Debrief from Happy Dev's 7th Birthday Party

Co-operative organising in the Basin d'Arachon

October 2, 2022

Last weekend the different cells of Happy Dev gathered at the Réserve Ornithologique du Teich near the basin d’Arachon in Nouvelle-Acquitaine, a half-hour by train from Bordeaux St Jean - a beautiful region and home to a huge variety of wild birds (and even wild boars). We stayed two nights in the centre at the reserve, to celebrate Happy Dev’s seventh birthday party and to organise the network in common.

A group of 15 people discussing the future of the co-operative in a circle

It was a great weekend, in particular I found the format of the workshop on the first day very effective for giving everyone a chance to share their perspectives and to arrive at actionable directions for the future of the co-operative; well-framed in the history of the co-operative until today. Doing so in this way generates confidence and energy in each member and creates momentum. It mirrors the best bits of my experiences of co-operative organising in the UK through CoTech and in other social centres in Newcastle and Paris. After the difficulties Covid posed to networks built on regular social contact this kind of fresh energy was sorely needed, sometimes an understated effect of the global pandemic which brought our habits of social contact almost to a halt over two to three years.

The workshop, structured first into a presentation from long-standing members of the co-operative on the history of experiences in Happy Dev, was followed by the splitting into small groups to brainstorm “what’s next for Happy Dev”. The framing of it in this way enabled new members to catch up to speed with what had been past and what was considered Happy Dev’s greatest challenges (not everyone at the birthday party was already a member of Happy Dev), and it gave these people especially confidence and context for making suggestions.

After pausing for lunch we returned to the hall to present in a circle the outcome of each group’s labour, and following this to discuss in one group what could be actionned following the workshop and how we could move forward with our ideas.

Posters titled 'Today' and 'Tomorrow', with graphics reflecting expressions about the core values of Happy Dev and ideas for the future

We produced a number of posters to act as a visual aid during discussions and to reference afterwards. The two posters pictured, “Today” and “Tomorrow” reflect what was felt essential during this last phase of the workshop. It felt very positive to cover the wide breadth of topics which were relevant to our network and then to reduce this to some key, actionable first steps towards realising our goals. We identified how we would follow up with these and share experiences following them between the different cells of Happy Dev (spread ultimately across France), which will be important for providing a democratic space for decision-making, for providing transparency and for ensuring that good ideas are taken further than their inception.

A member of the co-operative laughs while another takes a particularly tense turn during a game of jenga

To make progress in this regard was great, but I also enjoyed that the weekend was well-balanced between this and social activities like walking in the reserve together, playing jenga and sharing good food and wine. The social aspect is important to a community because it develops trust and solidarity, and provides opportunities for spontaneous connections and indirectly related efforts. Personally I enjoyed a number of discussions on the development of decentralised gaming, and during an apéro on the first evening we partook on an impromptu workshop on permaculture and ecology in managing green spaces.