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Eco dating: meeting people on the green circuit

Giovanna Dunmall

30th July, 2009

How to reduce your ecological footprint, enhance your social calendar, make some interesting friends and maybe even get a love life

Our task was to remove the weeds growing around the lavender plants while talking to potential suitors

Living a green lifestyle and pursuing ecologically-minded interests also comes with automatic entrance into a massive and diverse club of idealistic, passionate and switched-on men and women, and the opportunity to forge new and life-affirming friendships and relationships...

Dating

Having tried websites like Guardian Soulmates and parship.com, and been to a couple of mind-numbingly crass speed dating affairs in a Mayfair bar, I think it is fair to say that I found the experience about as enjoyable as going to several job interviews in a row. And not even for a job you are ideally suited to!

With this in mind, I was quick to respond to an invitation to attend an eco-dating event held in Carshalton Beeches (a green and suburban part of South London) a few weeks ago. Organised by Carshalton Lavender, a community group that manages three acres of lavender fields in this area and puts on a big annual harvest for the public, it was a sort of speed-dating among lavender fields affair.

Our task was to remove the pernicious weeds growing around the lavender plants while talking to potential suitors. More fun than it sounds, I assure you. I’m not sure if it was the slower pace of the event (we had 10 minutes with each person compared to the more usual three of a speed dating session), the bright sun and fresh air, or the hand-made goodies we munched on between sessions, but the whole thing felt a lot less alienating than sitting behind a glossy table in a chic and anonymous bar.

There’s something about handling plants and earth that makes you feel quite connected to the planet and others. As Jane Durney, the lavender project’s treasurer and eco-dating organiser, put it afterwards: 'Having a shared activity takes the pressure off chatting to strangers and wearing clothes suitable for outdoor work means that people are more relaxed.' She set up the Carshalton Lavender eco-dating event after attending environmental volunteering charity BTCV eco-dating event held last February in York.

She and her fellow daters spent a couple of hours planting 400 saplings to create a hedge around an extension to an existing nature reserve. Advertising the event as an eco dating session meant that certain people were weeded out (excuse the pun) a priori. My idea of a great weekend does not involve a six-hour return flight, and it was great that I didn’t have to apologise for that to any of the others attending.

Check out the Carshalton Lavender website for future eco dating events. Given the success of the first, more are planned.

Volunteering and Campaigning

One thing I find depressing about modern life, is how so many of us get into a car to do anything. For someone like me, who doesn’t have a car, this is not practical and too time-consuming. Ideally, we should be able to do everything we need to (not just shopping, but also services and entertainment) in our own neighbourhood I believe. That’s why I joined my local Residents’ Association last year. Since I love singing, I joined their local choir (rehearsals were held two streets away from my flat!) and met several locals, many of them far older than me. (That’s another thing I think we don’t do enough of, have age gap friendships.) Through the residents’ association I got involved in environmental initiatives.

Another thing you might want to look into is the Transition Towns movement. It began in Totnes (Devon) as a way of preparing communities for life after oil, but there are now 100 towns and cities across the world, with 900 thinking of joining. If you get involved with your local group you will be doing things like growing and distributing food, and helping to make the most of local resources and skills so that waste is kept to a minimum and recycling to a maximum.

Networking

One of the most sympathetic networking events I have ever been to is Green Drinks. Hosted in friendly pubs that sell organic beers, no-one hard-sells you anything and the atmosphere is relaxed and genuinely sociable. Anyone can get a few minutes to present a new project or an upcoming event to the group at large; otherwise you just chat.

I’ve been to the one in London and will be going again soon. Glasshouse, which was founded in 1998 in London, also hosts interesting networking/information evenings. I went to a great one about peak oil last year and stayed on almost two hours after chatting to the other attendees.

Last year I also went on a ‘Cutting Edge Green Tour’ of London hosted by the ingenious and friendly people at Insider London. We visited everything from Montezumas ethical chocolate shop and the Allen & Overy building (which boasts the world’s largest solar array and an impressive green roof) to the floating garden barges near Tower Bridge and the COIN Street community nearby (which houses 1,000 people in affordable co-operative housing and benefits local people through its neighbourhood centre and campaigns to protect the river front from overdevelopment). Since then I have signed up to their newsletter and attended their Speed Presentation evenings, where they bring together leading lights on the green scene. The next one brings together people from brands and consultancies like Green Tomato Cars, Terra Plana and Futerra. Once you start going to one, you will recognize people at the next one. And, you won’t get sold anything either (a bonus, believe me).

Women with an interest in environmental issues should check out WISE (Women in Sustainability and the Environment) and WEN (Women’s Environmental Network), which has a network of more than 40 groups around the UK. The former campaigns on topics such as waste and nappies; the latter hosts information evenings and debates on issues like clean coal, organic cotton and cosmetics. Both welcome male members.

Jobs and job spaces

Working from home can be a very lonely experience. Lots of people who, like me, work in the green sector, are freelance and live on a small budget. When I first moved to London I was on the lookout for a workspace with decent rates, good ethics and an interesting and eclectic bunch of self-starting colleagues. I chose The Hub which was set up by Jonathan Robinson and currently has two venues in London (one in Angel near Islington, and the other near King’s Cross), another one due to open on London’s Southbank soon, and others in cities like Johannesburg, Brussels, Berlin and Halifax. It is part member's club, part serviced office, part innovation incubator and think-tank and peopled by tireless social entrepreneurs. Desks are shared, as are ideas and contacts. It’s all very social, and very viral.

Another workspace I know of and have written about is Village Underground; furniture designer Auro Foxcroft’s ingenious solution to overpriced office space in central London. He has turned disused London tube carriages and shipping crates into a workspace for creative types in East London’s buzzing Shoreditch neighbourhood. Sign up for the next free slot.

Activities

Festivals are a great way to meet like-minded greens - especially the more eco-conscious ones

BTCV has Green Gym groups all over the country that get together to do some gardening, learn about environmental conversation and chat with people of all ages over cups of tea in the open air.

If you can’t find a group or activity that shakes your eco booty however, look for it on www.meetup.com. And if you still can’t find one, just set up your own (also on www.meetup.com).

Lastly, go local! Last autumn I also found out about a fantastic new independent cinema, Lexi Cinema in Kensal Rise, a ten-minute bike-ride from my house. All profits from the cinema go to fund a forward-thinking eco village just outside Capetown in South Africa. Funding has already provided a crèche for 50 children, food gardens, rainwater collectors, recycling aids and a plot of land to help prevent development and preserve the native shrubland.  The programming isn’t bad either! I volunteer there every now and again and have made friends with people I would never otherwise have met.

The best of all worlds really.

Giovanna Dunmall is a freelance journalist

 

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