A short autobiography of Brian Davey

brian-selfieI am now 66 and live in Nottingham in semi-retirement. This means doing much the same as when I was 64 but with a state pension and tiny private pension as well.

In 1970 I got a 1st in Economics at Nottingham University – and then in 1974 an M.Phil. for a thesis on a Marxist approach to the economic development of India. I would have got the M.Phil earlier but had been disciplined for being involved in a sit in. The M.Phil dissertation was published by Spokesman Books and sold a thousand copies but, to my present viewpoint, was lacking in many dimensions – for example, nothing about the role of women in development, nothing about the environment…

Then followed a few years teaching economics – first at a College of Further Education and after that as a teaching assistant in the remarkably tolerant department of economics back at the University of Nottingham.

After dropping out of a teacher training course and a period of unemployment and depression I got involved in a Nottingham community resource centre and helped develop a research and information project for local trade unions and community organisations. This was funded by a national charity.

Getting the research project off the ground and gaining credibility for it was a nerve wracking experience and serious psychiatric problems followed. I was not very emotionally intelligent, to say the least. When the money ran out a long period of unemployment and dark despair followed. This was lifted by a temporary job helping disabled graduates find work – which brought me into contact with Nottingham and District Mental Health Association. (Nottingham MIND).

After a short time a very innovative development worker at Nottingham MIND left and I applied for, and got, her job. For several years I was able to promote the “user movement in psychiatry” and organise meetings and discussions about therapy understandings of psychological distress. This eventually led to writing in academic level journals and lecturing at professional conferences about my own holistic view of what mental health crises were. I was able to work on my problems as part of my job and over the years the mental health crises got milder. I recovered.

In 1990 a short relationship with a German woman who came to Nottingham led to a visit to Berlin and the start of a long run relationship with that city and new friends there. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would but I became fluent in German and participated in debates about the future in newly united Germany. At that time, in the early 1990s, there as great interest in the concept of local economic development which matched my interest in community development.

This led in 1996 to an invitation to take up a temporary contract at the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation in the former East Germany. My role was to convey to the staff at the Bauhaus, which was functioning as a “working museum” , how one does community development work in local estates. (The original Bauhaus had been a centre for arts, architecture, and design as well as town and country planning. These activities needed some sense of contact with what ordinary people wanted). Unfortunately, the man who appointed me was gone by the time I started, most of the staff were not that interested and 6 months was barely enough time to begin. However, my experience was tremendously important in the recovery of my self confidence. Returning to Britain was like putting on an old pair of shoes. It hurt.

In the meantime in Nottingham I had helped set up a project modelled on a project that I visited in Berlin. In Berlin in the early 1990s “Atlantis” was an organisation that worked with young people who had had breakdowns or drug problems. It trained them in wind energy, solar energy, ecological building and the greening of neighbourhoods. It was agreed that in my role as a “mental health development worker” I could work to try to set up a Nottingham Atlantis. Fortunately I found a group of people who wanted to form a Nottingham alternative technology association and joined forces with them. We called our new organisation “Ecoworks”. The manager of the local mental health services said he would not support me as I was doomed to fail – so I had my work cut out to prove him wrong so as not to be humiliated. In fact, after several years of anxiety and hard work the project took off, particularly as a very successful community garden where mental health service users and green activists worked side by side without the usual stigma and “therapy” suffered by the service users.

Meanwhile I stayed in touch with the international network interested in local economics. Through this I met Richard Douthwaite, who was making a name for himself promoting no growth economics. Richard lived in Ireland and helped form a network and think tank there called Feasta. (“Feasta” is a gaelic word meaning “in the future”). In 2003 John Jopling of Feasta followed a suggestion of Richard and invited me to a yearly group discussion by the sea – at Rossbeigh in Kerry. I have been going virtually every year since then and have spent much of my spare time involved in the ecological and economics discussions of Feasta, particularly in its climate work.

In 2007 the money eventually ran out for my mental health project development work. In any case the management regime of the local authority funders had become increasingly irksome. The relevant officials had no real idea what I did and were expected to impose an unworkable performance measurement regime.

My redundancy payout gave me just enough money to survive going freelance as an ecological economist – mainly helping out on a variety of campaigns. I ran down my savings while working for small bits of money doing climate policy work.

Sadly in this period Richard became seriously ill. In 2013 I stepped into part of a teaching role that he had had at Dublin City University teaching on a degree in Religion and Ecology. This teaching led, in turn, to this book.