We do an annual retreat for the postgraduate program. It’s just two days and we take over a space. It’s cheap and cheerful. The model is intentional and it’s based on Schumacher College, which is in Devon in the UK.
In the sixties Schumacher was one of the lead people writing about environmental themes. Schumacher said that bigger is not necessarily better; there are many ways in which you can pick small as being actually better. There’s a college that’s been set up in his memory and it takes a very deliberate approach to the way it runs its courses and opportunities. One of the things that the program makes explicit is the need for maintenance and it also seeks to create community through that, so when you go and do a course at Schumacher you live in a little college room with a shared bathroom and shared meals. You are put on one of the three teams, so either you’ll be cleaning the bathrooms or you’ll be cleaning the big house or you’ll be making a meal. The model for our retreat is a bit like that. We go somewhere where we prepare foods together and share the food that we prepare and we have to cook and clean for ourselves. The whole idea again is that we’re creating opportunities for different kinds of conversations and different kinds of relationships to develop. At the same time we need to make space for these other parts of our lives because they’re important.
The great thing about this model is that the Institute pays for the accommodation, people pay for their train fares up there and we share the cost of the food. The cost of the food is about the same as what it would cost you to eat anyway because we’re just buying normal food.
This year at our annual retreat only four supervisors were there for both days and another four supervisors came up on Monday and four didn’t come at all. We have quite collaborative processes for building engagement in what’s happening in the retreat. The sessions are co-delivered by supervisors and students so that they all get opportunities to develop those skills as well and to have control over what’s delivered and how it’s delivered and how we engage. There is an expectation that the students will attend. Most of them came this year. This year we tried a new thing; we brought back a couple of our old students. Actually it was partly because I was overloaded but it forced a couple of really good outcomes. So two of my students were happy to come back to help at the retreat.