Thursday, 8 December 2011

this land is your land

I heard on the grapevine that the North Street area of Lewes has been sold to a foreign buyer (subject to contract). Its previous owner, Anglo-Irish Bank, who had loaned a ridiculous sum to Charles Style of Angel Properties to develop it, had repossessed it when Angel Properties went into admin. The Anglo-Irish Bank, which was heavily over-extended, in turn, went bust and was nationalised a couple of years ago so the land was until recently being held by the Irish government.

News of its new ownership must come as a blow to the Lewes Community Land Trust, which had created a consortium of social developers including Guinness Trust, to bid for the land. Their bid, however, was conditional and was probably underbid by an unconditional offer, which the Irish Government had been requiring.

What upsets me is that someone can simply buy a piece of land that’s essential to a town’s infrastructure, and then attempt to make money out of it, with little reference to the people who live and work there, this history, the culture, such as we saw with Charles Style’s bizarre Phoenix Quarter – brilliantly subdued by Lewes Matters five years ago.

At the moment, North Street is experiencing a small renaissance, with individuals and small groups of people renting the warehouses to make goods and run services. It’s probably quite a significant source of self-employment and employment in the town, precisely because there are no corporate logos to be seen, but under-valued as a result. The myth still prevails in town planning that large employers are the biggest source of revenue for a town, when the opposite is often true.  

Is the 22-acre land being landbanked as part of a wealthy foreigner’s property portfolio with the tenants in long-term uncertainty and unable to invest in infrastructure? Or will Lewes residents once again be faced with staving off someone else’s self-wealth-creating ‘vision for North St’? We shall see. I look forward to a future where once again Lewes is run by and for local people, looking after each other in the complex web of interconnectedness that creates real abundance and resilience. 

Thursday, 1 December 2011

well-fed neigbours

I don’t want to scare you but I think it’s time we started to store food. It looks as though we could be in for quite big changes in the coming decade. We might be looking at the Long Emergency and we might be facing some sudden changes. These could come from one or several areas: economic, energy and climate. Most pressing is the recent news that British government is planning for the possibility of economic collapse following the now-almost-inevitable collapse of the Euro.

When change happens, we’re all better off if we see it coming. There’s nothing more conducive to panic and bad behaviour than being badly prepared. You only need to visualise the Christmas rush at Tesco or the empty shelves in the fuel strikes in 2000 to get my drift. Or, as the article above describes, banks being unable to give out money and destroying companies dependent on bank credit.

But you don’t need a national crisis to justify storing food. Friends of mine who are going through financial troubles say that they feel so much better knowing they have a few sacks of rice and pulses in their store cupboard. And such things were totally normally in our grandparents’ day before the just-in-time brittle corporate food chains were established.

As I see it, there are three main ways to build food resilience. The easiest is to simply build up your own stores. Aim for a couple of months’ of your usual staples at any one time, then just get used to rotating the food as you eat it.
For a decade now we’ve been ordering our bulk food from Infinity Foods, a co-op that’s cheaper and more convenient than supermarkets. They deliver free to Lewes on a Tuesday if you buy over £250-worth. We order every four months, storing the 5kg bags of rice, oatmeal and pulses, tins, oils and jars on top of our cupboards and in our basement. There’s always a bit of space somewhere to store food. I know people who group together to share orders and others who buy Infinity food from Just Trade, a brilliant Lewes-based non-profit co-op that runs a drop-off  at Lewes New School (next delivery 9 December).

Some people feel afraid at the mention of food storage, projecting out that it’s about being selfish or fear-mongering. And though it’s true that denial is a first cousin of fear, it’s best to get over that fear and be practical. The more of us who are storing food, the better. As they say, our best defence is a well-fed neighbour.