Interview: Adam and the power of connection with self and others

Hello Everyone,

Back today to introduce another member of our group, Adam, a 32-year-old inspiring trainee woodworker. 

With the ups and downs of lockdowns and restrictions, Adam and I met over zoom… Experiencing this new way of connecting from the comfort of our home.

Tell us more about you, Adam…

What led you to choose woodwork?

So I have done quite a few different things over the years… My degree was in Film Studies. Around the time I was finishing this my daughter Maya was born. So whilst I thought about working in the film industry ( festival programming or cinema management) and made some moves in this direction, having a young daughter I needed to work so I moved into teaching. I tried some supply teaching, but it was a nightmare – I was too young and self-conscious to be standing in front of a classroom full of teenagers. 

Alongside this I worked for a street food vendor called ‘Fish &’, making ‘alternative’ fish and chips. I really enjoyed cooking generally and I really enjoyed working there.  So then when I moved down to Birmingham (primarily to be close to Maya) I became a full-time Chef for a few years. It was an exciting job and I learned a lot, but the hours weren’t great, and for the final year at least, I was a vegan working in a steak house and so it didn’t feel right. 

During this period I had started to work on myself and reflect on my life and, feeling inspired by the progress I had made and the help I had received, I decided to try working in mental health. I spent a year as a clinical support worker on a CAMHS  unit. It was intense and the pattern of night shifts was difficult. My own mental health dipped so I looked for something a bit less intense. I got interested in outdoor work – gardening, forestry or conservation, that sort of area – as it seemed inherently less stressful. But being in a competitive industry and living in a city I was unable to find work. I needed a job, any job. And one idea was woodwork. I made a few calls, had a job by the end of the day, and so I suppose just kind of fell into it!

Tell us more about what are your other interests? 

I really like art in its broadest sense. Film, literature, photography…particularly narrative art I suppose. I take a lot of meaning from it and so it’s something really important to me.

One of the great things about woodwork is that I am also learning to create my own ‘art’ a bit more too…I think that was lacking in my life. I was more a consumer or a receiver and now I have this extra dimension of creating. It feels very good.

What motivated you or led you to be part of the Community Project?

Around 2014 I started to go to the Buddhist centre where I met two of my current friends who lived together with eight other guys in a Buddhist men’s community called Punyaloka. A place came up there and having spent some time there and being quite heavily involved in the Buddhist movement at the time I decided to give it a try. So I joined them, along with Maya who was 4 years old at the time. This was an interesting experience and my first of community living. Before I visited I had expected a squat or something quite radical…but it was actually a very warm, homely, and welcoming place. I was there for 2 years before it started to become apparent that it was no longer quite right for my situation, particularly regarding its suitability for Maya as she continued to grow. That and I had stopped practicing Buddhism. And so I decided to move on.

At around this time, my housemate and friend Damien and his partner Katha offered me and Maya to share a house with them, as they were expecting a child of their own but wanted to continue living in a communal setting and so we then all moved to our current home on Taylor rd. 

Damien had also been talking about building a bigger community for some time before this, and having had quite a bit of interest from others about how we were living, the project as it is now was born. So in a certain sense, you could say I’ve found myself in the right place at the right time. Although there have certainly been a number of conscious choices that have led me here too.

I guess the main factors that led me to community living are people and friendships/human relationships, rather than because of a big ideology about ‘how we should live.’ And I think it would be good for other people to be able to enjoy some of what we have now. 

What do you think is good about ‘community’?

It potentially gives a bigger dimension to your experience of home – It’s a way of sharing life that isn’t necessarily dependent on the norms of family. I am naturally introverted so I would easily live alone and spend a lot of time in solitude, but actually, really enjoy the benefits of living with others. It comes with challenges and compromises but you gain so much more than you have to give up that it is worth it.

Who has been the 3 most influential in your life?

Well obviously my mum and dad have been the biggest influence of my life, through my life – I literally wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for them. But if I think of myself now…

The most influential person is undoubtedly my daughter Maya. I wouldn’t be sat here talking to you if it was not for her having been born. Being a parent is an incredible responsibility and you are forced to rise to it. It’s very uncomfortable and challenging at times but a huge growing point. It’s utterly joyful too. She has an uncanny ability to remind me what is important by her mere presence and her willingness to be a constant source of honest feedback. She is by far the biggest influence on me!

Then I’d say Damien – he’s a very close friend and has been incredibly supportive to me since we’ve known each other. He is a kind and understanding person but also boundaried and honest. He is a friend, a real friend, the type who is not always mollycoddling, saying what I want to hear,  honest and supportive. 

And finally Laura, my current therapist of the past two years. It has been a time of change and growth and I feel that I have resolved a lot of issues that have been limiting me and causing me suffering for a long time. Although it is a therapeutic relationship, it is still a very real, human connection. It has been an intense journey involving a great deal of deep reflection, but one that has been of immense value to me.

What are the best resources that have helped you along the way with people? 

Connecting with myself! I need to have a good routine, exercise, eat well, wear clothes I feel comfortable in…understanding my own needs and ensuring that these needs are fulfilled help me to then connect with others. I think maintaining connection with people is about finding the right circumstances for you as an individual, as an introvert or extravert, finding what suits you. 

It is also a positive feedback loop. The more you nurture your relationships, the more you get back from them, and with time it just builds and builds…but the important starting point is connecting with yourself!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path to yours? 

Don’t have too rigid an idea of what you want something to be. Lower your expectations and let things grow organically. 

If your path towards yourself led you to connect more with others, what would you say to someone who wants to connect more with themselves? 

There is so many ways that can work depending on who you are. The more I get to know myself the more I believe in the value of the basics: exercise, healthy food, etc. But I also believe you need a ‘mind’ element. If you’re depressed, say, and someone says ‘just get some exercise’ it’s not always possible to achieve just like that. You need to gain some awareness of your mind to fully meet the needs of your body. I have personally found therapy particularly helpful but there are other ways to achieve this connection with your mind. Meditation, yoga, focusing to name just a few.

What myths about community-living would you like to debunk? 

We’re not necessarily a bunch of hippies living in a crumbling old squat. On this project, we are all professionals, living fairly ‘normal’ modern urban lives.

If you could step into my shoes what would you have asked yourself that I didn’t? 

I don’t know! What’s your favourite flavour of jam? What’s your favourite meal?? 

Well, Raspberry Jam. Obviously! Strawberry is too sweet, raspberry has a decent kick to it. And my favourite meal would probably be a Mushroom and Bean Curd Udon dish from a Vietnamese restaurant that is now unfortunately closed. Boooo!

Interview completed by Marion and Cara

Published by CoHoWM

Cohousing West Midlands is (surprise) a cohousing project for the West Midlands! Cohousing is where everyone has their own front door, but there's also a community house for weekly shared meals and activities, and other shared spaces. More than a Housing Association, and less than a co-op!

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