What is Keynsham Action Network?
Keynsham Action Network is an experiment. We want to see if this mostly middle class town can find its power and its passion. We are doing this because the world needs people who have come alive *.
What problems are we trying to solve?
Keynsham Action Network or ‘KAN’ is the response of a group of Keynsham residents to what we see as a loss of connection and a loss of deep meaning in our culture. Everywhere there is evidence of this: epidemic loneliness in the young as much as the old, socially determined illness overwhelming our health services, young people leaving education unprepared for a life of purpose and achievement, being careless of our natural environment, widespread substance abuse and prisons overflowing with inmates.
Only a community can solve these problems
There is neither a single nor simple answer. And it is certainly not sufficient to pour all our effort into trying to fix the individual problems that confront us. We need to save some of our energy and resources for looking behind these problems towards their deeper causes. This task cannot be left to others. These deeper problems belong to all of us. Nor can we expect individuals to sort out the mess. It requires ordinary people working together. We are social creatures, we all live in a community, often in several communities. It makes sense for the community to be the test bed for change.
Men are free when they belong to a living, organic,
believing community, active in fulfilling some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealized purpose…. D.H. Lawrence**
How can a community solve these problems?
By ‘free’ Lawrence means able to think our own thoughts, pursue our own goals and find our own meaning. The words ‘living’, ‘organic’, ‘believing’, ‘active’, ‘unfulfilled’ and ‘purpose’ are all vitally important ingredients. This is what KAN is about.
We aim to create the conditions for people to become free. But, see how Lawrence continues:
…. Men are not free when they are doing just what they like. The moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest self likes.
How do we enable the people of Keynsham to find ‘what the deepest self likes’, what Lawrence calls ‘some unfulfilled, perhaps unrealised purpose’?
In the UK, we now live in a culture dominated by persuasion to have things that are on sale. Things that will stimulate the economy and create profit and jobs, many of which have little deeper meaning. Here it is hard to find the ‘deepest self’ amidst what Zygmunt Bauman calls a ‘privatised existence’ which ‘induces loneliness and uncertainty as to the choices made and still to be made…’ Alone Again p29.
Bauman goes on to warn against the temptation to attach ourselves to a ‘power stronger and longer-lasting’ than your solitary self. You could call this ‘dancing to someone else’s music’. Erich Fromm said much the same in his book ground-breaking book, Fear of Freedom .
True empowerment is about creating your own ‘music’: an identity that accords with your deepest values. This sort of freedom entails working with others. We best understand ourselves in the mirror provided by others within the community to which we have some sense of belonging. It may seem a contradiction that we must come together in order to be ‘free’, but that’s how it is: coming together, not to be swallowed up, but to come alive *. As more people in a community come alive, so the community becomes, through an organic process of growth, a living and believing organism in its own right. We see it as an ecosystem.
But how do we actually do this?
It is not easy! Were it so, we would not have so many dysfunctional communities in the modern world. It is not done by any sort of ‘Command and Control’; it must be a bottom-up process of emergence. This can be understood through ‘systems thinking’. Without this, KAN could not have been conceived. Read more about systems thinking HERE.
Here are two examples of our projects: our first project, LIVE SIMPLY and our project in development, GOOD CONVERSATIONS.
LIVE SIMPLY was formed in late 2012, very soon after the birth of KAN.
Live Simply started from a small group of residents, mostly
connected with St John’s Church. Earlier in 2012, they had invited the great sustainability campaigner, Satish Kumar, to speak in the church hall in Keynsham. They were left feeling inspired and wanted to harness that positive energy, but how could they do that? After several meetings with KAN members a shared agenda emerged and the newly formed ‘Live Simply’ staged no less than six environment-related events from Spring to Autumn 2013. These included a return visit of Satish Kumar to speak in the Music Festival Big Tent in the Memorial Park in July 2013. This series enabled us to make links between the international speaker – and so with the world – and what is happening locally. This became a hallmark of Live Simply’s work. The group is now mostly autonomous of KAN, is involved in many aspects of sustainability, is collaborating widely with other like-minded local groups and with the University of the West of England, and has a loyal local following. See accounts of subsequent events by scrolling down our Front Page. Notice the number of logos on the flyer for the Patrick Holden event.
GOOD CONVERSATIONS: in 2010, before KAN was formed, its founder, Dr William House, was searching for ways to work with the ordinary conversations amongst the residents of the town. This was explicitly to generate the kind of ‘living, organic, believing community’ envisaged by D.H. Lawrence (see above). Dr House published these ideas in 2010 in the form of an essay and diagram. The KAN group has struggled with this fundamental challenge since its formation. Now, early in 2018, we are optimistic about a new approach which begins with conversations between residents receiving support within the community and those who are supporting them, both professional and voluntary. This involves the supporters having a short training in a form of conversation based on strengths and solutions, rather than vulnerability and problems; a conversation that draws out the deepest self *. For this project, KAN is collaborating with a group in the Scottish district of Fife (who developed this approach), with St Monica Trust (based in Bristol), with the local branch of Age UK, Community at 67 (local community centre), with St Augustine’s Medical Practice and with Dr Richard Kimberlee (researcher at the University of the West of England).
* Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman
** D. H. Lawrence in Studies in Classic American Literature
The structure of KAN
KAN is a voluntary organisation formed at the end of 2011. It is currently an unincorporated association. We have a steering group of seven local residents who meet every 6-8 weeks to make key decisions about progress and direction. We are supported by an administrator, Jill Herrett, for one day per week. Our members are listed below with a few sentences about each of us. Every steering group member has a particular role in the organisation.
Our funding comes from local fundraising in the town (such as donations at events) with support through St Augustine’s Medical Practice in Keynsham and project grants from various generous local funders.
Who are we?
William House (Chair)
During 30 years as a general practitioner in and around Keynsham I shared with people the bringing up of children, the struggling with misfortune, laughing at absurdity, weeping with joy or misery, and increasingly raging with frustration. Somewhere along the line, I concluded that the science of medicine did not help to understand most of this, in fact it was often a hindrance. Forming KAN was my response. I see it as a cross between an unusual form of creative art and a new sort of gardening. Both involve working with the grain of nature and wondering at its miracles.
Hello, I’m Sarah. Having brought up three children and worked in the NHS, I am now a photographer. I have a lifelong passion for nature and am fascinated by all sorts of things in life, from art to architecture, psychology to poetry, music to movies. I also love travelling to places near and far. I have a particular interest in kindness.
My role in KAN has been to establish our links via Social Media. I aim to look not only at local links, but also further afield. I see KAN as a conduit between individuals and their community and between communities and the wider world.
Born in Glasgow in the 50’s I was brought up in a working-class neighbourhood where people looked out for one another. I was often sent over to elderly neighbours to see whether they needed any shopping doing. We were encouraged to help others by, say, taking their dogs for a walk, looking after the baby while the mother got on with her household chores, scraping away snow from the pavement outside your home and putting salt down so people wouldn’t slip, putting on backyard concerts to raise money for orphanages, etc. It was culturally the norm to support and care for everyone, vulnerable or not. There was virtually nothing in the way of crime, elders were quick to tell children off (not just their own) if they caught them misbehaving! As children, we spent most of the time not at school outdoors playing games, some of which we just used our imagination to create. We had wonderful “adventures” every day. I know this sounds idyllic but there were times when life was difficult. My sister died when I was two (she was only 12) and my father died in his forties when I was just four years old and that left the family devastated. My mother was a very proud woman and refused to seek help from the state so she worked hard to keep us afloat. We were held up and supported by family and friends and I can honestly say I never felt deprived in any way growing up.
When I left school after my A Levels I decided I needed to get a job and help support the family so I joined the Civil Service. Initially, I worked for the Inland Revenue (boo, hiss!) and when I got married we moved to Portsmouth (I married a sailor) and I then moved to the Ministry of Defence and during my time in the MoD I did a whole host of different jobs from Public Relations during the Falklands conflict to Officers Pensions to running the RN Medals Office. I had my son, James, and when he was seven I moved to Keynsham. It was a huge period of change, starting in a new department, the Procurement Executive as it was then doing a new job as an Internal Auditor which I’d never done before and finding a new home. I came to Keynsham to do a “recce” when I was trying to figure out where to live and I got off the bus and went into Busses and the first experience of Keynsham was one of the shop assistants saying “Good Morning, how are you?” I knew instantly that this was the place for me.
When I took early retirement in 2008 I decided it was about time I gave back so I started looking for volunteering opportunities. I started off as a Samaritan in Bath, ending up as a listener, a leader, on the Executive Committee and a Deputy Director. I also became involved in Keynsham South Forum at around the same time and it was from that that Community at 67 emerged. I’m now honoured to be Chair of that organisation and enjoying seeing it develop. I’ve also acted as a driver for Contact the Elderly. I am currently a member of Keynsham Action Network, Community Health and Involvement Network CHAIN) and Live Simply. All of these organisations are complementary and my involvement in each informs the others. I’ve come into contact with some of the most inspiring, intelligent, committed and caring people you could ever imagine in all of these groups and this only serves to encourage me to always strive for better.
I came to Keynsham with my husband in 1962 from my first teaching job in London. I grew up in a small Welsh mining village where everyone knew everyone else and looked out for each other so I’m drawn to activities that bring the community together.
When my three sons were growing up I did the usual school things, PTA, school governor but in 1994 I joined Keynsham Community Association (KCA) on its start-up. The aim was to work with the District Council, first Wansdyke then Bath & North East Somerset, to build a community hall on the Tesco site. It didn’t happen in spite of an Ombudsman’s decision in our favour but I met many talented people and learnt a lot.
Since then I have been involved in many projects including Community at 67 where I run the Maths Club for children, Transition Keynsham’s food group and other projects. Keynsham Action Network is my most recent venture. It is a very ambitious project and we are finding out the art of the possible but I would very much like to see it succeed – I think it’s very existence can only be a force for good in our community.
Andrew is vicar of St Francis church in Keynsham, ex-chair of Churches Together. He hails from South Africa. More detail to follow.
Alastair is a local businessman and resident. Alastair’s early career was in the public service, and he served as a Diplomat in the Middle East before entering business in the 1980s. He specialises in organisational design and effectiveness and is incurably curious about how best to change anti-social behaviours in society. He is actively engaged in criminal and youth justice, and his broad charity experience has included board positions with the international development NGO VSO and the environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy.
Mike is an ordained Anglican priest with broad experience outside the church, especially in community development. More detail to follow.
Kathleen’s particular interest is in the relations between the Town Council and the Bath and North East Somerset unitary authority. More detail to follow.
Jill Herrett, freelance administrator
More detail to follow.
Ron was Bristol born, the son of a Master mariner. After thirty years spent in various occupations in a variety of towns, Ron settled in Keynsham. You may remember him as the potter in Hurran’s Garden Centre. When he retired, Ron’s studio was used to make two of the Millennium Mosaic Panels that were displayed around the Clock Tower. Needing exercise, he joined a walking group in South Bristol. With his wife Pat he explored undiscovered green corners of Bristol and the countryside nearby, and led two groups of walkers. In Keynsham, Ron and Pat set up and led the Bus Stop Walkers on behalf of Age UK until he was no longer fit enough. Ron retired from the group in 2016.
Photos of our ‘away day’ facilitated very kindly by Jim Cronin in December 2013 : reviewing the busy year behind us and making lots of plans for the future!