30 years of Hampstead’s pioneering Gaia Foundation celebrated in Burgh House exhibition

A young barasano tribesman from Colombia paints his face. Picture: Sergio Bartlesman

A young barasano tribesman from Colombia paints his face. Picture: Sergio Bartlesman - Credit: Archant

The eco charity has been championing issues such as species extinction, carbon emissions and climate change since 1983, says Bridget Galton.

For three decades, the yellow door at 18 Well Walk has welcomed the world’s inspirational environmentalists and eco activists.

Affectionately known as Gaia House, it’s the home of Ed Posey and Liz Hosken who founded the Gaia Foundation there 30 years ago.

Back then, the world was not yet fully awake to issues such as species extinction, carbon emissions and climate change.

Exiled from South Africa for anti-apartheid activities, Hosken arrived in the UK in 1983 with a passionate aversion to inequality.

She met former RAF pilot and businessman Posey and, influenced by James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis that the earth is a living, self-regulating whole and we should understand the dynamics of the eco system we inhabit, the pair named their organisation after the ancient Greek Goddess mother earth.

Amid concern about the inequity and ecological damage from commercial development, they initially focused on indigenous communities in the Amazon, helping them find their own solutions to the rapid disappearance of the rainforest which sustains them.

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Through publicity, lobbying and other resources they helped create a network of indigenous groups and allies who now run millions of hectares of the Columbian Amazon including health, education and government systems, based on their own values and culture.

The award-winning project is seen as an extraordinary success story – one the foundation is replicating in parts of Africa.

The financial brains of the outfit, Posey has forged relationships with the European Commission to fund projects while also supporting partner projects in Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, India and South Africa, often grass roots schemes that re-connect communities with traditional ways of living that have been sustainable for thousands of years.

In their role influencing the debate about how best to tackle the environmental crisis Well Walk became a resource centre for the Foundation’s partners from all over the world; a welcoming, convivial place to stay, hold meetings, and lobby government. People such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Matthai and Earth jurisprudence theorist Thomas Berry have darked its doors while talks from the likes of George Monbiot, Hugh Brody and Vandana Shiva are held at nearby Burgh House where an exhibition now celebrates the organisation’s remarkable journey and key milestones.

Co-curated by the Foundation and Burgh House the exhibition features film, ethnographic artefacts and photography such as the Kayapo’s resistance to vast hurdo-electric dams in the Brazilian Amazon. (pictured above) Despite the rise of global environment movements, the Foundation believes there remains a David and Goliath struggle as corporations make a grab for the earth’s dwindling resources.

They hold firm that we are too locked into western thinking that the environment is our resource and mass production the best way to feed the world.

Industrial development destroys both nature and human communities, they say. Environmental sustainability and social justice are two sides of the same coin and we should consider that ancient traditions have survived thousands of years because people learned to live in ways that didn’t destroy their life support system.

Open Wed-Fri and Sunday until February 2016 admission free. gaiafoundation.org