Imagining A Brighter Future

“Imagine that in front of you is a door, a door to the future. It crackles with static, a powerful portal to a different world. When we step through this door, we’ll be stepping a decade into the future. It will be a world that has been completely transformed from our current reality because a few years ago, there was a global tipping point; a moment when popular demand on governments to take the lead on rapid and effective action on climate change, injustice and inequality, lead to previously unimaginable change. 

Principled and determined people were elected. Communities responded with ambitious initiatives in neighbourhoods and cities across the world. A new economy emerged and flourished. Social divisions dissolved.

When you step through that door, you will be stepping into that world with all of your senses.”

This is a quote from Rob Hopkins book ‘From What Is To What If? Unleashing The Power of Imagination To Create The Future We Want.” Rob is the Founder of the Transition Movement in the UK and regularly runs events like this one tonight where he asks people to step through that door and describe what they experience. This is what happened at one of these events:

“I let them stand in silence for a few minutes. You could hear a pin drop. I notice some tears. After I break the silence and invite the participants to share what they are seeing or feeling, someone speaks up:

  • There’s so much more birdsong
  • There are no cars
  • Everyone feels much more relaxed
  • The place is so green, there are plants and trees everywhere
  • There are bicycles, lots of bicycles. 
  • There are food gardens everywhere I walk
  • I see many solar panels
  • There are no homeless people
  • There is a lot of activity
  • There are no big shopping centres anymore
  • I hear laughter. I feel calm, serene even.

Many of us are blocked from thinking of the future in this way but it’s incredibly liberating to move beyond this blockage. Many of us campaign for change, a better future, without having imagined what it could be like. These kinds of stories are hard to sustain, so often subsumed by negative and dystopian visions, when the fact is nobody can predict the future. 

When people come together, our collective sense of what’s possible begins to shift. 

What If…? Questions For Hurstpierpoint

This is how we introduced the debate we held on 20th September 2021 as part of the Hurst Festival. Below are some of the speeches that our panellists gave and some of the ‘What If…? questions that came from our audience.

Martha Rayner – A-Level Student and long term resident

A quote from Rob Hopkins’ book ‘From what is to what if’ I liked was ‘if we wait for governments, it will be too late. If we act as individuals, it will be too little. But if we act as a community it might just be enough, and it might just be in time.’

The pandemic has shown us the power and strength of local communities. We saw overnight across the country how people came together as mutual aid groups, WhatsApp groups etc to support each other, before councils and the government had got organised. Whether it be shopping, collecting medication, walking dogs, we saw people looking out for each other and neighbours connecting with each other for maybe the first time.

What if we didn’t let this momentum die out? What if we realised we could use this collective power to bring about other change? What if we kept using social media as a force for good? What if we held the people representing us to account? What if we told them what our vision looks like, and asked for more?

What if we started relying more on local businesses that share our values and don’t walk away when things start to get difficult? What if there was more transparency on our high street about the carbon footprint of our clothes and food, so we could all feel more confident that we are doing our best for the planet? What if the high street was more pedestrianised, and there were cycle lanes everywhere, and the sound of bikes replaced the harsh noise of cars? What if so many people were on bikes that it  improved our mental and physical health? What if cycling was nice, and relaxing, what if I felt safe on my journey? What if you could hire bikes and electric bikes for short journeys so students could cycle together to school? What if rail and bus tickets were combined so that public transport was more accessible, by reducing the complexities of our journeys. When I went to get my young person’s bus pass for college I had to go to Crawley. Imagine if this was so much easier, imagine if it was free for under 18s that were going to school or sixth form.

When thinking positively about the future, I think of a life that moves at a slower pace, where we are in control. I think of more trees, and green energy, houses made sustainably, and less noise. I get that feeling of walking past lavender and seeing bees buzz around. I see community gardens and allotments, and electric charging points for cars. What if there was a place you could exchange produce? Like a community fridge to reduce food waste and lend a hand to people who needed help getting groceries. What if there was a place where people could exchange skills, where people could offer assistance in their specific areas to make the most of the community. What if people could exchange common tools and equipment to stop unnecessary consumption and best utilise the things we already have? There could be a repair café. There could be a community kitchen where volunteers could make meals every Friday from food near its expiry date that people had brought in, and people could sit down and eat a meal together. What if there was a community centre that could facilitate all these projects? What if there was a really nice place young people could go just to hang out and meet friends, that wasn’t a uniformed organisation you had to pay for. Finally, what if we were united enough to have an effective voice against top-down development and instead have it based on local need? What if we had collective clarity of our ideas and the drive to push them forward to create sustainability?

As a young person who cares about the environment, I often feel disheartened when thinking about the future. I know that young people are passionate about climate change – we’ve seen it first-hand with the climate strikes. But we are often left out of the conversation or made to feel like we are too naïve to understand the complications that stand in the way; however, this is not true. When decision makers have chosen to engage with us, it is often done with a complete lack of imagination, in a way that means all the energy we have is lost. When we are engaged in an interesting and empowering way, we can harness the ideas of everyone. What if moving forward, we started seeing opportunity, instead of the obstacles in our way? What if our voices were heard? What if things could change?

Audience ‘What If..?’ Questions

We asked the audience at our debate to write down their ‘What If…?’ questions on a postcard, which they handed in as they left. Here’s what they wrote:


  • We pedestrianised the High St every Saturday and had a regular farmers market?
  • The High St was closed to traffic so people could walk without fear of being hit by cars mounting the pavement. We had a farmers market every month in the Village Centre?
  • People were happy to pay taxes to support community ventures?
  • The local community achieved all we’ve spoken about tonight?
  • We could feed all our residents locally grown, healthy food to help build a happy community?
  • Young people in Hurst felt listened to and engaged with the transformation of the village?
  • We had a community shop/ bank cashier / cafe?
  • We could make our High St an interesting, experiential, local place to shop?
  • We had community compost! What if we had forest schools for early years and shared childcare schemes? What if we had a shared community space including a community fridge, cafe and clothes swap?
  • We all gave an hour of our week to the community? We had village games day? We had regular Plus 1 meals where you invite an elderly neighbour for dinner?
  • There was a free community space for us to meet and put some of these ideas in place?
  • We had more public spaces and buildings in the High St for community partnerships?
  • We had a farmers market? We had a community shop to provide a swapping system for clothes, tools, equipment?
  • We had a farmers market? We had community food waste area for compost?
  • There was a community organising space that young and old people could get involved with together? What if there was a community kitchen?
  • We could make our roads safer and less polluted? We could knowledge share more successfully e.g growing veg, redesign clothes, repairing electricals? We created a biodiversity trail?
  • We composted everything to feed our soils and plant life their favourite foods again?
  • We reintroduced sustainable fashion?
  • The High St was a shared space with brick paving and no kerbstones? We shared more tasks as a community, built on what we founded in during the pandemic?
  • We had a biodiversity trail like the new heritage trail? Youth groups and schools and tourists could use it. It would help protect our beautiful public spaces.
  • Teenagers became more aware of what’s actually happening in the world?
  • The High St was more pleasant to shop in – less traffic, more space, more sharing resources, regular community events.
  • We had lots more charity bins so people don’t throw things away? We had more spaces for people to meet new people and socialise?
  • Young people were educated more about nature and spent more time outside e.g forest school? Communities were brought together, young, old, rich, poor by community centres?
  • We shared knowledge about baking, DIY, bike repair, sewing etc.. so we could repair more ourselves?
  • We had community shop that was also the hub of the community?
  • We had bike parking and safer cycling between our villages?

We’d love lots of these ‘What Ifs’ to come to fruition. Many of them are achievable in the short term if we work together to make them happen. Join us in our campaign!

What If..? Ponderings from Joanna Gilar, Storyteller

Hello everyone, I’m an eco-storyteller. I have an academic background, with a PhD in fairy tales and ecology, and I specialize in using storytelling to help strengthen communities and connect us to the natural world. I run courses in wild fairy tales for children and adults. The two main projects I run locally are the Giant’s Garden, and the Storytelling Choir. 

My What If is about imagination – not so much about using imagination to find solutions, though as Rob Hopkins describes in his book, that is absolutely essential – but about using imagination to rekindle passion for the world in which we are, what we do with it, and how we live with it. I’m interested in imagination that helps us stay here, now. 

In our society we make so many divisions. Between work, and play. Between the fun and the serious. And between the real world we live in, and the imaginary world we slip off to, on the page, or more often on the screen, when we want to escape or relax. But in many Indigenous communities, those divisions are completely nonsensical. What is done is done with fantasy, leisure and attention, and imagination is just what keeps you here in the world. 

I often wonder what it means that our serious interaction with the world, anything we do with an attempt to have an impact, is divorced from our fantasy and our imagination.  How can we transform our relationship with the world if we don’t interact with our full imagination? 

When I talk about world, I’m particularly interested in the kind of work that isn’t nowadays considered work – that work so often done by women, though by no means always, which is the essence of everything, the keeping things together, the holding habitat, the cooking, cleaning, growing. Nowadays, we mostly do that alone, in our family pods, and we mostly do it on top of trying to earn money and look after our children, and we’re mostly absolutely exhausted.  

But that’s the thing that keeps us in the world. What if we didn’t do it alone and what if it wasn’t exhausting and mundane? In allotments, we have spaces where we can grow together – what if we had more spaces to cook together? Or craft things? Or forage? And what if while we did it we told stories? And what if, while we did it, we had our children with us, free playing in a way that, as Hopkins says, is absolutely essential for the formation of creative thought, roaming around while they witness us doing what it is that holds the world together?

And what if we made spaces for children to imagine not just on screen or even with complex, artificially created toys, but with where they are? What if we had play out days, as Hopkins talks about, where the roads are shut to cars and our children’s minds and connections – with each other and with their surroundings are allowed to build? What if we gave them space to imagine with the complex network of plant and animal kinships with which we are surrounded? In lockdown last year I set up a story map, which was part treasure hunt, part interactive storytelling space, where the children were invited to hunt for places following clues and then tell stories about them, so that we could build up a collective layering of stories about where we live. The story part of the project didn’t work so well that time, I think it was too complex an idea for a lockdown bemused village, but I’d love to try it again with more community support. Because what if we could imagine not just about how to be better but with where we are right now and with whom we are? 

There are thousands of stories about the matrix of natural world that surround us, of trees, of plants, of animals. There are thousands of playful ways to interact with that natural world, while at the same time supporting it and allowing it to support us. What if we had playgrounds not of metal and rubber but of wood, earth and herbs – herbs that don’t mind being trampled, or nibbled, herbs that smell strange and mysterious and wonderful and can support children’s play and learning at once? 

What if we had dedicated spaces at school where children could learn spaces, and games and songs, both of their area and of their wild kinships? What if those spaces, games and songs could be woven back in painting and drawing and sculpture and poetry, into school gardens and forest schools and wild spaces? 

I’m interested in how our imagination can be the opposite of escapist, but can bring us down to earth. What if stories aren’t just ways to remember the past or imagine the future? What if they are the way back into now? 

What If…? Questions From The Whiteboard

Here’s what we noted down from the discussion in the room during the debate:

What if we had a 20 MPH limit on Cuckfield Road?
What if every mode of transport was embraced rather than just motor vehicles?
What if our elderly neighbours felt part of the community rather than isolated in their homes?
What if kids were connected to the elderly in shared spaces e.g benches, organised events
What if we chould share knowledge on local farming so more of us can grow our own?
What if we had regular seed swaps?
What if there were more good quality affordable homes built and owned by the community, not by developers?
What if there were more community owned spaces?
What if there were regular clothes swapping events so introduce circular economy for fashion?
What if ‘fashion’ died??
What if it was easier for us to make the right consumer choices – that it was made clear by manufacturers and shops how items are produced
What if our High St was a great place to hang out – with local shops, experiential businesses, more shared space, pop-ups, markets, community days?
What if we shut the High St one day a week (or month?!)
What if more was salvaged from our local tips and sold on for repair and reuse?
What if the community owned more of the High St so we had a say on what was there?
What if we formed a funded community group to own parts of the village for the community?
What if we composted capitalism?
What if we shared stories from our past to connect the generations?
What if we had a bike repair shop, hardware shop, organic produce shop, zero waste shop, regular farmers market?
What if we as a community, told the High St what we need?
What if we were all around more to use the High St?
What if we had bike parking in the centre of the village?
What if we shared decorating tools and paint, wallpaper etc.. so anyone could make their home look great without having to buy everything new?
What if we had regular Give It Away Days?
What if second hand was best?
What if we had more forest school for kids so they could get a real education in the natural world?
What if the council had budget that the community could decide how to spend?
What if our farming methods were based on no till, regenerative cultivation?
What if we used our spare land for food?
What if our bikes were safe and weren’t scared of them being vandalised or stolen?
What if our families felt safe cycling around our area?

One thought on “Imagining A Brighter Future

  1. Rather than closing the High Street for a regular farmers market might it be easier to get permissions to cordon off part of the village car park and do it there. Henfield artisan food and drink market at the weekend was held in one half of the car park behind Budgens and had around 20 stalls selling amazing local produce.

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