Michael Bunney - 100 Journal
I find Michael sitting on the slipway at Gorran Haven on a bright Saturday morning at the end of April. He’s waiting for the gig, of which he is club captain, to come back in from it’s training row around the bay. Whilst he waits, we wander across the lovely arc of beach that sweeps around to Gorran Haven’s small quay. I always enjoy talking to Michael and come away thinking that the world would be better place with a few more like him in it - his enthusiasm for the local area is seemingly boundless and his understanding of the issues that face rural communities and how he approaches these issues feels more vital than ever. We sit in the sunshine on the edge of the quay not far from where I first took his portrait in 2016 and catch up on what’s being going on for him in the time since then.
What’s changed for you since I took your portrait in 2016?
“Loads of things are the same! I’m still captain of the gig club. We’re off to the Scillies (for the Gig rowing world championships) with a crew of thirty from Gorran and we’re doing better and better, we won Mevagissey regatta back in the winter. Absolutely love the rowing.
I’m still teaching but I’ve moved jobs. I’m now deputy head at Restormel alternative provision academy which is a school for kids that have been excluded in the local area. It’s kind of a special educational needs school, so I do lots of work with social workers, children in care and multi agency work. It’s my 20th year in teaching and this job change has brought its challenges. The life stories of some of these children can be very hard to hear. There’s a lot of deprivation, poverty and social inequality, particularly in the heart of Cornwall.
I left the Labour party in 2015 after the general election and have now joined Mebyon Kernow. I felt none of them in the Labour party really understood Cornwall and having been on Cornwall Council, I get on well with all of the different parties but I just felt none of them really understood this part of the UK. I felt that I’ve reached a time in my life where I want to dedicate all of my efforts to the community here and on a wider level, to Cornwall. It doesn’t mean that I’m not Internationalist at all but I just believe that local answers to local problems are the best way forward. Mebyon Kernow works with people from across all parties, it’s a non conflictual form of politics. For me our Cornwall is at a real turning point where if we’re not careful, Cornwall will become a playground for the rich and you can see it here in Gorran Haven which has a lot of second and holiday homes. It’s not envy or resentment I just don’t want the Cornwall that we grew up with to disappear. I moved back here about 10 years ago and felt that Gorran Haven was dying a little bit really and the various groups like the the rowing club and all the things that I remember as a young person, I wanted to be involved with. So I went on the Parish Council, the playing field committee, set up the history society and kept the Old Cornwall Society going and get the rowing club going again. I’m chairman of the old school rooms in Gorran and we’ve managed to renovate that and we’ve got affordable flats in there. I love it, the three most important things for me are family, friends and community and I just feel privileged that all those three things here are interconnected. You couldn’t separate them! It’s just lovely, we’ve got a really strong community here and in some ways it’s more vibrant here than it was ten years ago. We’ve got a lovely mix of newcomers and the old families as well and it gels really well."
Gorran has always felt quite forward thinking as a community...
"It’s such a small place there’s not really room to fall out with each other. So you have to think of positive solutions and just get on with it. Like with the public toilets, rather than spending years complaining about it we just took them on and got them open again. I did a sponsored silence for a weekend which raised £1000 which was just the hardest thing! (laughs)
Cornwall is way more diverse than people assume and I hate the stereotype that we’re all narrow minded that there isn’t diversity and that we’re just stuck in the 1800s, I hear that a lot and I challenge that view as much as I can. I’m at the core of our village and I came out when I was 20 and I’ve never had any hassle off anyone about it. Everyone’s been absolutely lovely about it, people that maybe you'd never expect are just really open about it and have even tried to set me up! (laughs)
It’s a diverse community in reality and we should celebrate that, be open about it and challenge all those stereotypes about Cornwall. The inequality and deprivation we have in Cornwall really worries me, those extremes of wealth are getting more exaggerated. It’s common sense and gut instinct for me that it’s unfair for someone to have three houses and others to have none. The national press tend to focus on and rightly focus on deprivation in inner cities and particularly for different minorities but they shouldn’t forget the rural poverty that exists in Cornwall and other places. You find lots of families that are struggling to make ends meet here and have to move away when they may not want to and it’s not healthy for our community and local services.
So that’s where I’m at really.... is that alright?” (laughs)