A tale of inspiring surprises and two foxes
The glistening of almost orange, past midday sunlight on the seemingly forever flowing sea creates a silver landscape behind the window I am seated next to. I am on my way to the land of Royal Guards, Monty Python, fish and chips and streets without litter bins: England. I’m not traveling there to linger along the rainy sidewalks, not even to stand on Bridge street, to be exposed to the beauty of Westminster Abbey and the Big Ben. No, I’m heading for Gloucester University, where I will be attending a conference on student involvement in sustainable development at education institutes. It is an opportunity to look at best practices in England, a chance to compare those with the ones in the Netherlands.
By the time I reach Harwich, after a trip of about 6 hours, I now stand before the challenge to hitch a ride/catch a lift to London. Where I had hoped to find myself a lift on the ferry, I ended up missing the last bus heading directly to London by 2 minutes. So there I was; gentle British raindrops falling from the darkened sky upon my tired feet, sitting on the side of a road which had yet to prove any use to me at this hour of the day. In respect to the fact that this piece is not meant to be a novel, but an outline of the conference mentioned before, I will summarize the events that took place in the following 3 hours in 5 words: wait – bus – train – metro – hotel (23.47). At the hotel, I was welcomed by Ewoud de Kok, the student whom I asked to join me in my presence at the university of Gloucestershire.
The next morning we had to get up early in order to catch the train heading for Gloucester. That didn’t take a lot of effort for us; busses, cabs and enough hasty people to easily let a Dutchmen forget about the Utrecht central station rush hours which motivate him into taking the bike, even when autumn rain is pouring down, were passing by beneath our room. Fifteen minutes late we stepped out of the bus and found ourselves facing an impressive campus site, it´s buildings covered in red ivy branches. We had just come through the doorway as a young woman spoke: ´Hey, you must be the Dutch guys!´. A few minutes later ‘the Dutch guys’ were welcomed into the conference room by Carol Rabbette, member of the Gloucestershire university sustainability team and coordinator of this day’s event. The program consisted of several presentations on how to involve students in sustainable development at universities, the starting presentation was held by professor Daniella Tilbury, director of sustainability at the university and participant in last year’s Greening The Ivory Tower project organized by Morgen.
The presentations that followed offered me a short peep into the way sustainability is handled within both the university’s curriculum (education programs) and the university’s operational activities. Something that really caught my attention and inspired me was the concept of permanent sustainability staff members working at a university. In England this appeared to be the most common thing, while in the Netherlands universities are only now starting to assign students with such tasks. The only conclusion I could make up from this is that in the Netherlands we should start thinking about how to systematically involve students in sustainability at universities. I am aware of the fact that this may seem like a conclusion that’s been drawn too quickly, but someone with even the slightest knowledge of the situation at hand in the Netherlands will agree with me that sustainability at universities is largely based on temporal projects and organization initiatives.
After the presentations, the group was split up in a few discussion groups. Though initially there were guidelines for this discussion, the group Ewoud and I were in soon followed its own path. We shared best practices and talked about the role of the government and other stakeholders in developing a sustainable campus. After the group discussions we promised each other to stay in touch to, for example, explore possibilities for European funds. An interesting possibility to consider, especially when looking at the current the Dutch VROM funding system, which does not offer a lot of stability for organizations. After the last words were sent into the air, we left behind us an event that inspires me to the very moment of writing this article.
That night Ewoud and I ended up in a pub watching Chelsea and Manchester United playing draw in their Champions league matches. But that was not what I will remember from that particular night. That which will stay in my memory is a story that an AZ Alkmaar fan told me in front of the pub, about two foxes being chased after by a man, in the centre of London. The man had been shocked, for in his entire life he had not seen a fox before. Not in a forest, not in the Netherlands. Well now he had, in London city, where not even litter bins are considered safe anymore…
Secretary of Morgen 2009-2010