No two events are the same and so it’s impossible to say exactly what will happen. The majority tend to be week-long retreats, but we also offer weekend events and occasional one-day non-residential gatherings. The basic shape of them tends to be similar, and the outline here will give you a flavour of a typical gay men’s week.
It’s worth noting that there are a couple of distinct types of event which you might find helpful.
A ‘Traditional Week’ or ‘Gay Men’s Week’
This is the original format of ECC events. It’s residential and runs for 7 days (sometimes 10 days in the early years). It’s relatively unstructured, and depends on men coming forward to suggest activities either before or during the week - perhaps by facilitating workshops or initiating games, walks or outings. There’s usually plenty of time to simply socialise by the fire, or sunbathe, depending on the season.
A Themed Week
This is a more structured event built around a specific theme or activity. The organising team will usually have spent a lot of time in preparation in the months leading up to the event, and will have a programme of workshops which participants may or may not be expected to attend. There is often still free time, and opportunity for men to offer additional workshops or activities. Week-long events have tended to be focused on themes around spirituality and personal growth, while weekend events have often explored creativity through art, music and dance.
The first step is to book your place, either online or by completing a booking form downloaded from this site. You will get an acknowledgement from the bookings organiser for that event, and he will then be your main point of contact and will be able to answer any questions you may have.
You may well get an invitation to join an email-based discussion group or a Facebook group restricted to just those who’ve booked. This can be useful in arranging lifts or helping with other travel arrangements and also, perhaps, sharing interests for possible workshops and other ideas of what might happen during the week. A few weeks before the event you will get information on how to get to the venue, what to bring, contact details and some more information on the event along with a reminder of the ECC Principles and Intentions, Vision and Values which underlie all we do.
If you haven’t been to an Edward Carpenter event before, you may find your initial arrival a little overwhelming, and last-minute nerves at the bottom of the drive are a common experience. As people arrive, the crowd of new faces will get bigger, and your may feel that everyone else already knows everyone else, but that soon passes as you get to know people. There are typically 3 or 4 newcomers on each event, and we try to make things easier by ensuring they are looked after, that they are given first choice in finding a bed, are shown where the essential things are, and generally helped to settle in.
After the first meal together there is usually a short opening circle for everyone to introduce themselves and where information is shared about how to get through the first night.
After breakfast there is the first big ‘go-round’. This is designed to be something of an ice breaker and usually everyone is asked to say who they are, where they come from and what their hopes are for the week. There will be other information to share about the venue, the week and what is happening.
One of the ways we try to ensure that participants - especially newcomers - get the best out of the week and are supported by the community is to encourage them to join a ‘Base Group’ which normally meets late afternoon each day. If there are a lot of men on a week, making friends can be difficult. A base group helps you to get to know a small number of men rather better than might be possible otherwise. Membership of each base group is arranged the first morning. Some experienced members prefer the intimacy of a regular heart circle, and this may be offered instead, but we always encourage newcomers to join a base group first.
You may well notice a big timetable displayed in a communal area. This shows the fixed times, such as meals and if the week is themed, the timetabled sessions. Otherwise the timetable is blank. On the first morning there may well be a session for those who are interested in offering workshops or other events and the meeting will help to resolve duplication or timetable clashes. After this the timetable gets rapidly filled with lots of activities on offer. You don’t have to do everything, though, only what you want to do. Many people bring books to read, make time to relax, to sit and chat or just enjoy the peace and quiet of the place and the lovely countryside.
What happens on a week largely depends on what participants bring to it and the range of workshops can be hugely varied. Favourite activities include early morning swimming, meditation, long walks, cycling, canoeing, croquet and volleyball. Workshops have included massage, keeping a diary, listening to music, sharing poetry and other writing, painting and drawing, t-shirt painting, circle dancing and yoga. You might have a skill or interest which you would like to share. We have an ECC electric piano which is brought along to each week.
It is a tradition on the larger Gay Men's Weeks that the community presents a cabaret towards the end of the week. It's not compulsory, but it's an opportunity for participants to perform, share and occasionally challenge their inhibitions. On smaller events, it may take the form of a more low-key ‘Soirée’ or ‘sharing’ instead. Everyone is welcome to offer something if they wish, there is no pressure to take part and there is no audition. Each contribution is honoured. There is usually someone musical who will accompany you if you want to sing or dance. You are invited to bring your own costume if you wish and at some venues there is a dressing-up cupboard. It is often uproarious and sometimes a very moving occasion.
The last evening comes all too quickly. After supper there is the final ‘go-round’ at which everyone is invited to say a word or two about how they have found the week and whether their hopes were fulfilled. There may well be a closing ritual.
If you need help with transport arrangements this will have been done earlier in the week. Otherwise this morning is the time for farewells and promises to keep in touch and to meet again.
Many men attending a residential week for the first time can find it an emotional and overwhelming experience, and the transition back to normal life can be a struggle as they ponder the events of the week or the personal questions it may have thrown up. Many of us have spoken of the 'Post-Laurieston blues', and miss the company of men with whom we may have formed deep if temporary bonds. To help with this process, we circulate contact details after the event so that men who wish to can stay in touch. There are opportunities to post comments and greetings on Facebook pages, and some men like to organise reunions a month or two later. Everyone is encouraged to pick up a phone and make contact with others, and an unexpected reminder of time in community is often very welcome.
Attending one of our weeks for the first time can be a major challenge for many. Living in community with a large group of men can bring up a range of issues - it isn't always easy, but we strive to offer a friendly supportive space. It’s not uncommon for men to spend some time thinking about joining the community before attending their first event. The first day can be daunting, but most find it a positive and life-affirming experience, and choose to come back for more.
At many of our venues, men will usually be sleeping in shared accommodation, which may be difficult if they’re used to private rooms. This may lead to conflicts over snoring, tidiness, noise, or having windows open or closed. Nevertheless, we feel learning to deal with individual differences and these modest hardships is an important part of building community, and we ask all participants to share the space responsibly. On many of our events, a private space is made available so that people can spend intimate time together discreetly, or individuals can spend time alone.
Food & drink
All of our events offer exclusively vegetarian food, and we can usually accommodate special dietary needs too. Promotion of a healthy lifestyle is one of our core values and we offer an opportunity for participants to challenge their everyday experience and to share different ways of living.
Sex & intimacy
One of the nice things about ECC is the opportunity to be open, honest and tactile with each other, whether that’s holding hands as we walk through the woods, exchanging hugs as we pass on the stairs or snuggling by the fire. Personal boundaries are important and what is meant merely as friendly affection can sometimes feel like an unwanted sexual advance, so we encourage everyone to be mindful of others’ feelings. Realistically, sex does happen - some men have lots of sexual partners, some have an intense one to one relationship while others are too busy doing other things or simply not interested. We ask participants to behave as responsible adults, and to ensure that all intimacy is welcome and that sexual behaviour is consensual and safe, and to respect one another’s boundaries at all times.
Naked bodies, even in a non-sexual setting, can be a major source of anxiety, and we recognise that society has left many men with deep-rooted body image issues. Some of our venues provide opportunities to use a sauna, to sunbathe or swim naked, and some workshops, particularly on themed weeks, may actively encourage nudity. For many men, crossing this boundary can be liberating and life-changing while others may not be ready, or may simply have no desire to be naked. Event organisers are aware of these differences, and work hard to ensure no-one is made to feel uncomfortable. Participation in naked activities is always optional, and clothing may be worn if desired.
Some of our venues provide opportunities for dressing up, with cupboards stuffed with glitzy outfits, and some men like to experiment with cross-dressing. For some, this can be very challenging to witness, while for others it can be a life-changing and transformative experience. There is never any pressure to take part in this, or to conform to any other stereotypical gay modes of behaviour. The community seeks to promote an existence beyond the gay scene and is open to all backgrounds and interests.