It’s now a few days into the Possitopia Festival I’m running in Norwich, (Norfolk, UK) and there is a lot of enthusiasm and curiosity about the idea of Possitopia. I wrote this explanatory piece three years ago, so perhaps it is time for an update, and to show you some future imagining work with people that has happened since then.
First, a recap. What is Possitopian thinking? Where is Possitopia? Where does the idea come from? It’s my invented word and the unique principle of the organisation I’ve founded, Climate Museum UK. The word means ‘possible place’, but more than that it involves practices of imagining futures that are wide open enough to embrace the uncertainties, the extremities and the potential for regenerative change that face us in the Earth crisis.
Utopian dreaming tends to separate the imagination from place, to help free up our fantasies, but that makes it too unmoored from ecology and science. The dominant social story of linear progress creates a tendency to extrapolate from current trends and mindsets, so that we form little future islands in our minds tethered to the present moment. Possitopian thinking lays an anchor down more firmly to places, and then opens the imagination to weave between scientifically-informed impacts of the breached planetary boundaries and the most optimal regenerative ways we might live in response. Working together, we get glimpses into a complex and ever-changing potential future, each one of us, or at each moment, opening a door into an immense set of possibilities.
In Climate Museum UK we develop imaginative practices of engaging people with climate and biodiversity issues, growing our skills through participatory projects across the UK. Much of my time is taken up with:
- overseeing the national and strategic development of Climate Museum UK
- supporting the strategy and communications of Culture Declares
- working on research projects with my colleagues in Flow Associates
But, increasingly, I am spending more time on my local programme under the umbrella of Climate Museum UK. This is called Possitopia Norwich — for activation on the Earth crisis, to open imaginations to possible futures of the City, of its wider bioregion and the Earth systems we all depend upon. I returned back to my birthplace in June 2022, and have been busy nurturing partnerships to make Possitopia Norwich as collaborative as it can be.
I began by trialling Walking in the Shoes, walkshops in which participants walk in the shoes of characters from the radical and ecocentric history of Norwich. These historic characters are brought from the past to the present day, and my own character has travelled from the climate-changed future, asking for help. As we walk, many geographical and heritage features stir our discussions about ways we can intervene now to create a better future for the City. You can read this account of the first trial route, and since then I’ve developed three more routes and brought several more characters to life, including Amelia Opie and Ethel Colman.
Imagine Futures was a project that generated an online resource with eight Possitopian workshop ideas for young people and schools to imagine their futures in face of the Earth crisis. With support of Festival Bridge (Norfolk & Norwich Festival) we ran a day-long workshop in February 2023 with local schools, university students, creative practitioners and environmentalists. We envisaged and role-played five roles of future work, including Water Flow Keeper, Healthy Lives Weaver and Movement Magician. These inspired many ideas for interventions to save two local sites, Mousehold Heath and the Wensum Valley, threatened by climate change and road building. The project website offers eight workshop plans in total, including News from Possitopia and Creating a Time Capsule.
Now this month, the Possitopia Festival is a great showcase for what is already happening in Norwich, some of the artists, groups, venues and campaigns that are exploring and creating a sustainable future. There are 33 activities in venues across the City, throughout November, thanks to support from Norwich Eco Hub and their National Lottery Community Fund work, and public donations supported by Aviva.
Here is a small selection from the amazing array of events:
- Eco Lens on Heritage. Tours of Norwich museums & heritage sites from an environmental perspective, to learn from the past to tackle future challenges. good chance to see the museums for free.
- Emergency Playdates. Three evening meet-ups in Slice & Dice vegan games cafes, trying out games about climate, nature & the future.
- People Take Action workshop. Explore the pathways of action you can take and visualise your own future journey of making change, at MileXchange. This uses my People Take Action toolkit, designed to open up imaginations to the kinds of activism that are possible within the constraints of our lives.
- Norwich, a City in an Orchard: Grow, Learn, Create: Join Edible East at Mile Cross Library for activities exploring food from trees and Norwich as a sustainable food city.
- Launch of an Alternative Fashion School, led by We Wear The Trousers, followed by several meet-ups to explore topics such as solar punk fashion and sewing by hand.
The final event of the Festival is a workshop with Nick Brooks to explore how various initiatives locally are tackling climate risks and the potential of setting up a Norfolk Association of Resilience and Adaptation.
More future-facing activities of mine include:
- working with the Norwich Climate Commission to develop a Climate & Energy Academy — a social learning programme with a range of creative engagement, vocational training and more
- exploring the idea of Norwich as a Doughnut City
- working with the Norwich Unity Hub, seeking and developing a shared space for a consortium of 24+ social, creative and environmental organisations.
We have been offered a substantial building by the City Council, so with luck and effort, there should be a Possitopia Norwich space for workshops, displays and accessing resources in 2024.
For an audio version that covers some of this article’s content, you can hear this short podcast on Norwich Eco Hub podcast channel.