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Solscape taking students back to sustainable future

A year-long graduate diploma course in sustainability is about to begin in Raglan but it’s a simple two-week certificate course in permaculture which has Solscape owner Phil McCabe really excited about the possibilities, particularly for Raglan residents.

He’s hoping plenty of locals will be involved in the Manu Bay eco retreat’s intensive Permaculture Design Certificate course coming up early March, and which offers either full or non residential options.

Permaculture — ecological design which seeks to work with rather than against nature — is “well received” as the most effective solution for the global crises faced by the world today, says Phil.

And he sees it as particularly relevant to Raglan as it fast gains a reputation as a trailblazing community in grassroots sustainable development.
At the same time, Phil and partner Bernadette Gavin say it’s awesome to now be aligned with Otago Polytechnic and they are looking forward to Solscape’s part in the Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Practice starting next month.

Six “definites” including local artisan shoemaker Ben Galloway, a Waikato District Health Board staffer from Hamilton and a representative of the Auckland corporate world will be among the intake for the first North Island base of this unique course, which is centred in Wanaka where the tourism sector is driving change for more sustainable business.

The course is for post graduates or those with equivalent life experience.
Phil believes the partnership launched late last year between Otago Polytechnic’s Centre for Sustainable Practice and Solscape is timely. While Solscape has striven for several years to bring learning around sustainability and wellbeing into the mainstream, he says, it’s now about the mainstream coming to Solscape.

He says the retreat is trying to build both mental and physical bridges between mainstream education and what’s been seen until now as alternative or “hippy” practices. “If people don’t start moving en masse in this direction we’re going to hit a wall.”

Also on offer at Solscape through its link with Otago Polytechnic is an eight-week course starting in May on Social Media. It’s about how to be effective on a community or business level using today’s technological tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

Skills learned should be particularly relevant to Raglan Chamber of Commerce, says Phil, and might prove an effective way of reinvigorating and promoting the Transition Towns initiative he introduced to Raglan several years ago.

Meantime last week saw the successful “test run” of a five-day/four night eco logic workshop at Solscape, teaching sustainable living with a bit of fun thrown in for good measure, says Phil.

Using Raglan’s natural resources, the experience includes everything from yoga and kayaking to gardening and earth-building. Connecting people back to nature and protecting the planet with a “lighter footstep” is at the workshop’s core.

To accommodate Solscape’s greater educational thrust Phil and Bernadette have recently transformed their home there into a dedicated space for meetings and mini-conferences.

Their eco retreat is now also being booked by corporate and other groups coming into the community. Leaders see the value of trainees being away from their normal environment, says Phil, as this encourages new ways of thinking and doing.

Building a catering kitchen is next on the list for Solscape, say the couple, who already have an organic garden at their fingertips and enough residential courses to justify the expense.

Edith Symes

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