Thursday, April 06, 2017


THE GENERALIST was by last-minute chance one of the 15 participants in what was billed as a 'Campfire Conversation' in the Sheriff's Room of the White Hart Hotel in Lewes. The event was organised and headed by Pete Lawrence - the self-styled conceptualist, brand guardian and firestarter - who will be well-known to many as founder of the record label Cooking Vinyl and co-founder with Katrina Larkin of the now famous Big Chill Festival. The latter began in 1994 with a series of ambient parties at the Union Chapel in Islington and went on to become a big fixture on the annual UK festival scene, held at various locations, principally the grounds of Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire. 

In Lewes, Pete was very low-key in his presentation of his past achievements. He encouraged us to sit in a circle and then we were asked to say who we were in turn and why we were there. We were given printed sheets with information about what Campfire Conversations is all about but I don't think I was alone in not really understanding where all this was coming from. It provided a forum, giving people an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas about what is going on in the world. There were a number of people there who expressed concern at recent world events and were unsure about the future.  I wanted to be positive about what appeared to be a new social networking initiative but came away with mixed feelings.

Post the meeting, turns out Pete was staying in Lewes and he came round to see me for a hour and can now report with a better sense of where he is coming from. He has spent many years developing the idea of a Campfire social network site, which he describes as 'an evolutionary platform for creative thinkers, funded and shaped by its own members.' 

This is linked to a variety of Campfire gatherings. There is an annual Campfire Convention - the first was held in August 2016 'in a beautiful spot in the Golden Valley on the English side of The Black Mountains (just a few miles from the original and inspirational first Big Chill Gala event which created history 21 years ago) and utilises one of the most spectacular pub settings in the UK,[the Bridge Inn in Herefordshire] surrounded by a stream and open fields leading to the Cat's Back and the foothills leading to Offa's Dyke'.  and There were just 500 tickets for the event as a whole. The 2017 Convention is August 4th-6th at Harwarden Estate, North Wales.

The keynote speaker at the first convention was Brian Eno. His quote in the Campfire literature is a good one:

‘Everybody knows we are at a turning point. The old order has become unstable and is breaking down around us. That process is conspicuous but what is not so obvious is that new shoots are starting to emerge too. The future is being born but nobody is paying much attention to it. Disaster sells newspapers but hope generally doesn’t. The end of an old order is the beginning of a new one. How it turns out depends on us and what we dare to hope for.’ 

His speech continued: 

'Nicholas Albery was a man who peddled hope. He founded and ran an organisation called THE INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL INVENTIONS but unfortunately died in a car accident in 2001. Every year he published one or two or even three books in which he collected together any good social ideas he’d picked up…and the books were bursting with them. For me, it was the best read available.

The ideas ranged from the microcosmic - how to prevent slugs eating your strawberries, for example - to the cosmic - how solve global warming by moving the Earth into a slightly different orbit.

Nick’s death left a great hole: ever since then I’ve been wanting to see an organisation that would do the same job - act as a place for the sharing of new social ideas. There isn’t any money in a lot of these ideas, so they don’t get aggressively promoted and are often ignored by the media. I want to see those ideas coming out into the open to be tried and tested and improved. 
Is that something we could do at Campfire?'

You can read more about Nicholas Albery on THE GENERALIST

The event in Lewes was a Campfire Conversation event which Pete is either organising (or encourage others to organise) around the country.

You can find out more information at these websites:

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