On a wintry night in 2016, with wind rattling the windows, Ben and his neighbour Owen talked about the frightening future that their young daughters would inherit. We all knew then and still know now that our society and our economy needs to undergo a massive shift, but it is less clear where that change is going to come from.
They talked about an experimental college called Black Mountain, founded in the USA in the 1930s that produced two decades of extraordinary artists and creative thinkers. Could we, perhaps, re-create that ethos here, in the Black Mountains of Wales – a new cohort of radical leaders for the challenges of the 21st Century?
The National Park could be the ideal classroom, re-connecting students with nature, a relationship that many have lost. The curriculum would be cutting edge, blending the skills and learning from multiple disciplines into a unique intensive programme. Both writers, Ben and Owen were keenly aware of the role that the arts play in laying the groundwork for creativity. And, crucially, the college would be dedicated to learning by doing, to playing a role in the community and the world, with students engaged in real-world projects linked to Wales’ innovative Future Generations Act. Students would follow their own questions and desire for change, with faculty guiding and supporting.
The pair assembled a steering committee of people from the local community with relevant experience and Ben applied for seed funding from the Brecon Beacons National Park Sustainable Development Fund. In 2018 the Black Mountains College Project Ltd. became a registered charity with Ben as director and Owen a trustee along with six other experienced people hailing from the local area.
In 2019 BMC opened an office in Talgarth with Ben as director and Dr. Libby Pearson as programme manager. Libby had worked for over a decade setting up pathway colleges for private provider Navitas. She has probably established more new colleges than anyone else in the UK.
Together Ben and Libby commissioned a business case, undertook feasibility studies, and examined site options for the college.
A curriculum workshop brought together leading figures from around the world to brainstorm the radical new programme for BMC: a framework that would apply all that we know from neuroscience about how humans learn, the basic necessities of ecology, and all that we know from the arts and inter-disciplinary thinking about how to promote creativity and adaptive thinking.
Now, at the end of 2019, BMC is talking to potential university partners to validate the degree, and is about to launch a fundraising drive to donors and investors to raise funds for phase one of our campus and a design year in 2021.
We plan to bring 21 students from around the world to Wales for a unique experience in 2021: to help co-create the campus and student experience and to test-drive the radical curriculum.
BMC aims to train a new tribe of mavericks and leaders equipped with the skills to build a better world for future generations. Join us.