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Clare Hilley: My time on Castaway

Hilley9 Clare, who has been head of both Lancaster Uni and Croydon CF branches, describes the lessons she learnt about leadership and societal order from her recent experience on the reality TV show Castaway.

Around December of last year, I received this brief for the show through the post :

You are to take part in a social experiment. The challenges are:

a) Build a working, viable community from scratch without any outside interference

b) Live with a diverse group of people, each fulfilling some of the most extreme stereotypes of the UK

c) To catch and/cultivate your own food resources and live off the land.

As I read this, I felt an enormous amount of excitement grow within me. Who wouldn’t like the idea of jetting off to a distant sunny location to build a community from scratch based on their personal beliefs? I was aware that the others would have the same thoughts and aspirations within this remit but I do believe in what I stand for and was confident that I would be able to make them work. I realised the potential to finally test myself and those core beliefs of mine on a group of differently minded strangers.

We are all guilty of moaning about the state of how our country is run and rant about how we could change it, now I was being given the chance to do just this.

Working policies, leadership methods, laws and general ideas that seem reasonable, yet are often over looked, entered my mind allowing me to consider the one thing that most people say, yet few get the chance to work on… "Our country would be better if this or that happened".

Before I even started the mountain of paperwork that came with that brief, I knew that there was no way that I could refuse, I mean, who would?

Hilley8 I was the fifth arrival on the island, preceded by a 56 year old female divorcee from Oxford whose initial reason for coming was to "live life to the full" but later admitted that it was to "find a man". Following her, an obese 24 year old male from Leeds who wanted to be a writer but instantly showed a lack of confidence. After him, a lap-dancing 23 year old from Bolton who had married her husband only three weeks before the experiment had begun, and then a 38 year old rehabilitated black drug addict hoping to start again with his new wife to be.

After I landed, caricatured as the "arrogant Tory girl", a 42 year old wannabe anarchist set foot ‘pon the shore with the aim to run the island his way, then finally a wide-eyed public school boy arrived with a certain level of naivety for the world outside his own. Eight other people arrived on the island over the course of the three months, but the first seven (including myself) were the ones to begin the experience and forge the earliest relationships and allies.

Even though we were a diverse group of individuals from many different backgrounds and upbringings, one of the most interesting things we all shared was a common set of ideals of how our community should be structured. Even the self-proclaimed anarchist agreed that structure was needed in order to build a solid and sound community.

Hilley4 As we sat around the dinner table that night, eating a sumptuous feast of basic rations quickly thrown together in a filthy frying pan, we started to discuss the plan of action. Being quite vocal, I pushed the meeting. We needed to secure shelter, we needed to secure food, heck we needed to understand and appreciate the location we were in. There was so much to do, and so few people.

The self proclaimed anarchist shouted "we don’t want a leader", obviously disliking the fact that I had taken a level of control (something that the others within the group had agreed to) at the meeting, but this was his obvious upset at the fact that we weren’t listening to him.

He tried to instil in the group that we could do whatsoever we like, if we wanted to chop logs for the fire then we should, if we wanted to fish then we should or if we wanted to nothing then we should, and so on.

The lap-dancer pointed out to him that if we used his system then nothing would outwardly be achieved as the group would be pulling in all different directions unsure of what the overall aim was. I agreed with her and suggested to the group that perhaps we should split up into teams for a rota system so that all of us got to try something different rather than do the same task for the whole of three months (interestingly, the ex-Marine that would join us two days later would make the same case at the first full group meal but by this point I was interested to test a different method of structure that we had already begun).

Hilley_6 Everyone agreed with this apart from the anarchist who simply said that we needed a leader to tell people what to do and it should be him. I looked at him quizzically and was about to ask him why he was contradicting himself when the obese guy piped up, "I don’t want you as the leader. I want to work as a team without one person leading. Having said that, as a democracy if we decide to have a leader then why not have a different person being it each day." I saw the logic in this but in reality thought that a day is not very long to exercise your leadership. It just seemed that this guy wanted to give anyone a go, but didn’t like the idea of having that responsibility for a day imposed on him or worse still – given to someone like the anarchist.

Hilley3After our discussion and debate, which lasted for about three hours, we all slept together in our weather-beaten hut. Six of us subconsciously made our beds together on one side in a strangely predictable order and the anarchist slept on the other side away from us all. He had made it clear before this moment he had wanted to be ostracised from us as we were all "w******".

Tucked up under my army issue blanket, I tried to think of lawless societies but couldn’t as even basic ones have laws. I thought further and realised that all of us had been discussing how to build our community based on how we lived in reality. Perhaps we should experiment and live together without rules and structure to see what occurs. For this reason I decided to become an ally of the anarchist. It would be the only time in my life where I could test this kind of structure against that of law and order. I was unaware of which way the dice would fall on this one, but I felt exhilarated in allowing myself to consider this option.

The anarchist would get his own way… for the time being.

Hilley7_2 I was on the island for eight weeks and was able to walk away when I felt that the time was right for me. In the time that I was there, I tested myself on many levels and in some instances I was surprised at the level of my reaction but the one key area that had stuck with me and that I had tested consistently were my core values and beliefs. The further that we got into the social experiment the more I realised that a structure within our community was necessary. After an episode with food rationing the group agreed that we needed rules as people were just helping themselves to about three apples a day when the ration was two a week. Slowly but surely a different structure started to emerge that we’d planned at our community meetings, where we were all present apart from the anarchist. Teams were developed quickly and as all of us had roles and duties to carry out it made our days go quicker and we all felt that we were contributing to the community.

Hilley1 This is only a brief synopsis of my time on the island. This was supposed to be a cross section of our society and yet more than half believed in what I believed in, nearly a third were indifferent but were easily swayable and only two opposed me,  which gave me extra strength and courage in my beliefs. If we put this in electoral terms then I personally believe that if we as a party can get out and make our message clearer and understand people then we will be able to win crucial marginal seats.

I came away with the same principles and core beliefs but I now understand what people truly want, how I can give it to them and that it shouldn’t matter who you are or where you are from, instead it should be about how we can help those who need it and in turn how they can help us when needed.

Click here to see a number of videos of Clare's time on the island.


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