Over the last two years we’ve been introducing you to our traders – independent business owners who are part of the Brixton Pound family. In this new series we’d like to introduce you to the members of the community who are just as significant: the Brixton Pound users! Last year you’ve met Paul, Alicia, Manda, Pamela, Paul, Vincent, and Francis, and today we’d like to introduce you to Duncan.
Duncan is the co-founder of Transition Town Brixton, a community-led initiative to engage everyone in imagining, planning and pioneering the way towards a better future that is less dependent on scarce resources, and more interconnected, cooperative, resilient, humane, local and fun. It has given rise to such ground breaking projects as the Brixton Pound, Community Draught Busters, The Remakery, Brixton Energy/Repowering London, and most recently the Lambeth Local Entrepreneur Forum, the first edition of which is happening on 2nd June.
Held at Brixton East 1871 next week, this is an opportunity for small or start-up enterprises to pitch to their local “community of dragons” (everyone!) for support – and not just of money! Everyone can be an investor: of money but also time, resources, skills, enthusiasm, moral support or Facebook likes… With this project, Transition Town Brixton aims to create a culture of community-supported local economy, where the community can invest in various ways in developing the local economy. The audience will include entrepreneurs, potential investors, activists, decision-makers, and community members, and such speakers as the founder of the global Transition Town movement Rob Hopkins, and Lambeth’s Entrepreneur-in-residence, Colin Crooks of Tree Shepherd. The tickets include a seasonal, locally-sourced buffet supper. A one-off special elderflower brew from Brixton Brewery will also be served! And there’s a big discount if you pay in B£s – just text ‘pay ttbrixton 12.99’ to 07797880200. We’ll be there – it would be great to see many of you too!
Back to Duncan: he is an actor and director by training, but he is also long-term concerned about climate change, peak oil, and sustainability, so campaigning on these issues has been his increasing focus: “I went to Climate Camp in 2006 and decided that was going to be my front line activity. I also met Rob Hopkins, who started the Transition Town movement. So in 2007 I converted my local activities with Lambeth Climate Action Groups into Transition Town Brixton. It was more positive, more moving forward, and less fighting against.”
“Climate change affects the viability of the life on this planet, so to me that’s the single most important thing, and that conviction drives me to work on it. I’m also more aware that being angry or scared isn’t galvanising: we need the pull factor, not the push factor, offer people to experience the positive effects of change and work towards a future that’s better, more connected, local, skilled, and fun! It would be fun because people would be actively participating in it and involved in doing it, which would make it enjoyable. It’s much more fun to build a treehouse than to read a book where a character has one. Connecting with local people is one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing according to research done by New Economics Foundation, and doing that in real life rather than online is more rewarding.”
“We did a project called Food Upfront, which was about growing food in front gardens – to be seen, to inspire others, to make sharing the care for them easier (your neighbour could water them for you when you’re away), to change the aesthetic of the streets but also people’s thinking around sharing resources and what ‘common sense’ is. Imagine every house with a front garden full of vegetables, houses covered in greenery and vine, and a swimming pool reservoir in the middle of the street instead of parking spaces because we wouldn’t be using cars – wouldn’t that be brilliant?”
How can you do stuff in your everyday life to contribute to this vision? “I don’t own a car, I cycle. I work on my house to make it as low impact as possible, insulate it, implement positive innovation. I try to be an active part of the rich mix that is Brixton. Getting involved in stuff like the Local Entrepreneur Forum, which is all about what we can do to speed up localisation, to enable people and businesses to be more proactively part of the solution. We want to change how people think, give them more connections to the area and to each other, make them more involved in the local economy, and have people be more aware of the benefits of that. It’s part of the Transition Town movement’s REconomy project – about an economy that’s rethought, reconnected, relocalised. It unifies a lot of the Transition Towns’ projects under a powerful theme that speaks to regular people as well as decision makers.”
“On a Lambeth level, there’s so much that could be done to relocalise. For instance our research has shown that almost the entire spending on Lambeth parks disappears outside Lambeth, when it could be using local suppliers, employing local people. Similarly, our studies have shown that of the massive spending of food in Lambeth most goes to supermarket, and relocalising just 10% of it would double the turnover of local food economy. That would give the area more resilience, and more possibilities for local supply.”
“I’ve been here for 28 years. Sure, it was different in 1987, but also much the same: a sparky, vibrant place where stuff happens. My first real experience of engaging in community building and local networks was when I moved to the top of Brixton Hill and set up a neighbourhood association there. It’s since suffered from many changes in the area, but is now being revived by a new generation of local people, because the area attracts good, community-oriented people still. If I’m honest, I moved here because my brother and I could afford a flat here in 1987, and he worked in Kingston so it was convenient. But I loved it instantly – people just spoke to you in the street, and there was life in the streets, it was open. Now… well, I think lots of that energy is still here. Of course, there’s no salvation from gentrification, but the fat cats in Volvos will move on when they get a better deal somewhere else, and the people who care will stay. I’ve seen so many people get involved in the Transition Town movement, in our group in Brixton. This one guy used to be a corporation worker, he took a leaflet and came to a meeting, and is now a hard line climate activist. People would come to one film screening, and decide they wanted to give significant portions of their time for this. Do I think more people would get involved if they knew some of the things about climate change that I know? Not necessarily. I think knowledge is necessary but it’s not the answer. If you have the eco literacy and can add up causes and effects you’ll realise that however you live in the Western world you will be a high impact person, and lots of people cannot get their heads around it – it sounds so hopeless. What we need is more holistic thinking, and the pull factor: not only show people that living differently is possible and enjoyable, but get them to experience it themselves, the positives rather than the negatives. I’ve taken part in food growing groups and skill sharing groups that changed how I live, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. It’s about embodying hope.”
“In 1992 we set up a LETS (Local Exchange Trading Scheme) here, and suddenly I was aware of all these great people doing interesting things. I’m still in touch with a lot of them! It was such a revolutionary scheme, enabling people to trade directly between each other. There was a bimonthly catalogue which was just such a delight to read, you saw all these people offering amazing skills, I kept thinking, “I want to meet this person! I wanna know how they came about knowing this great skill they’re offering!” I used to offer high bed advice, because I built quite a few, so I was offering to co-design with people who’d want one. It was great and really connected you to people. And Brixton Pound grew out of that: in 2008 we did a conference called Local Economy Day, about how to do it and why you should, and we trialled B£s for the first time there during lunch break. We printed a bunch of notes called Brixton Bricks, and they represented the LETS credits. And then it all took off and look where we are today!”
“I’m probably one of the most frequent B£ users, I spend it in Brixton Whole Foods, Snugg, Brixi, Morleys, Kaff, C@fe Brixton on Brixton Station Road, at Bushman’s… I mostly use pay-by-text. It all started partly from economic reasons but partly to get people to think and talk about what money really is, and I think it’s still fulfilling that purpose. It’s probably past its “this is revolutionary” phase, and now more people respond to it with slight incredulity, “is it still going?”, but that means they will have heard about it. And if you’ve got some, you’ll spend them back into the local economy. And by using more B£s, people are making it easier to set up local supply chains, maybe even distribution centres…”
“I’ve got two kids – a two year old and a four year old. I spend mornings and evenings with my family. It’s time-consuming, but it’s also rewarding and delightful. That’s also work for a viable future: you can produce powerful people. We try to do fun things together, like cycling around in my Burmese rickshaw, or a bike and bike trailer. We go to Forest School on Mondays in Streatham Common woods, it’s run by a local enterprise called Sankofa to Nature. There the kids play in a way that connects them to nature and they learn natural skills, like watching animals or setting a campfire, or just being dirty and in touch with nature. I don’t really have time for sailing, or reading, or theatre – which used to be a big part of my life, but instead we’ve been camping twice with the Forest School. Did you know there is a campsite on the edge of Dulwich Woods? There’s still bits in London where nature is doing its own work. And seeing the kids do roly polys, playing in the field there – that’s probably the best thing there is.”
Would you like to be featured in our next Meet The User post? We could meet you for a chat over lunch or tea/coffee, or you could write us a guest blog. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!