The Edward Carpenter Community has existed for over 30 years, and has been a part of the lives of hundred, perhaps thousands of men in that time. Each man has a unique experience and a very personal view of what ECC means to them. In the early days, the community was one of the few safe places to explore new ideas and experiences, so it has become many things to many people and spawned many other interest groups. Our core purpose is now somewhat indistinct and these FAQs attempt to clarify some of the common questions and misconceptions about Gay Men's Weeks and the wider community.
What do you mean by ‘Community’?
There are two main senses in which we create community. Firstly, we aim to create a temporary sense of sharing and fellowship for the duration of one of our events, through shared activities, shared work and shared space. Often this sense of connectedness will continue afterwards, as men keep in touch and remember the events of the shared experience. Secondly we think of community as a permanent connectedness between all the men who share the values of ECC and who've attended one or more events. This connection often leads to lifelong friendships in the real world, while for some men, the connection is something which is only recreated during the events.
How do I become a member of ECC?
Book for one of our events!
We don't have a formal register of members. In principle, any man who identifies as a man who loves men, and shares our values is welcome as a member of the community. In practice, anyone who has attended one or more residential events is regarded as a member for life, and will be welcome to receive any information shared on a members-only basis.
If you simply want to learn more about future ECC events and hear what's happening, you're welcome to sign up for our email newsletter.
What is Edward Carpenter Community Ltd?
For legal purposes, we do have a separate formal membership of our management company, Edward Carpenter Community Ltd. This is a Company limited by Guarantee, and all signed-up members are liable for £1 should the company fold with unpaid debts. Company membership is open to anyone who shares our values, and it allows members to vote at the AGM. Everyone attending our Autumn Gathering is invited to join the company, but membership is not compulsory. You don't have to be a member of the company to attend one of our events, and most men in the community are not company members.
What is the Edward Carpenter Community Trust?
The trust is a separate organisation from the main community and the limited company. It is a registered charity with aims centred on health and education for and about gay men and women. It has historically offered a grants programme but is largely dormant at present. It is occasionally the recipient of legacies left to it by ECC members, and we still encourage men to include the Trust in their wills.
Why is it called the Edward Carpenter Community?
Edward Carpenter (1844 - 1929) was an influential socialist and thinker whose life and legacy resonated with many of the values shared by the men who created the community in the 1980s. We chose his name in recognition of this, and his life inspired many of our original principles and intentions, but we don't necessarily look to his legacy for moral or practical guidance. See our Edward Carpenter page for more information about this charismatic man.
Who runs the organisation?
The community is run entirely by its members who are all unpaid volunteers. Each event is organised by small teams of ordinary members, and everyone is invited to put themselves forward to be an organiser. A small group of members is appointed each year to oversee the day-to-day running of the company, known as the Maintenance Group (Also known as the MG - but not the Management Group!). They are directors of the company and normally stay in post for 3 years. They are assisted by a number of taskholders who look after the website, the newsletter or publicity etc. also for 3-year stints. For more information see How we Operate.
Do you have your own retreat centre?
No. We don't own any buildings or have a permanent office. One of our early intentions was to create a rural retreat centre and residential community, and various attempts to achieve that have been made over the years, but not come to fruition, so the intention is now largely abandoned. Instead, we use a number of known and trusted venues around the country, in particular Laurieston Hall, an intentional community in South West Scotland, and a number of youth hostels in the Lake District. We prefer to use venues run by other communities and charitable organisations rather then commercial venues.
Aren't you based at Laurieston Hall?
No, Laurieston Hall is a separate intentional community which we have used as a venue throughout our history. Our host residents are members of the Laurieston Hall Community - are a mix of men and women, gay and straight. Several ECC members have lived there over the years.
Do you provide an all-male space on your events?
Not necessarily. Whilst we are an organisation open exclusively to men who love men, we do not seek to create explicitly all-male spaces. Women and straight men often live or work in the venues and communities who host us, and they are often a significant part of the experience of being on an event. Workshops and heart circles are usually restricted to ECC members, and are generally safe all-male spaces for those who desire it.
Aren't you simply a holiday company for gay men?
No. Some men choose to use our retreat weeks as an opportunity to escape the everyday world and simply relax, and that's fine. However, we always emphasise the community-building element through shared work, shared space and daily shared time in 'base groups' for mutual support. Traditionally, Gay Men's Weeks are unstructured, but provide an environment for participants to bring their own ideas, and everyone is encouraged to step outside their comfort zone and try new things. We believe this is an important part of personal growth, and recognise that for some men coming out later in life, simply being among a group of other men can in itself be a challenge, but an opportunity to grow.
Some of our events are more structured, where the organisers design a programme around a particular theme, usually creative, spiritual or broadly therapeutic. The aim is to provide activities, workshops and discussions which encourage personal growth and development, and participation in community.
Are your events run by professional therapists?
No. Our events are grassroots community-led activities and we don't offer the services of professional counsellors or therapists. We believe that living in community is in itself therapeutic to a degree, but the community can take no responsibility for any of the actitivities on offer and requires everyone taking part to assume personal responsibility for their own well-being.
Sometimes men who come to ECC events are vulnerable and might, for example, be the victims of sexual abuse, alcohol addiction or mental health problems. We are happy to provide a safe space to support anyone to the best of our abilities, but nobody should be under any impression that we can offer professional counselling or any other type of therapy. Some of our members may be able to offer professional insights, but anyone with severe problems or special needs might want to discuss their concerns with an event organiser before booking, and to be prepared to accept that the Edward Carpenter Community might not be the right place for them.
I've heard gay men's weeks are all about meeting new men for sex
Realistically, anyone seeking sex on one of our events is likely to be disappointed. Inevitably sexual connections will arise from time to time, as they do when any large group of people meet on a residential event. Some men may have a ‘holiday romance’, or even fall in love, but most men don’t. We encourage everyone to join us for personal growth and friendship, but we recognise that we are creating opportunities for intimacy and deep connection that can include sex. We ask everyone to behave safely, responsibly and respectfully.
Will I have a comfortable hotel room to myself?
No. We use low-cost venues which generally provide shared accommodation - sometimes two to four beds to a room, but often larger dormitory style sleeping. We feel strongly that sharing the space is an important part of the experience of living in community.
Will I have to do chores?
Some of our venues, mainly youth hostels, are fully catered so there's no work for us to do. At others, we feel an important part of community-building is the sharing of domestic work. Normally this will be to help in the preparation of meals and clearing up afterwards, but may include working in the garden or the woods with our resident host community. There will usually be a rota of work slots so you can sign up for the tasks which most appeal. If the venue doesn't provide one, one of the organisers will be appointed as the cook. He will buy in supplies, plan meals and supervise the cooking. You will always be fully supported, whichever tasks you choose.
What if I snore at night, or if I have to share a room with other snorers?
Sharing a space with strangers can be a challenge for most of us. We take the view that everyone snores to some extent or other, and that reprimanding anyone else for snoring is unacceptable. If anyone is bothered by snoring, they are encouraged to take personal responsibility to minimise how it affects them - for example we always recommend bringing earplugs, and organisers will sometime provide them.
How do I join one of the weeks?
All our events are advertised well in advance on the website, and our newsletter is normally sent out when bookings open for each event. Summer events normally start booking in January or February, and winter events in August. The event details on the website include an update on whether places are still available, together with the sliding scale of charges and other booking information. You can book online or download and print off a paper application form. We normally require a 25% deposit at time of booking and the balance before you arrive.
How much do your events cost?
Each event is self-financing and we aim to break even. The cost is therefore calculated separately for each event, and depends on the length of stay, the quality of the accommodation and the number of men attending. We recognise that not everyone has the same ability to pay, so we offer a sliding scale of charges according to your income which is taken entirely on trust. If you can, you are encouraged to pay at least the breakeven cost, but we offer an attractive concessionary rate for those on low incomes. A limited number of bursaries are also available for those in greatest need, available on application.
What should I bring?
This depends very much on the event and venue, but we'll send a suggested list out with the joining instructions a few days before the event starts. Often, we ask you to bring your own bedlinen (duvet cover, sheets, pillowcases) and towels, toiletries, outdoor wear, and enough clean clothes for a week or a weekend. Sometimes we may suggest bring extra towels if there are likely to be massages or saunas. If you're bothered by night-time noise, we recommend bringing earplugs. If you intend having sex, we ask you to bring condoms and lube and to take personal responsibility for the health and well-being of others.
How do I get to the venue?
Many of our venues are in out-of-the-way places and not always easy or cheap to reach by public transport. As far as possible we try to get participants to organise lifts and so we ask about lifts required or offered when you book. Organisers sometimes set up a participants-only online group on Facebook so that people can arrange lifts, and sometimes for larger events a hired bus may be arranged. Transport home is usually discussed during the week, and there are usually plenty of lifts available.
Can I bring my dog?
We don't normally encourage anyone to bring pets as not everyone is comfortable around them, and some venues with resident communities of their own often have animals who are disturbed by visiting pets. Men with guide dogs are welcome however. If in doubt, please speak to the event organiser when you book.
Can I take photos or video?
Yes by all means bring a camera to record your experiences. However, we ask everyone taking photographs to ensure they have first sought permission from every person being photographed. Also, please do not circulate photographs outside the group or publish them online without first getting explicit permission to do this from the people involved.
Normally, we ask people not to make video recordings or sound recordings at all, unless they are part of an arranged activity such as a workshop or a performance. As with photographs, please ensure you have explicit permission to circulate any recordings outside the group.
Do I have to perform in the cabaret?
Not at all, there is no pressure to take part. Plenty of men love to be the centre of attention, while others simply wish to share their musical skills, a favourite piece of poetry, or to challenge their inhibitions about performing. But every performer needs an audience, and we feel that witnessing and honouring someone else's effort is an equally important contribution to the proceedings.
How can I keep in touch with other members in between events?
As well as keeping in touch through personal contacts made on the event, there are a number of local groups with links to the community. These groups currently exist in Brighton, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland. They meet at regular intervals through the year. Some offer the chance to take part in heart circles, where members are encouraged to share thoughts and feelings at a deep level, while others offer a range of the sort of activities you may have experienced on a residential event.
As well as acting as a focal point for ECC members in their area, the groups also reach out and aim to attract new members who are unable or not yet ready to attend a longer event. We encourage members to consider setting up a group in their local area, and can support them in doing this.