Wellies, yarn and shampoo – my diploma journey with Looby

Jan diplomaIt’s over a month now since the accreditation for my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. Although I have been busy since then, I have tried to take some time to think about the process, what I got out of it and where I’m going. Most of this reflection has happened whilst I’ve been walking my dogs or working on my latest crochet and knitting projects… and this is an example of one of things that came out of my diploma. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start at the beginning…

I started my diploma in April 2012 with the intention of accrediting at the 2014 UK Permaculture Convergence. I’d had the opportunity to meet quite a number of diploma tutors just before I registered and had chatted to several of them about working with them. For various reasons, including geography and interests I asked Looby if she would take me on as an apprentice. She said yes, but she had a condition… that I do a design for her as one of the ten to be included in my portfolio.

This request gave me pause – first because I wasn’t sure that this design would suit me, but mostly because I was intimidated by the idea. Those of you who know me might be surprised about this – I’m not known for being intimidated by much – but it felt like a real challenge to take on such a design. After all, it would be quite obvious if I was making a mess of it or coming up with foolish ideas. By agreeing to do this, I was worried that I would be exposing myself too much. Looby’s idea was I would start with two designs: my learning pathway and the one for her. This felt very soon to me. I wondered whether it wouldn’t be better to play around with some other designs before my tutor saw whether I was any good.

However, being me, I don’t like to turn down a challenge and I really did want to have Looby as my tutor and she was (relatively) nearby, so I agreed. At which point she moved house! Ho hum… well, now she lived fairly near my parents, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

And, thus I embarked on my diploma journey. Right at the beginning, during my induction, we agreed a timetable and scheduled all my tutorials and assessments. I can look back on my notes and see the timeline that we constructed… and feel very pleased that we stuck to it (family illness and death notwithstanding). One of the most important parts of working with Looby was establishing expectations right at the outset. Our initial dialogue allowed us to discover whether we were on the same wavelength and whether we were compatible as tutor and apprentice. It was important to me to have regular face-to-face meetings and Looby was happy to do this. Plus, I really wanted a tutor who had time to schedule meetings to allow me to meet my (admittedly self-imposed) deadlines.

And so, we embarked.

It turned out that the design for Looby was a great way to start. I undertook my first client interview immediately after my induction, and she was a supportive and knowledgeable client. Looby helped me structure the interview and gave me clear answers, only providing feedback on how it went after it was completed. I was allowed to learn and develop techniques by a gentle, but expert guide. In fact this design just went on and on… I never had a tutorial subsequently that didn’t get extended because we were talking about the design for Looby. Because we were working together on this, our relationship was much more complex than a simple apprentice–tutor interaction and my learning benefited as a result.

As I progressed through my diploma, my aims changed… I stopped wanting to lead permaculture courses and started wanting to engage with people who otherwise would not think about sustainability. I developed a real passion for crafts and realised that I wanted to spend more time creating. And I started blogging, and thus making connections to all sorts of people all around the world; I discovered a community that I had never before encountered. I learned the value of thoughtful time – problem solving and exploring ideas whilst knitting, felting or crocheting.

My diploma gave me time to explore ideas; to investigate ethics; to examine certain aspects of my life. Because I had allocated time to design work, I felt it was ok to spend ages on the internet investigating the ethics of, amongst other things, wellies, yarn and shampoo. And then writing blog posts about all of them. Not all of my research made it into my diploma portfolio, but all of it made it into my life. I’ve met some fascinating people… many of whom have become good friends. One particularly positive output from my diploma journey is the learning guild that we formed back in the summer of 2012. Despite having finished my diploma, I haven’t finished learning and so I’m still enjoying out regular monthly meetings.

I don’t agree with everything I hear under the umbrella of “permaculture”; indeed, some of it makes my toes curl. However, I really value the fact that real permaculturalists base their lives and decisions on an appreciation of earth care and people care and this, it turns out, is the most important part of the whole thing to me. If you don’t care about people and the environment we all inhabit, you are not applying permaculture. It doesn’t matter how much you avoid exploiting animals or only buy organic food – you are not applying permaculture if you don’t respect other human beings, whether in one-to-one interactions or in broader terms of the products you buy. Whilst we can’t be perfect, we can try our best and we can certainly be kind to the people we meet (whether in person or on line) and to the environment we live in.

Reflecting on the past two and a half years, I ask myself whether I would do it all again. And the answer is yes – but not for the destination, just for the journey. I really didn’t need another paper qualification – honestly, even if I write my name in full I already have more letters after it than in it! But the diploma allowed me time to explore a whole range of aspects of my life that otherwise I probably would have just skated over and meet a whole bunch of people I would otherwise not have encountered.

And now, I move forward with new ideas and new friends. I will probably never lead a PDC or work as a permaculture designer, but I will apply permaculture to my life and offer support to others. I am in a rather different place than I expected to be when I thought about it two and a half years ago, but it all seems to have worked out fine. And if you do need ecological advice I’m here to help… after all there are only a few professional ecologists who also have a permaculture diploma!

Jan Martin November 2014 you can read my blog at: http://thesnailofhappiness.com/

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