Emerson College

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Emerson College's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Emerson College is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Director of Development
Steve Briault
Students gathering
Established more than half a century ago, Emerson College
is an independent adult education charity in East Sussex.
The charity is inspired by the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner
and his “anthroposophical” understanding of humanity and
the world. Director of Development, Steve Briault, has seen the
college through some tumultuous times: entering into its sixth
decade of operation, he discusses why he looks forward to
seeing the “fruits of renewal” in future.
In 2010, the trustees of Emerson College could see no way forward for the
organisation and decided to place it into administration. On Palm Sunday, a closing
ceremony was held in Ruskin Hall on our campus in Sussex: reasons were explained, a
verse was spoken, tears were shed. Hands were held in a large circle in the courtyard
as we said farewell to the spirit of the college which had inspired so much personal
transformative learning, so many deep encounters between people from all parts of the
globe, so much initiative in Emerson graduates to found schools, kindergartens, organic
farms, therapeutic communities and social enterprises on almost every continent.
The closure did not happen. Against all odds, a small group of brave individuals
stepped forward to prevent it. They raised donations, negotiated with creditors, sold
some assets and stepped in as interim directors and trustees. Nearly a decade later, we
are still in a process of transformation but are beginning to see some fruits of renewal.
Growth, decline and multiple challenges
Founded in 1962 by the charismatic teacher Francis Edmunds, Emerson College
moved to Forest Row, East Sussex in 1967. From small beginnings as an independent
»Director of Development:
Steve Briault
»Established in 1962
»Based in Forest Row, East
»No. of students: 3,500 last
year (mostly short-term)
Emerson College
Highlighting best practice
adult education charity based on the
philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the
college attracted growing numbers of
students from all over the world, mainly
from the generation who were young
adults between the 1960s and 1980s,
and were looking for new ways of living
and working, understanding themselves
and the world, exploring new spiritual
directions and social forms. Following
a Foundation Year which introduced
Steiner’s “anthroposophical” view
of the world and the human being,
students could train in a wide range
of professions arising out of this
philosophy, from teacher training to
visual arts and sculpture, counselling,
organisation development and
biodynamic agriculture.
Following the deaths in the 1980s of
both Francis and his much younger vice-
principal John Davy, a brilliant educator
and internationally renowned science
student numbers gradually
reduced. Internal management and
governance disagreements, fewer
inspiring teachers, the wider economic
situation and immigration controls all
contributed to this decline and the
resulting financial problems. Off-
site assets were gradually sold to
fund ongoing deficits, which were
compounded from 2008 by the
problems of a private pension scheme
in which college staff had been
enrolled. Emerson College, together
with the other mostly charitable
employer organisations involved in the
scheme, became jointly responsible
for making up the shortfall. This was
a significant factor in the trustees’
decision of 2010.
The new trustees and managers,
besides these financial challenges,
faced the reality of reputational
damage. For years, we kept hearing
people say they thought the college
had closed. There was “hidden debt”
in the poor condition of our buildings;
demoralised staff; competition from
other Steiner-based adult education
colleges – several started by Emerson
graduates – and a fundamental change
in the pattern of demand for privately
funded “alternative” adult education.
New educational and social
Our efforts to rebuild student numbers
have consistently confirmed the shift
from full-time, longer programmes
to short-term and modular courses,
and from generic to more focused
and vocational topics. This reality
has led us to revise and adapt both
our educational and social approach.
Rather than trying to recreate
the structures of the past, we are
embracing the new pattern of a mostly
transient student population, and
balancing it with the development of
a more stable “Living and Learning
Community” on the campus. The sale
of on-site properties to new residents,
including apartments created by
converting an under-utilised student
hostel, has helped in this rebalancing
as well as contributing to our ability to
meet the pension deficit payments.
The courses offered by the college
and our partners are now mainly
focused on three areas: visual
and performing arts; ecology and
regenerative horticulture; and a range
of caring professions. In all of these
we take a holistic approach, fostering
enquiry, creativity and responsibility,
educating the head, heart and hands.
An international learning
We offer a
space for
and the
of inner and
Observation and contemplative study
of the earth, of natural organisms and
the human being is complemented by
imaginative expression and practical
work: storytelling, clowning and
poetry; painting, sculpture and crafts;
biodynamic cultivation of vegetables,
fruit and medicinal herbs.
In a world where imagination and
creativity are increasingly commoditised
and digitised, and stress-related mental
health issues increasingly prevalent, we
offer a welcoming, supportive space for
direct experience, contemplation and
interaction, as well as the development
of inner and outer resilience. Our
vocational courses for doctors, nurses,
therapists and child carers provide
stimulus and support for professional
deepening and renewal. For the last
three years, we have also run a modular
introductory programme, “Cultivating
Wisdom”, in China, and welcomed its
graduates to follow-up courses in Sussex.
Partnership and community as
paths to the future
We are learning to share the activity,
ownership and culture on the college
campus with a widening range of
mutually supportive partner initiatives
including a small kindergarten, a water
research institute and a pottery school.
Last year, in collaboration with the
herbal medicine training organisation
Heartwood, our estate was registered as
part of the Botanic Gardens Conservation
International scheme, the world’s
largest plant conservationnetwork.
We have plans to create a co-housing,
supported living facility – the Pixton
Third Age project – for older residents.
We intend this to be an exemplar of an
innovative social context that overcomes
the isolation and neglect so often
experienced by elderly people, within an
intergenerational, multi-organisational,
lifelong learning community, with the
college offering “situated transformative
learning” at its heart.
Without state support or wealthy
sponsors, and despite the barriers of
visa restrictions and the deterrence
of Brexit, we are rebuilding a small
international centre where a non-
sectarian but spiritually informed
image of what it means to be human is
fostered, while principles and practices
are rehearsed and learned that can
contribute to the healing of the earth
and the renewal of society. The college
calendar is again filling up with events
that celebrate life in all its forms and
seek to lead people towards a kind and
sustainable future.
We are
embracing the
new pattern
of a mostly
Rudolf Steiner
was an Austrian clairvoyant, philosopher, social
reformer, architect and economist. At the beginning of the 20th
century he founded an esoteric spiritual movement, anthroposophy,
with roots in German idealist philosophy and theosophy. For more
information, see his Wikipedia entry.
Biodynamic farming
is the oldest “green” farming movement, and
forerunner of organics. All biodynamic farmers and growers practise
organic methods of cultivation, are against genetic modification and
share the ideals of the organic movement, but there are important
differences. Biodynamics has metaphysical and spiritual roots that
organics does not. Biodynamics thus embraces the mystery of all life
processes, including the subtle and energetic realities that are not
necessarily easy to measure using current scientific methods.
Botanic Gardens Conservation International
is a membership organisation,
representing botanic gardens in more than 100 countries around the
world. It is an independent UK charity established in 1987 to link the
botanic gardens of the world in a global network for plant conservation.
Contemplation and


This article was sponsored by Emerson College. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.