How can community volunteers become full-time activists? How can we create leaders that act as facilitators rather than heroes? How can groups scale up small projects to offer solutions rapidly?
These were some of the questions at a discussion on the future of local economies hosted by Transition Network in Birmingham as the three-year Reconomy project comes to a close.
Participants from the Transition Network and other activist groups considered the opportunities and challenges of the moment.
“Local authorities are facing cuts and having to reconfigure themselves which can present opportunities,” said Gareth Roberts from Regather.
Mike Thomas from the Transition Network said austerity was creating huge challenges. “New ideas tend to thrive when people have their basic needs met.
“I’ve seen a change in Bristol where people are getting hammered at the bottom. Homelessness is through the roof, mental health services have been cut. You can see it on the streets,” he said.
The author Mark Simmonds replied: “People are arriving at the point where they no longer have a choice.”
A big challenge faced by community groups working across food, housing, health and other sectors is knowing what other related work is going on. Building networks can help to connect these groups.
One project kept picking up praise as the day went on. Renew is a climate change project in Wales that offers small amounts of funding to send people who have delivered projects into communities that need solutions.
Peer-to-peer work of this kind was seen as preferable to the top-down nature of many national interventions.
Even when things are grassroots-led, some investment is needed.
“People think because it’s community based it should be self-sustaining,” said Karen Leach from Localise West Midlands. “They’re missing the point.”