Thursday, 16 July 2009

baked beans

Here's a little success story of how a few people can help build the world anew. Nearly three years ago, my friends Raphaella and Hermione decided along with Dirk and me to form a car club. Raphaella had a small orange Daewoo Matiz, so we called it the Baked Bean car club. We book it through the google calendar online, and we pay £2 per hour plus petrol to use it, which covers all the costs, including replacing the car periodically. Our current car is silver, so it's a silver bean club. Some of the joys of our car club are finding out how to share stuff and have fun. But it's also saved us bucketloads of money and hassle. I've rarely not been able to access the car when I want, which is parked in central Lewes. Looking back, I can't imagine ever wanting to own a car ever again. One of the reasons for forming car clubs is that people realise that they can use other forms of transport. Car clubs use cars to reduce car use. But that creates a strange problem: our founding group is using the car less and less because we've discovered the joys of a car-free life. So we're looking for new members. In fact, we've just had a meeting to decide that we want to buy a new, hire-purchased eco-car, and in order to do that we need to take a step up and expand the car club to ten members. So this is a rallying call for people to join our club. Please email us at

Friday, 10 July 2009

some notes on the notes

The launch party for the new higher denominations of the Lewes Pound was a blast - with hundreds of people from all walks of Lewes life, at the stunning Harveys Depot. A woman in the pub afterwards actually kissed me when she heard I was one of the team behind the Lewes currency. I feel deep delight to have been part of this initiative, and though I've only been cheering from the sidelines for the last few months, I've held it in my heart (like so many others) and keep on buying and spending Lewes Pounds at every opportunity.

A few months ago the group asked Lewes traders for feedback about improvements - in fact we have asked for frequent feedback wherever we can spare the time, as volunteers (none of us are paid a dime). Three consistent messages were - higher denominations, more issuing points and more incentives for locals to use it instead of spending sterling in town (some people already realise that 80% of money spent locally stays local whereas 80% of money spent in chains leaks out of Lewes, according to the new economics foundation). After some consultation we devised a plan whereby 5% of Lewes Pounds go into a Live Lewes fund - the first fund specifically to support eco-projects in Lewes. This money goes into the fund when traders trade LPs back to sterling. So for every LP21 traded for sterling £1 goes to the Live Lewes fund.

Some traders will now be deterred financially from simply going to their nearest issuing point and turning the LPs spent in their shop back into sterling - which some of them have been, We wish to discourage this since if the LP continues to circulate locally it builds wealth locally. Traders can still keep LPs circulating by paying for local goods (perhaps finding new local suppliers) or paying their staff or themselves or by giving it back to the customer as change - a popular move among high-volume LP traders such as Laportes. And they can, after all, simply opt out.

We really do have it in our power to build the world anew. But together. This transition is not going to happen if we sit back and wait for someone else to tell us how it's done, or complain if it doesn't work straight-off. That's the old paradigm. What's new about the Lewes Pound and the whole Transition Town concept is that - like it or not - the new world is going to be built, brick by brick from the foundations. I won't go through the reasons for this imperative, though Colin Firth put it well in a recent column: 'We are not in a position to choose whether or not we have a relationship with our own society or with the world's poorest people. We can choose the nature of those relationships, but either way they're there'. Last week it was announced tht a billion people are living in chronic starvation, but I digress...

Yes, we can do it different and better but we're not sure how it's going to happen. We'll get there, not through fear, opposition and polarisation, but through creativity and courage, by developing a conversation about how we can do this together. The Lewes Pound is an experiment. It might not work. But I say it deserves the chance to be tailored, cherished and nurtured into being by us all.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

hive alive

Why are you reading this and not cavorting outside from dawn till dusk? Why am I sitting inside writing this? I'm far too busy being obsessed with sailing boats and allotment and bees. This last fortnight has been dramatic on the honeybee front. First, three young lads pushed over the beehive in the churchyard near my house in Lewes and ran off. Thanks to my neighbours I was alerted and the hive and bees, clustered together in the toppled box, were reinstated a day later.

Then Mike, who's one of my friends developing the natural top bar approach, helped me catch a swarm from a hedge in Newhaven, and I put it in a topbar beehive I'd made over the winter. Normally, on a secondary swarm, or caste, the virgin queen is bullied out of the hive by the workers into her once-in-a-lifetime mating flight with 5-15 male drones up there in the drone congregation area. But when we peeked in the hive we noticed the young queen staggering about, unable to make it out of the hive. And the next day she was dead, surrounded by workers on the hive floor. A hive without an egg-laying queen is doomed to die, so when a few days later Mike and I took another swarm from a low hedge in Rodmell, we decided to unite this with the queenless swarm in the hive. Unfortunately, although they did unite, they decided to swarm off together, clearly unhappy with the situation. I caught the swarm first time, hanging outside the hive in a cluster. But they swarmed again, this time to a branch of a nearby holly tree. Again, I got them in the box, but they'd already decided to fly far. I hope they found a dry place, or even better, were taken by a beekeeper.

I was feeling pretty low about losing all the top bar bees, though there is a conventional colony in the churchyard and one in the woods. But Mike invited me to visit his bees today - he's taken three swarms this season and they are well established in his top bar hives on a farm outside Lewes. They were actively flying in and out of the hives and took no notice of us gingerly lifting up the lid. Inside the hive it's nothing like a standard beehive. The bees get to make their own comb, hanging in arcs from the topbar. I don't think I can describe both how natural and right that appeared. It's what I was trying to say last week - the man/nature balance; it's subtle and we need to do things differently. This fortnight I made some mistakes and also the bees had a mind of their own. I learned a lot, and I feel more humble.