On the 8th June, 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 discuss how their work is tackling both social inequalities and also promoting sustainable resource use.  Here Helen talks about the key findings from the day and its aim to create a dialogue around community resilience.

Videos of all presenters and images of the day 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.

Ethos of the event: small steps to make a positive change

Keynote Jen Gale of My Make Do and Mend Life opened the day with an excellent talk about her year of spending nothing.  From egg box Christmas trees which were not quite Instagram-ready, learning how to fix household appliances, to the perils of children’s birthday parties when you cannot buy anything new – Jen’s talk highlighted the challenges of re-suing and recycling within a Capitalist society so focused on always buying new.  Jen ended her talk with a mantle that many other presenters picked up in their own presentations – that to make any change we have to start small.  Or as fellow presenter, Corin Bell, from The Real Junk Food Project put it ‘You may only be a drop in the ocean, but which wave will you be part of?’

This focus on the impact each of us can have on creating community resilience, and tackling the challenges of social inequality and sustainable resource use, continued throughout the event.  Following Jen’s keynote, we had a presentation from First Choice Credit Union who talked about the role credit unions can play in helping people in financial crisis – encouraging saving and offering very preferential loan rates.  They were followed by Todmorden Food Drop–In who emphasized the importance of removing the stigma of attending a food bank by being non-means tested, and open to all.  Stubbylee Community Greenhouses with East Lancs Recovery College gave a thought-provoking presentation about 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.  The morning session was rounded off with Three Valley Vegans discussing how transitioning to veganism is a committed move towards more sustainable resource use.

Thrifty skills for life

Four workshops followed the morning sessions each with a focus on how changing one’s individual activities and skill set can have a wider impact on both social inequalities and sustainable resource use.  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.  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.  Whilst Citizens Advice Rossendale and Hyndburn held a financial capability workshop, encouraging attendees to question the price points of consumables and to interrogate their personal spending.

Over lunch, guests were treated to a clothes swap, book swap and the wonderful Everyday Austerity Exhibition by Dr Sarah Marie Hall, University of Manchester.   They also had the opportunity to add their thrifty tips to the thrifty tips wall – now part of a thrifty tips website.

Focus on the social: kindness

The afternoon’s session continued the theme of small steps for change, but also focused on the importance of the social within third sector organisations.  This point was made with clarity by Mary Clear of Incredible Edible Todmorden who stressed the need for always working with kindness, and seeking forgiveness, rather than permission to get things done.  Positive Start Food Group – an organisation which diverts food from waste and makes it available to local people – embellished this theme, advocating an approach which begins with people; using food to bring people together – to talk, to share and to support.  Likewise, Real Junk Food Project stressed the importance of the meals they create being a social occasion open to anyone.

This focus on the significance of the social within third sector organisations and the work they do, continued in the afternoon kitchen table discussion, whereby attendees worked together to debate a number of provocations designed to create a dialogue around community resilience.  Emerging from these discussions were ideas about how to overcome the stigma of receiving help from a third sector organisation.  Suggestions put forward centred upon encouraging the social element, providing a space to chat, to find a common ground, to learn new skills, to feel part of something.  As one attendee suggested, we need to ‘remove the line between service user and provider’.  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 throughout the day attendees also emphasized the importance of local government.  Suggestions were made for third sector community 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.  That said, many commented on how the Expo had achieved just that, with many organisations commenting on the links it had given them with other organisations.  With over 95% of attendees rating the Expo as excellent, and a further 90% rating the accompanying good practice guide also excellent, the Expo has made some headway in creating a dialogue and potential pathway for future community resilience.