It’s amazing where being chosen as one of our ’21 Stories of Transition’ can lead. Transition Bro Gwaun, whose ‘Transition Cafe’ story featured in the special book we made for COP21, were invited to speak in Cardiff at a Climate Change Commission for Wales seminar called Climate Change: Commitment to Action. They very kindly allowed us to reproduce their speech, delivered by Chris Samra (below right), in full below. Just so as you know what we’re talking about, here is the video they made for our ‘21 Stories of Transition‘ series (their whole story can be found here):
“I’m from Transition Bro Gwaun, Fishguard’s Transition group, started in 2008. We’re a small group of people concerned about climate change and resource depletion. Today we own a 225kw wind turbine jointly with a local farmer. Our half was fully funded by loans of just under £300,000, all from members of our community. The profits, when we’ve paid off our loans, are on target to rise to about £50,000 per year, to be used to develop sustainable projects in our community.
We also run a surplus food project, the Transition Community Café, with an annual turn-over of around £20,000 per year. Much more importantly, the project saves 600 kg of food going to landfill each month, carbon savings of 21 tonnes per year; we provide affordable healthy meals for all and give food to those in food poverty; we are a venue for lots of community activities and we provide employment and work experience, particularly for the young and disabled. We’re a significant player in many community initiatives, and we’ve moved from being perceived as a bunch of green activists to, in the words of one café customer, being ‘ a warm ‘cwtch’* of a place.’ Our volunteers come from all walks of life and for a whole variety of reasons – they find themselves doing something for the well-being of their community and something for climate change too. Like all the projects in 21 Stories of Transition, we’re an example – a reminder – of how ordinary people all over the world are coming together to conserve resources, cut carbon emissions and build community in a different way.
So what do we see as key priorities? For us – its fresh thinking and action on economic change.
Developing projects like ours isn’t easy. Grant funding is increasingly limited and often not available for what’s most needed – help with capital expenditure and running costs. Much of what we’ve needed has been given to us – we operate to a large extent through gifting and community exchange. When groups use our building and our resources, we don’t charge – instead they give us things or their voluntary labour in exchange. These are economic transactions, but they don’t appear in our accounts – gifting and exchange are currently not seen to contribute to the economic viability of social enterprises like ours.
The present monetary system distorts thinking and practice. The café’s prime purpose is not to make money – it’s carbon reduction and community resilience – but we have to be financially viable. So on days when the café takes over £100 (that’s a lot at the prices we charge) its ‘WOW – that’s great’! When we take only £20 because those who came in didn’t have a lot to spend, it’s a bad day and we worry we won’t cover overheads. What frequently gets overlooked and undervalued is that on those £20 days, we have lots more time to talk to customers about food waste and climate change, to up-skill our young staff and volunteers, to work with other groups – these are ‘well-being and sustainability’ activities but they don’t carry a monetary value – they don’t keep us financially afloat. This is a constant tension.
Community initiatives can play a key role in addressing climate change and promoting well being, but much of this activity is likely to be non-monetized, so many will struggle to survive or have to compromise their principles. We need social capital to be equally, if differently, valued and rewarded. In his book ‘Post Capitalism’, Paul Mason suggests governments should have an Office of the Non-Market Economy tasked to nurture enterprises ‘where sharing and collaboration are essential and which maximise the amount of economic activity that takes place beyond the monetary system’. The Transition movement is thinking similarly – its REconomy project is experimenting with ways to develop, in their words, ‘a system of trade and exchange that’s more sustainable, equitable and anchored in wellbeing, rather than economic growth at any cost.’
So our key message is that if you want initiatives like ours to flourish, don’t just throw money at us (I wish!). We’d like an economy where money is not always the main measure of value – where gifting, community exchange, alternative methods of reward are given greater priority. This would help us to achieve our environmental and social objectives.
The Well-being of Future Generations Act provides a unique and excellent platform to progress such thinking. We have high expectations of it”.
As an outcome of being featured in the book, and presenting to the event in Cardiff, and the resultant press interest, Fishguard’s Town Team gave the project a small grant, which they have used to put on a 2 day event called ‘Cymuned Unol – working together’ which will take place on 14 – 15th March. Among other attractions, you will be able to hear from Julian Dobson, author of ‘How to Save Town Centres’, and Jay Tompt of the REconomy Project who will be doing a whole day on REconomy and on Local Entrepreneur Forums. Everyone is welcome. Here is a short video where Chris tells you more about it:
* According to the Urban Dictionary, “‘cwtch’ is the Welsh word for an affectionate hug. There’s no literal English translation, but its nearest equivlent is “safe place”. So if you give someone a cwtch, you’re giving them a “safe place””.