Episode #171 Reasons to be Sheepful: from wedding shawls to burial shrouds with Yuli Somme of Bellacouche
Sheep have had a bad press recently, With Yuli Somme, we bring them back to centre stage, celebrating their place in our living biosphere.
Our crisis, our challenge, our opportunity is complex. More than ever, it matters now that we not get caught in separate silos where we focus just on atmospheric carbon, or just on plastic pollution, or just on our cultural addiction to fossil fuels. We need responses that cover all of these fields, new stories that let us move into a future we can barely imagine.
So, that’s what this podcast is for: to give a platform to people whose perspectives are new or different or challenging or inspiring in ways that will help us all to weave new stories of how we could do things differently – and this week, we’re talking to Yuli Summe of Bellacouche, whose work has taken her from weaving to felt making to the creation of burial shrouds.
Yuli is a maker, someone deeply grounded in our connection to the ancestry of the land and the ways we have sustained ourselves from it. She’s been working with wool since childhood and is embedded in the rich lore of shepherd, farm and land, of the fullers and spinners and weavers that were so much a core of our history – and will be again as we move to a more localised, simpler economy and way of living. This conversation moved from the courage of one man in the second world war, to the courage of his daughter in laying to rest her fear of death, through fields and high tors and the rhythms of feltmaking. It felt to me like a song to our future and I hope it leads you forward in the same way.
Yuli was born in Norway and although she has lived most of her life in Devon, the traditional weaving and knitting heritage of Norway has deeply influenced her since she was old enough to hold needles to knit with. She is a member of Make SouthWest and through this organisation, has been an active teacher of felt making and textile understanding in schools, and is part of the Green Maker Initiative.
At the turn of the millennium, an Arts Council grant allowed Yuli to travel to Turkey to work with traditional master feltmakers, and it was there that she started thinking about a “lifetime” garment made of felt, inspired by witnessing the making of a ‘kepenek’, a felt cloak traditional to Kurdish shepherds.
Yuli is a member of the South West FibreShed – a growing community of fibre and dye growers, processors, makers and manufacturers across the South West whose aim is to produce home-grown textiles and garments in a more healthy, resilient and regenerative textile ecosystem. This group is affiliated to the international FibreShed group.
Manda: This week I am delighted to introduce you to Yuli Somme, whose work has taken her from weaving and weaving stories, to feltmaking, to the creation of burial shrouds and an investment in the new and growing area of giving people agency over their own deaths and the deaths of the people they love.
Manda: Or at least what happens immediately afterwards. Yuli is a maker. She’s someone deeply grounded in our connection to the ancestry of the land and the ways we have sustained ourselves from it. She’s been working with wool since childhood, as you’ll hear, and she’s embedded in the rich lore of the shepherd and the farm and the Land. Of the Fullers and the Spinners and the Weavers that were so much a core of our history across the world, and will be again, I think, as we move to a more localised, simpler economy and way of living. This conversation moved from the courage of one man in the Second World War, through the courage of his daughter in laying to rest her fear of death. And on to fields and high tors and the rhythms of feltmaking, and all that the Land and the sheep can bring. It felt to me like a song to our future. And I hope it leads you forward in the same way. So people of the podcast, please do welcome Yuli Somme of Bellacouche.
Manda: Yuli, welcome to the Accidental Gods Podcast. You are down in Devon I believe. How is it in Devon? Have you have you had any rain? It’s February, we’re in a drought here.
Yuli: No, no. Hi Manda. It’s just lovely to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. Dry and frosty. Yeah. Trying to defrost the bird bath in the sun
Manda: But no rain
Manda: And so there’s so much that you’re doing in the world. I would like first to bring us to the Land; to sheep, to wool, to fibre, to everything that you’re engaging with on that. Tell us a little bit about what drew you to wool in the first place, because most of us don’t spend our lives with our hands in fleece.
Yuli: I think it came from my heritage, really my background. I was born in Norway and I grew up embroidering with wool and knitting the traditional way. And then just somehow found a lot of comfort through it. So my father died when I was five years old, and I just remember snuggling up in my mother’s beautiful, loose kofta, it’s called. A traditional something like what I’m wearing now. And I loved the smell. It held her in it. I think there’s something very tender and precious about wool that I connected with. It gave me great comfort.
Manda: Tell us a little bit about your dad, because I know a little bit about his history. If it feels all right to do that in the podcast? Because he was in Norway during the war and he was really proactive and he had to get out. Just give us a little snapshot of what he was doing.
Yuli: He was a marine biologist and he ran a fisheries school on an island called Gossen, which was an unusually flat island in the middle of Norway. And the Nazis obviously were occupying Norway and building various facilities for planes to land on the island, and bring iron ore, I guess, from Sweden to make military weapons. And he was brought into the resistance movement and became a chief for that whole area. And over the years, in that early part of the war but also for the rest of his life, until he died in 1961, he was actually a trainer of spies. So that part of the resistance movement didn’t close down after the war, because of a possible threat from Russia. So he trained about 80 or 90 spies, right up to his death in 1961. And during the war, his job was to write an informative newsletter for anybody who wanted to hear the real news and not the propaganda from the Nazis. But he ran a fisheries school on the island and the Nazis actually took over his school and used it as their headquarters for the island.
Yuli: But he continued writing an illegal newspaper in the basement, under their noses. And as far as I know, they never found out. But how he was caught, he was caught, was he was taking photographs of the military installations and a soldier spotted the flash of his camera lens, and they they took him. And he knew what his future would be if he didn’t escape, which would be torture and death. Which his brother had actually suffered. He was in a prisoner of war camp and his brother was involved in the the bombing of the heavy water boat. And when he was caught and that happened finally, because there were several attempts, he was taken out into the woods, made to dig his own grave with some of his colleagues. And that’s where he finished up. So our surname is quite unusual. So Papa knew that as soon as that connection was made, he was done for. No help. So he was taken off, but miraculously managed to escape and walked across Norway.
Manda: Did he have help, do you think?
Yuli: Yes. He had the most incredible help. So in 2004, me and my brother and my sister and my nephew and a friend of mine, decided to walk the route. Because Papa wrote the whole thing down in detail, how he got across to Sweden. And it took him about eight weeks. And during that time, he knew the mountains really well, he knew the people. And he was hidden and sheltered by friends, who came out of the woods and risked their own lives and that of their families to get him across to Sweden. So he was hidden and fed and sheltered.
Manda: And then in Sweden he continued training people. And did you find out about this while he was still alive? Because in the UK everyone had signed the Official Secrets Act and people often their families didn’t know they’d been in the SOE or been at Bletchley or equivalent, until after they died and found the papers. Was that the same with you?
Yuli: So we knew about the story because he had told my mother. They married after the war. And he’d written it down in detail. But to be honest, I don’t know where that was kind of hidden. You’ve asked an interesting question there, and I don’t know the answer to it. But I do remember when I was young, my mum writing it up by hand, translating it, I guess, and then it was published into a book finally. And then after, we as the children followed his route and actually met some of the people that had helped him. So my sister incredibly organised all that. And so we followed this route and that was just incredible. The book is called Another Man’s Shoes and I won’t give away the wonderful story about his shoes, but it’s incredibly moving.
Manda: I will link to it in the show notes. It does sound incredibly moving. And I’ve been listening recently to Simon Michaux, ahead of him coming on the podcast, and he is saying that our generation is going to have to have the courage and grit of the World War two generation, several times over if we’re going to get through everything that’s coming. And I think it’s worth remembering the courage of ordinary people faced with something that was unthinkable. And it’s easier to see that an invasion by an armed nation is unthinkable and that we need to resist. But finding that depth of courage in ourselves, now, in the face of an apocalypse that we have helped to create, is going to be a whole different mindset. But I thought it was worth really exploring that for a little bit just to remind people that we can do this. It does take astonishing courage, but people can rise to the occasion if they understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. So anyway, let’s move on.
Manda: Because I’m astonished that as a young girl you did embroidery. I can’t think of anything I would have liked less. But you were engaged with wool from a young age. And then you tell on your website that later in life you went to Turkey, and you explored some of the ways that people who still live a more connected lifestyle, connected to the land, are still completely engaged with wool and what it gives us. Can you walk us a little bit through why you went there and what you learned?
Yuli: I got an Arts Council grant to fund me to go there for, I think about three weeks. And the the money also covered the cost of an interpreter. So I’d already been on a workshop with a master felt maker from Turkey called Mehmet Girgic. So he had come regularly over to the UK and travelled all over the place, teaching. And I loved his workshops so much, that was what really sort of drew me to going over there, so that I could have more from him. But also visit other areas where Feltmaking is still a tradition. So that was in 1999, quite a long time ago, and I fear that some of those workshops that I went to might have, you know, disappeared by now. I don’t know what sort of state it’s all in, the traditional feltmaking. But what I was particularly interested in was the Kurdish Shepherds Cape. And I have one in my studio that I made there with somebody and how that was made. And it is a thing of beauty to watch being made. It’s almost balletic, part of it. Incredible.
Manda: And is it felted or is it woven?
Yuli: Right. So, yes, you’re right to bring that up, because there are two ways of making fabric, really. Well, three. There’s spinning of yarn and either knitting or weaving it, or there’s non-woven wool, or you can use other fibres too. So felt is a non-woven. So it behaves very differently to a woven or knitted fabric.
Manda: Tell us more about that, because this is something Faith, my partner, as you know, was a felt maker for a while and so I began to understand it. But until then, I had no idea. We had to knit at school. I did at Schumacher take up spinning and found it so therapeutic, the rhythms of it and the wonder of just taking raw wool and turning it into something that someone else could knit with, was amazing. It felt like magic. And you had been a weaver for a while. And I think for most people, the concept that you take a warp and weft and by the magic of the loom, it creates fabric. Is something that we are familiar with, even if we don’t engage with it. But felting feels almost alchemical. And it produces something quite, quite different. So can you tell us more about what Felt is and how it works, in a way?
Yuli: Yeah. So when I took up weaving in my 20s and did some training, I thought that was it. That’s me, for my life. I want to make fabric, that when civilisation collapses, I’ll know how to do it. I’ll know how to spin the fibre, gather it, process it and weave cloth for clothing for people. But felt making wasn’t really a thing in the 80’s. It was just beginning to come in. And there are two ways of making felt. There’s wet felting and there’s needle felting. And wet felting was the only thing that was kind of on my horizon in the 80’s and 90’s. I didn’t know anything about needle felting and it wasn’t a thing for me, as far as I knew. We didn’t have the Internet, so, you know, I just didn’t know about it.
Yuli: Going back to the weaving. In our family, we have dyscalculia and I think that’s what I suffer from; which is a total inability to understand the logic of mathematics. And weaving is very mathematical. And so I was trained to, you know, work out the diameter of a yarn and how many threads per inch I would need, and then the shrinkage rate and all this sort of thing. And I used to sit at my loom weeping and ringing a friend and saying, I can’t work this out. And when I discovered Feltmaking, it liberated me from that calculation.
Manda: No arithmetic required. Brilliant.
Yuli: It’s a mass of wool, which was already very acquainted with, you know, how to process it. And there is something so freeing about it. So you can be sculptural with it. You can be pictorial. It’s like drawing really. And drawing was something that had been squashed in me as a pupil at school, by the art teacher. He squashed the art out of me. But when I discovered the possibility of using dyed wools onto a foundation of wool to create a picture or a design, it just completely freed me up because it’s it’s like drawing, but it’s different.
Manda: And it’s very sculptural. I hadn’t understood until faith began to show me that you can take wool and turn it into something that’s as hard as wood, or it can be as soft, almost like silk, probably not quite. But there’s that variety and it’s the same stuff that you start with. It just depends how much friction and heat and water and compression and all the rest of it. Can you tell us a little bit for people who haven’t engaged with this, what’s actually happening with the wool when you felt it?
Yuli: So when it’s wet felted, I’ll talk about wet felting; the fibres, the individual fibres are made up of little scales and when you wet or subject a mass of wool fibres to first of all moisture or water, and then friction, firstly, the fibres kind of expand and relax. And then as you apply the friction by rolling it or rubbing it or stamping on it, those fibres tighten together. And that’s what happens when you put a beautiful woollen jumper into the washing machine and it gets tumbled around in moisture with friction. Even worse, if you put it into a tumble dryer, that will really shrink it.
Manda: That’s how you take an adult jumper and turn it into a child’s jumper that’s more like armour.
Manda: And the scales are almost like little fish hooks in my head and they kind of interlock in a way. And that the interlocking of things are not in straight lines but are in three dimensions. It just creates a really stable structure. And I remember reading years ago that the Mongol tribesmen created their saddles by just putting a sack of wet wool under underneath them as they rode, and by the end of riding across the plains they’d have a saddle, because the friction and the heat and the movement would have just created a felt saddle. And I read that you did a similar thing with shoes. Creating felted slippers that you then put out on the Land. Can you tell us about that process and how it arose, and then what happened over the years with those slippers?
Yuli: So that ties up with my journey following my father’s footsteps during the war, when he was escaping. And although we started out five of us walking the route, it ended up with just two of us walking the route. Me and my sister. But the long and the short of it was as we were walking, our feet got really sore. And I knew that that would happen and I’d brought a bit of wool with me to to wrap around my toes. As you walk, the toes become solid because you were providing moisture and friction through sweating.
Manda: Right. So you end up with little bricks of wool between your toes?
Yuli: Well, little toe caps really, wrapped around each toe. So when I got home, I knew there’s a bit of a legend about how Feltmaking was discovered. I mean, you know, Feltmaking is probably 4000 years old. I don’t know. Nobody knows really. But one of the legends is that it was discovered by somebody putting wool in their shoes or sandals as they walked. A pilgrim. And then it felted. And I thought, what a lovely way to connect with wool. And I was thinking of a way of perhaps connecting children, particularly to the Land, getting out of school, walking, doing something exceptional and understanding what happens to wool when you walk in it. You can transform it.
Manda: And how do kids get on? I remember reading something about children in Edinburgh who really got inspired by this.
Yuli: Yes, yes, yes. So I’ve had children in Edinburgh and there’s a couple of women who’ve been doing it in Derbyshire with a group of people with disabilities actually, and they’ve been doing it for years. So I’ve been supplying them with the wool and we have wonderful talks together and they just love it. You know, it’s sort of quite transformative.
Manda: Because there’s something as a kid, it’s like jumping in puddles, isn’t it? It’s just fun. And and so you’re walking along in squishy feet.
Yuli: That’s what they love, squishy feet. I did it a lot at Farms for City Children here in Devon, which is a sort of holiday retreat, I guess, for city schools. So children go there for a week and learn a little bit about farming. And so I did it with them and I’ve sold it to various schools who’ve taken it up and done it with children. And they just love that squishy feeling in their boots and it’s a very odd thing to do. It’s not about making slippers. Because if you’re going to make slippers, you need to make them twice the size of your feet and shrink them down to make them strong. Like, you know, so that you can knock on them, as you said. I love that description. You can knock on the felt and you almost get that woody sound. And you know, slippers need to be really, really well felted. But with these it takes an hour. And so they’re fairly soft but they’re felted and they take on the shape of your feet. And it’s a very beautiful experience really.
Manda: So when you did the project in Dartmoor, where you made some slippers, then took them out onto the land; were they made twice the size and shrunk down or were they they put in your wellies and squish around and create something the shape of your feet.
Yuli: They were put in the in the wellies and squished. Yes. So I did that with 40 volunteers and they just came to my house and one by one, over a period of time, one by one, I would sit and ceremonially dress their feet in wet wool. And, you know, I had just people from the village who thought, Wow, what’s this? And of course, we’re a sheepy kind of area on Dartmoor, so they were very keen to try it out. And so I ended up with 40 pairs of feet and I wanted to connect that to our history and our ancestors on the moors, who were using wool to keep themselves warm. And using everything that a sheep can offer us. Meat and milk and fibre. Three in one animal.
Manda: Yes. And I’d like to talk about that later, but I just want to explore a little bit more. You put these slippers out on the Land in an ancient circle, I think?
Yuli: Yes. Yes. So I cut little willow staples. And I thought, well, I’d better come back up over the months to make sure they don’t take root because that will be an invasive species up there. So I had to check up on that. I just wanted to peg them down to the earth. And I was sort of up there not knowing what I was going to do, really. It was coming towards winter, weather like this, very frosty and clear. And I stumbled across these hut circles. It’s on a place called Shovel Down. And sadly now it’s been under grazed and you can’t see them anymore. I haven’t been able to find them anymore. But in 2005,6,7 they were there, and I hadn’t known about them. And I found some sort of resonance there. It’s near to Kes Tor, which is a very obvious place and historic place. So I’ve found this place, Shovel Down and just felt this incredible atmosphere. And I really wanted to connect with my ancestors up there. Whether I have ancestors up there, I don’t know. It’s possible.
Manda: But your mother is English, then?
Yuli: And actually, my ancestors come from here, from Dartmoor, from Moretonhampstead, and we have records of that. So there was that connection. But even so, I think all of us want to find something that roots us. I certainly have, all my life, wanted to be rooted somewhere. And so it was just part of my sort of artistic journey to feel this connection. My passion is not just about wool because it’s a fantastic fibre. It’s connection to our history. Our long, long history with sheep, our transformation from hunter gatherer to agrarian and all of that, and then how we have been sustained by sheep. And there is a negative side of that, that we will probably talk about in a bit.
Manda: Sheep have had a bit of a bad press. The concept of sheep wrecked Land is a thing and actually as someone who lives surrounded by sheep wrecked Land, it is a thing. But it’s a relatively recent thing, as far as I can tell. Our ancestors were much more regenerative. Part of the reason we don’t know an awful lot about what our archaeologists call the late Pre-roman Iron Age, which annoys me a lot because it defines everything by the Romans. But anyway, we don’t know a huge amount about how they lived, because they didn’t leave a lot behind, because everything was recycled. And so sheep were a part of that and have been part of the landscape of Britain for thousands of years, although not indigenous originally. And it seems to me, as you say: Food and fibre and milk; they are a 3 in 1 gift. And a lot of our history, especially in areas like where you live and where I live on the Marches, the whole of Ludlow was a weaving town or was a wool town. Its wealth came from the sheep of Wales and their wool being brought to here and then being processed and then sent east towards the bigger cities. So if we’re heading towards where we, on the podcast, and you, think we’re heading, which is a much more localised, much less intensive and lower tech future. Then it seems to me that we have to get back to producing our own fibre and sheep would be an obvious way, but without sheep wrecking the land. So can we talk a little bit about how we could reintegrate sheep in a more regenerative way of being?
Yuli: I’m not a sheep farmer. But over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of sheep farmers and people who have supplied me with wool, and I’m intensely interested in it, because actually when I was in my twenties my choice in career was either to go towards textiles or to farm. And I didn’t see that there was any opening for me as a farmer. I was not owning land or you know, it just didn’t seem a possibility for me. So I went woofing during the late seventies.
Manda: We need to tell people not in the UK that WOOFing is Working On Organic Farms, and it’s a movement that allowed people to go and do exactly what it says on the tin. So you went and worked on other people’s organic farms and they gave you food and lodging, in return for which you learned how to work on the land.
Yuli: Yes. So WOOFing then was called working weekends on organic farms. So it was a weekend thing. And now it’s called willing workers on organic farms I think. And it was an opportunity that I was so happy to take up, to stay briefly at different farms. I did it in New Zealand as well. And you just pick up what you can and volunteer and learn about organic farming. And that was actually how I learned to spin, was somebody was offering that on her farm. So that was great.
Manda: Yay. We could do a whole podcast about spinning. It would be so exciting. But let’s not, because it might be only you and me who actually wanted to talk about it. And it’s a bit of a visual thing and you have to actually do it. Still, in the circles in which I move, which is pasture fed livestock, mob grazing, regenerative agriculture. The flerd is a thing now, which is a mix between a flock and a herd, a Richard Parkins idea, that you bring together cattle and sheep or cattle, sheep and poultry, and that in the mix of those and there different ways of eating, because cattle don’t have upper teeth, so they have to wrap their tongue around the grass and kind of wrench it rather than biting through with little teeth, which is what the sheep do. So the cattle graze and leave much longer grass than the sheep, who tend to graze it right down. And that grazing it right down is the problem because the grass only produce roots at the length of its height. So you want tall grass, long roots, and then you can begin to build the soil. That’s a very short intro to something that I have listened to podcasts that lasted weeks, that were trying to explain that in much more depth.
Manda: So that’s the very, very, very basic. But that mob grazing, grazing an area where they don’t get to bite the grass right down and then moving them on, and particularly silvopasture; agroforestry where you grow trees in clumps or rows; and then do the mob grazing between the trees, seems to be really good. And I was listening to some people on YouTube the other day and they’ve been planting trees in Scotland and the sheep are much, much happier when they have shelter, which is so obvious. They have shelter from the sun in the summer and rain and wind and snow in Scotland in the winter. And you keep moving them, so they always have grass. And they’re having much less incidence of disease, much less incidence of internal parasites. They’re not using wormers anymore. And it just seems so much more sane. And yet on the landscapes around here and certainly on Devon, everybody was into cut all the trees, because that somehow seemed to be a thing. Are you seeing in Devon and in the circles that you’re moving in, people beginning to plant trees again and use sheep in a mob grazing way?
Yuli: It’s beginning. It’s very early days. So some of my wool I buy from such a farm. Two farms actually. One is on Dartmoor, called Challicum Farm. And the other one is in Somerset called Fernhill Farm. And Fernhill Farm, I’ve had a long relationship with them and they have a large flock of sheep and have very cleverly put a good value on their wool. So they are farming for meat, but they’re also farming for wool. And that is something that changed when our wool industry started declining. We started breeding sheep for meat rather than wool, whereas previously we were breeding sheep for wool and the meat was the by-product. And I’d like to see that return, because we all recognise that meat is an important food source, especially in this climate, but we need to eat less of it and better quality. And we need the fibre. So there’s so much in there Manda to unpick.
Manda: Well let’s do some unpicking, because I think this is really important. So how is Fernhill improving the value of their wool? Because around here you have to pay the wool marketing board to take it away and it costs more to get the Wool Marketing Board to take it away, than you’re ever going to get. By the time you’ve paid someone to share the sheep, it’s not worth anything. It’s actually an expense rather than a value. And I take it from local farmer to use on the land as a mulch and they are really happy to give me wool. And as long as I can be sure that they haven’t put anything on the sheep, then it’s grand. But how do commercial farmers add value to their wool? Is it using specific breeds or by selling it directly to spinners? What are they doing?
Yuli: Well, for me, if I’m looking for wool, I’m willing to pay a premium if they’re regenerative or organic or both. Well, actually, they have to be organic in my book. So organic regenerative. Not just regenerative. And the breed is what I feel is really important. So I have a preference for primitive breeds like Shetlands, Icelandics, Saint Kilda a bit, and those kind of sheep that are light on the Land that tread lightly on the land. And when you look at a flock of those sheep, they look like wild animals and they behave a bit more like wild animals. And so I’m not very keen on the kind of square table Texels,that don’t look to me like a sheep, you know, because they’re bred for meat and they’re heavy on the Land. I’m very, very much in favour of regenerative holistic grazing, so that the sheep are moved through quite quickly in a planned system. And also what you were saying about planting trees for sheep; silvo pastoralism benefits all livestock. Why wouldn’t it? And on Dartmoor we’re getting these very, very hot periods in the summer and any little tiny hawthorn tree or little shrivelled up rowan tree will have a cluster of sheep underneath it, you know, sheltering, whether it’s raining or sunny, that’s where they gravitate.
Yuli: But they also will eat the berries. I’ve got a little film of a sheep eating the berries, nibbling away at the berries. And sheep self-medicate. All livestock does. They self-medicate. If you can move them through a diversity of foliage, they know what to do. The one thing that is different, the difference between sheep and other livestock, is that sheep can kill themselves in a bramble. I’ve seen it nearly happen. So management is so important. This is where technology can actually help, you know, in the form of an electric wolf, you know, an electric fence, that would keep them bunched into a small pack and you move them on and keep them away from brambly areas.
Manda: Right. Because they get caught up and then they can’t move and then they starve to death.
Yuli: Exactly. So this is where the breed comes in as well. That some of the breeds that we have here are rare breeds, like the whiteface Dartmoor Greyface Dartmoor, Devon Longwool, Devon close wool. The Devon close wool is a great little sheep because it’s got close wool, but the Devon Longwool is a nightmare and their fleeces are so heavy. And so I think, why are they rare? I think, you know, they’re probably good meat. There’s a young couple here who’ve got a flock of Devon Long wools. If it was me, I would never have Devon Long wools. You know, they’re a big, heavy breed. I think it’s almost a welfare issue if you don’t shear them early on.
Manda: Because it starts to felt on the sheep. And then then they’re wearing armour in the winter. In the summer even.
Yuli: And then it’s really difficult to use. So going back to the farming, Fernhill farm, they’ve put value into their wool. So they charge a premium and I’m happy to pay that premium. And they sort their wool, they categorise it, you know, and it’s certified regenerative, which for me is a selling point. Challicum Farm is also certified regenerative and a fantastic farm right up in the middle of the moor and run by a wonderful couple who have been born to farming. They’ve lived there a long time. They’ve got a flock of Shetland and Icelandic and beautiful oh, such delightful little animals, light on the Land and so on. And as an experiment, I bought their clip a couple of years ago and had a difficult time, I must say. I had to sort all of it and lost about two thirds, because they were shorn quite late in July and it was what you call cotted. Not clotted, but cotted. So the fleeces as the sheep walked around, it was a wet summer, walking around, moving around and all the conditions for felting them. And they were so felted that they couldn’t be salvaged.
Yuli: I could save a bit from around the edge. So I managed to save about a third of it. And it’s the most beautiful wool. The added added problem with it was that their grazing gorse, which they love to nibble at, but of course it gets embedded and I ended up with thorns in my fingers. So that wasn’t a great lot of fun. And so, you know, management of sheep, it’s complex. When you shear them, you know. So at Fernhill they share them three weeks before lambing. Would you believe it? Three weeks before lambing. And when I heard that, I thought, oh, wouldn’t that be rather awkward? But no, they’re fine with it. And it means that they thrive better. The lambs are better for it, because they don’t have to find their way through so much wool to get to the teats. Much cleaner. And because they haven’t been through too many months of carrying a heavy fleece, the fleece is in better condition.
Manda: Okay, So let’s look at what you’re actually doing with this wool now. Because you’ve moved from being a weaver to being a felt maker, but within that felt making you’ve gone to making shrouds. And that is just such an extraordinary and wonderful and there so beautiful. And it seems to me like this has taken you down a whole new avenue of life and death. So tell us how that came about and where it’s taking you now.
Yuli: It started in about 1999 when I wanted to put some work into an exhibition called Treading Lightly, which was about how makers are reducing their effect on the environment. So I wanted to illustrate that and I immediately thought we have disconnected ourselves from the cycle of life. All the stuff that we’re throwing into the atmosphere, which is not part of the cycle of life and is causing huge problems in the sea and so on. And it just somehow got me thinking about that whole cycle. So birth, marriage and death. So I created a kind of tableau. I’d just had my children and so I was thinking about nappies and bought woollen nappies for them and washed them.
Manda: I had no idea such a thing existed.
Yuli: Well, good old Germans, actually, they have some good products. Well, wool products actually. So these were German woollen nappies. And that was the birth side of it; that I made a woollen nappy and a lovely woollen felt changing mat. And then I did a wedding cape for a couple who were getting married. So that would have come first: the marriage, the birth and then the death. And I think the other thing that influenced me was watching the Kaepernick being made, this Kurdish felt cape in Turkey. That struck me as such an amazing lifetime garment. So a person, a shepherd, traditionally will bring fleece from their sheep and take it to a felt maker in a district of felt makers. And say I want a Kaepernick. And different regions have different styles and they will make the Kaepernick and it’s a lifetime garment. And going back to my mother’s cardigan that gave me such comfort, there’s something about wool when you wear it, it takes on something of you, I feel. That’s what I feel about it, that tenderness. And so I was thinking about the Kaepernick. So it shelters you from all the extremes like a fleece will do on a sheep. So you can be in the snow and you will keep warm, you can be in the heat and you will have some resistance to the heat. Because it’s a wonderful insulator that outstrips all the synthetics. And so it would be a lifetime garment. And then maybe when you die, you’d be buried in it. And that’s sort of what I was thinking. A lifetime garment. And you would take it to your grave.
Yuli: And I’d always been very clear in myself. I grew up with a phobia of death because my father died when I was five, and we had all the upheaval of moving from Norway to England. Strange country, not understanding what this was all about, a bit traumatising. Me and my siblings, we all had different experiences of it and it wasn’t a great experience. We didn’t go to his funeral. We didn’t understand. We weren’t involved at all, and that affected us all. And so in this tableau that I created of birth, marriage and death, the shroud was the thing that really got into my soul. To make it was days and days of rolling the felt and creating a moulded cocoon, a papoose that was going to be a shroud. And in that process, I got into this rhythm of the rolling and got exhausted. It’s utterly exhausting. Layers and layers of wool that you apply water to, and then you roll it and that friction is slowly, slowly, slowly reducing those fibres to something that you can knock your hand on and it almost sounds like leather. Certainly it’s like leather. And that process was transforming. It took away all my phobia of, and other phobias that I’d accumulated about death, surrounding death. It was a catharsis. And so much healing went on actually, a huge release. And I do believe this, that we experience this all the time when we’re out walking. The rhythm of walking, the exertion of walking or climbing or whatever it is. People find release in that. And that’s what I found with that garment, that shroud.
Manda: Were you making it to fit to yourself? Were you making your own funeral shroud or were you just making a human sized one?
Yuli: I wasn’t ready for that, Manda. My phobia was still, you know, a little bit there. It doesn’t just go suddenly and I called it…
Manda: No, no. But even so, that’s why I’m asking.
Yuli: Exactly. So I called it a universal shroud. And I made several different ones. So one had little fragments of cloth from my grandmother and my mother and my daughters. It actually had the nappy liners integrated into it because they were only sort of little then. They were clean, obviously, because there’s a lot of washing that goes on. But yeah, you know, you can integrate things into felt. So hair, flax, nettle, cloth, you can integrate it into the felt and it will felt in and that’s what I did.
Manda: You could put rings and things, you could put other things. That’s the thing about felt. You could embed little bits of stone or bits of wood or you know, your wedding ring, if you wanted, you could put anything in there and it would be felted in, and nobody would see it until it rotted away and came out.
Yuli: Yes, absolutely. Yeah, that’s an intriguing thought, actually. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that’s a lovely idea. So that’s where my original feelings about the cycle of death and my coming to terms with it. And then letting it go. I just sort of let it go. And then something happened. Somebody rang me up and saw it in an exhibition and said, My husband is dying. Will you come and make a shroud out of his wool? And I found myself going to his bedside. He was alive and he wanted me to make his shroud. And so I was measuring him.
Manda: Was he a sheep farmer?
Yuli: I was asked to make a shroud to fit him out of wool from his sheep. But he wasn’t a sheep farmer, no, they just had a few animals.
Manda: Okay. And how was that process different to making the universal shroud?
Yuli: It made me gulp when she asked me. I thought, okay, this is part of the journey and I’m up for journeys. I’m up for surprising myself. And so that’s what I did. I went to their extraordinarily beautiful house in Chagford, which has bats flying around inside. It’s a wonderful place. And measured him up. His son, who was only 11 at the time, was distraught and very resistant to the idea, and he had wanted his father’s body to be put into a lead lined coffin. And I think in his mind he was thinking, I want him preserved, I don’t want him to die. You know, this kind of couldn’t let go. But when I delivered the shroud, he totally changed and he said, Can I get in it, please, Mum? Can I sleep in it tonight? He was just totally changed by it.
Manda: Oh, wow.
Yuli: So there we are. You know, that was the first experience I had. It had transformed me and it was transforming him. They’ve moved away now, he and his mum and he’s grown up and I don’t know what he feels about it now. I would love to know, but that was my interpretation of what happened to him.
Manda: There’s so much depth here. Because I remember reading that you did a lot of research. You found dead animals and you made little baby shrouds. And there’s a picture that you sent me of, I think, a dove in this beautiful little cocoon, where you can just see its its head curled around and it looks almost embryonic. It’s got that sense of being womb like as well as being a shroud. And now you make these professionally. As far as I can tell, you’re not doing all the rolling yourself because that would just be extremely tiring. But tell us about the progression then to this being something that you do in the world.
Yuli: So then I was approached by a lovely person who you might know. She lives in Presteigne, Anne Belgrave, and for several years she’d been thinking in the same way. We should be using wool for burials. So there’s a historic law, 1666 that the dead must be buried in wool. And as you probably know, wool was one of our most important industries that started the Industrial Revolution, for good or not. And it created such wealth in this country. You can see it all around the UK. And we wanted to explore this idea of taking this further. Could we make this into a commercial enterprise? So for several years, it was a very slow burn; we would meet in each other’s places and I had started picking up roadkill or little dead animals, whatever; birds, whatever. And making shrouds and trying to understand how can I make a cocoon? And, you know, we would undo boxes and, you know, find out how things stay put, you know, in a structure. And then thinking about, well, how do you put a body in? Because it’s not going to get in itself. It has to be wrapped up. And, you know, and then there’s other things to consider, like leakage and how you carry a body to a grave.
Yuli: And then there’s the whole question about cremation, which I hope we will have time to talk about, because that is so important. So we slowly, slowly got ourselves together and decided to make it a proper business. Anne wanted to do the website side of things and she did all the numbers thank goodness, because couldn’t cope with that. The accounting and admin. And we would get together and design together for a few days and then part for months, and slowly burn, you know, thoughts and so on. And decided that the only way to make it commercial was to have the felt made for us. Axminster Carpets used to have a mill down here in Devon, Buckfastleigh spinning company, where they washed the fleece and spun it to weave carpets, but they also made carpet underlay. So I tapped into the carpet underlay side of it, and asked them not to put polypropylene in it, but to just have it as fleece. So a bit of working out. And for several years until they were closed down, I would gather wool from local farms and then have it filtered there. And so we started to make these shrouds, which we call leaf cocoons.
Manda: And they’re incredibly beautiful because they’re decorated. Because I think when I first heard this, I always thought a shroud was a soft thing. And it’s just like cloth that you wrap people in. But actually they’re rigid so that you could lift them up and they’re like shells or cocoons. They’re beautiful and scalloped and sculpted and they’ve got flowers on them. And we’ll see if we can get some pictures and put them on the website. But each one is a work of art. Are they made with the person who’s going to go in them and they tell you what they want on it? You know, I want flowers or I want pictures of sheep on. Do you sit with them and work it out together? Or does it come from you and your experience?
Yuli: I have been doing that, you’re absolutely right. So Anne doesn’t work with me anymore, though we see each other and I value her input. So I’m running the business and I have some help. And I’ve had to change how I work, so not quite as bespoke. You know, I’m wearing out. And so I’ve just gone through a bit of a transformation. And yes, I used to do sheep and banjos and all sorts of animals and shovels and carrots and all sorts of whatever people wanted, I would try to oblige. And now I have simplified that right down. So I have created a kit. So most of the time I’m just selling a more recent product that I’ve added to the catalogue is called the Heritage Shroud. So harking back to our heritage and it’s a really simple way to do it. It’s a no fuss, no frills cocoon of felt, and it encloses the head and the feet and then you’re double wrapped. And as you say, it’s not like a woven cloth which will follow every contour, so you will even see the fingers, you know, through the cloth. But because it’s felt it’s more like it floats over the body. So it’s much more cocoon-like.
Yuli: And it can be decorated. So I run workshops where people can sign up and come to my studio and spend a weekend decorating a cover for a shroud. They don’t have to buy my shroud. It could be for any shroud that they make, but it’s just a cover. So leaf shaped pieces of felt. Or they can use it as a coffin cover. So it’s adaptable and they can come and do that in my workshop, or they can buy a kit off my website and follow their own pathway with it at home.
Manda: So this is sounding as if you started off with one man who had some sheep and was dying, and now we’re talking about a small industry. And before I knew about Bellacouche, which is the name of your company, I didn’t know that you had any option other than a box. You just had to choose what wood you wanted the box made out of. And that, you know, potentially maybe you had a choice of the shape. I don’t even remember. Both my parents had died and I have no memory at all of any part of anything, other than the fact that it was living hell, having to negotiate all of the decisions that had to be made. And so now it sounds like you’re doing a lot of these and people must know that this is a thing. And is this a recent? Has the concept of funerals changed since Woodland burials came in? Because I was vaguely aware that that’s a thing. Tell us a little bit about how the industry that surrounds death and dying is evolving, for you.
Yuli: The natural Burial movement was started by Ken West, who was the manager of Carlisle Cemetery, and he drove it towards a more environmentally friendly way of burying our dead. He is a wonderful man and he’s kind of the elder in the more advanced part of the death industry, which is highly industrialised, and brings, I would say in a lot of cases, I don’t want to tar everybody with the same brush, but in a lot of cases it brings more grief rather than less. And I think a good funeral obviously doesn’t get rid of grief. We have grief. We hold it within ourselves forever. But it doesn’t have to be that hurtful, damaging thing. And so having been involved in this for 20 years, I’ve noticed a lot of women coming back into funeral directing, becoming funeral directors. So we now have a lot more female funeral directors. It’s so much more normal to see a female funeral director. So if you imagine, you know, back in the nineties, the average funeral was a man.
Manda: An old white bloke in a suit.
Yuli: Well I didn’t like to say that, because we know lots of lovely white middle aged men. But you know what I mean? And the black hearse and if it’s a really expensive one, it’ll be black plumed horses with a black carriage and all this kind of harking back to Victorian times and pomp.
Manda: It’s all very Victorian really, wasn’t it?
Yuli: Yeah. We do still have that. I’m not averse to using horses of course, but, but it’s kind of, you know, what is a funeral about? What’s it about? And so often it is not about the person. It is about commercialism and not real choices because the real choices are not put in front of us. In our country, we are very lucky in that there aren’t actually that many laws about how you deal with the dead. They’ve got to be decent and you have to register where they’re going to end up, where the body is going to end up. And so, for instance, in the case of my mother, she was buried on top of the hill here, in a field. And I had the permission of the owner of the land. And since then, I’m not going to say how many, because have to apply for planning permission, basically. But we’ve had quite a few burials up there.
Manda: So I have a question about that, because I have a friend whose husband died very young and very unexpectedly, and he and her father are now buried on her land. And she’s been told you can only have three. And so she and her mum are vying for the last spot. But is it the case that they would be allowed to have more if they applied for the correct permissions? We’re now getting very parochially British, but still it seems the laws in every country are slightly different and I thought there were loads. But you’re saying it’s more free than I thought.
Yuli: In the UK it is, yes. Every state in America is different. They all have different laws and there’s so much vested interest in it. It is very complicated.
Manda: So much lobbying power and so much money.
Yuli: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I think what I want from my work is to enable people to take command themselves and decide with knowledge, with the real knowledge of what they’re doing, the impact on the on the land and the air. What impact is it having on the air? So localising the funeral and finding the materials that you need to bury a person. Natural burial is the most benign. We’ve had 20 billion years of that happening. And you know, crematoria were brought in in Victorian times and people were very resistant to it. And now it’s the go to. So people will say, when is the cremation? Assuming it’s a cremation.
Manda: Is that because we were running out of land in inner cities for cemeteries and they just wanted to not have to do that?
Yuli: Well, I say no. And I think a lot of people would shout at me and say, yes, we have run out of land. Actually, I think we’ve run out of imagination about how we can deal with our dead. You can reuse graves. That takes a lot of negotiation with the planning authorities, the local authorities and so on. We’ve got lots of Land in the UK and we need diversification, and it’s a way of making money if you’re a farmer. And it doesn’t have to be trees. Yes, trees are great, but it can be wildflower meadows. So my mother’s got sheep grazing on her. Over her.
Manda: So it doesn’t have to be a woodland burial.
Yuli: No it doesn’t. I mean, actually, where she’s buried, it is slowly becoming woodland because we did plant trees.
Manda: Then if you’ve got a shroud such as you’ve created out of wool, then everything returns to the earth, presumably quite fast. I assume that no one’s really dug people up to check, but do we have any idea of a different timescale between putting somebody in a pine box, particularly if it’s lead lined, that’s a disaster. I’m guessing that doesn’t happen anymore. But you stick them in a box, put them in the earth…
Yuli: Oh it does in America, it is quite common.
Manda: We bury lead?
Yuli: Not lead, I would imagine it would be metal, tin.
Manda: But even so, oh, my goodness. Material chains. Let’s not go there.
Yuli: No let’s not.
Manda: Let’s not go there. Just because we’re running out of time and I really want to get there; you sent me a YouTube video, which I will put in the show notes, of a wonderful woman called Caitlin Doherty talking about composting people at the end of life. And then this extraordinary footage of the man who then gets the resulting cubic metre of compost, assuming that the the family haven’t wanted to take it home and use it in their garden. And he’s creating, I think, woodland that shades a river up which salmon migrate, because it needs to be cool. And there was a wonderful story of a eight year old girl who’s turning cartwheels on this compost pile, singing This is life and this is death. And it reminded me of the the 11 year old boy who wanted to get into the shroud and sleep in it. That this level of engagement with life and death is creating potentially a generation who are not as death phobic as the people who saw, you know, the old white men in suits and the horror of the funeral where nobody’s allowed to say anything or do anything or express any feeling. Is that coming to the UK? That’s my that’s my big question. Are we going to be able to compost ourselves?
Yuli: Oh, they’re way off it, but it can’t come quick enough. We are at a kind of crossroads, I think, with the funeral industry. They have been the last people to get on board with the environmental concerns. Really, I feel it is so, dare I say it, it is so entrenched. It’s so difficult to shift anything within the funeral industry apart from this network that I’m in of natural Burial. The Natural Death Centre I must also talk about, because that’s a go to website. As well as the good funeral guide. Those two are the ones that I would want to highlight. Two organisations that help people take control themselves. Whether you use a funeral director or not, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use funeral directors because there are some fantastic ones there. And when you’re in a state of shock and grief, they can help you and facilitate things.
Manda: So I’ve put it in the show notes. Thank you.
Yuli: The crossroads that we’re in is that we have cremation, there is something called resomation, there is human composting, there is traditional burial, and there is natural burial. So five different things that we need to make a choice about.
Manda: What about burials at sea? Do they count? Because I know some people who want to go on a Viking ship. Is that a thing? Set fire to the ship. Send it up?
Yuli: It is. But I don’t know very much about it. It’s very strictly controlled. And to be honest, to my mind, let’s just go back in the earth. We’re Land animals, you know.
Manda: Okay. But one other question. I’ve always wanted a sky burial, since I knew that it was a thing. You go on a platform and have the kites. And I thought, oh, yes, yes, why not? But I guess why not is that they might just pick up the skull and drop it in someone’s garden. And then you have a whole police investigation and DNA and all of the things that surround discovering a human skull. But that struck me as a really good way to go.
Yuli: I think you’d have to go to somewhere like Tibet to have that happen to you. And I know that you love the history of it. And we did have sky burials in this country way back in archaeological times. And it’s a lovely notion and very full of ceremony and reverence and connection to nature. So cremation to me, cremation and resomation and traditional burial to me are the old paradigm of disconnecting us from our carbon bodies. I feel very strongly, and lots of people will disagree with me because we we have this paradigm of cremation. And, you know, people talk to me all the time about, Oh, I want to go up in a puff of smoke. And I see that as a bit of a problem. You know, it is a huge problem, actually. There’s so much pollution from it. Plus we’re using a fossil fuel to fire them up, the cremators. And, you know, by their own admission, they are needing to change. The people who run crematoria. So, you know, some of them are changing to eco electricity run ones, rather than gas and, you know, improving the technology. But I really question, is this appropriate technology when we are in such dire need to connect with ourselves, our bodies, and return our bodies to the soil, for goodness sake. That’s what I’m saying. Why would you want to do anything else? Especially if you’ve lived a life when you’ve been very conscious about the way that you live and cutting your carbon and being green and all these things.
Manda: And then you go up in a puff of carbon at the end, right.
Yuli: To then take your body to a crematorium, you know, in a box that has been imported and brought in on a ship, full of glues, you know. Most of the coffins are MDF coffins and whatever greenwash they put it’s not true and we need to localise it. So if you want to have a coffin, then use some local regenerated wood, some discarded wood that is not needed for anything else.
Manda: And are there people who will do that? Make you a coffin from recycled wood?
Yuli: Yes, there are. Yes. Yes. Yes. So I don’t make it myself, I work with somebody who makes a cradle. So harking back to my Viking roots, there’s a beautiful Viking ship in Oslo that I’ve been to many times called the Oseberg Ship, and it was a burial ship. And it’s just the most divine shape and gorgeousness. And that inspired me to design a product with a man called Sam Horrocks that we call the Oseberg Cradle. And so, you know, if you want something more substantial than my cocoons, then this is a cradle…
Manda: That looks like a ship.
Yuli: It looks like a boat. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do the lovely curved ends because if it is cremated, it won’t work, right? It has to be pushed in, so it has to have a flat end. But they’re still beautiful and beautifully made. And he uses wood that is no good for furniture. It’s got knots in or whatever. So it’s discarded wood from the wood mill where he works. So my message to people about this, is that you don’t have to have a coffin, you can be buried quite locally. If you have a garden, you can be buried in a garden, but it must go on the deeds or you’ll have a crime scene. And that you can use a shroud. So I really want to promote the idea of a coffin free funeral. So it doesn’t have to be one of my shrouds, although that would be lovely and I’d love to help you. It can be a beautiful piece of natural fabric that you’ve had throughout your lifetime that you want to go with you. As long as you’re decently clad and in natural fibres and have a natural burial. That is the perfect solution.
Manda: Brilliant. Thank you. Thank you so much. This has taken a turn, really, that I wasn’t expecting. Starting off with escaping from Norway and moving through weaving and felting. But that feels really so important as we head towards whatever we’re heading towards, that we all engage with our own deaths and learn not to be afraid of them. Yeah. So do you have anything that you wanted to say in closing? I will put links to your website and to all of the places that we’ve mentioned into the show notes. But any last thoughts?
Yuli: So just a last thought is that you asked about the running out of ground. And if you can watch this film with Caitlin Doughty and Kathleen Spade and see what Kathleen has designed. It’s called Human Composting. And I feel we urgently, urgently need that here. We urgently do. Resomation is going to be taking over from cremation eventually.
Manda: I’ve never heard of it.
Yuli: So Resomation is water cremation. It’s called water cremation. So it’s dissolving, close your ears if you’re squeamish, but dissolving your body.
Manda: Stop! That just sounds horrendous. Is that a thing? No, let’s not go there. Let’s just not go there. Okay? We’re going for the human composting.
Yuli: No, it’s not natural. I mean, I think resomation will happen here. Desmond Tutu had a water cremation and he felt that it was the right thing for him as an alternative to cremation. But to me, it’s still about big technology, big company out of control. Whereas human composting, if you watch this film you will see how it’s transforming, transforming. The way they talk about it and the beauty of being involved in it. Yes, that’s what I think is so lovely about it. I want human composting to happen in this country as soon as possible.
Manda: Certainly in time for you and me, because if I can’t go as a sky burial, then this is definitely a very good second option. In a shroud, you can be in a shroud and then be composted in the shroud. It’s grand. Yes. Everybody, I have definitely put the YouTube in the show notes, the link. And it’s impossible to watch that and not feel that It’s a very, very lovely, beautiful, inspiring genius idea. So, yes, I encourage everybody to head over. I don’t love Google, but this is one YouTube that you should definitely watch. So I think we’ve definitely come to the end. But thank you so much. It’s been such a delightful conversation and taken us to really unexpected depths that feel really important. So thank you for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast.
Yuli: Thank you. Manda It’s just been lovely talking to you and being able to pour out my really weird career, the way things turned out. Totally unexpected.
Manda: And there we go. That’s it for another week. Thank you to Yuli for the courage that she’s shown in facing her own fears and for creating a space in which the rest of us can face ours. Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else seems to stem from that. And it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that finding ways to help people face the inevitability of death and not be afraid of it, to see it as a journey forward, the step into a next way of being rather than an ending or a loss or a closure, is one of the most important things that we could be doing right now. So if this is something that speaks to you, then please head on to the website, find the show notes, and have a look at some of the resources there, particularly the human composting film on YouTube that I mentioned. But we’ve got the Good Funeral Guide and the Natural Death Centre and Yuli’s own website at Bellacouche. Also a link to her father’s book, Another Man’s Shoes, which I have downloaded and will read soon. So there’s plenty there. And the escape fantasies of the tech billionaires in California aside, we are all going to die. And I would like to leave a legacy of a decent world, a flourishing world, a beautiful world in which everybody wakes up and knows that every day is a good day. That feels more important than anything else now. So if there are ways that we can help you, that we’re not doing already, then do let me know. If you’re new to the podcast, then head on over also to accidentalgods.life, to the membership program there, where we are doing our best to give you all the resources to do the inner work. To let you connect with the web of life in such a way that you can ask, What do you want of me? And hear answers that you can believe and can respond to in real time. Because once we have come to terms with the inevitability of our death, then I believe we can fall in love with living.
Manda: And that means being utterly connected to everything else that is alive. To fulfilling our potential as human beings in the greater web. We’re here for a reason. There must be things that we can do, that only we can do. But we are deeply unlikely to work out what those are just by thinking about it. We need to connect in and ask. So that’s what the membership program is all about.
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This week, I spoke with James Plunkett, a man who has spent his career at the intersection of policy and social change. From the halls of Number Ten to the charity sector’s front lines, James’s unique perspective has birthed a book that critically examines what’s wrong with our society and offers tangible fixes. Together, we dissect our societal challenges, from outdated institutions to the technology of gods, and discuss structured ways to mend a fractured system.
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How does each of us find our sovereignty, our sense of what it is to have agency and be alive in the world, and align this with the part in all of us that is anchored in compassion, connection and empathy? How, in short, do we encounter and encourage our own sovereign feminine?
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