Hackonomics – who’s questioning cash?

18th December 2012 by

Our monthly challenge for December has already had some really interesting feedback, so thank you!  Inspired by our visits to Trade School, we asked you to let us know about what other projects out there are trying to hack the system by experimenting with ways to trade that don’t depend entirely – or in some cases at all – on money changing hands.

Your responses have taken us to some really interesting ideas.  Here are some of them:

Means of Exchange

I haven’t quite figured out quite what this is going to do, as they’re at the stage of having “some exciting plans”, but the idea appears to be to mobilise techies to make possible people’s ideas for how to exchange, promote local resource use and build resilience while avoiding the mainstream economy and its conventions – “we’ll build the tools so you can make it happen wherever you are,” they say.

In the meantime, it’s a good place to go if you want to explore some of the thinking being done around these ideas for challenging “our default relationship with money, how most of us understand so little about it, and how we might use new approaches to encourage a more healthy mix of time sharing, swapping, bartering and purchasing between one another”.

The Bristol (and Lewes, and Brixton, and Totnes…) Pound

This system does, in fact, depend on money, but it’s an entirely new kind of currency. Each Bristol (or Lewes, or Brixton, or Totnes…) Pound is worth one pound sterling, but because it is only valid in a very local area, it means that the money only circulates within the community.

Whereas a regular pound spent in the local supermarket will end up in the bank account of Tescbury’s corporate HQ, a local pound will stay in the area, helping to keep the exchange of goods and services flowing.  If it can only be spent locally, then it also means that local suppliers have an advantage over goods that might have been freighted a long way – in the end, hopefully, adding up to a stronger, more diverse and more resilient economy. If that agenda sounds familiar, then yes, you’re right – local currencies in their most recent forms sprang from the transition towns movement.

If it sounds like a cute but naive idea that can’t work in the real world, well consider this: the newly elected mayor of Bristol is being paid entirely in Bristol pounds.

Pay What You Can

This one is based on money changing hands, too, but it is a departure from the convention of ‘We set the price, you pay it’.  You may have come across this idea yourself in any number of settings.  I first heard of it many years ago: Clapham Junction’s Battersea Arts Centre would – and still does – have some productions, or some nights, where they throw caution to the wind and let their audience members stump up what they feel like paying, or what they can afford.  It’s also the principle at the People’s Kitchen, where quality food that was going to go to waste is turned into a regular communal feast – not only putting assessment of the meal’s value under your control but also tackling one of the big environmental ‘externalities’, i.e. food waste, that conventional economics woefully fails to take into account. A related idea is ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ – you can do this for your meals every Wednesday down my local.

The Amazings

This is brilliant.  “The Amazings was born out of a single, simple idea. Society has always learned from its elders. But somewhere along the way we have lost that connection between generations – which means losing rich, valuable, and rare skills. We’re on a mission to fix this.”

Unlike Trade School, this one does mean paying up with cash in return for classes, but it at least taps into a valuable idea that we’ve abandoned too hastily – listening to and learning from the experience, skills and knowledge of those who have been around long enough to know a thing or two.

Which leads me on to…

Men In Sheds

This Age UK brainwave is a win-win.  There are jobs that need doing in every community. There are not always the resources and knowledge to get them done.  But there is an army of retired blokes who have time on their hands, who have spent decades putting up shelves, laying paths, fixing wiring and plumbing and generally banging nails into wood – and who want to be useful, stay active and healthy and have a good natter with others over their workbenches.  And so Men in Sheds was born. Got a community project that needs some practical fixing up?  See if there’s a Men In Sheds group in your area, and make sure you stock up on tea and biscuits for these beezer geezers.

I’ve a feeling we’ve only scratched the surface of the world of hackonomics that is developing out there, creatively filling the cracks in the crumbling mainstream economics – so do use the comments section below to let us know about others, or about ways you get by without the traditional exchange of cold hard cash.

Gloucester and Newent – Oteshafied!

30th August 2012 by

Having turned our tums into landfill for abandoned bread products during our last breakfast in Stroud (mortifyingly, our picnicbench broke after the third helping), the ‘Five Hills’ that concertina around Stroud greeted us with particular grit as we began the 15 miles to Gloucester- we discovered why Painswick is so named, as our calves burned to reach this sandstone-clad village atop a particularly gruesome hillock. Once past the village of Edge, however, it was mad freewheeling down a treacherously pebbly and steep lane to reach the plains ‘o Gloucester. With such a short distance, we’d figured we could enjoy a relatively leisurely departure and still reach our destination with plenty of rehearsal time, but it would seem that cycle rides are like traffic on newly-built roads- they seem to exponentially fill up the space you give them – time slithered away as we paused for lunch by the canal, to pick blackberries, for a bask by the canal (Spartan living gives an extra appreciation for simple pleasures: sun on tired legs, soft grass in the small of the back…)…The heavens opened as we reached Gloucester Docks, but like a floating lighthouse in a storm, the SULA lightship appeared alongside, offering tea and shelter. Beautifully refurbished ship turned Buddhist centre, it offers holistic therapies and yoga as well as much needed tea for waifs and wayfarers…

The sky was dusking as we rolled up to ‘Lydia’s garden’: our home for the next two nights. Lydia  and her parents Kim and Steve had kindly offered to house us on behalf of Transition Newent and boy, were we in for a treat. Flat ground! Warm water.. from taps! Plum trees, chickens, guinea pigs, and best of all a SOFA! We felt thoroughly spoiled but just about managed to put away a stupefying amount of delicious food, much of it grown and cooked by generous members of Transition Newent. Ann, one of the group’s founders, had welcomed us and left us with an inventory to tell us the provenance of every treat – including veggie cottage pie, roast veggies, polenta cake, brownies, fresh apple juice and a stonking plum crumble. Over the feast Lydia shared told us about her recent cycling exploits, including a 100 mile-ride with her school from Snowdon to Gloucester! Having just aced her A-Levels, she’s soon to begin university but we’d love to adopt her for a future Otesha jaunt.…Cradling aching pot bellies, we waddled to the garden to rehearse the Morning Choices play to Lydia and Kim- thanks for the laughter you two! The food and homely comforts led us rapidly to snooze and a few snores…

After a quick cuppa back at Lydia’s, we had 7 more miles to cycle in the opposite direction to get to our performance for TransitionNewent. Idyllically nestled by the lake in a pretty park, audience numbers were nigh-on non-existent, so an audience-poaching mission was unleashed: the unsuspecting customers of Newent chippy were among those regaled by our offer of free, al fresco entertainment and we did reel in a few, including some high-spirited young fishermen who led a running commentary of the play  but we were secretly pleased that they stayed throughout. It was a good time to develop our message and gauge our reception a bit before we begin visit schools after their summer breaks. What’s great is that these different settings and audiences for the play unleash different energies and helps keep us on our toes. Our performance was followed by a magnificent picnic with some of Transition Newent, hearing about their efforts to engage a wider public with events such as free fruit picking, but it’s no easy task.

The morning began with riding the seven miles to St James City Farm in Gloucester for our first performance of the day. We were welcomed by the very inspiring Derek Wakefield-Brown, who’s been overseeing the farm since its inception in the early Nineties and whose passion for bringing farm animals and young humans together shines through. Bursting with the bleats of goats (best friends of the pony), the farm breathes life into a relatively deprived part of Gloucester. The farm enables thousands of city families to bond with animals in a nurturing environment, while giving young volunteers husbandry skills that have inspired some to go on to study agriculture and take on some of Derek’s mantle. Sadly the farm was on the brink of closure as the council funding dried up, but help from the Friendship Café charity has rejuvenated the project. The performance was a challenging one- our audience consisted mostly of young mums and tiny tots, and we really felt the sense of not wanting to alienate them by harping on too much about organic food- sustainability and affordability can seem oxymoronic, especially for families struggling with low budgets. However, Derek’s enthusiastic response was reassuring, as he asked us to come back next year for a performance in central Gloucester as part of a one-day eco event he’s organising (and suggested we perform in an Asda car park- Sunday opening has robbed the farm of Sunday visitors, he says).

Next stop  – Cirencester!


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