Small steps for creating community resilience:  The Make Do and Mend Expo

In 2016 the Cabinet Office published guidance for creating community resilience.  With continued budget cuts and the impact of neoliberal austerity being felt across the country, such a push can be read, in part, as an attempt to encourage third sector organisations, businesses and individuals to help communities where government funding is falling short.

On the 8th June 2017 Dr Helen Holmes held The Make do and Mend Expo – an interactive one day event which brought together third sector organisations interested in alternative community-based forms of resource provision (clothing, food, household objects, skills etc) to debate the future of community resilience.  Here Helen discusses the key findings from the event.

Videos of all presentations from the Expo and images can be found here.

The Make do and Mend Expo

The Make do and Mend Expo was based on two years research by Dr Helen Holmes, Hallsworth Fellow, and her project Makers, Make do and Mend.  This project explored thrift and how practices of being thrifty – making do and mending – operate during austere times.

Helen’s work has looked at the breadth of community and household activities devoted to thrifty forms of provision.  A key conclusion from the study is that third sector community-based organisations are a fundamental building block to creating community resilience during times of economic crisis.  Furthermore, that they do so with a rigorous environmental focus; ensuring that the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ slogan is a continuous organisational mantra.

The Expo focused on bringing together a selection of these numerous organisations to discuss the work that they do, to network, showcase best practice, and to create a dialogue regarding how future community resilience can be achieved and sustained.

Small steps to make a positive change

The impact each and every one of us can have on creating community resilience was the prominent theme of the event.  Keynote Jen Gale of My Make Do and Mend Life focused on the individual choices each of us can make, particularly around sustainable resource use.  She highlighted the challenges of re-suing and recycling within a Capitalist society so focused on always buying new, but stressed that each of us could play a part in change – no matter how small.  Be it making more of an effort to recycle, repairing rather than replacing, or even to be as bold as Jen and to spend a whole year buying nothing new.

From making individual choices to be more sustainable, such as transitioning to veganism, as discussed by Three Valley Vegans; or thinking about the impact of where we bank and how putting our money in a local credit union might help our community, as encouraged by First Choice Credit Union; these small individual choices can collectively have a great impact.  As Corin Bell, from The Real Junk Food Project succinctly summarised ‘You may only be a drop in the ocean, but which wave will you be part of?’

Thrifty skills for life: creating sustainable, equitable futures

Whilst talking about how to create community resilience is useful, the Expo also enabled attendees to have a go at learning some practical new skills to encourage it.  A financial capability workshop delivered by Citizens Advice Rossendale and Hyndburn urged attendees to question the price points of consumables and to interrogate their personal spending.  The fabulous Stitched Up ran both a clothing upcycling and a knitwear rescue workshop; teaching attendees useful skills to make their clothes last longer, and thus preventing clothing waste. Whilst Dr Laura Pottinger from the University of Manchester, gave attendees the opportunity to engage in seed sharing – learning valuable seed swapping skills they can use within their neighbourhoods and communities.  Further organised swapping examples were provided by a clothes swap and a book swap held at the event.

Focus on the social: kindness

However, community resilience is more than simply resource provision.  As many of the organisations and attendees of the day stressed – the social is absolutely vital.  This point was made with clarity by Incredible Edible Todmorden who stressed the need for always working with kindness, and seeking forgiveness, rather than permission to get things done. The Everyday Austerity Exhibition by Dr Sarah Marie Hall, University of Manchester, exemplified this, conveying the very personal nature of financial hardship and how relationships matter.

The need to remove stigma from accessing help was interwoven with these debates.  Suggestions put forward at the afternoon’s kitchen table discussion centred upon providing a space to chat, to find a common ground with each other, to offer new skills, and to feel part of something. One attendee suggested that  ‘we need to remove the line between service user and provider’.  Organisations such as Positive Start Food Group and Real Junk Food Project advocated such approaches – using food as the conduit to bring people together and to talk.  Whilst Stubbylee Community Greenhouses with East Lancs Recovery College explained how they provide training in a range of skills, such as organic gardening and green woodwork, as a means to facilitating wellbeing and recovery with vulnerable and marginalised groups.  Respect, sensitivity and an emphasis on the individual were seen as paramount for social inclusion.

Community resilience requires the collaboration of all

What was absolutely paramount from the day was that community resilience cannot be the work of just one sector of society, but requires the involvement of all.  This was clear to see from the kitchen table discussions with attendees consistently drawing upon the need for involvement from government, local councils, corporate organisations and citizens to enable positive change.  Suggestions included placing more pressure on the corporate sector to support community organisations through: matching volunteer hours, tax breaks for donating companies; and legislation ensuring surplus (particularly, food surplus) is offered to the third sector before being classified as ‘waste’.

Whist government involvement and the effect of neoliberal policy were discussed at length attendees also emphasized the importance of local government.  Suggestions were made for third sector community groups to be more involved in local government process, sharing their experience and on the ground knowledge of local issues to shape local strategy.  Others called for the need to make citizens more aware of what they can do to help – through lobbying their local MP, attending relevant government select committees, or boycotting the worst offender corporations.

Networking was also seen as crucial to creating future community resilience.  Attendees talked about having the infrastructure and platforms for organisations to collaborate with each other as being vital.   Work such as the Expo and also its accompanying good practice guide (hard copies available upon request) has made some headway in enabling this, but there is still a long way to go.

 

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