Focus week
Chisholme caretakers and trustee-directors, and those involved with publicity, estate, and finance (you can see some of them above here on the banner, focused on podding beans with other helpers)

During the month of conversation there was one week for very practical focus on the operation of Chisholme: the courses; how the place runs; how it’s financed and how people find their way here. We were aware that we can’t know the full extent of the potential present here so the approach to each matter was to be sensitive to what might emerge and robust in commitment to serve the aim of the place.

Courses and further
There was an update from Colin and Robin on the core courses that have been a focus for this year; and the further courses in development. News of these further courses, will be forthcoming as the dates and details become definite. There may be a 99-day course following the 40-day course and one or two tarjuman/wasifa study and retreat fortnights open to those who have completed a 6 month or similar preparation before. There has been a rising interest in the new 40-day course and in the introductory weeks and woodland retreat courses confirming that the focus and attention on these has given them fresh currency. It was noted that Chisholme is hard to get to for some and it would be good in these cases for introductory courses and events to take place where they could be more accessible. The 7-week discovering unity course can take place anywhere where there may be interest.

There was discussion concerning the retreat cell. We were reminded of its purpose and the importance of preparation before entering the space. The great value of this facility was recognised and that entering into retreat does require preparation. It is also not an end in itself. It points toward and gives an intimation of the requirements for an untrammelled journey in the world. ‘Retreat gives knowledge of the world’. Preparation for retreat weeks might be re- introduced.

The Woodland retreat courses ‘Foundations of Natural Intelligence’ (F.N.I) have taken place successfully for several years and are being run by those who have undergone the courses themselves. This highlights a question concerning all the roles at Chisholme. Who will take these on and how can they be supported? It is a place of continuing education. People pass through, making way for new students to come in their turn. However it needs people to operate. Taking on a role here is an individual matter and choice. However for the care of Chisholme and the courses it is essential that there are people willing and free to do this and that they are not over-extended. The undertaking is a valuable education, as those who have agreed or volunteered to help in this way will confirm. However whoever occupies any role will need help and support in the undertaking.

Resources - Estate
A day was spent looking at the estate and the particular topic of felling the stand of trees at Fathill that have reached their maturity. It was very good to have past and current Chisholme estate managers present for the discussion and all those with particular experience of the process. Much was learnt from the previous felling of Meadburn. Access for extraction, sales versus own use, contracting out as a whole or in sections, some in-house felling and replanting, were all considered. From this meeting several options are now being followed up. The timber from the planting could provide 15- 20 years of fuel for the wood boiler. Reducing our dependence on unsustainable fuels. There was a walk to Fathill which showed what might be possible and then a walk around the estate with the keeper of the national register of notable trees who also arrived that day. He brought attention to the striking growth of the alder trees in the ancient woodland at Whitrigg and the exceptional chestnut by the house. He arrived as the result of an earlier visit from a wildlife group who had highlighted the number, and recorded the varieties, of moths found around the estate. We were given a new appreciation of what is here. Visitors often alert us to the beauties of what is present that we may take for granted.

The cottages on the estate were the subject of a proposal. The necessary renovation of these might be funded by allowing them to be rented for short-term use by those who would like to be present under the auspices of the place but not directly involved in a course or programme. It would allow those with families to visit and attend courses more easily and would have many positive aspects. It would be conditional on having the resources to look after extra visitors. Meanwhile the cottages need attention, estimates for renovation are in progress and backing and support for this project is invited.

Finance was the major focus this week. We have been accustomed to fluctuations in income and costs over the years, however there are currently issues that need to be faced in running and maintaining the place for the courses, and those who support them, and to fund student places. An outline of the running of Chisholme and its finances was given to those present.
During the week the response to the need was immediate and £4,000 given in donations. In total the appeal to increase income by £20,000 each year has reached £7,000 in donations and pledges for this year to date. The scholarship fund currently stands at £1,610. The value of building up this fund cannot be underestimated. Donations received now, or in the future promise of legacy, will help establish a pattern for the future.

A local benefit event was proposed and help offered to make an application for lottery funding. There is a definite target of £20,000 to be reached – how we do this is something to be worked on and discovered. The current appeal will continue – proposals, actions to help and donations are all invited. An outline of the current finances will be available. It is always astonishing how much is done with so little funding due to a great many generosities.
There was a question ‘could there be a few people willing to give focus to fund-raising initiatives for a time?’ What is the answer?

Publicity and communication
Potentially we are all ambassadors. There is a simple directness in this. Word of mouth has been shown to be the way that most people find their way to Chisholme.

There are though a few who take this on for Chisholme in a more general but focused way, producing brochures, leaflets, managing website text, facebook and youtube. There will be many more ways of communicating that could be undertaken by those with writing and design skills. These would be welcomed. Contacting anyone in this group can be done through the secretary at Chisholme.

So are we and the place prepared? What’s needed? Who can be present in support? How can the resident team focus on preparation for the winter courses and on publicity and run a continuous summer programme of introductory courses, volunteer weeks and fusus study, whilst also running and maintaining the place itself? A focus-based way of operating came up several times during the week as a way of working on particular projects. Arising in a spontaneous way in response to a clear need. Is there something to learn from this?

Too soon the week ended but with a clear and strong intention to find what is needed now and for the students to come and for all who are supported in education at Chisholme.

Julia Dry
For the trustees of the Chisholme Institute