Dumbo Feather

PETER MACFADYEN RECLAIMS DEMOCRACY

SUBJECT

Peter Macfadyen

OCCUPATION

Former mayor of Frome

INTERVIEWER

Berry Liberman

PHOTOGRAPHER

Joe Hulbert

LOCATION

Frome, UK

DATE

May, 2020

Legend has it that a group of unimpressed locals met at a pub one evening and concocted a new form of governance. In their view, the main feature of their standing local council was “a lack of ambition.” Years of sticking to 19th Century models of governance—because that’s just how it’s done—had created a complacent council doing the least amount within the tightest parameters. That night was the beginning of a quiet revolution in the small UK town of Frome, with 10 of the locals being voted into council as independent members a few months later.

One of those locals was Peter Macfadyen, a humble, mild-mannered Englishman with strong views on why Frome needed a better climate agenda. His passion saw him not only get a seat, but also become the mayor of Frome in that election—an opportunity he seized to re-define what the town’s democratic structures could look like, so that people were actively engaged in the decision-making processes which affected them. In the nine years that have followed, the Frome council has remade itself and become relevant to its constituents. The members have brought an aliveness—a sense of justice, wholeness and joy—to the process of governing, prioritising listening and feelings in their interactions with one another, and supporting initiatives like the Community Fridge, which collects surplus food from local shops and restaurants and makes it available to the locals.

Who would have thought the 21st Century would see such experiments with democracy? There are so many challenges facing all of our communities—we must be the ones to hold the form so life can flourish, so society can find itself again beyond the stale helplessness and into the possibilities. Peter reminds us that we can create the conditions for our own thriving—we just need to be brave enough to challenge the status quo with kindness and some new ideas.

PETER MACFADYEN: Hey just before we start, whereabouts are you talking to me from?

BERRY LIBERMAN: I’m talking to you from Victoria. I’m in the countryside on an organic farm called Mossy Willow Farm.

Mossy Willow Farm. Long, long ago in the mists of time I spent a year in a place called Oxley which is near Hay. In the middle of New South Wales. I was a jackaroo when I was 17.

Was it fun?

Yeah. It was enormously forming for me. God I had no idea, looking back, why and how I did that. I was incredibly shy. And got on a plane and went to Australia for 18 months.

What did you learn as a jackaroo?

Well masses about myself [laughs]. We were in the middle of nowhere with two brothers who hated each other who’d inherited this estate. So they had this enormous area with thousands of sheep, and they went to Geelong Grammar and there were meant to be managers on the farm, but it was just them and me. One of them had a wife and children, the other was a sort of playboy who had various women in and out of his life. I mean it was extraordinary, like a soap opera retrospectively. I learned a lot. It gave me a lot of confidence and a certain

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