A wonderful anarchic-jumble-sale-of-a-disorganisation

COMMUNES NETWORK has been set up at a meeting of 30 active members of the Commune Movement.The emphasis of Communes Network will be to serve our own needs as communes and, where we can, to encourage and support people setting up their own living or work collectives. We will all contribute (ideas, activities, or just gossip) to a monthly newsletter so that we keep in closer touch with each other… The Network has no ‘constitution’. Responsibility for making sure it does something useful will stay with each individual member. We expect to meet at least annually to discuss how we’re doing – perhaps reorganise – and have a good time.

Communes Network Press Release 1975

People In Common was part of the ‘Communes Network’. It took me a while when I first joined to work out what the Network really entailed. Back in the late 70’s we recieved a duplicated newsletter every couple of months. Produced at the time from Laurieston Hall I think. I remember being somewhat perplexed by the rather obscure discussions that seemed to go on in the newsletter – but also slightly in awe of the people and places that were being written about. I guess if I had done a proper visitors tour of communities I would have been able to put faces and places to names. As it was it wasn’t until we started to do workswaps with other places that I got to know other parts of the Network.

As we had building skills at PIC; plastering, plumbing, carpentry, roofing….. that were much in demand by other groups. They were a sort of passport to visiting other places. The idea was that a workswap was an exchange of labour, and someone would come back to Burnley and work with us in exchange for us doing a building job for them. But it didn’t always work out like that – other places felt that the exchange was unequal and were maybe embarrassed, I don’t know why, and they didn’t always honour their side of the swap – one group even sending us a visitor in exchange! – sometimes there were good reasons… shortage of members, goats to milk… or perhaps Burnley just wasn’t picturesque enough.

I enjoyed the opportunity to visit other communes as a ‘tradesman’ without the scrutiny that visitors sometimes came under, or as a sort of communal relative. I remember going to Wheatstone to mix plaster for Laura, roofing at Lifespan & TaC, and later a wonderful busman’s holiday when all of us decamped for a week’s window painting at Laurieston.The Network probably existed as much in the informal exchanges that went on between groups, as in the pages of the newsletter or at the organised gatherings that took place.

The work of editing and producing the newsletter is done at one or other of the communities involved, usually by a small group within the community, for a period of a year or so, after which it passes to another group. Answering the inquiries, maintaining the subscription list, dealing with sales of publications, and any other administrative work is usually done by one or more people at another community. The organising and hosting of gatherings is left to any community expressing interest. This minimal level of bureaucracy was deliberately chosen to leave many possibilities open and make change easy.

What is the Communes Network? PAm Dawling Diggers & Dreamers 90/91

Production of the newsletter depended on the energy of a particular group at any one time, with some groups just producing one or two issues whilst others would get enthused, or stuck, with producing anything up to a half dozen issues. This gave the network an illusive ephemeral appearance – shifting its location around the country, one moment in SW Scotland, a few years later in West Wales, next coming from an address in the Pennines and then popping up a couple of years later in Buckinghamshire. Which was all very well for our anarchistic love of decentralisation, but it made the admin something of a nightmare – In the end admin and production were separated with, if I remember right, the admin being done from Lifespan, who also often did the printing. Whilst the editorial work continued to hop from group to group.

Lifespan printing press. Pam Dawling (Maybe printing Communes Network.)

We put one issue together at PIC and along the way it was put together by Laurieston, Trogwell, Birchwood Hall, Redfield, Crabapple, Wheatstone, Holme Place, Some People In Leicester, Lifespan and Glaneirw. These communities along with one or two others formed what might be called a core of the Network often contributing much of the content of the issues of the magazine that they produced as well as doing much of the practical work of arranging layout, collating and distribution. There was then another layer of communities who regularly appeared in the magazine and in a number of the communes directories that came out during the period and who clearly saw themselves as connected to the Network – these include places such as; Atlantis, Beech Hill, Canon Frome and Old Hall. There was then a wider ‘diaspora’ of communal groups who sent in occasional contributions to the magazine and advertised in it when they were looking for new members. Given its informal nature it is hard to pin down quite how many groups made up the network or considered themselves to be part of it at any one time..

The CN magazine carried adverts for a whole host of communes gatherings that took place during the 1980’s; a Living in Communities Conference at Canon Frome, various Women in Communities Gatherings at different places, a week long ‘Introduction to alternatives’ at Lower Shaw farm and Monkton Wyld, a Symposium on Land Use at Redfield, a Relationships in Communities week at Laurieston and a series of somewhat occasional Network subscribers or readers meetings.

Ad in CN 63 for Magic Meetings weekend at Lifespan.

Reader meetings were an attempt to engage the readership of publications in the editorial policy of a newsletter or magazine. I’m not quite sure where the idea came from. Peace News was the only other publication that I knew that held them. The CN readers meetings tended to be rather strange affairs, well at least the ones I attended were. Poorly attended by actual commune members and dominated by one or two subscribers (nearly always men) who didn’t live communally and who at some point in the weekend would launch into a session telling us how we were doing it all wrong and if we only did what they suggested how wonderful it would all be… but as the whole network was a wonderful anarchic-jumble-sale-of-a-disorganisation none of the suggestions were ever likely to be taken up

As an informal entity – it never did adopt a ‘constitution’ of any kind – Communes Network ran for twenty years (1975 – 1995). Along the way it helped inspire a whole generation of communards. For many years it was about the only way to find out about communal living in the UK. It provided groups with a steady flow of visitors and new members. But perhaps most of all it did actually function as a network of people who shared a communal culture and who were able to find support and advice through the pages of an occasional newsletter, through the different gatherings or simply through meeting like minded individuals who were struggling with the same communal problems that you were.

In the mid-1990’s the network sort of faded away. Newsletters came out less and less frequently. Subscriber numbers decreased to the point where there wasn’t enough money coming in to produce issues of the newsletter. At a Communities Volleyball gathering at Redfield in 1995 a decision was taken to wind up the Network With Diggers & Dreamers taking over some of the roles that the Network had fulfilled.

Looking back I also wonder if the groups that made up the network no longer needed it in the same way. In that those groups that had survived the visionary hot houses of their early years, when they were often seen as alien interlopers by their neighbours, had matured, or morphed into being part of the accepted local scenery. And so maybe had less need to reach out across the country to other like minds for communal comfort and solidarity?

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