All posts by andrewshipley

Nature Sense – Rediscovering the stories that delight us.

Nature Sense – Rediscovering the stories that delight us.

Last week I was hugely privileged to be part of a 2 day workshop at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge.  The event was organised by Sarah Bell of Exeter University, in partnership with the RSPB and WWT, and we were looking at how to think about bringing more diverse groups to our sights, including people with sensory impairments, by making the most of the rich variety of sensory features habitats encompass.

As our conversations about multi sensory experiences continued over the 2 days we were together,  my thoughts kept returning to the idea of how we learn about the world as pre-school children.


As infants we yearn to enjoy the world   with every sense equally and fully. Watch any  toddler  interacting with an object for the first time.  See how much they want to connect with   it and know it thoroughly, to hear what it sounds like; shaking it,  beating the ground with it.  To explore its shape and various textures not only with their fingers but with their more sensitive lips and tongues.  Seeking out and sensually consuming every  knowable feature of it.  I remember in primary school each of my classmates were as distinctive by their smell as their appearance.   And there were some pretty pungent characters!  I’m always struck by how children are just as likely, perhaps even more likely to describe someone, particularly an adult they don’t like, by their smell, as by their appearance.   


  I wonder  what our perception of the world would be like, if at every opportunity, when encountering an object, we were encouraged to explore all of it’s properties on equal terms.  How much richer would our understanding of the world be, if, as well as describing  an object   by it’s shape and colour  we were equally concerned with qualities such as oder, resonance, surface texture and spatial context.  And in turn, what questions might our awareness of these properties  raise for us?  Take the oak tree for example.  We are taught to recognise it by it’s distinct  outline, the unique shape of it’s leaf and of course by it’s fruit the acorn.  But does the oak have a distinct and unique cent?  I suspect it might!  When played by the breeze,Is the  sound of it’s canopy distinctly oakish?   Perhaps!  And what relationship does it have with it’s neighbours? 


  There was a lot of discussion about “interpretation during our workshop. But again, reflecting on our formative learning experiences, it seems to me that what engages us the most are the stories that delight and enchant us.  And the most powerful of these .  The tales that really stay with us. Are the ones that come alive by speaking to all of our senses. 


So I think the invitation to all of us is to continue to be like children,, to explore and discover the diverse ways   sites and habitats behave and express themselves,.  So we can work with them     to reveal and share their unique and distinct  stories, to delight and enchant all who encounter them.

The health of our ecosystem

The healthiest ecosystems are the most diverse, in which every species, no matter how minute or massive, plays a vital part in the continued wellbeing of the whole system.  As Fritjov Capra says: “The more complex the network is, the more complex its pattern of interconnections, the more resilient it will be.”


I’ve been thinking a lot about the diversity of our own ecosystem and the strain it is currently under.  Whether its the Brexit vote, the Grenfell Fire, the growth of foodbanks  or the UK Government’s sustained pressure on sick and disabled benefit claimants, it is clear that something is very wrong.


It seems that an imbalance exists in the system, in which a minority currently control its regulation in their own interest.  To the detriment of many other parts of the system.  For me this has been most graphically illustrated by 2 recent


At one end of the ecosystem, which some might call ’the bottom, an article published in the Independent on Tuesday revealed that the Department for Work and Pensions has spent £39 million defending incorrect decisions to withdraw benefits from sick and disabled people.  At the same time paying around £500 million to the contractors Atos and Capita, 70% of whose benefits assessments have been proven incorrect by tribunals.



Meanwhile, at the other end of the ecosystem, the UK Government has announced new measures to address company pay inequality.    

 To address excessive boardroom pay, there will be no government intervention to cap excesses, which, at a time when some low paid workers live in poverty and have to resort to using foodbanks, can be 120 times that of the workforce.  Instead, companies will be just required to  report pay differentials.  A stark contrast to the Government’s willingness to take robust action towards those at the bottom of the ecosystem.

In order for the diverse parts of an ecosystem to play their full parts towards the health and wellbeing of the whole system, each has itself to be healthy and thriving, not under stress.  When the health of the whole system rests with one small element committed to obtaining and retaining increasingly more resources for its survival, many other parts of the system become stressed and fail.  What is needed is action to recognise the value of our diverse population in all its forms and genuine efforts to redress the massive inequality that is undermining our ecosystem.  As Maude Barlow puts it:  “No piecemeal solution is going to prevent the collapse of whole societies and ecosystems… a radical rethinking of our values, priorities and political systems is urgent!”


Andy Shipley       

My first week without Winnie

Wonderful Winnie, my Guide dog,  has retired.  This is my first week of getting around without her, using a long cane.  Fortunately none of the journeys I’ve had to make  have been too challenging. so far.  What I’ve found is, that while I miss the warmth and effortless guidance of Winnie, feeling my way forward with the probing tip of the long cane has its own rewards.   




Every subtle change in surface texture is transmitted through the length of the cane into my hand and consciousness.  Enabling me to establish what feels like a rather exclusively intimate  interaction with my immediate environment.  It seems that the sensation of each variation in contour,  erupting weeds and grass, loitering sticks and stones and of course litter, occurs as a private revelation.  I’ve found the experience to be almost meditative at times.  


Winnie’s absence is also playing out in other unexpected ways.  I’m finding that the loss of the Winnie related routine that was threaded through my daily life as left me a little disorientated.  On Wednesday I managed to knock a full cup of coffee over the lounge carpet and leave my keys in the door when I popped out to get some lunch.  On the face of it, its hard to see how being without Winnie played a role in these mishaps, but on reflection I’ve figured out how the removal of Winnie’s presence  played its part.  



On arriving back at my flat with coffee just purchased from the station cafe around the corner, my former routine would have been to put the coffee on the kitchen surface while removing Winnie’s harness, hang up my jacket, collect the coffee from the kitchen, sit down on the sofa and place it on the low table nearby. Now Winnieless, I simply put the coffee on the low table and then hung my jacket up.  Sitting back down my leg knocked the table and over the coffee went.


Leaving my keys in the door occurred, because their removal is usually preluded by Winnie jumping down the doorstep, pulling the lead taught and my arm almost from its socket.  Without this prompt, my attention was newly placed upon assembling my cane and getting to the cafe before it closed.


Its going to be interesting discovering the ways Winnie’s absence shows itself over the coming weeks and also what I learn about my abilities to cope without her and grow new strategies and resources to get about and interact with the world around me. 



Andy Shipley

Food banks, Fracking and Standing rock


Foodbanks, fracking and Standing rock



This Friday, 6 of us from the production team for “Foodbank as it is,” got together  to  check-in about how things are going with preparations for our first performance on 25 April: 


As we were chatting about the issues the play highlights and how these reflect the wider global stories currently unfolding, it suddenly occurred to me, (and you can call me a late developer if you like), that what is being done to thousands of sick, disabled and impoverished people in the UK, is directly analogous with what is being done to the environment and the Earth globally.  Whether fracking every last millilitre of oil out of the ground or starving sick and disabled people into work, the  neoliberal capitalist machine is being forced to  squeeze ever harder to extract every ounce of wealth for a tiny  minority. 


In “Memory, Fire and Hope: Five Lessons From Standing Rock,,”


Alnoor Ladha  identifies a “growing awareness among movements that we are uniting against  “the deadly logic of late stage capitalism.”  Whether fighting for “land rights in India, tax justice in Kenya, or against a pipeline in the US, we are all taking on a global economy that “requires perpetual extraction, violence, oppression, in the service of GDP growth.”


Ladha  reminds us  how, during COP 21 in Paris, Indigenous youth groups carried banners that read “We  are nature protecting itself.”  What this speaks to in me, is an innate need to fight for a human presence that has as its central mission, the goal of sustaining all life.  So whether its the production of food, energy generation, or building an economy, it is achieved by investing in long term sustainable solutions, not brutal, short-term extraction methods like fracking or benefits sanctions.



Andy Shipley

So what should I do right now?

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” 
Albert Einstein

Where do we go from here?

Its been some time since I spoke from here hasn’t it.  For those of you who know me, you’ll be familiar with a little of the journey my life has taken over the last 18 or so months.  It hasn’t been without its challenges, and continues to offer gritty learning opportunities on a regular basis.  For the time being I have moved slightly away from the world of sensory exploration and into the space of campaigning on behalf of spinal injured people, for the charity Aspire.

  This has mainly consisted of highlighting the deficiencies  of government policy and practice

 and working with politicians in the houses of Lords and Commons to apply pressure in the right places to bring about change.  What has become only too clear as time has passed however, is that a self perpetuating feedback loop seems to be in play when it comes to government policy.  This both seeks to mobilise popular opinion on an issue and then use that opinion to justify policies targeted at a particular sector of society.  Most notably; the ‘scroungers and shirkers  narrative about benefits recipients that emerged from the Coalition  government, creating the social conditions for it to then introduce draconian welfare reforms that hit the most vulnerable in our society.    

Events of the last few months have demonstrated only too clearly, how, when populist sentiment is mobilised on one side or the other of an issue or cause, civil division follows.  In Britain post Brexit  and the US under President Elect Trump, very distinct and far-reaching fault-lines appear to bisect societies.   Is this really the case?  Isn’t this just a crude media portrayal  of the situation.  What if  what’s really going on is that finally the tools and organs through which popular debate happens and decisions made,are being found wanting and fundamentally inadequate for the purpose of exploring complex social questions, let alone arriving at sustainable solutions.


It seems to me we have a choice about how we move forward from here.  We can continue to act as though we are a divided society and follow that path of conflict to its inevitable catastrophic conclusion.  Or we can develop new tools that enable all of us to contribute our individual perspective to the debate and enable us to collectively explore and develop solutions that work for all and not just those in power. 



On Thursday this week, I was very privileged to have been involved in one such exploration at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation: 


Sense and Sense-ability

I’d like to offer this quote as an invitation to all ,to enter 2016 in a spirit of service towards the realisation of a vision of a life sustaining future for all who share this world.  Happy New Year!


“Let your vision be ahead of your sight! Dream beyond what you see and never let your environment determine the size of what you see in your convictions. If possible, dream about what does not exist and the good news is that “it is possible”; so go and do it now!

Israelmore Ayiovir