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West Lexham Retreat: Background and Practicalities

Thanks for your interest in joining the retreat at West Lexham!

Below, we’ve included logistical information about the gathering, as well as some background about how the retreat came about. We hope you will take a minute to read this before heading over to fill out the registration form here. Do note that the retreat is by invitation only, so please do not pass your invitation on.

Some logistical info:
Information on how to find West Lexham can be found here. We will set up a Google sheet before the retreat to help people share rides there, or share taxis from the train station. (The nearest station is Kings Lynn, and it is about a 30-minute taxi ride to West Lexham.)

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has funded this retreat, and is covering all of the costs associated with its facilitation, accommodation, food and so on. We are asking you to pay for your travel costs, but if you would not be able to attend without a travel bursary, please let us know

Why this retreat?
The Environmental Funders Network (EFN) surveyed UK environmental organisations’ chief executives in 2013 and 2016/17, producing the reports Passionate Collaboration? and What the Green Groups Said. In both surveys, we heard repeated calls for greater collaboration in the sector, and evidence that collaboration has been key to the sector’s successes over the last few years. It was also listed as one of the key things chief executives would like to see their fellow chief executives do more. They expressed an interest in collaborating in a range of areas, from the delivery of practical communications, campaigns and advocacy to collaborating more closely on overarching ‘big picture’ exercises such as theories of change, priority setting and articulating common goals and visions.

The idea for a retreat emerges from this strongly expressed need. We believe that providing the time and space for people to come together and forge relationships across organisations and issue areas will bear collaborative fruit over time. And, even where it doesn’t, we recognise that many in the environment sector are burnt out, or approaching burnout. It can be frustrating, exhausting and often lonely to work day-in, day-out on the some of the biggest challenges of our time. We hope a retreat will go some way towards replenishing participants’ energy stores, courage and hope. We all get caught on hamster wheels, with very little time to step back and think big picture, strategically and in a way that joins up issues. We envision that the retreat will provide just such an opportunity, allowing fresh perspectives to take hold.

Beyond our surveys, EFN spends a lot of time talking to environmental groups. It is clear from those conversations that there is often not much interaction between, for example, climate change-orientated groups and natural environment-orientated groups. Yet we know that organisations from both camps are constantly learning lessons around their communications, their advocacy and many other aspects of their work that could potentially be useful on both fronts. EFN’s experience over the last 14 years has been that bringing together individuals and organisations across issue areas can be hugely helpful in terms of skills-sharing, knowledge sharing and problem-solving.

Why the Environmental Funders Network?

EFN was founded in 2003 to improve the effectiveness of environmental philanthropy and to encourage new donors to support environmental causes. As part of our work, we conduct annual retreats for funders to step off the treadmill for a while, think big picture about the challenges they are facing, and develop relationships with other funders that foster collaboration and enable them to share intelligence throughout the year. We’ve run ten such retreats over the last decade; they fill up quickly and provide funders with a great opportunity to reflect and learn from others.

“We are often so busy with our day-to-day work that we lack time to reflect and learn from others. The EFN retreat provides much needed time and space to connect with other funders; identify opportunities for collaboration; and discuss and learn from each other about how we’re tackling some of the more complex and systemic drivers of environmental destruction.” – Environmental funder

One of the five key messages for funders drawn from What the Green Groups Said was that they should consider using their influence and knowledge of the sector to bring together their grantees and networks to foster collaboration across silos. The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has always been interested in doing this kind of work, and their staff members felt they had benefited from EFN’s annual retreat for funders. They asked if we would develop a grant proposal for holding a similar retreat, but for their grantees, and subsequently agreed to support it. For this retreat, unlike the ones we hold for our members, we have brought in three excellent and experienced outside facilitators: Linda Mitchell, Jen Morgan and Max St. John. They are helping us to develop the programme and we are delighted that they will be helping to create and facilitate a really rich experience for those who attend. 

What will we do at the retreat?

We are designing the retreat to help you focus on the big-picture questions driving your work, to share ideas and to learn about each other’s approaches. This won’t be like a conference, where speakers deliver content to you. We are conscious that we are bringing together wise, thoughtful, experienced people with a range of perspectives and that by giving you the space to learn from each other, new wisdom might emerge. We are designing a participatory gathering where we hope you will you each ‘offer what you can and ask for what you need’. By responding to the questions on the registration form, you’ll help us design a retreat that really meets your needs.