The beginning of the UK’s collaboration with Auroville was in 1968 when Dick Batstone was asked to find some earth to place in the Urn for the opening ceremony on 28th February that year. He sent some earth from London and from Somerset. Between then and the early 1970s, a number of speakers came to London to talk about Auroville, and an exhibition on Auroville was hosted by the Indian Tourist Office in London, which included a presentation and talk by Richard St Barbe-Baker, a renowned British forester.
In 1972, a concert was given in aid of Auroville by world renowned musicians, violinist Yehudi Menuhin and sitar player, Ravi Shankar, where Yehudi Menuhin spoke briefly on the life of Sri Aurobindo and Auroville. He later became a member of the first AVI UK group, which included Tim Wrey, Dick Batstone and Pat Kaye. The group used to meet at the Sri Aurobindo centre at Bell Street in London.
A number of events were organised in the following years, including talks and slide shows, promotional concerts, and participation in new age festivals around the country, including the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit in London in 1977.
The first AVI UK newsletter was published by Tim Wrey in 1975, and was continued by Dick Batstone and Malcolm Richards until 1983, when Edith Schnapper and Joy Calvert started their work for Auroville from their beautiful home of Boytons near Saffron Walden in Essex. Edith and Joy opened up Boytons, a 600 year old farmhouse in 5 acres of gardens and meadows, as an informal Auroville Centre, for holding weekend gatherings for the study of Sri Aurobindo’ s writings, for sharing news of Auroville, and for providing hospitality to visiting Aurovilians. They themselves kept up a lively connection with Auroville, supporting many of its projects, and visiting every year until they died. Boytons became a home away from home for many Aurovilians and supporters of Auroville, and one of the earliest AVI International meetings was held there in 1983.
In 1982 the organisation became a registered charity, enabling it to reclaim tax on donations. During the late 1980’s Thakor Mistry, John Mulrey and Martin Littlewood, became involved in the organisation, and soon took over the running of AVI UK from Edith and Joy.
Edith sadly passed away in 1991, and Boytons was reluctantly sold. A piece from the AVI UK newsletter for that year described the place that was so sadly missed:
“All of us who have visited, for even a few hours will remember the extraordinary beauty of the house and its gardens, the wonderful stillness, and feeling of light, especially in that most magical of places, Krishna’s Garden. Boytons was an experience which none of us will forget. A small piece of Auroville found in the middle of the English countryside, as many Aurovilians expressed it, an oasis of peace.”
In 2008 AVI UK organised an exhibition on Auroville at the Nehru Centre (the cultural centre of the Indian High Commission) in London. A speaker from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram was invited to inaugurate the exhibition, which comprised photographs from Auroville photographers, and a display of Auroville products and books. More than 100 people attended the inauguration.
A number of people have given their time and dedication to the work of AVI UK over the years, as well as those mentioned above. These include David Widdicombe, Caroline Davies, Sonia Dyne and Vikas (Alan Vickers). Sonia and Vikas remain part of the committee today. Martin is moving to Auroville soon, so has handed the Secretary’s job to Angiras Auro, who was born and grew up in Auroville.