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Monday, July 15, 2024

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Building the democratic local economy

bookcover

The magazine Stir to Action, and the project that sits behind it, has been one of the most effective popularisers in the UK of the idea of community economics and community wealth building.

This is Stir’s ‘mission’ (though it doesn’t use this word):

We work to create a more democratic economy in workplaces and communities, in particular through new infrastructure, business support, research and policy, and partnerships with local government.

Curiously in the digital age, the project started as a print magazine, and over the decade since then this has been used as a platform to build a programme of talks, events, and festivals to build networks and spread information and expertise across the sector. Somewhere along the line it survived a fire that destroyed its offices in Bridport.

Tools, models and stories

So this is a good moment to write about one of their latest projects, The ABC of the New Economy. Here’s a section from the introduction:

As a ‘primer’ it features a series of tools, models and stories about how we can tackle the cost of living crisis and a broken energy system at the roots, transform an unfair housing market, reverse the social care crisis, and remake the way we produce and consume our food.

Obviously that is quite a big agenda, and you might think that a 72-page primer might not make much of a dent in it. But you have to start somewhere, and one of the ways they have chosen to start is by giving away the ABC to any organisation that thinks it might be able to use it.

Photo: Andrew Curry. CC BY NC SA 4.0

Giving it away

The business model here is that they have raised the publishing and printing costs from supporters, so they can afford to give it away. Triodos Bank has also contributed. (Disclosure, as they say: I made a donation to the fund.)

Like all of Stir’s publications, it is well designed. I have included a couple of spreads below to give you an idea of the look and feel.

In summary, it is designed to take you through the steps needed to set up an alternative new economy organisation. The four sections are headed:

Start your organisation

Structure your organisation

Run your organisation

Finance your organisation.

To do this, the ABC includes short explainers, lists of ‘dos and don’ts’, guides to terminology, lists of supporting organisations (such as ethical banking alternatives, crowdfunding platforms, and so on) and examples of organisations that are doing it in practice.

Principles

I’m not going to work through it in detail here, but I can give a flavour of it by sharing some of the content that has wider value in terms of progressive principles and practice.

(ABC of the New Economy. Photo: Andrew Curry. CC BY NC SA 4.0)

A good place to start with this is the 12 principles that Stir has developed in the support of local economic development, based on their experience of, and research into, how to do this.

An important part of this is thinking about community assets as “community infrastructure” and building local institutional capability to make the most of these, as well as making more of the non-profit sector in local economic development, which often, in the UK, runs on an axis between local authorities and for-profit businesses in the local area.

Here’s some of the principles:

Focus on transforming the underlying economy, not simply on alleviating the most immediate problems caused by the economic system.

Democratic ownership of business can share equity, control, and accountability across communities, which can give everyone a stake in the current and future economy.

Community assets are an important part of social infrastructure, but think about how you can create affordable – if not free – access to this ‘civic operating system.

There are many parts of a local ‘ecosystem’ which can support individual initiatives to thrive. Think about creating or strengthening supply chains, community finance institutions, and membership networks.

Identify where financial resources already exist in your community, rather than depending only on external resources. It’s not just those with savings who are able to contribute to local economic development, there are ways of raising money in capital-light communities or from low-income individuals.

Non-Profit Organisations

Reading this list, of course, in the current UK context, it’s worth noting that having pursued financial policies that have all but bankrupted Britain’s local councils, our government now expects council to sell off capital assets that could help to make communities more resilient despite the relentless downward pressures on council budgets. There are no reasons why this is a good idea.

There’s a useful section on types of non-profit organisations, and ways to raise finance. I also liked the ladder of co-production, originally developed by the National Co-production Advisory Group.

(ABC of the New Economy. Photo: Andrew Curry. CC BY NC SA 4.0)

There is also supporting materials to all of this from the Stir magazine website, which is worth looking at.

Stir to Action has published 5,000 copies of the ABC, and is in the process of giving them away. If you think a copy will help your organisation, you can get in touch with them here. You can also subscribe to the quarterly magazine.

Andrew Curry
Andrew Curry
 
Andrew Curry started as a financial journalist for BBC Radio 4’s Financial World Tonight, before moving to Channel 4 News during the 1980s. He still maintains an interest in digital media and in the notion of the creative economy.
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