Jon Cousins

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Jon Cousins

Jon Cousins is a community organiser, politician, activist, author, lecturer, columnist, songwriter, musician, and film-maker who lives in Glastonbury. He is a specialist in complementary currencies and ‘co-production’ – working with Time Bank pioneers Martin Simon and Edgar Cahn in the early 2000s.

Cousins is a member of the Green Party of England and Wales, and was selected as the Green Party Candidate for the Wells Constituency in the 2015 General Election; his candidature increased the Green’s vote fourfold. He has been an elected Glastonbury Town Councillor since 2011, and Mayor of Glastonbury 2016-2017.

Early Life and Education

Cousins was born on the 1st January 1965, in Bath, Somersetshire, and grew up in rural Wiltshire near Castle Combe. His early life in the Cotswold countryside – witnessing fox hunting, pheasant shoots, and living part of his youth on a dairy farm – contributed to a life-time committed to vegetarianism; he describes himself as a strict vegan.

He went to school in the village of Grittleton and at Sheldon Comprehensive in Chippenham. He studied ‘Communities: Engagement and Enterprise’ at Brighton University, and has a degree in Professional Media from C&GCHE, Cheltenham.

Career

In the 1980s, Cousins was a member of the ‘progressive folk’ band, Ophiuchus. Signed to Liverpool’s indie label Probe Plus – the NME’s retrospective on the band called them “Often whimsical and certainly literate, Ophiuchus created ‘rural English rock’ from rustic isolation and could well have earned the tag ‘crusty’ before The Levellers.” [1]

Branching out into the wider media industry in 1990s, he made several music videos and documentary programmes – and worked with Emmy award winning director John Pett on programme development.

Since 1999, Cousins has been employed in various forms of community engagement in the South West of England – notably working as the manager of the Avalon Fair Shares Community Time Bank in Glastonbury between 2003 to 2009, raising over £250,000 in external funds and helping to co-ordinate over 300 volunteers. The project was a great success and recognised as the ‘model example’ of a Time Bank in the UK [Sunday Express 9/11/08].

He has also co-ordinated talks, presentations, and workshops for various events and festivals, including the Green Gathering and the Sunrise Celebration, as well as helping to organise the Off-Grid Festival.

Most recently, he has worked as part of the Cabinet Office’s Community Organiser Programme – listening to and engaging communities; supporting the development of third sector businesses, and, since November 2015, being part of the Department of Communities and Local Government’s COMFund programme, supporting the application of powers introduced in the Localism Act.

Voluntary Projects

In a voluntary capacity, Cousins has led many projects in Glastonbury – and supported the development of over 50 voluntary and third sector organisations across the county, such as: the Social Enterprise Network in Somerset (SENS), West Somerset Community Land Trust, Transition Glastonbury, Plotgate Community Supported Agriculture, Glastonbury Carbon Reduction Action Group, ‘Villages Together’ BIG Local (Woolavington and Puriton), the Last Bank Standing campaign, Food Co-operatives (in Glastonbury, Watchet, and Bridgwater), Glastonbury’s annual Harvest Show, Frost Fayre, and May Day ‘Beltane’ Celebrations, and Somerset’s first Transition Currency – the ‘Sunrise SOL’.

In addition, he is a voluntary director of several organisations, including Avalon Community Energy Limited, a mutual ‘Community Renewables’ business, based in the Mendip District of Somerset, which raised £184,000 social investment through the issue of Community Shares to install community-owned solar PV projects in 2017.

‘Called’ to Glastonbury

Writing as a columnist for the Glastonbury Oracle magazine in 2015, Cousins described how he was ‘called’ to Glastonbury in 2003: “It seems to be a familiar story in our town: ‘Glastonbury called me!’ I knew I was coming and – as if by magic – everything in my life seemed to conspire to bring me here. A job appeared, somewhere to stay, an office to work from. And I welcomed the move… When I first came to work in Glastonbury, I was very aware of its uniqueness. For me, as for many people, Glastonbury’s an extremely, deeply spiritual place full of tangible powerful energy. Before living here, it was somewhere I used to come and ‘recharge my batteries’, to get in touch with myself. Somewhere (for however briefly) I could really ‘Be’ myself.” [‘Green Shoots’ 17. The Oracle – December 2015, p.10]

Cousins has also commented on Glastonbury’s special significance of place: “The opening of the London Olympics clearly demonstrated Glastonbury’s special significance as part of our Nation’s heritage and identity. The Tor is a National Icon; the Abbey, a National Treasure. Myths and legends connect us to Arthur and Guinevere, the Lady of the Lake, Excalibur, Merlin, and even to the mystical Isle of Avalon itself – where the sleeping Arthur waits to be reawakened. Add to this St. Patrick, St. Brigit, St. David, St. Margaret, and the illustrious Dunstan – ‘catching the Devil by the nose’, Ynys-witrin, Roma Secunda, ‘Mother of Saints’, the Landscape Zodiac, Chalice Well, the White Spring, ‘the holyest erthe in Englande’, William Blake’s Jerusalem, IESUS MARIA, and mysterious, ancient journeys from the ‘Holy Land’… It’s hard to deny Glastonbury is unique.” [Ibid]

‘Remember Richard Whiting’, and the Glastonbury Documents

After three years working at the heart of Glastonbury’s community, Cousins began writing of his experiences – published in the pamphlet ‘Remember Richard Whiting’ – highlighting what he describes as a ‘chaotic phenomenon’ in Glastonbury: “There is an energy at work here that is extremely powerful, tangible, and present. Deserving both grave respect and constant awareness”. [Cousins (2007). p.6].

Cousins became increasingly aware of a ‘pulling apart energy’ that affected individuals, groups, and organisations: “Through my work, I have met too many people who are seriously depressed, anguished, tormented, and even suicidal because of what is sometimes referred to, with the irony of gallows humour, as their ‘Glastonbury Experience’. People are literally pulled apart mentally and physically… The pulling apart energy does not confine itself just to individuals; it seems to permeate through the town’s groups and organisations. In three years, I have seen so many attempts to create things that begin with great promise, and then seem to career toward disharmony, dissipation, and eventual collapse. As I research more of the town’s history, I can see this pattern repeated and repeated. This dissipating energy particularly creeps into ventures and projects that attempt to bring people together. Reflecting, compounding, and contributing to the divisions in the town.” [Ibid. p.6 ff].

Describing his personal experience of the phenomenon, Cousins wrote of “an endless disruptive, dissipating, dispersal, shaking me, finally, into a gibbering wreck. At worst, hardly able to crawl through my front door, uncontrollably weeping, tearing my self apart. At best, constantly moving from just coping to unbelievable depths of despair.” [Ibid. p.9]

In an attempt to understand the chaotic phenomenon, Cousins spent five years (2006-2011) in dedicated action research. The results are published in the ‘Glastonbury Documents’ series of pamphlets, of which ‘Remember Richard Whiting’ is the first.

Notable conclusions from his study include the theory that the chaotic phenomenon had its origins in the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey and the ritual murder of Richard Whiting, the last Abbot, and the monks John Thorne and Roger James in 1539; which – in itself – is part of a longer sequence of intentional, destructive acts perpetrated against Glastonbury: “an ongoing cycle, beginning in the late Iron Age, of development and destruction. It is a cycle that continues through to the destruction of the Abbey … and beyond.” [Cousins (2010). p.2].

In attempting to answer why Glastonbury should subject to intentional, destructive acts for over 2,000 years, Cousins suggests: “How we look upon this situation depends entirely upon what we consider Glastonbury to be. How we answer the question: What is Glastonbury?” [Ibid. p.11].

According to Cousins, the question “What is Glastonbury?” is emphatically linked to the ‘Sense of Something Else’; an enigma referred to by the Glastonbury chronicler Geoffrey Ashe in his seminal book ‘King Arthur’s Avalon’. In ‘Temple of Reconciliation’, the third Glastonbury Document, Cousins asserts: “we catch glimpses of it [the Sense of Something Else] throughout the mediæval charters, documents, and chronicles: ‘Mother of Saints’, ‘Home of God’, ‘Secret of our Lord’, ‘Sacred Mystery’, ‘Holiest Earth in England’.” [Cousins (2010). p.7]; and concludes: “I believe the Sense of Something Else is quintessentially one and the same as the elusive answer to the question: What is Glastonbury?” [Ibid. p.36].

‘Glastonbury United’ and the ‘Unity Agenda’

As an antidote to the destructive, divisive energies of the chaotic phenomenon, Cousins has championed ‘Unity’, and the promotion of Glastonbury as a spiritual and cultural centre of unprecedented importance and worldwide significance.

In 2006, he described how he was shocked to hear a Glastonbury Town Councillor say: “We all know this is a divided town; but do we really want to bring it together?” [Cousins (2007). p.26] As a result Cousins co-ordinated 16 people to stand as independent candidates in the 2007 Glastonbury Town Council election, under the banner ‘Glastonbury United’: “How about a Glastonbury that is United. A Glastonbury that is a safe place; where those who are called here are supported… a Glastonbury that really is Glastonbury. Ynys-witrin… Avalon… New Jerusalem… ‘the holyest erthe in Englande’.” [Ibid. p.26].

Since becoming an elected Town Councillor in 2011, Cousins has been involved in the town’s emerging Unity Agenda, celebrating the ethos of ‘Unity Through Diversity’. He was instrumental in the Glastonbury Unity Candle being lit at the start of each Town Council meeting, followed by a Silent Minute.

In January 2013, he took part in the planting of the Peace Pole in the heart of Glastonbury, which has ‘May Peace Prevail on Earth’ printed on it in eight languages and a Braille plate.

In a long running campaign (2013-2016), Cousins questioned the appropriateness of Glastonbury Town Council’s civic device and motto “Floreat Ecclesia Anglicana” (May the Church of England Flourish) – which he suggested was not suitable for a town with over 70 different faiths… His argument eventually prevailed, and the Town Council adopted “May Glastonbury Flourish” as a motto on Tuesday 9th February 2016.

Voted into the office of Mayor of Glastonbury in 2016, Cousins is a member of the international movement Mayors for Peace.

Publications

The Glastonbury Documents I. Remember Richard Whiting—Concerning the Isle of Transformation, and the Last Abbot of Glastonbury. (2007).

The Glastonbury Documents II. What Is Glastonbury?—Concerning the dichotomy between the ‘market town’ and ‘sacred Glastonbury’. (2009).

The Glastonbury Documents III. Temple Of Reconciliation—Concerning IESUS MARIA, and the re-union of the temporal and spiritual aspects of Glastonbury. (2010).

Green Shoots column in The Oracle (August 2014 – February 2016).

“So I’ve heard” blog

References

  1. See article on Ophiuchus in Wikipedia

Jon Cousins    Author: Jon Cousins 06/10/2016    Edited: DP 04/11/2016