoke of their despair for the future of humanity on the planet. His response was to turn towards the light and wait…for God’s guidance. There are four stages to the response, if it is to be sustaining and effective.

Firstly, be watchful and wait for an inkling or a push. It may not be the most obvious or what you are expecting. It may be something very small, at least to begin with. Doug Gwynne reminded us of ‘the day of small things’, the quote by Isaac Penington. I remembered first writing about organising a street party because I lacked the courage to do so, to finding myself on a street committee two years later planning a marvellous event.

Secondly, when it calls, act promptly, so as not to let the spark go out. And be prepared to suffer – not in the way early friends suffered by being tortured and thrown into prison, though some friends today do end up in prison. Mostly, your friends and colleagues and people you meet will find you odd or quirky. It is more a social strain on your relationships. You will feel growth pains as you change…and grow.

And finally, tell people about what you’re called to do in every way you can. For shy and quiet Quakers, this can be a problem. ‘But if it’s spirit-led, then it’s meant to be shared, yes?’ ‘I think so.’

Put all together, this was the Lamb’s war that James Naylor wrote about to build the kingdom of God on earth today in a peaceful way. I hadn’t made this connection before. How living simply was part of this and why it takes time to do ‘what is enough’. We need to be ready. As William Penn wrote of early friends: ‘They were changed men (and women) in those days, before they went about to change others.’

To be desolate is to stand alone – solus – and we’re not alone. This is heartening. I had grown up in a loving, caring community and have spent my whole life trying to get back to it again. I feel I have that in my meeting, though we are vulnerable to change. And I moved not long ago not only into a lovely place to live in but also into a ready-made community, near to a Quaker Burial Ground, cared for by gardeners from the area. Brian reminded us of his favourite Tolkein quote, ‘Despair is for people who know the outcome.’

I thought Brian’s talk left us dangling on one big question Did he envisage a day of revelation when all the community, business and political groups we spoke of aligned together to create the world we want to live in? A sustainable world, no less! Assuming he lives in a large, Quaker community, would this influence his thinking? My own Quaker community in Britain is tiny. Most people I meet aren’t Quakers…but we connect well.

‘There’s work to be done, then?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘That’s another question.’ At least, it all starts with watchfulness and waiting. So, let us wait and look out for that spark. And when it catches, go for it.


The worm of an idea for this wriggled out some years before the writing. It tells of the author’s interest in sound and its effects on people  – real and imagined – when turned into a weapon by a secretive, rogue government department, which the lead character, Philip Fry, sorry, Dr Philip Fry unwittingly joins.

A Quaker, Dr Fry finds himself falling deeper and deeper into more serious trouble while his wife, kept apart, attempts to find out what’s happening to her new husband.

The writing uses lots of different fonts to mimic various sound effects and their impact on individuals and groups. I found myself wanting to rush straight back into the story inbetween work to find out what had gone on.

The text is peppered with unexpected Quaker references in a seemingly farfetched story and yet stranger things are happening in the world. And towards the ending, we witness a silent vigil, carried out with constancy and patient humour.

I was sorry it finished so soon but I expect Dr Fry will have had enough of working in secret government establishments. It’s just that, as the door is ever so slightly ajar, we’re left wondering have they had enough of him, our adventurous Quaker scientist?

By Jonathan Doering, published by the Wolfian Press, 2016