Tag Archives: community-building

Running Repairs

I was thinking about the phrase ‘running repairs’ this weekend while marshaling at Wimpole parkrun (no virtue signalling intended). You know how some TV and radio programmes – To Hull and Back springs to mind – sound like they’ve thought of the title first and then developed the idea behind the title; well, this could be the case with the idea of Running Repairs.

The phrase combines two of my passions – getting free exercise and giving free fixes – which got me thinking… What if runners with relevant skills could be matched with local residents with things that needed fixing. This could be a lightbulb or fuse to be changed, a dripping tap, a button that needs sewing back on, a bike chain that needs adjusting, anything that needs lubricating, gluing or cleaning – the list goes on. It would be a free, non-emergency, accessible service, but only for small jobs; you wouldn’t want to put professional handy-people and repairers out of business.

The idea is not wholly original – some readers may know about GoodGym a brilliant national initiative which brings groups of runners together to do ‘good work’ in their community. They run to locations to do this – for example to do a litter pick in a local park or a village hall to paint a room. They also support older individuals with small tasks and companionship. Nor is free community repair a novelty – we’ve been running a quarterly Repair Café in Royston for the past six years.

Why the ‘running repairs’ idea is a bit different from a community event is that the interaction with residents is 1-2-1 in their homes, and the fixes would tend to be for people who, for one reason or another, can’t attend a community event (and you can’t bring in a dripping tap or light socket…)

So, an idea to combine keeping bodies and things working well, connecting communities and creating friendships along the way – good for people and the planet. What do you think – has ‘Running Repairs’ got, er… legs?  Please let me know.

https://www.goodgym.org

www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

RIP – Re-use In Practice

On 14 December 2019, almost 15 years to the day since  starting it, we closed Royston Recycle – our local freecycling group*. The reason for this was quite simple – hosts Yahoo reduced their functionality, so our online group couldn’t, er…function. GDPR considerations notwithstanding, it was not feasible to ‘migrate’ (to coin a dreaded Universal Credit phrase) our members to a new site and, anyway, there are now alternative local free-exchange platforms to join.

The aim of freecycle/freegle** is simple – the free exchange of unwanted items to keep them out of landfill and in use for longer. That core objective directed our moderation of the site for the 15 years – set up with techy support from Dermot for many years; a role continued by Andy until this month’s close-down. But it did so much more than just reducing waste; locally it spawned a new initiative – Royston Repair Café – and it inspired personal friendships between people with a common cause.

Ultimately, the success of the site in meeting its aim has been down to the active and responsible  participation of its members. Co-founder Dermot was keen that the site should, as far as possible, be self-moderating, with few rules beyond ensuring items on offer and requests were ‘legal decent and honest’. We had to intervene once or twice over live animals (discouraged but not actually banned, and I learnt that re-homing frog spawn is discouraged by wildlife groups). The lack of rules was a problem for some. We knew that some members would get stuff free online and then sell it on via boot sales or selling sites. While people would complain about this apparent abuse of people’s goodwill, it wasn’t, in fact, against the rules. The big thing was that giving and taking had to be free of any exchange of money (‘the clue’s in the name’ we’d say ‘free-cycle’) but sometimes people would try to make a charge for delivery or ask for a donation to charity – both, however reasonable, against the rules.

Trust and mutual respect were an important part of the relationship between members of the group – we only rarely ‘advised’ particular people about the rules (this usually amounted to a verbal warning or putting them on moderation) when evidence had built up. More often than not the problem resolved itself; friendly reminders to the whole group were usually enough to get things back on track.

I always describe Royston Recycle as the most sustainable community initiative I’ve ever been part of. We spent no money on it, we never had a planning meeting, we attracted 7500 members through word-of-mouth. Since 2004 those members have posted 97,000 ‘offers’ and ‘wants’ keeping an estimated 45,000 items out of landfill.

In our increasingly materialistic and seemingly divided world, it’s been heartening to see people willing to give without expecting anything in return. I’ll never forget when, following a post from someone who’d been thrown out of their house, members piled in with offers of bedding, small pieces of furniture, and even a tabletop cooker.  I was always delighted when items, particularly for children – toys, clothes, pushchairs – circulated many times around the group, multiplying value for so many and saving the planet for the benefit of all.

I often quote a memorable experience from my own use of the Royston Recycle group. One Sunday morning my daughter asked if I’d buy her a clarinet on e-Bay. ‘No’ I said, ‘but I’ll post a request on freecycle’. The post went up at midday and by 6pm that same Sunday, my daughter had gratefully collected a clarinet from a local member and had an offer of a free lesson!

Although my other half always reminds me we need to get rid of stuff not acquire it, I have rarely been disappointed when posting requests for ‘odd items’ to do with my re-purposing/ upcycling projects – mirrors, brush heads, and clock mechanisms being just three examples.

Talking of odd requests’, one stands out above all others. The woman posting the ‘want’ later reflected that she might have asked the moderation team before she posted the request. And we agreed – it did generate a lot of complaints. Whether she fancied herself as a second Damian Hirst, I don’t know, but her request for a dead horse didn’t go down well. I think it was for an art project, and we never found out whether she got one!

So farewell Royston Recycle – you have served us and the planet well. Long live re-use!

*Royston Recycle would have been called Royston Freecycle but for an error at the registration stage. This mistake proved to be fortuitous when, some years later, the founder of Freecycle in the USA tried to ‘stake a claim’ in each local group. We refused his demands and simply had to remove any freecycle branding without needing to change our name.

**Freegle is the UK version of freecycle – started in response to the attempted north American takeover.

Also reducing waste in Royston area…

Royston Repair Cafe http://www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe

Royston Free and For Sale Facebook Group  – https://www.facebook.com/groups/roystonfreeorforsale  [The local moderators of this group points out they allows things to be both given away for free and sold. Items given away may be later resold]

Royston Freegle group – https://www.ilovefreegle.org/explore/Royston-Freegle [The moderation team for this group are based in Stevenage. This group is only for rehoming items without any money changing hands]

Trash Nothing – Not so much a group but an easy way of interacting with a number of different freecycling/recycling groups https://trashnothing.com

Men’s Sheds tread lightly in Redcar

Credit: Tracy Kidd Photography

It’s said that men talk shoulder-to-shoulder, not face-to-face. This is confirmed by Shedders, mainly men of a certain age, for whom gathering in Men’s Sheds – community work-and-play spaces across the UK – means purposeful tinkering and friendly chat, well-oiled by tea.

Some of that magic will be revealed over the weekend of 23/24 September at the Festival of Thrift in Redcar – a celebration of living lightly, saving money and cutting waste. Organisers are expecting over 35,000 visitors to the free event over the weekend, and you’re invited to be one of them.

This is the first year the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) has been at the Festival and it comes with a warm welcome from Festival Director, Stella Hall. “The Festival of Thrift is about building creative community together – and it’s great that Men’s Sheds are doing just that! We welcome the UK Men’s Sheds Association to our event and hope they will inspire a new generation to get involved.”

Throughout the weekend, UKMSA members will be sharing their skills and expertise in the Stable Block. Men, women and children can discover how to turn a wine bottle and pallet wood, into a wall-mounted candle-holder. Most Men’s Sheds make pallet wood products and some will be displayed with a chance to make simple items and have a go at dismantling a wooden pallet safely.

There will be a #FuninSheds photo competition for festival-goers with great prizes for three lucky winners. For crafty visitors, there’ll be demonstrations of pyrography (the art of decorating wood by burning the surface) a display of walking stick handle decoration, and lots more.

Further information:

Go to www.menssheds.org.uk to find your nearest Shed and advice about setting one up if there isn’t one nearby

For a BBC Countryfile profile of the Boughton on the Water Men’s Shed www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q93p9u6pl88

Discover delightful ways to have fun with thriftyness http://www.festivalofthrift.co.uk/workshops

For photos of some of the stallholders at the Festival of Thrift 2016, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/green-and-grey-a-christmas-gift-guide

Counting what counts

Last Friday I found myself staring at a quotation on a hotel wall at 7.30am. I was about to enjoy a community breakfast meeting that I attend each month at the same hotel. I’ve seen the quote many times before and I like it almost as much as a full English breakfast, even though it’s widely mis-attributed (including by the hotel) to Albert Einstein.

The correct attribution for ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ appears to be William Bruce Cameron. The first reference found is as recent as 1986, but that was 30 years after Einstein’s death in 1955. That doesn’t matter to me – it’s the insight I value – but I expect it would bother Cameron.

A day after re-admiring the quote, I had its significance confirmed at parkrun – a free timed 5 kilometres run involving over 1 million runners of all ages and abilities across the UK every Saturday morning at 9am, not to mention a vast army of volunteer marshals. The big thing for me about parkrun is (apart from it being independent of government and the 2012 Olympic legacy) that, as is always emphasised, it’s a run not a race.

We’re also told that parkrun is all about community – everyone supporting each other – it’s not about the running. But last Saturday for the first time in four years and 64 parkruns I forgot to take my barcode – essential for getting a time for my run. In my 15 + years of off-road running I’ve only run competitively on three occasions – I run for fun, not to compete with myself or anyone else. So, I was taken aback by my reaction to discovering (after my 5K run) that the time wouldn’t appear on my personal parkrun profile.

I was surprised to be bothered about not being able to get my parkrun time, although I think it was as much annoyance about my own forgetfulness. Then I remembered that William Cameron quote and I realised that what really mattered was running around a beautiful National Trust estate on a sunny Saturday morning in August with 350 lovely parkrunners.

More on measurement https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/measure-what-matters

Discover parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk

Belonging: people, place or something else ? – No man’s land #4

Reflections on masculinity, mental health and trying to make a difference 

I have an interest in ‘new’ communities. In my first year at university studying Geography, we had a field trip to Harlow (a much newer town then than now) and I semi-seriously asked our guide which was higher, the murder or suicide rate. At the time, we were standing outside the front door of a home in a low-rise ‘Spanish-style’ apartment block surrounded by grey concrete with petrol fumes from an ill-designed car park wafting up from below through an equally badly-positioned grill beneath our feet. To be fair it was a grey wet day; we weren’t seeing Harlow at its best.

Later, as part of my university course, I studied a community that had been de-canted from Handsworth in Birmingham for a ‘better life’ on the edge of the city. I was looking at whether those residents had been able to re-create the old community in their new location – the right mix of people and place. I interviewed those who had moved and those who had stayed and concluded, of course, that the sense of community is more to do with the people than the place (but I also detected some latent racism in my interviewees which may have distorted the findings).

Fast forward four decades from my university studies and, 20 miles from Harlow and 100 miles from Handsworth, my office base is in another new town, Stevenage (or St Evenage as we like to call it). Across Hertfordshire’s county boundary, I also work with young people in a newer new town – Milton Keynes (and however many times I go there, I’ve never worked out how to get from A to B without a map)

My other half works in Letchworth – the world’s first Garden City and, as some may know, the site of the first roundabout dating back to the early 1900s.  On the edge of York, my mother spent the last ten years of her life living in an innovative ‘continuing care community’ (Centreparcs for the over 60s I called it) which was itself located in New Earswick – a community created to house the makers of Rowntree’s chocolate. [I also lived for two years near another model village founded on cocoa – Bournville in Birmingham. And Royston is the HQ for Hotel Chocolat; the confectionery community connections go on!]

After making the decision the move from North London, from the largely anonymous neighbourhood that was Stoke Newington, it’s perhaps no surprise that I was interested in getting to know the ‘new’ Royston community as soon as possible after arriving.

As in London, having a toddler was a wonderful way to meet others in a similar position and many of those new parents we met over 20 years ago in Royston had also recently arrived from other parts, so we had much in common. The ‘newcomers group’ gave us access to a group of potentially like-minded people and, in fact, many of them have become and remain good friends. The mothers (and it was primarily mothers) who met for coffee with their offspring soon extended their socialising to regular ‘girls’ nights out’. The fathers who had less opportunity to meet in the working week, were not to be outdone – with monthly ‘lads’ nights out’ at one of Royston’s eight pubs (for a record 23 dads on one notable occasion).

But just as there is a world of difference between the pain of loneliness and the joy of solitude, so ‘residing in’ and ‘belonging to’ a particular place are very different experiences.

Belonging (and love) is level three in Maslow’s hierarchy of basic needs. My personal definition of belonging in Royston is quite simply meeting someone I know whenever I walk to the shops. For a town with 16,000 people where I’ve lived for more than 20 years, that’s quite common now. I also say ‘hello’ to people I don’t know, most often when I’m running and they’re doing the same or walking the dog. [What is it about people thinking you strange or worse still, threatening, if you try to be friendly, unless it’s obvious why you’re both out and about at the same time?]

But I reckon it took around five years after arriving to feel I belonged in Royston and could say hello to strangers. And on the subject of ‘stranger danger’, I refused to bring up my daughter to see every man as a potential rapist.

And that confidence and familiarity only came from going out of my way to do things that would help me connect and be good for my health and wellbeing – running off-road with friends (and trying to set up that local parkrun) and singing in a choir being just two.

There’s a Quaker proverb that says ‘It’s better to light a candle than complain about the darkness.’ It speaks to my condition (to use another Quaker phrase) and has done so from an early age when I had it on a poster on my bedroom wall. But it’s only really in the last 15 years I’ve really taken that idea to heart as a way to feed my longing to belong and to feel as though I’m making a difference, however small.

Since 2000 I’ve tried to connect people in Royston (including myself of course) with some success, by starting things. Community-building is how some might describe it; for me it’s more self-interested than that if I’m honest.

First it was the Royston Time Bank which traded time to make the point that we all have something precious to share – our time – and that give and take is good for us. Free exchange is at the heart of another initiative – our Royston Recycle network of 6,500 people keeping items in use for longer through the giving away pre-loved-but-now-unwanted items. This freecycle group spawned the Royston Repair Café – quarterly gathering to assess and, where possible, mend broken items – bikes, clothes, furniture, electrical and electronic items.

A friend in Bedford introduced me to cash mobs. The idea is a wonderfully simple, social-media-assisted direct action to help revive a local economy. A semi-randomly selected independent high street shop is targeting for a surprise spending spree (£5 each) by the gathered ‘mob’. For me, the demonstration effect – it’s better to light a candle etc – is as important as the financial benefit to the particular shop, so publicity before and after is essential. When one of the gathered mobsters asked if I’d got permission to organise the event (‘permission to spend money in local shops?’ I asked) I realised what I was up against. But we organised four cash mobs in all – descending on a different retailer each time – with indirect benefits in abundance.

Then there’s the Mill Road Little Library. The first 15 years of my working life I sold books (with a book distributor, then a publisher) and although I’m a slow reader, I’m sure it’s parental influence that explains my love of printed books and reading.

In our early years in Royston there were two bookshops – one run by a traditional bookseller in a malodorous shop, the other run by a malodorous bookseller in a clean and fresh outlet. Both bookshops are now gone and the popular and well-run library (a treasure trove for our growing daughter) has had its funding cut and is now largely DIY and run by volunteers on reduced hours. Opening a new bookshop is not on the cards of course, but the Little Library outside our house – on a commuter route – has a steady turnover of real books as copies come and go. A ‘tiny library’ – to catch ‘em young – is the next development.

To be continued…

For other blogs in the ‘No man’s land’ series click here https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/no-mans-land

For more about cash mobs, see https://www.facebook.com/RoystonCashMob 

 

 

Local, social, online … and connected?

Online handshakeChildhood obesity, community breakdown, and the demise of the high street have all been blamed on the revolution in digital communication. While it may be true that computer games discourage physical activity, that worldwide communication has done little for neighbourliness, and online shopping is taking trade from town centre stores, that’s only one side of the story.

Online communication can reduce isolation, particularly for people who are less mobile through age or disability and, in rural areas, internet shopping has been a lifeline for sustaining postal services. In the world of ‘clicks and bricks’ development, businesses such as the Hive Network have innovated to combine the convenience of online ordering with support for local bookshops.

At the local level, perhaps in response to the facelessness of Facebook and the anonymity of Twitter, social media is increasingly being used to bring people together in person. Sites for car-sharing (giving and getting lifts), couchsurfing and nightswapping (free accommodation), and for lending tools and equipment are all part of a growing ‘sharing economy’ – countering competition and consumerism, particularly in times of financial hardship and excessive waste.

Cash mobs – surprise group spending sprees – use social media to bring people together for community-building that supports local, independent shops, creates real friendships, good feelings. It also, hopefully, inspires others to get active rather than going online to complain about car park charges and the dominance of the retail giants.

Sometimes, digital media can extend face-to-face coverage and make management more sustainable. Timebanking is about people trading their time to give and get support – earning and spending time credits (1 credit for 1 hour’s help). The help and support is very much face-to-face and traditionally members in the UK have been matched by a (human) timebroker. However in recent years, online facilities have put the matching process in the hands of more techno-savvy time bank members themselves and embraced a wider geographical area. In the USA (birthplace of timebanking) connecting online has been a feature for many more years than in the UK because of distances and numbers involved.

At a time when household budgets are being squeezed and our ‘throwaway society’ is under attack, sites like Freecycle and Freegle meet both a need for free items, and a desire to save items from ending up in landfill. At a time when some say people ‘know the price of everything and the value of nothing’, it’s heartening to know that so many people are willing to give away their pre-loved possessions without expecting payment in return. That’s e-bay, this is free-bay!

I can only speculate that much sharing and connecting in local communities now taking place would not have happened without the technology to make that first contact so relatively easy and unthreatening.  What do you think?

Get reading:

Order books online at www.hive.co.uk and support local bookshops

Connected: The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas Christakis & James Fowler

The Power of Just Doing Stuff: How local action can change the world by Rob Hopkins                                    

Together: How small groups achieve big things by Henry Hemming

What’s Mine is Yours: How collaborative consumption is changing the way we live by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers

Get active:

Cash mobs http://bit.ly/1eiRcKq

Car-sharing www.blablacar.com and www.liftshare.com/uk/

Couchsurfing –  www.couchsurfing.org and Nightswapping http://nightswapping.com

Timebanking – http://www.timebanking.org

Freecycle http://uk.freecycle.org  and Freegle http://ilovefreegle.org