Candida Dunford Wood

‘I have always loved my Greek—or strictly speaking Vlach—heritage. Every woman on my mother’s side of our family has a gold arm bangle, and when I decided to remove it for reasons of security when I went to live abroad, this felt like more than a physical separation.
My father, Peter, was reserved, and very dedicated to his work. He and his brother were dispatched to England from Hong Kong for their education at the ages of five and seven. From that time until they were in their late teens they saw their father once every four years, and their mother every other year. My grandfather was interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, and miraculously survived. When he emerged, weighing six stone, he and my father’s greeting was merely with a handshake.
My mother Jenny grew up all over the world as her father was a Diplomat. She became well versed in several languages and briefly worked for M16. She became a painter.
After working in the Foreign Office in Cambodia and then Canada my parents came back to England and my father went into Politics, becoming MP for Blackpool South in the 1963 election, when I was two. As with many who lived through WWII, he was driven by a desire to avoid war, and he was involved in international relations. He was an MP for 30 years.
I remember a fierce argument with him and with my godfather Robin Day in which I stood my ground perhaps for the first time, by refusing to take the Oxbridge entrance exam. My reasoning was that it wasn’t the real world. However, I think I was also afraid of failure.
I took a degree in Ancient Mediterranean Studies at Bristol, steeping myself in that ancient culture, the seat of ‘democracy’ and ‘civilisation’; the mythology, the architecture. In those days we didn’t have to consider so carefully employment opportunities at the end of our studies.
Six months of travel to South America after I left University opened my eyes to a world unimaginably different to the safety and privilege of my own youth—one of injustice, exploitation and poverty caused by abuse of power, and this journey changed my life. I was struck by the irony that I could witness all of this because I had privilege: I decided to use this advantage as best I could.
Back in London, I chanced upon an organisation called ‘CARILA’—not realising this stood for Committee for Revolution in Latin America. I confidently marched through their door, naively believing my wanderings had taught me everything about the continent. I built up trust and helped them raise funds for art and crafts courses to be run by and for their communities of refugees. I went on to work with Chilean exiles, and through them learned about British politics, from their perspective. Their political prisoner internships had been commuted to exile under our Labour Government in the late 1970s. Most of them were professionals yet worked here in very menial jobs. Many of the women had not had a chance to learn fluent English.
Working for several years in ‘Christian Aid’s’ Latin America Department I then landed a five-year contract with ‘Oxfam’ in Brazil. There, I met many inspiring, courageous and resilient people who were battling to overcome poverty and injustice, with grace, humour, vision and determination. I worked with a team of Brazilians, travelling throughout the Amazon and the drought-ridden North East. We supported rubber tappers in negotiation with the World Bank for their rights to Extractive Reserves; radical catholic priests providing safe havens to activists and protecting indigenous lands; medical herbalists enabling poor people to improve their health; pioneers of rural technology; and the Landless Workers Movement who put their lives on the line trying to force much-needed land reform. I married José Karaja, who was given his name by the indigenous tribe with whom he lived while making himself scarce from the military dictatorship as a student.
Missing family and close friends, I returned to UK in 1994 with my half-Brazilian son, Daniel and continued working with ‘Oxfam’ in their Policy Department. I had an exciting job as Southern Advocacy Adviser but this meant travelling around the world for weeks at a time, leaving Daniel behind. So, I decided to base myself in the UK and to be involved in the local community around me, while maintaining an international perspective.
By this time, I was also exploring a different way of doing things. I believe information alone is not enough for people to change behaviours—we need also to feel and to experience the issue. The arts can help people to express themselves, to communicate and to build bridges, to create societal change. So, I decided to involve myself with arts for a social purpose.
I volunteered for ‘Artangel’ on a Legislative Theatre project with Brazilian founder of Forum Theatre, Augusto Boal, and his main UK followers. This led me to co-translate Boal’s autobiography and to manage Longplayer, an Artangel project devised by Jem Finer, a former member of The Pogues.
I threw myself into ‘Artists in Exile’, a group of over 70 artists in the London area, all of whom had fled war and persecution. Many had had to flee because of their artform, whether theatre, film, poetry, or literature. I witnessed how people could finally become visible and once again find their voice, having been rendered worthless in the UK. Everyone came together—Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, Colombians and Chileans, Iranians and Iraqis, Sri Lankans, Czechs and many more. Political boundaries melted away, and heart-wrenching performances were created, which were transformative both for performer and audience.
I founded Creating Routes with Hugh Dunford Wood, now my husband. We ran a series of programmes with artists who had experienced forced migration, whereby those artists ran courses for the public, sharing their considerable skills.
I founded ‘Creating Routes’ with Hugh Dunford Wood, now my husband. We ran a series of programmes with artists who had experienced forced migration, whereby those artists ran courses for the public, sharing their considerable skills.
Rewarding as this was, Hugh was missing the sea. So, in 2007, we decided to move to Lyme Regis where he’d lived before. My son Daniel’s life was transformed by joining B Sharp, which encouraged his love of music and to take a Degree in Theatre Sound.
I wanted to direct my energies to my new community. Inspired by Rebecca Hoskins who had turned her Devon village of Modbury plastic bag-free, I founded ‘Turn Lyme Green’ in 2007. Our ‘Plastic Bag Free’ campaign involved a wide range of community groups and schools, and was my first foray into community-led environmental activism.
I balanced this with my own exploration of permaculture, through a Design course at Monkton Wyld Court. This taught me to observe nature and how to create maximum yield maximise yield for minimum effort! It also inspired me to participate in Living Nutrition courses led by Daphne Lambert at Trill Farm. I’m delighted to have recently become a trustee of the ‘Green Cuisine Trust’—a charity founded by Daphne, which promotes food which is healthy both for people and the planet.
I co-ordinated the arts programme of the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival for a few years, and the Jurassic Coast Earth Festival linked to the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Then the opportunity arose to manage Communities Living Sustainably (CLS) in Dorset, which included programmes on Eco Schools, Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, Climate Change Adaptation, and also ‘Food Future Bridport’.
Hugh and I recently moved from Lyme Regis to spend 18 months in Sussex on the farm of my childhood. This brought me full circle and enabled me to walk my talk in relation to ecology.
Together with my sister, we’ve converted the farm to organic, strengthened wildlife corridors, enhanced biodiversity, and taken measures to improve soil health. I am still heavily involved in the farm but we returned to West Dorset a year ago, finding a house on the edge of Bridport, surrounded by a sloping acre of rough grass. We can walk straight out to the woods, invigorated by the trees and the breath-taking 360 degree view from the top of Allington Hill. We’re growing fruit and veg and establishing a forest garden.
I love Bridport—it has the perfect blend of community engagement, local food culture, independent shops and a fabulous market, as well as a vibrant arts scene. I’m part of ‘Seeding our Future’s’ food security project to work with local farmers, growers and citizens to adapt to climate change. This has brought me back into contact with people I worked with during CLS, and helped me feel a sense of belonging and a part of what is going on in the town.
My immersion in the arts and creativity is vicarious, although in earlier years I did make mosaics. I am surrounded by Hugh’s prolific and colourful work, and our home is often buzzing with interesting conversations about arts and the environment. One of the things Hugh has taught me is that as well as seeking to play a part in creating a better world, we can also live joyfully! ‘Celebrate life’ is our motto.’