Saturday, March 26, 2011

What do we do in the Winter when the Centre is closed?

 Many people ask me "What do you do in the Winter, when Kalikalos is closed?" I think they imagine I have a nice relaxing holiday, since I often do say that "I never get a holiday focalising a holiday Centre!"

No, I don't get a holiday in the Winter. (And just in case you ask why don't we stay in Pelion in the winter, see this photo taken in December last year!)

Work for the new season begins in early September when I start thinking about the programme for the following summer. I write emails and letters to old and potential new leaders to see who might be interested to offer a workshop or retreat. Around mid September there is the usual strum und drang with the owner about obtaining a reduction in rent. (We pay about 25% above market price to rent our venue, due to the original sin made back in January 2009 when we accepted the owner's offer without realising that we were expected to make a lower counter offer and keep bargaining till a middle ground was found.) It is only by threatening to move to our sister Centre at Anilio that on the last day or two of the Autumn workcamp and still no contract, does the owner give in and reduce the rent for the following season. We started out paying the outageous sum of €3000/month for the place, and we have finally got it down to €2000, but it is still higher than we can afford or what a Greek would pay. Somewhere around €1200-1500 is about right.

Live and learn. The hard way.

Once October arrives and the Centre is packed away, its time to recruit leaders in earnest, negotiate and send out contracts and then pester the leaders to send in their deposits. Negotiations often take considerable time, as we have to explain to new leaders who don't know Kalikalos how the community-based system works, and that their workshop or retreat will co-exist with a beach holiday and community building, all three elements having equal priority in their week. Gradually through October the programme begins to take shape as I try to balance the four areas we like to provide: healing {self, society & planet}, relationship communication, the creative arts, and Self enquiry. I try to have the full programme subscribed by mid to late November, but usually there remain a few weeks still out on tender or as yet unfilled. During November I am usually back at Findhorn networking because its a great place to find leaders and staff for the following year and I like to stay connected with the source of inspiration for Kalikalos and tell people there how we are doing.

Once I have the workshops and retreats pretty well committed it's time to transfer the information to the website. Each leader submits a writeup of their programme and I have to get it into the form of a single web page of about 500 words of description and 150 words of bio. You might be surprised that it takes quite a bit of time working up a page for each leader. It's not just a question of taking what I get and copying it onto the web. I have to interlard photos, which means getting good photos, and often modify the leader's words so that the workshop description will appeal to the people that Kalikalos naturally attracts. Until I have the workshop writeups on the web I cannot do the schedule page; or let's say, my work flow is such that I cannot do it with joy, and above all I want to enjoy my admin work during the winter.

Still, by mid December I hope to have the website including the full schedule of abstracts up and available to the public. This past year, because we decided we needed a complete facelift to the site, there was a great deal of extra web work all through November and December, fortunately ably assisted by John Wragg at Findhorn and our new marketing consultant Paul Harvey at Forres.

Mid December is also the latest date that I can prepare the new brochure, and again, I cannot do that till the website is complete. Once it is, the brochure falls out naturally, but it still takes a week or so, so it must be done by Boxing day at the latest so that the printer has it before the new year, otherwise he will not be able to get it out by late January so that we can start mailing it out in early February. That's about when people have got fed up with Winter weather and start thinking about their summer holiday, 5 or 6 months away.

This year we did not print a brochure. We decided to put the money into hiring Paul Harvey for internet marketing and instead printed 20,000 A6 cards which can be used year after year. I designed the cards in December and luckily I hit on a design I was able to use and the job went quicker than I imagined. I still miss the brochure and I think next year I will try to do one again. Paul will ask me "How many people come through the brochure?", and I cannot answer him because I don't know and don't know any way to know. But my inner voice says that it is needed. This year, with the extra web work and social media marketing I would not have had time to do one but hopefully come December 2011 I will have time.

Just before the year ends, there are adverts for magazines to be composed. Usually the deadline for Mar/April issues is the first week of January, so there is certainly no Christmas holiday! I spent Christmas 2010 in a small hotel in Polis, Cyprus beavering away on these adverts using the hotel wireless, and I got about 75% of them done in time. The other 25% had to wait, so they will only be coming out in May/June. There is only so much a one-man band can play in one season!

January is not rest time. Once the adverts have gone in and the cards/brochure are with the printer, its time to concentrate on recruiting facilitators-in-residence (FIRs). These are the leaders we get who come without a group, and who offer their healing arts and holistic disciplines to our community guests and staffers on an ad hoc basis. FIRs are a relatively new addition to our programme and a good one because not only do they widen our repertoire of offerings, they serve as part time staffers, and so provide high level support to our volunteers. I like to have the full complement of FIRs in by the end of January so that the FIR page on has them listed with what they will be offering, so that prospective community guests can see what will be available should they book.

February is a slight lull. Ideally, a dozen or so FIRs have been recruited, the leaders are starting to get their own independent promotion out to the world, its slightly too early to start full time staff recruiting and I like to imagine that I can relax a bit and stop working 13-14 hour days and staring at a computer screen all day. I might get out for tennis a few times a week or an evening of bridge. On occasion, I might even have a look around my environment as a sightseer as you see in this recent photo of me at ancient Kurion Roman amplitheatre in Cyprus.

Actually February I usually spend my time tidying up loose ends: there might be a leader deciding to cancel (as this year's NVC leaders felt obliged to do, for lack of participants enrolling) so I need to try to find a substitute, an FIR who has changed her mind, some problems with the online credit card bookings, new web promoters appearing who want copy from myself or Paul Harvey, and of course a minimum of a dozen emails to answer every day. Then bookings begin trickling in and querries to be answered. Leaders have to be taken by the hand and shown how to use the bed booking database and how to link their websites to

First of March, I start recruiting the staff for the summer. I already will have had dialogue with former staffers who want to come back, and we want as many "old hands" as we can, because its a tough job training staff for Kalikalos. There is a lot to learn, and much as I like teaching (I do!) I find it gruelling all summer long to be teaching new people the same old things. And in the past many staffers only stayed for 2 weeks, just long enough to get their orientation, and then they were off. This is changing, and more and more, people are signing up for longer stints. I look forward to the day when we have a stable core team of half a dozen staffers coming back year after year.  Aside from staff, we have to populate the Spring workcamp. We like to have a dozen idealists to help open up the Centre, put up the yurts and group spaces, do maintenance and homecare, get the organic garden going and in general get the energy flowing again at Kalikalos. Most Spring workcamps we have a building project too, and this year we want to construct a meditation sanctuary so we can free up the yurt for other things. Here it is already late March, and we are still looking for a builder-type to focalise this construction work.

And so it goes. In April, just a week and a half away, I'll be back to traveling, probably to network in London, Berlin or possibly Italy. Over the years I have learnt how to carry on the admin for this very complex project out of a backpack in diverse places like Goa, Mexico, Greece, Cyprus, London and Scotland. Hope springs forever that my gypsy life will resolve itself into just two locations--Greece in the summer and x in the winter.

I forgot to say that through all of this, there is an urgent need for the Kalikalos coordinator to learn Greek. That is one reason why I came to Cyprus this year. How is it going? Well, in the immortal words of Brian Church, who wrote "Learn Greek in 25 years", I am pretty well on track to make it in 21 more years.