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Angus Soutar - permaculture history

I made my first contact with permaculture through the design course at Redfield in 1990 (led by Andy Langford with Simon Pratt). This followed hard on the heels of a career as an engineer and project manager in the energy industry and happened just after I completed the MBA at Cranfield University (where I had sworn that I would never go on any more courses, ever). I married together the broad sweep of permaculture and my experience and insight into how humans work (and don't work) together, and I have never looked back.

In between bouts of work, there would be opportunities to study more, and even to teach. In 1992, I co-taught the design course with Daphne Watson in a flat in central London. (Lacking opportunities to see nature at work, we went for a trip to a nearby cemetery and visited the “abandoned” part). The experience came in handy at the Bradford University summer school design course the following year, where, working with Bryn Thomas, we were able to take a short walk to study the woodland regeneration potential of brick floors in derelict buildings.

Meanwhile I had been lucky enough to study with Bill Mollison when he came to visit Stroud and Ragman's Lane in 1992, identifying strongly with his experiences of village life - “nobody had a job”. Also his view of what we have in common - “a strong sense of shared work”. I was on Kirkpatrick Sale's course in Devon 1993, where us participants mapped the Dart Valley bioregion. I was also involved in helping Mary-Jane Preece and John Van der Post organise a series of “designers' weekends” in East Anglia, where lucky farmers and smallholders received full reports on the potential of their properties.

Back to the city (this time Manchester) in 1994 I worked with Michael Linton and others on trading systems and “local money”. I developed some good contacts in Merseyside and delivered one of the first design courses to be delivered under full-blown EU “regeneration” conditions. (“Hi, my name's Tommy, and I've been trained to death”, and “kids round here don't want a job – they want a life”.) A design course in Manchester followed, alongside Rob Squires and Jenny O' Reilly (who was doing most of her work in South America).

More recently, I have been working out ways to deliver the design course at relatively low cost in domestic settings. I have lots of friends among my previous students, nearly all of them are highly competent and doing good work. I really enjoy working outside any government-supported education.

I was fortunate in 1997 when I was invited by the Bradford Permaculture Group to present for my diploma at the 1 in 12 club in the town centre. This was a few months after Mark Fisher and a few months before Krysia Soutar. We all had our diplpoma certificates presented at the excellent convergence that followed at Coldstream, nicely organised by Graham Bell and Nancy Woodhead.

In the late 1990's I helped Andy Langford (Permaculture Academy) and Chris Dixon with the development of the diploma. The Academy entered into a partnership with the Permaculture Association (Britain) and diploma support was launched in Britain in 2000. I accepted the task of building a support network for diploma students in the north of England and Scotland, I am still engaged in this (althought the Permaculture Association has since started its own netwrok).

In 2004 I attended the International Convergence at Motovun, where I had several interesting meetings with both founders of permaculture and also many of the senior practitioners and teachers from around the world. This allowed me to focus beyond the parochial activities that I am busying myself with on the ground at home. I feel the benefit of this still, experiencing my more adventurous students moving to distant, and often exotic, countries.

I have made a commitment to work on the diploma at a European scale, and have attended the latest three European convergences to further those efforts.

My efforts in supporting the design and implementation of the Institute are a natural progression of this earlier work.