this is the first in a series of blog posts on pioneer practice. how it will unfold i have no idea! i hope they will be a sort of oblique link to the book without re-presenting the material in it too directly. but i will explore some of the ideas and themes.
on friday i went to the cinema in socially distanced fashion, mask wearing and all that. it was a sensual delight. i was so moved by the film that i couldn't tell if it was because i hadn't been so long or that the film was really good! it certainly was a great feel good factor movie which was great to experience. we went to see dream horse which came out last year. it's a tale set in a depressed village in the welsh valleys and is the true story of jan vokes who organised a community syndicate to buy a racehorse that they named dream alliance who was broken in on the allotment and went on to win the welsh grand national.
but here's the thing - it's a wonderful story of pioneer practice. it may be that my head is just too full of themes of the book at the moment so i am seeing it everywhere but bear with me. the big themes i explore in the book are BE YOU, SEE, BUILD, and CHANGE and they are all at play in the film. btw warning - plot spoilers so watch the film and come back!
jan works at the local co-op and helps at the local community social club. having some experience of animals before through competing with dogs and pigeons she has the crazy idea of getting a mare who could give birth to a racehorse. it's a ridiculous idea - it's incredibly expensive if you go the usual route. but she SEEs a possibility. for me pioneer practice is a gift of sight. others don't see it but she can. she also sees that what is needed is hope and something to live for - it's not about the money. this adventure could be just what the depressed community need. in fact it's just what she needs.
once you see something you have to work out how to make it happen or BUILD it. it doesn't seem like it would stack up but crucially she does the maths - gets a spreadsheet and works out how many people she needs to pay £10 a week over a few years and puts her and brian's retirement find on the line so they can get started right way. she then persuades the most unlikely local community pub goers to join in the adventure. there are of course various important things about training a racehorse and when the time comes they find the best trainer and persuade him. pioneer practice is this work as well as the vision - it's making the idea have legs through a spreadsheet, building a team, navigating curve balls, finding a way when there is no way. it's also fascinating to hink that this is a built from somewhere that writes itself off and others assume is hopeless. but jan sees the assets in herself, in howard davies who is local and knows a thing or two about racehorses and in the community everyone else writes off. and then slowly it grows - the first race and so on. like every pioneer project i know they hit the desert on several occasions where it seems like the whole thing will collapse but they stay true in spite of some doubters and pull through.
there is a lovely scene where jan talks to dream and says that before he came along she was never able to be herself she was always her dad's daughter, her husband's wife and so on but never herself. but since dream came along she is jan. the adventure with dream has enabled her to find herself and come home to who she is. BE YOU is right at the heart of pioneer practice. it's always tempting to think we need to be like someone else who we think of as entrepreneurial but actually things always go best when we are able to be ourselves. this is in some ways all of our quest. and jan is quirky, lovable, and at her best when she is being herself.
racing is of course an elite rich person's sport. so to pioneer a racehorse from an allotment into that world meets challenges from the powers that be. but jan and the syndicate do enough to navigate that world. CHANGE is the last theme in pioneer practice - how will this practice make a better world. you assume that with a racehorse making some money would be the goal but it''s not about that and when offers come they are turned down, that distraction s resisted. the change is about hope, about being able to dream. it's kind of cheesy but i loved the way that at all the races the group would be shouting 'come on dream!', a sort of prophecy spoken to themselves where they had lost the memory of dreaming. the change is about community - there are wonderful scenes of the syndicate in the bus on the way to races, including all sorts of characters, and then the local community who get on board with dream too. there is a momemt late on in the film where jan has doubts but the community carry the vision and her - she has passed it on so well. after winning the welsh grand national the victory parade with the whole village singing bread of heaven is just a delight. you might say it's also a parable of the kingdom of god - the kingdom of god is like a horse called dream raised on an allotment!
the last thing i thought was terrific about it as an example of pioneer practice is that jan is not a professional community worker or pioneer minister, not trained. she is someone in the local community who simply sees a possibility and then makes something happen out of that seeing using the resources that are at hand. that sets in motion an adventure that brings hope to a struggling depressed community and she comes alive in the process.
BE YOU | SEE | BUILD | CHANGE - these are the big themes of pioneer practice.
come on dream!