How did you become part of York’s Alternative History?

To kick us off, we’d love to share stories of how people in York became ‘part of York’s Alternative History’?

This might mean the day you joined a political party? It might be the day of your first demonstration? It might also be the day you organically planted your first potato? Or stole your first kiss in public? Or it could be, and probably is, 1000s of other things?

Add your stories to the comment boxes below…or record them using the Sound Cloud link above.

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3 thoughts on “How did you become part of York’s Alternative History?

  1. Me? I joined the University of York Labour Club in the October of 1995. For a girl from the conservative heartlands and rolling hills of Leicestershire it was a shock to find myself at the local heart of pre-1997 struggle between Blairites (then NOLS for National Organisation of Labour Students), old school Labour of the north and the then still entry-ist Alliance for Workers Liberty. By a series of accidents, mostly deriving from my desperate desire to make friends, I was elected within five weeks of arriving at University and after a sustained campaign against me and my NOLS co-candidate as Labour Club Internal Secretary. I barely knew my own mind. I wasn’t even really sure what I thought about free higher education versus a graduate tax (the big issue of the day), let alone how to cope with some pretty hard core political infighting. Anyway, it worked. I was backed into the corner. I was forced to work out my politics. And, for me, that was the start.
    Helen Graham

  2. In the early ’60s I became ‘alternative’, arguing for trade unions in a grammar school debating society (though none of my family was ever in one), sporting a CND badge and embracing folk music in its early, radical days. But it was not until 1995 that I came to live in York. I had long harboured libertarian socialist views and, determined eventually to escape from the constraints of being in a managerial job, enrolled as a volunteer in the York Peace Centre and became active in ‘green’ organisations and campaigns. Alternating periods of activity and inactivity followed, until the recent emergence of a broad coalition to fight the cuts and a new spirit among younger activists no longer in thrall to old methods and old ideas. Though these are hard times, there’s hope again!
    Martin Bashforth

  3. I moved to York in 1987 as a fresh-faced 20 year old; I was already a committed Green and into psychedelic music in a big way. I worked at Gillygate Wholefoods in one of the following two years, just for a summer, and soon afterwards joined the Green Party and have stood in quite a few City Council elections since. In the early 90s I joined the newly-formed Local Exchange Trading System, and later became the Co-ordinator for a few years. I’m now back on the Core Group again! My involvement with this local currency fuelled my interest in poverty, and in 1997 I organised a public meeting about Credit Unions. It took 8 years of volunteering to get our own Credit Union started… it is now North Yorkshire Credit Union, and I’m member number 00001.

    In the early 90s I did an Environmental Health degree and during this time I discovered circus skills, and by the time I qualified as an EHO, I knew I’d be happier working as an entertainer, so since 1994 I’ve been ‘Professor Fiddlesticks’ at kids’ parties, festivals, schools events and science fairs. My unusual personality meant that I quite often got into conflicts with people, and to help me manage those better, I got help from the Alternatives To Violence Project. This was such a help to my self development that I started volunteering with them, and I continue this work with AVP as their Health and Safety Officer. My interest and involvement with the arts, both new circus and live music meant that I worked with Mo Burrows and others to start York Arts Arena, but for various mainly political reasons, this organisation didn’t last very long. Another fairly short-lived organisation which I organised was the Local Agenda 21 Citizen’s Forum… this grew out of a bunch of New Economic Foundation enthusiasts badgering the Council to take sustainability seriously, and they responded by employing a LA21 officer, whom we worked with. However, the LA21 process was overtaken by other ways of doing things (which in my opinion, weren’t so people-centered as Agenda 21 was), and although I tried to keep the LA21CF going, the momentum slowed and it withered away. During the 90s I did a lot of festivalling and things like Reclaim the Streets, and took part in The Naburn Campaign, which wanted to stop the old Naburn Hospital Site becoming an out-of-town shopping monstrosity…. we failed, and it is now the McArthur Glenn Shopping Monstrosity.

    During my degree I became very interested in composting… it is a vital part of recycling and waste reduction, and helps ‘close the loop’ with the organic materials we use, foodstuffs mainly. I was a member of HDRA (now Garden Organic) and in 2003 I saw their innovative work starting the Master Composter concept. I approached St Nicholas Fields and the Council in 2004 and with them, started York Rotters. My passion for composting has led me to have several televeision appearences, on BBC Newsnight with ‘Ethical Man’ Justin Rowlatt, twice, and on BBC Inside Out (twice) and on ITV’s Wood You Believe It?

    I love festivals and in the early ‘noughties’ I was missing the York Peace Festival, which had fallen foul of the Council’s noise police and they’d stopped the event from going ahead (which it did nearly every year in the 90s), so I had a go at organising a one day free festival in Rowntree Park, modelled blatently on the Peace Festival. So York Green Festival ran in 2007, 08 and 09… but then partly due to the success of this, the York Peace Festival team have got back into gear and have put events on in 2010 and 11, which I’m very happy with as organising a festival is very hard work!

    More recently, following several enjoyable Critical Mass Cycle Rides, I’ve been involved in the York World Naked Bike Ride, a protest against the tyranny of the motor car on our shared highways, and a celebration of human powered vehicles and our bodies. I’m also a supporter of the Transition Town movement, and became a Director of York in Transition, a young charity, a couple of years ago. I sit on the Environment Forum and am just getting active with Treemendous York, a plan to plant 50,000 trees in and around the city.

    I’m very recognisable around York, bombing around on a bike and my trailer which is often full of logs for my cleanburn woodstoves, or unsold fruit and veg for my extensive composting systems. I love ‘walking the walk’ of low carbon living, and being an advocate and bit of a loud-mouth about green and ethical issues. I have a lot of fun and feel lucky to have found a happy niche in a wonderful city with a fantastic community around me.

    John Cossham

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