Archive for the ‘development’ Category

How not to run a coffee business (or any business)

August 2, 2017

Several weeks ago I visited a coffee roastery, a tiny 1kg roaster. They told me they were expecting any day, two new 2.5 kg coffee roasters. I was not impressed the new coffee roaster were supplied from Israel. I tried a filter coffee from Kenya. They asked I come back once the new coffee roasters were installed, which were expected to be installed the next few days. I said I would talk to a few coffee shops who may be interested in their beans. They said they had never supplied coffee shops.

A week or more passed by. I do not like chasing people. But nevertheless sent them a reminder, that if in the area, I could drop by.  I also mentioned I had talked with a  few coffee shops who may be interested.

The farce then began. Each time a meeting was arranged, or I suggested a meeting, they would have reason to say no or cancel, often cancelling at very short notice when a date and time had been agreed.  On one occasion extremely short notice, an hour or so, to say do not come, we have decided to re-arrange the office.

Re-arrange the office, out for the day, electrician visiting, no one here, running a food bank … a few of the excuses given.

I would receive a message suggesting a date and time, to be followed a short time later by another message either contradicting or cancelling.

Contrary to their stated claim on facebook, they do not respond promptly, often not at all.

To say the least, very exasperating.

One place that had expressed an interest in their coffee, went elsewhere. Another did contact them, for reasons I cannot recall, decided not to pursue.

I was becoming more and more exasperated. I was having grave reservations recommending to anyone when they demonstrated this level of unreliability, and expressed my reservation to those to who I had recommended as a source of coffee.

Had I visited, I would have advised they had to get their act together, as I could no longer recommend them to anyone, from what I had observed.

Finally, getting absolutely nowhere after many frustrating weeks of banging my head against a brick wall, I sent them a message, explaining their level of unreliability was not acceptable, and I could no longer recommend them to anyone, especially as there is no shortage of excellent coffee roasters who I could recommend.

The next morning an unbelievable rant, which simply reinforced my initial reservations were well placed.

Well I’m sorry you feel this way.

I can’t say I’m surprised at your outburst, when reading your blog posts it strikes me that you only have negative and unhelpful criticisms I make of people trying very hard to make a living in a very busy and competitive industry.

Whether or not you like how I run my business is no concern of mine, we are just different people who do things differently. But put bluntly I don’t actually care what you think.

As for all the reasons you sited for not be able to visit us. If we are not in then that’s your problem, we’re not a cafe or a drop in centre. Wimbledon was because we had a meeting with a commercial customer. Rearranging the office was to accommodate new equipment. Electrician was for the new equipment, we couldn’t have been able to put the kettle on let alone show you our roaster. And if we want to cancel a meeting at any time WE WILL!

Thanks for suggesting us to other cafes but you did do that off your own back, we didn’t ask you to do that for us, we’re perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities.

As for reliability, at least you can rely on us to be unreliable.

I can’t say I’m surprised at your outburst, when reading your blog posts it strikes me that you only have negative and unhelpful criticisms I make of people trying very hard to make a living in a very busy and competitive industry.

I made no outburst, I simply pointed out the unprofessional way they were conducting business, that I had never before experienced this level of unreliability. That I could no longer recommend them. In response, an unbelievable childish rant.

Maybe the tweets of Donald Trump have become the new norm.

The rant shows a lack of understanding of the blog, a lack of understanding of the coffee business.

Blog is the good, the bad and the ugly, it is not a bullshit PR exercise.

At top level, coffee is not highly competitive, people cooperate. At least that has been my experience. People go out of their way to help others in the coffee business. And with direct trade it relies on openness, transparency, trust , cooperation and long-term partnerships.

James Hoffman, co-founder of Square Mile, world barista champion and author of The World Atlas of Coffee, recently wrote a blog post on cooperation. If we look at the history of speciality coffee in London, it is a story of cooperation. I see this cooperation all the time.

Recently an indie food store sought my advice on coffee. I recommended Union. A few weeks later I was thanked. My more recent advice, talk to the recently opened indie coffee shop. They have regular guest coffee. Stock the guest coffee. Send people to the coffee shop to taste, the coffee shop in turn can send to the indie food shop to buy the beans.

In Brighton, an indie food shop, I suggested to them source their beans from a local indie coffee shop that also roasts their own beans.

Everyone benefits from cooperation. What harms is naked aggressive competition, dog-eats-dog mentality.

Where there is competition, and it is friendly competition, it is a pride in the art of making good coffee, always striving for the best, and helping others to achieve the best.

Many at the top level have personally expressed their thanks for help and support.

If the author of the rant is struggling, all too easy to see why.

So much negativity.

Whether or not you like how I run my business is no concern of mine, we are just different people who do things differently. But put bluntly I don’t actually care what you think.

How people run their business is of no concern of mine, if run badly, as is the case here, then doomed to failure.

Only of concern if I suffer as a customer or investor, and in this case I am neither.

Maybe wise to heed advice, even if not liked.

As for all the reasons you sited for not be able to visit us. If we are not in then that’s your problem, we’re not a cafe or a drop in centre.

At no time have I simply dropped in, though with most people I do, I have tried to arrange a mutually coneveninet time, which was at their invitation. Nor have I treated as a drop in centre or cafe. Maybe they thought I was dropping by for a free coffee,  when I was actually bringing some very expensive coffee for them to try

But if not available, that is someone else problem, if they keep changing, cancelling, do not bother to reply.

And if we want to cancel a meeting at any time WE WILL!

Says it all really.

Thanks for suggesting us to other cafes but you did do that off your own back, we didn’t ask you to do that for us, we’re perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities.

During me first visit, I said I would talk to people I knew.

As for ‘perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities’ when I suggested I could talk to people I knew, they said they had never supplied any business with coffee. And with only a 1kg roaster it would not even have been practical.

And being ‘perfectly capable of generating our own business opportunities’ with this level of unreliability, this attitude, I somehow doubt.

As for reliability, at least you can rely on us to be unreliable.

My original reservations spelled out, they can be relied upon to be unreliable.

Not a good business proposition in what they describe as a highly competitive business.

Who wishes to be supplied by a business that can be relied upon to be unreliable?

It would be of no use to a coffee shop, cannot rely upon the roastery to supply an order on time, if at all.

They claim

We’re a voice of justice for the poor, ending poverty through compassion in sustainable communities, bringing the message of the gospel to a new generation.

Our journey with coffee began a few years ago when we had a vision of meeting with people in a relational way over a cup of coffee … a vehicle for spreading our message of compassion so that we can reach more people in a new way. We take all steps necessary to ensure that the green coffee beans are sourced ethically and that the farmer receives a fair price for the crop. Each bag we send out is individually roasted by us, for you! This allows us to ensure the quality of every bag of coffee and to maintain the freshness we would expect from a craft coffee.

Coffee is something that we are passionate about and we recognize that it has the potential to break the cycle of poverty in the lives of those we work with. 100% of the profits from every bag sold goes back into the projects … supports.

With such concern for poverty and compassion, not evident in the rant, why are they supporting Israel that is carrying out ethnic cleansing of Palestinains, maintaining Gaza Strip as one large open air prison camp, where the people are in dire poverty, where in the West Bank, apart from illegal occupation of Palestinian land, farmers see their olive groves destroyed by illegal settlers?

Apart from being a business, they are also a charity.

The charity trustees should be very concerned.

Also questionable, are they interested in helping poor coffee growers, or is it a front for religious fundamentalists to peddle their message to poor struggling farmers?

Religious fundamentalists and compassion tends to be an oxymoron.

I have intentionally not stated who they are, though many may correctly surmise, I have not stated as they seem more than capable of destroying their own business, without my giving a helping hand.

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ReSpacing Conference at The Hive

April 21, 2016

skipping breakfast

skipping breakfast

I arrived half an hour later than I would have wished as I caught two buses from Waterloo, rather than one, but at least arrived, and alighted more or less at the correct bus stop on Kingsland Road in Dalston.

The Hive is an office block just over the canal.

I recognised where I was as the social enterprise café established by Russell Brand is nearby.

Initial impressions, a legalised squat, though they would probably object to my description.

Up a flight of stairs, then a vast open space, but arranged into smaller areas, a kitchen cum café  in one corner, a  little rooftop garden outside. There were upper floors, these I did not explore.

Everything I saw, the chairs the tables, the stage, all had been salvaged and put to use.

Although half an hour late, an hour later than start time, I was still one of the first.

Did I understand Skipping Breakfast? Yes, food from skips.

We are told to recycle. Do we? No.

We waste food, we waste materials, we waste space.

Derelict building are everywhere. The Hive was a derelict building. In Aldershot, a dead shopping centre, with TechStart occupying one large unit, but begging to be used.

The Hive approached a developer, and with reservations, he agreed to let them use. A very short lease, the volunteers provided everything, all of which was salvaged.

The developer Michael has been completely won over, he is now a big cheer leader for ReSpace, putting derelict buildings to use for the community.

What is ReSpace?

ReSpace is a planning designation that any local council or planning authority can use.

Any property that is empty for six months can be designated ReSpace. It is then open to local communities to use, pay a peppercorn rent, the developer pays no businesses rates.

Everyone benefits.

There is now a petition calling for ReSpace to be written into planning law. Everyone is urged to please sign.

We are losing community space. We are losing green space, pubs, libraries.

Who runs these reclaimed spaces?

Volunteers.

How de we found them?

We don’t, they appear.

Nomadic Community Gardens: Two people toiling away at derelict land, bringing back into use. They did not ask for volunteers, the community joined in.

This is what happened at The Hive.

It is not only materials and spaces we need to recycle, we also need to recycle people. Idle hands, idle minds, that can be put to use on behalf of the community.

The Hive is a not for profit. The space is for use by not for profit, even for profit, they have helped set up several business, but they have to contribute to the common good. In other words they have to contribute to the collaborative commons.

The next step, having demonstrated the feasibility of The Hive, not forgetting an enlightened developer who wishes to contribute to the local community and without who The Hive would not be possible, is to establish a network of Hives, Holistic Urban Regeneration in action.

In Revolution, Russell Brand talks of Greys, a town in Essex, boarded-up shops, an air of desolation. Paul Mason mentions a similar town in PostCapitalism. These towns are everywhere.

The question is how do we regenerate them? Top down does not work. It has to be bottom up, small businesses, social enterprises, open coops, collaborative commons, sharing economy.

Aldershot is one such dismal town. Decades of bad planning decisions, a dysfunctional council with no understanding of what constitutes good town centre planning, no understanding of how local economies function, the need to recycle money within the local economy.  The streets are deserted, the shops boarded up, homeless in the shop doorways, the few who are on the street, no money to spend.

In the midst of this deprivation lies a derelict shopping centre. It could be the set for a post-apocalypse movie. There is even the occasional zombie walking through, saving on the need for extras.

The question is, what to do with it? It has been derelict for years. It is likely to remain derelict for the foreseeable future.

The one ray of hope, TechStart opened two years ago. Run by volunteers, they recycle old computers, run a net café, carry out repairs, provide training.

Last Saturday, TechStart closed, their funding had been pulled. The good news is, an outbreak of commons sense, funding for four months. But they have to become self-sufficient.

The empty shopping centre, instead of being seen as a liability, should be seen as an opportunity to showcase that alternatives are possible, that we do not have to be drawn into the addiction  of consumerism.

Look what could be possible:

  • TechStart
  • social enterprise café
  • repair shop
  • tool swap
  • credit union
  • start-ups
  • conferences
  • exhibitions

All it requires is vision.

Replicate across the country, make a difference.

What uses can that derelict building in your community be put to?

Does the local council maintain a list of derelict buildings, is it made public, are they designating as ReSpace?

For the developer, nothing worse than a derelict building, it soon falls into disrepair, becomes vandalised. Added to which the cost of securing the building. Occupation, put to community use, is better than sitting empty.

At the very least there has to be an exploration of what the The Hive in Dalston are doing. Hive started with just £250.

As a showcase building, The Hive in Dalston has demonstrated the feasibility of such a model and in only nine  months has seen over 4000 people, held 17 art exhibitions, numerous performance, environmental, political and cultural events and helped about 50 local charities. Has enabled people to start businesses and even had a skate park. This has all been achieved using a system that is self-sustaining and utilises volunteers, donations, up-cycling, recycling and sharing.

Local councils are almost an irrelevance. If they wish to work with the local community fine, if not bypass and work directly with a property developer.

The Hive are fortunate in not only having an enlightened local council, but also an enlightened property developer, who wishes to work with the local community, put something back into the local community.

Where else other than The Hive would you find activists praising a property developer, and vice a versa the property developer heaping praise on the activists?

Discussion of the London Mayoral Hustings to be held at The Hive the following day. Questions people wished to put. What are they going to do to resolve growing homelessness, we cannot sweep under the carpet or push into neighbouring boroughs. Air pollution, expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick. Encouragement of growing food locally cf Dig for Victory during WWII.

A handful of groups were invited to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts. The ideas in themselves not that interesting. What was of more interest, was the advice given and the constructive criticism that followed. One important piece of advice, have a property lawyer with you to help negotiate and draw up a contract.

The Hive held their ReSpacing Conference on Wednesday 20 April 2016. A second day will be for London Mayoral Hustings.

The Hive is reclaimed space.

The Hive is community space.

The Hive is Holistic Urban Regeneration.

Reposted in Light on a Dark Mountain.

Jeremy Corbyn and Mexican organic FairTrade coffee beans

August 18, 2015
Cafe Mam - coffee and acrylic on canvas -- Derek Hobbs

Cafe Mam – coffee and acrylic on canvas — Derek Hobbs

Just finished this one for a fair trade coffee company in Oregon. Cafe Mam was kind enough to supply me some fresh beans to paint with. Very impressed with the french roasts’ robust color and flavor. — Derek Hobbs

The corporate owned and controlled media has had a lot of free time on its hands of late, no need to attack Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party Establishment can be relied upon each day to wheel out yet another has-been politician to launch an attack on Jermy Corbyn. The latest to be given a soap box was clown Neil Kinnock.

The best the Daily Mail can do is call him a throwback Marxist,

Karl Marx tried to explain why we have cycles, boom and bust, commentated on the appalling social conditions at the time, as did Charles Dickens.

The only throwback, is what the Tories are doing, turning the clock back to Victorian working conditions.

On Sunday, the Mail on Sunday decided to smear Laura Alvarez, wife of Jeremy Corbyn.

Apparently she is selling at £10 per 500g bags coffee from exploited Mexican coffee workers. The beans FairTrade, organic.

Now one would assume she is directly exploiting these workers, but not so. They work in cooperatives, the beans are sold to a company in the US, from who she buys and distributes.

The coffee is certified FairTrade. If not FairTrade, as Mail on Sunday claims, then surely the people to take it up with are FairTrade if they are incorrectly certifying, and the company in Oregon that  imports the coffee beans from Chiapas, an autonomous region of Mexico.

Café Mam beans are Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA.

Royal Blue Organics (RBO) is a family-owned and operated business located in Eugene, Oregon. RBO started as an organic blueberry farm called Royal Blueberries, which grows  blueberries that are sold and consumed locally. RBO expanded and blossomed into the coffee business of Café Mam. RBO seeks to encourage indigenous farmers to better their social and physical environment by paying a fair trade or better rate for a high-quality product, to offer this high-quality product to consumers across the globe for a reasonable price, and to provide a right livelihood to the wonderful folks who work here.

Royal Blue Organics donates two percent of Café Mam sales (over $700 thousand donated since  inception) to nonprofit organizations dedicated to organic, social justice, and environmental causes.

When you dig, the story has all the hallmarks of a non-story. For the perceptive reader, it will sound strangely familiar. Substitute t-shirts for beans, Russell Brand for Laura Alvarez, and we have the same story.

Has the Mail found a new found concern for the rights of exploited workers?

Trick the World

November 28, 2014

Brilliant!

If you wish to support a song, then support and share Africa Stop Ebola, performed by West African musicians for West Africa.

If you wish to donate, then cut out the middle men and donate direct to Médecins Sans Frontières, who are on the front line working in the field.

Former aid defends Save the Children humanitarian award to Tony Blair

November 26, 2014

If you can stomach listening to it, an interview with a former aid to Tony Blair defending a humanitarian award by Save the Children to Tony Blair.

BBC must have really scraped the bottom of the barrel to find anyone to defend Tony Blair as the recipient of this award.

Granting of the award has been slammed in a letter signed by nearly 200 of the people who work for Save the Children.

Over 100,000 people have now signed a petition calling on Save the Children to strip Tony Blair of this undeserved humanitarian award.

We are told Tony Blair has his people on the ground in in West Africa dealing with Ebola. What are they doing, trying to sign up another lucrative contract for the Blair money making machine?

Aid to African a success?

Aid to Africa, is being used as cover for a massive corporate land grab, countries like Ghana told to pass Monsanto Law where farmers are to be criminalised for saving seed, face fine and prison, told they have to buy corporate seeds from the likes of Monsanto.

Western interference in Africa, is a neo-liberal agenda, privatise health care and education, use your land for cash crops, then when a disease like Ebola strikes, we see a health care system unable to cope, bodies left in the street.

Debate not about Iraq?

It has everything to do with Iraq, a man responsible for the death of tens of thousand of innocent children, should not be given an humanitarian award by Save the Children.

Once again, we see the revolving door at work.

Former political director and close aid to Tony Blair, Matthew Doyle wheeled out to defend Tony Blair.

Matthew Doyle started working with Tony Blair in 2005 when he was appointed as his special comms adviser at Number 10. He was previously press aide to the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions David Blunkett, and before that he worked at the Labour Party as head of press and broadcasting for the 2005 general election. He then, as did many other Blair aids, went to work for the Office of Tony Blair. In other words like too many of our Members of Parliament, a party apparatchik who has never done an honest day’s work in his life.

Then we look at those associated with Save the Children.

Jonathan Powell, Blair’s former chief of staff, is currently on the board of Save the Children.

Save the Children UK chief executive, Justin Forsyth, was a special adviser to Blair for three years. Save the Children was attacked last year when it was learnt Justin Forsyth was paid £163,000 a year, including more than £22,000 in performance-related pay. He has since taken a pay cut to £140,000.

So what do Save the Children get out of it?

The big increase in UK aid budget, when it is not going to fund coal-fired power stations in China, or sponsor corporate land grabs in Africa, is channelled through Big Business charities like Save the Children.

Save the Children honour Tony Blair for his ‘humanitarian work’

November 20, 2014

This is sickening, (alleged) war criminal and profiteer Tony Blair honoured by Save the Children.

They not only gave him this award, but it was at a glitzy stomach churning charity event.

I am lost for words, offensive, disgusting, appalling, sickening ….

This is a man who hobnobs with some of the world’s worst dictators and corrupt politicians, sleaze does not begin to describe Tony Blair, Silvio Berlusconi and Hosni Mubarak count as his cronies.

His latest has been to advise brutal ruler of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev how to sanitize human rights abuses and killing of unarmed protesters, for a retainer of £7 million a year.

The revolving door, the political-media-charity establishment. Chief executive of Save the Children (UK) is Justin Forsyth, who was an adviser to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He was appointed in 2010 on a salary of £160,000.

Save the Children done themselves a huge amount of damage with this glitzy charity bash.

I will be telling a local Save the Children charity shop exactly what I think of them, and I urge others to do the same.

Paulo Coelho and his wife Christina help support an orphanage in Rio to support the kids from the favelas. I do not see them being honoured by Save the Children. Nor the many unsung heroes who work in the field, nor the volunteers who man their charity shops.

Save the Children has lost all credibility with this award.

In Revolution, Russell Brand tells of going to a glitzy Hollywood charity bash, and being told it was mandatory for the success of his career.

The latest Band Aid circus regurgitation, a line up of a bunch of tax dodgers. Adele refused to take part. That it was reelased on tacky X Factor, says it all.

A group of African musicians have recorded Africa Stop Ebola to raise money. Was you aware of that?

If you really want to help, make a donation to MSF.

In This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein documents the abuses by Big Business green groups, including oil drilling on a nature reserve.

This is why I do not support Big Business charities and green groups.

If we want real change, assuming you are not happy with money being transferred from the poor the the rich, the trashing of the planet, then effect real change.

Sharing the spoils

October 23, 2014
protest against Nicaragua trans-ocean canal

protest against Nicaragua trans-ocean canal

protest outside BHPBilton AGM at coal mining in Colombia

protest outside BHPBilton AGM at coal mining in Colombia

Bolivia: Gap between rich and poor narrowed, unemployment halved, reduction in those living in extreme poverty.

Brazil: Reduction of those living in extreme poverty by 65% in a decade.

Venezuela: Reduction by half those living in extreme poverty, college enrolment has doubled.

Ecuador: Extreme poverty reduced by a third.

Argentina: Urban poverty halved.

But is has been achieved by sharing the spoils.

Peasants Revolt, French Revolution, Russian Revolution. a fight as to who shares the spoils.

Cutting down the rain forests and giving the man wielding the chainsaw a greater share of the spoils.

Better than Africa where a tiny elite divvy out the spoils, and most drains out of the country.

But all is based on growth, dirty extractive industries, cutting down the rain forests.

Ecuador has a growing dependency on oil exports, including from the Amazon

Bolivia a huge dependency on natural gas.

Argentina open cast mining and green deserts of genetically modified crops.

Brazil mega-dam projects and off-shore drilling.

Those who suffer worst from these projects are the rural poor and indigenous people. They lose the land, their forests, see their watercourses polluted.

And we all lose when global temperatures rise above 2C and we face thermal runaway over which we will have no control.

In Brazil, there has been many legal challenges against the mega-dam projects.

It is no different to what went before, growth, trashing the planet.

Dirty extraction is not of course limited to Latin America.

Statoil, is investing in tar sand and Arctic drilling.

In Greece gold mining.

There has to be genuine change and a move away from a model of growth and unsustainable dirty extraction. Otherwise all we are doing is re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic to give everyone an equal view of the iceberg.

Aid workers at risk

July 1, 2014

Aid workers in conflict zones are at risk of kidnap, of being killed. Now they face a further risk, prosecution for aiding terrorists.

And it is not only aid workers. We have seen journalists targeted in Egypt for talking to the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is contrary to International Law to deny medical treatment to an enemy combatant. Aid organisations face prosecution if they do.

Hamas is deemed a terrorist organisation because Israel deem them to be. This has forced most aid agencies to pull out of Gaza.

A school in Gaza, is providing music, is teaching no-violent resistance. Lack of funding means they will be probably be forced to close.

ISIS now controls vast swathes of Iraq and Syria. Canon Andrew White runs St George’s Church in Baghdad. They run a clinic, provide food, education. They do not discriminate. Canon Andrew White is a peace negotiator. Does this mean he cannot talk to ISIS or the Sunnis linked to ISIS?

Banks act as a conduit for money for aid organisations. Fearing prosecution for money laundering, they are now refusing to transfer money.

In Transition 2.0

January 23, 2014

People are brainwashed into being consumers, when they are are not consuming, they sit like zombies before widescreen TVs, the modern day soma of our times, where they receive yet more brainwashing.

The news before Christmas, was how much are people consuming, is it enough, after Christmas how much had they consumed, was it enough?

Is that all we are, is that all there is to life, endless, mindless consumers? It does not lead to happiness or wellbeing, quite the contrary, it leads to unhappiness, leading to more consuming, the junkie trying to get the next fix. Nor is it good for the planet. We are being hit by environmental crisis every day, and they are becoming more frequent and more extreme.

In the long run, it is not good for the economy, as unconstrained growth never is, it leads to boom and bust,

We have economic crisis, caused by the the banks, being used as an excuse for austerity, which is merely a cover for Shock Doctrine, slash and burn of public services and welfare, further transference of wealth from the poor to the rich.

The richest 85 people in the world have amassed as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. That is a handful of people who could easily travel on a double-decker bus, not that they ever would, have as much wealth as the poorest half of the word’s population.

Is this fair?

Travelling around, I find people are increasingly saying no, enough is enough, the 99% have had enough.

The one thing that communities have learnt, when they put their mind to it, are more than happy and capable of running their own affairs, they do not need corrupt politicians and global corporations, telling them how to think, what to do, what to wear, what to eat.

Community run pubs are successful, those run by pubcos, or to be more accurate bled to death by pubcos, then sold off for redevelopment, are not.

Using the Localism Act, communities can register their pubs as an Asset of Community Value, then should the pubco try to dispose of the pub for redevelopment, the local community has the right to buy and six months within which to raise the money.

Transition Heathrow transformed a derelict market garden, to the benefit of the local community.

Communities have been abandoned. Their only use was as a cash cow.

The Tumbledown Dick is an old coaching inn dating from the 1720s. Once a popular live music venue, it has been abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair. The local community wished to buy it, turn it into a community run arts venue. They were shafted by their local council, who preferred to see it demolished for a Drive-Thru McDonald’s

A common reaction of visitors to North Laine in Brighton, or Totnes in Devon, or Sincil Street, The Strait, Steep Hill in Lincoln, is why is my town not like this why do we not have quirky little shops, character?

Lincolnshire Co-op, aided and abetted by the City Council, is wishing to destroy Sincil Street for a shopping centre.

Quirky little shops, usually family owned, recycle money within the local economy, increasing the value of that spent. Global corporations drain money out of a local economy, usually dodge tax too, as we see with Starbucks.

Quality local shops bring people into an area. Other local shops benefit. Money spent in the local shops, gets recycled within the local economy.

Market Rasen was a failing market town. The local shops, got together with each other and the local community, put on markets, craft and arts fairs, opened up empty shops as pop up shops, spruced the area up. Market Rasen is now a success story.

To look at the opposite end of the spectrum, Aldershot and Farnborough, where the local council has a policy of ethnic cleansing of local businesses, net result, two dead soulless towns.

Greening Alton grows food in public space. A green patch at a road junction, Alton Station. Passers by, at least at Alton Station, are encouraged to help themselves.

There are gardens, not used to their full potential, people who wish to grow vegetables, but have no garden. Why not bring together the two, and share the produce?

In Geneva, under a scheme called foodscaping, neighbours agree what to grow, then share the surplus.

In Transition 2.0 is a wonderful mix of discussion and real world examples. If it contains one underlying message, it is that of hope, we do not have to tolerate the status quo, we are the 99%, we do not have to accept what is dictated to us by the 1%, when people, local communities, cooperate, put their mind to something, they can effect real and lasting change.

Moneteveglio illustrates where local communities need to go further. They need to seize control of their local councils, the local councils then become accountable to the local community, serve the local community, where we have participatory democracy, where the local people are directly involved in all the decision-making, and the role of local councillors then becomes reduced to one of accountability and scrutiny, ensuring what the local community wants is carried out.

This is a bottom up approach, not what we are seeing now, a top down approach, where corrupt councillors and officials in the pocket of Big Business and developers, impose unwanted schemes onto hapless local communities.

It is not for local communities to work with local councils, it is for local councils to work with local communities.

Note: Apologies for including the Question and Answer Session on the film, as a disaster, badly filmed, bad sound. An experienced film maker on stage, and yet no one had the intelligence to bring the microphones close to the speakers, or worse, people off camera who were completely inaudible.

A longer version of this article published on Medium with additional notes.

Reinventing the high street: Totnes, a shining example

January 15, 2014

After more doom-laden headlines, Peter Stanford visits Totnes, which offers a model to other embattled high streets.

Totnes

Totnes

‘It’s different here because we have so many independent shops,” enthuses Caroline Voaden. “When visitors come into Totnes and see our high street, they often say to me, ‘We wish we had something like this back home.’ ”

We are standing in front of former journalist Voaden’s quirky shop, Social Fabric, at the top end of a steep Devon high street that has been labelled the “funkiest” in the country.

Close enough for an excursion from the tourist traps of the Dart Estuary or the beaches of South Hams and Torbay, it boasts its own local currency (the Totnes pound), a dizzying range of wholefood, organic and eco-outlets, several places to buy New Age crystals if that’s your fancy, and a thriving market a couple of days a week. Plus there is a hardly a chain store in sight, or a car (of which more later).

At first glance Totnes looks like a robust rebuttal of predictions made this week that the high street is as good as dead. Bill Grimsey, the former CEO of several big shopping chains, has published an independent report speaking of a “deep decline” and highlighting the 47 per cent of retail companies currently in financial difficulty. Meanwhile Mary Portas has told a House of Commons select committee that she may have been “naïve” when she delivered her own plan to revive the high street to the government, which was criticised by Grimsey: she did not expect the issue would become such a “political football”.

Back in Totnes, though, the mood is more optimistic. “There’s definitely a strong community character to our high street,” says Voaden. A good case in point is her own shop. It sells wools and everything you could want to make your own clothes, curtains or accessories, but it also hosts hands-on sessions, such as the one today where a group of local women are busy behind us learning how to make a clasp purse. On the blackboard above the till are notices for other workshops, from quilting to “knit and natter”. It is a perfect example of that blend of commercial and social enterprise that many suggest is the future of our high streets.

“Totnes sometimes has a reputation of being full of alternative people with plenty of money,” reflects Voaden, “but that’s not what I have found. Locals are not particularly well-heeled. There are a lot of pensioners. And another group I notice in our workshops are women who are caring for elderly relatives. Coming here is perhaps one of the few opportunities they have to get out.”

Social Fabric stands in the shadow of Totnes’s Norman castle, at the very top of a Mount Everest of a high street. This end of town contains the more specialist shops such as Not Made in China, offering furniture from local craftspeople, the Devon Harp Centre and the Willow vegetarian restaurant.

But it is not one-dimensional. In the mix are a coin-operated launderette and a sprinkling of charity shops. This is neither a stereotypical prosperous market town nor a hippie-dippie paradise à la Glastonbury.

“Any high street has to take account of its local clientele,” says Kay Dunbar, long-time Totnes resident and co-founder of the Ways With Words festivals. “So ours is a high street that reflects a catchment area where, for instance, people are prepared to spend money on alternative medicines and organic vegetables. Even our local Morrisons seems to carry stock that reflects that willingness.”

Once you wander down below the Riverford Farm Shop, an offshoot of the locally based award-winning organic farming and veg-box-delivery business, and beyond the Eastgate arch that stretches over the midriff of the street, there is a definite change in character. There is still the quirky (Totnes Cats Café, offering a “feline therapy lounge”), and the alternative (Aromatika, selling organic and natural skincare products) but the more familiar names start appearing: Superdrug, W H Smith, Peacocks and Fat Face.

In the window of Arcturus Books, a poster pleads “Please Save Our High Street: internet shopping is destroying local high streets across the UK. We need your support to Keep Totnes Alive and Buzzing”, but a bigger splash is made by other more Totnes-specific signs in other windows protesting against the council’s new traffic scheme. It has effectively spilt the high street in half. Cars can now only enter on to it half way up – or down – then have to go one way or the other.

“In one way, it’s nicer because the new scheme has deterred motorists and made it quieter and more pedestrian than before,” says Annie Bowie, owner of the Bowie Gallery, two-thirds of the way up, “but pedestrianisation can kill a high street. All us shopkeepers are losing that business that came when people would pop up with the car, park for 10 minutes, and go in and out of a half a dozen places.

“That is what we need to be encouraging now by waiving parking fees on some days, and by getting rid of these new traffic arrangements. At the moment at the very bottom of the high street, where people used to drive in, there is a big No Entry sign. That’s hardly a warm welcome for visitors.”

Down at the Transition Town offices, next door to Superdrug, it is local shoppers rather than visitors that concern the founder Rob Hopkins and his colleague Ben Brangwyn. This grassroots, community network, which started out in Totnes and has now spread to different parts of the country, aims to build economic and social resilience as a response to dwindling oil reserves and climate change.

As part of its efforts to encourage local people to buy locally sourced goods from locally run shops, it introduced the Totnes pound in 2007. This can be swapped for sterling on a 1:1 exchange rate, can be spent in all participating shops; the aim is to ensure that local money stays within the local economy.

There is still, Brangwyn concedes, “a long way to go” for the Totnes pound. Currently some £9,000 worth of the notes is in circulation, but versions of the same idea in Brixton, south London, and in the much bigger economy of Bristol, have taken off to a greater degree.

Hopkins, meanwhile, puts the whole Transition Town experiment into a broader perspective. “What we are modelling here in Totnes is not just about the survival of the high street, it is about the local economy in the widest sense. So here we have established a community energy company, and a community brewery.

It is a challenging vision for the future, and one in which the high street must play its part. It has also strengthened Totnes’s resilience right now. A vigorous local campaign recently saw off an attempt by Costa to open here. With plenty of independent alternatives already thriving, Totnes decided it simply didn’t need it.

“That was an important victory,” says Annie Bowie, “and shows how alive with local spirit this high street is. But the recession and other pressures have made it more fragile, and that means we will have to go on fighting to keep it the way local people want it.”

Published in the Telegraph.

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