Pete Lawrence, 61, created the concept for The Big Chill in the 90s, and went on to found Campfire Convention as an innovative social network, which also sparks membership-based events. They’re very much about making space for important conversations about values and the way people want to live, which will make the way for societal change. Their first outdoor Convention was in Hereford in 2016 and Brian Eno was one of the key speakers. They are launching a crowdfund Fire in the Belly on May 1st.
What do you do?
I am founder and firestarter for Campfire Convention. We are building a member-led online social network, free of advertising and algorithms, already putting on regular face-to-face events. We believe that we have the potential to evolve the way we do social networking as well as stepping up and actively facilitating change at the local level.
We’re busy getting our first crowdfund together which we’re calling Fire In the Belly and we’re launching it on May 1st. It’s important for us to enable the building of an alternative community-based social network that can work for the good of all. The funds will start to pay some of our wonderful volunteers such as our lead developer Tim who is upgrading our software and also working on some very exciting features.
A mentorship circle has formed around the crowdfund, almost by accident – members have stepped up and offered workshops or sessions around their skills and passions, and will share their wisdom for the benefit of all. I regard the nurturing of the concept and functions of elders as increasingly important in the world and hopefully, Campfire can play its part.
Much needs to change. In the wake of the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, it’s now clear that the ‘surveillance capitalism’ model of social media is unsustainable, built as it is on monetising data. The full implications of us choosing a digital advertising platform as our presumed safe space in which to share all our most intimate thoughts, hopes, fears and passions are only now being realised. It creates a forum in which the owners of a gigantic operation rule the social media world, arguably the wider world too, for their own ends and for shareholder profit.
My vision for Campfire is to provide an alternative forum which actually does what it says on the ‘social network’ tin: in other words, to help to build and strengthen communities. Campfire works for its members and seeds new ideas and social change for the benefit of all. As part of our next phase, we’re looking to reward our members through a Karma Scheme, which simply measures input and remunerates accordingly. However, we need your help to ensure this dream of an ethical social network – that gives back, and builds real-world belonging – can become a sustainable reality.
The crowdfund will tell us whether we are on the right track. So if you’re looking for alternatives to the tech giants, please support us. fundrazr.com/campfireconvention (from May 1)
Tell us what it’s like to be your age?
It’s pretty good in many respects. At 61, I feel unencumbered, liberated from much of the niggling commitments I had at earlier ages and more flexible in terms of how, when and where I work. I am privileged in that respect and I’m not taking anything for granted. I am thankful for my physical health and mental faculties are intact. Having already lived a full life with many memorable experiences, I honour every extra day that I am alive as a gift and a blessing. I don’t feel much different to how I felt when I was 30 in many respects. I’m still a teenager at heart!
What do you have now that you didn’t have at 25?
Hopefully, a modicum of wisdom from assorted life experiences, a host of stories and adventures, the responsibilities associated with two children, a house of my own, a motorhome, not to mention some unwelcome RSI and much greyer hair!
And what about sex?
What about it? Hard to know what to say. Sex hasn’t lost its appeal in any way. Quite the opposite, I very much enjoy the physical expression of love and connection, the ecstasy of explosive chemistry.
I’m still a subscriber to the view that an open-minded approach to sexual experiences can be enthralling, enlightening and totally inspirational. In my younger years, I was often chasing the next sexual adventure and the thrill. Today, I might be less likely to have spontaneous sex on a Greyhound bus with a stranger, but my attitude is more about going into an encounter with that same sense of adventure but keeping my eyes and other senses as wide open as possible. Respect for the other person or people in a sexual experience is paramount. The imagination is the supreme gift.
Relationships make the world go round and often richly repay time investment. Several people have commented on the tribute that I have just written on Campfire for my good friend who died, saying that it’s refreshing and even unusual for a man to write in that way about another man. To me, it’s just second nature to pour my heart out and to be open about the impact and effect of a friendship or good relationship, whatever the gender. I vividly remember a Campfire Conversation in Winchcombe based around the word ‘relationship’ which was one of the best sessions we have done yet. People were in tears – one because of the power and memories of a positive friendship, the other because a chance sexual encounter had led to an HIV infection. This was human relationships, raw and exposed. It was hugely cathartic for many.
How free do you feel?
I don’t feel burdened at the moment. Most importantly I am lucky to be generally free of illness and will be extremely grateful for that while it lasts. I am fortunate to have a house without a mortgage and I don’t feel bogged down by grief, guilt, emotion or other human characteristics that can prevent freedom. Having a year living in my motorhome was a great eye-opener in terms of unloading possessions and learning to live out of a suitcase. It showed me that if you don’t have an address, you’re outside the system and hard to track. But that also has a downside in that it’s much harder to insure a vehicle, for instance. Surveillance capitalism is everywhere.
I became much more conscious of my footprint on this planet because I lived with limitations on water, electrics, lights, fuel and other ‘luxuries’ that we often take for granted. I learned a more frugal approach, which has shaped other things, from the choice of food I eat, the clothes, goods I purchase and generally limiting my consumption wherever possible.
Whether ‘freedom’ is totally desirable is another talking point. Some might argue that freedom often equates to the freedom to exploit others, for example. A rallying call from some right-wing politicians for ‘a bonfire of regulation’ tells its own story. Often a degree of regulation and some agreed values and principles, rules, laws can be liberating or reassuring for sections of society. It comes down to whose interests the ‘freedoms’ work for. Raoul Martinez’s excellent book ‘Creating Freedom’ expands on this.
What are you proud of?
I’m proud of everyone who played their part in the rollercoaster journey that was The Big Chill, which was a highlight of my life and showed me the power of community and how life-changing bringing people together can be. And it was great fun and I have met so many people through it that I still stay in touch with. We’re aiming to have a little reunion this summer, which I’m hoping to confirm very soon.
Also, bucking the 80s trend of overblown studio recordings by making an album on a £1 recording budget which sold close to a million copies gave me a certain sense of satisfaction and was my first business venture after making the leap into the unknown world of being self-employed.
I’m proud of my kids too. And my friends.
What keeps you inspired?
People – their diversity, their unique genius, foibles, quirks, ideas, their creativity…
Music – the universal language.
Art – creativity in all its forms.
Political change-makers – those working for a better world.
When are you happiest?
When I’m creating. It’s a great outlet. When I’m in a yoga class and not distracted by more worldly irritants, when I’m in stimulating company, with friends or with my children, when I’m immersed in a sunset or sunrise, swimming in the clean waters of the Aegean or listening to a great musical work and otherwise involved in someone else’s creative spark or humour.
And where does your creativity go?
Being creative in all sorts of ways – musically, sexually, in preparing food, in conceptualising ideas while I’m walking, showering or sitting on the beach. For me, nothing beats the reward of seeing other peoples’ ideas spark into life. If Campfire can grow into a platform that can hold space for this, it will be serving its purpose. Much of my creative juices are expended on my laptop, whether in writing, photo manipulation, making short films, music or podcasts. I love my computer (in preference to my mobile) but would love to be doing more with my hands other than tapping keys!
What’s your philosophy of living?
To live every day mindfully, take notice of what is around me, think not of outcomes but of the moment, listen to others, learn, be humble, be grateful, celebrate this life in all its myriad forms, strive to serve the greater good. Stand resolute in the face of challenges, setbacks and negative influences. Aspire to a calm state of mind, whether through meditation and yoga (both should be mandatory for politicians!) or through other regular practice. Reach out, share and be as inclusive as possible. Do something helpful for somebody else whenever possible. Work towards a society based around the motivation inspired by the question ‘what can we build together?’ rather than ‘what’s in it for me?’ Aspire to spread hope and positivity.
I love Swami Satanyanda’s ‘Sankapla’, which might be a good place to start in terms of how to approach life.
I thank my friend Kimm sent it to me today.
I am an invisible child of a thousand faces of love,
That floats over the swirling sea of life,
Surrounded by the meadows of the winged shepherds,
Where divine love and beauty,
The stillness of midnight summer’s warmth pervades.
Life often cuts at my body and mind
And though blood may be seen passing,
And a cry might be heard,
Do not be deceived that sorrow could dwell within my being
Or suffering within my soul.
There will never be a storm
That can wash the path from my feet,
The direction from my heart,
The light from my eyes,
Or the purpose from this life.
I know that I am untouchable to the forces
As long as I have a direction, an aim, a goal:
To serve, to love, and to give.
Strength lies in the magnification of the secret qualities
Of my own personality, my own character
And though I am only a messenger,
I am me.
Let me decorate many hearts
And paint a thousand faces with colours of inspiration
And soft, silent sounds of value.
Let me be like a child,
Run barefoot through the forest
Of laughing and crying people,
Giving flowers of imagination and wonder,
That God gives free.
Shall I fall on bended knees,
And wait for someone to bless me
With happiness and a life of golden dreams?
No, I shall run into the desert of life with my arms open,
Sometimes falling, sometimes stumbling,
But always picking myself up,
A thousand times if necessary,
Often life will burn me,
Often life will caress me tenderly
And many of my days will be haunted
With complications and obstacles,
And there will be moments so beautiful
That my soul will weep in ecstasy.
I shall be a witness,
But never shall I run
Or turn from life, from me.
Never shall I forsake myself
Or the timeless lessons I have taught myself,
Nor shall I let the value
Of divine inspiration and being be lost.
My rainbow-covered bubble will carry me
Further than beyond the horizon’s settings,
Forever to serve, to love, and to live.
That’s a very pertinent question as someone I would consider my best friend died last week. I think he had a good death surrounded by friends and loved ones in his last few days, though the traumas around his unexpected stroke a week before were not good in any sense. But somehow death brings others together, not only in grief but in celebration of that person’s life and we have to keep that at the forefront. It’s been a tough start to the year as I’ve lost six friends in quick succession and found myself thinking about death almost every day. But many positive things have come out of that, not least attending my first Death Café in Frome and finding that I had the space and support to properly grieve for my mother who died when I was 15. At the time I wasn’t allowed to. There was something extraordinarily powerful about crying with others, grieving together for the whole world, for sadness, for the miracle of life and the cycle of life and death. It was very moving for all of us.
Dare I hope that I will not live my final years in pain, depression or other suffering?
Are you still dreaming?
More than ever. Collective dreaming. Imagining a different world. What are we dreaming of for Campfire? For starters, an end of quite a lot that’s prevalent at the moment – outmoded politics, right-wing ideology, and surveillance capitalism. An end to a world increasingly fuelled by mistrust. What do we want? Obviously, a thriving community would be the holy grail and much could spark from that. A vibrant website and exciting events are our first priority, but our vision can extend a lot wider. We can play our part in social change, in helping create a fairer society and in empowering our own membership, both individually and collectively by providing an environment where ideas can lead to inspiration. Debate can lead to community determination, co-creativity can lead to collaboration and realisation, which in turn can lead to recognition, confidence and hopefully financial rewards too. We must hold on to hope above all, when hope dies the spirit is extinguished. None of these desires or actions are a universal panacea but the important thing is to not lose sight of the fact that each one of us can make a real difference, though every conversation and interaction that we have.
My personal dreams overlap with what I wish for in my work life. The expression ‘work-life balance’ is meaningless – but I also dream of a more harmonious, less self-centred society that prefers building bridges to walls.
What was a recent outrageous action of yours?
I’m not really the one to decide that! However, outrageousness becomes more subtle with age and thoughts and ideas can be just as outrageous as actions at times. I have just been sitting in a tea hut in East Wittering writing this Q&A. To the outside world, I probably looked pretty dull and boring but who could have imagined what was in my head! I’m refusing to spill all the ‘clickbait’ beans here.
You can find the Campfire Convention crowdfunding campaign here: