Empty Shops, Full of Opportunity

Who hasn’t noticed the growing vacancies on the Totnes High Street? Totnes has been more the exception than the rule, resisting the retail malaise that has struck High Streets all over Britain. It has, so far, resisted the encroachment of chain stores, while being held up as an example of a local economy thriving on tourism, community spirit and independent shops. For decades, local traders have opposed pedestrianisation, which is, ironically, a suggestion that many visitors make upon struggling their way up the High Street and The Narrows. A few years ago, a temporary traffic reversal was blamed for a few shops closing with an energetic campaign to reverse the reversal.

New Walk
Former home of numerous failed local restaurants.

But there are larger forces at work behind the current trend of closures. One obvious explanation is that shops are failing because people don’t want to buy what they’re selling. This is undoubtedly true for some, probably most, while a few are closing for strategic reasons of their own. A couple of multinational retail chains are opening new units, a SpecSavers and a Coffee One, a subsidiary of Cafe Nero. Both will put further pressure on locally-owned opticians, as well as local cafes and their local suppliers.

Continue reading Empty Shops, Full of Opportunity

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Totnes Community of Dragons Flips “Dragons’ Den”!

Community gathers to invest in local enterprises in party atmosphere

If you have watched the Dragons’ Den on TV, you may have already figured out the twist behind the May 11th Community of Dragons event in Totnes – everyone’s an investor. For the past six years, the people of Totnes and District have come

Katie ‘Mama’ Tokus

together to help local entrepreneurs lift off, or a young business grow, with financial and non-financial investments of thousands of Pounds Sterling, offers of business advice – and even child minding and home-cooked meals.

This year’s event is at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel Ballroom and will be co-hosted by Katie ‘Mama’ Tokus, singer of sassy, self-penned blues and soul songs, and a spoken word performer. The evening promises to be fun, lively and productive.

Five local projects will be pitching for funds, advice, and help of all kinds to get their businesses to the next level: food growers the Apricot Centre, at Huxhams Cross Biodynamic Farm, led by Bob Mehew; Potting Shed

Bob Mehew

Studio 45, led by Richenda Macgregor; Yew Media, led by Jay Jacoby; Black Bee Combe, led by Emily Reed and Woodland Presents CIC, led by AL Tempist. All five enterprises operate within sectors identified in the Local Economic Blueprint as essential for the vitality of the South Devon economy.

Richenda Macgregor

Jay Jacoby of Yew Media, a bespoke biographical and personal legacy film company, says, “I’m SO grateful, excited, honoured, scared and happy!!! Thank you for this opportunity! I can’t wait to ‘get stuck in’!” Bob Mehew says, “We at The Apricot Centre are delighted to be presenting to the Community of Dragons this year. With public help we can invest in and share our tractor and other machinery to enable us and other small scale land-workers to improve their efficiency and go further.”  Emily Reed of Black Bee Combe says, “We seek to demonstrate ethical beekeeping, by using hives which support honeybees natural preferences,

Jay Jacoby

practicing minimal intervention beekeeping and reestablishing a locally adapted strain of the nationally threatened native honeybee. I hope the Dragons can help us develop new income streams to support the project.

Emily Reed

The way it works is that everyone can participate and be a ‘dragon’, just like in the ‘Dragon’s Den’ TV show, except we’re all friendly dragons,” says Jay Tompt, coordinator of the Totnes REconomy Project, one of the co-organisers of the event. “We can support our local entrepreneurs with money or time or skills or experience or neighbourly encouragement. Past investments have included hugs and home-cooked meals, for example.

Al Tempest

The 2017 Community of Dragons has been timed to take place during Global Divestment Week (May 5th-13th), when campaigning groups synchronised by climate safety charity 350.org will be persuading individuals and institutions all over the world to move their money out of climate damaging fossil fuel investments. But moving one’s money is only the first step; the Community of Dragons creates investment opportunities, the second and key part of Divest/Invest. Here is where people can move their money closer to home and put it to work creating a vibrant, healthy economy that can grow for the benefit of everyone, providing opportunities for young people and new life for the Devon economy.

The event has supported a wide range of businesses in the last six years. Last year, Ambios Ltd – an educational farm project – and local caterer The Kitchen Table pitched, alongside theatre designer Iola and horse trainer Horse & Heart. In prior years, enterprises have included the food processor Grown in Totnes, New Lion Brewery, GroCycle mushroom farm, and Argand Solutions, a technology company. Last Saturday, April 29th, saw The Kitchen Table providing local-grain-based catering for Grown In Totnes’ processing unit launch on the Totnes Industrial Estate. Both these enterprises are dedicated to promoting local food, and such mutual support is what the Community of Dragons is all about.

I never thought I could be an investor but always wanted to support the kinds of businesses I’d really like to have in my community,” says 2016 participant Jane Brady. “It felt so good when I ‘invested’ in Ambios last year with my promise to take part in their ‘share in a sheep’ scheme. It was the most delicious investment I’ve ever made in my life!

John Elford of the Totnes Pound says, “We will be be making the annual Totnes Pound award of t£100 to the enterprise project that best embodies the spirit of Totnes innovation, and t£21 to all the other pitchers.In every community there are people with experience in business, people with a little bit of money in the bank, and people who value the neighbourliness in the places they live. The idea behind the Community of Dragons and other ‘reconomy’ projects is that when local people come together like this, a vibrant, healthy economy can grow, providing opportunities for young people and new life for our High Streets.

Everyone is warmly invited to join the fun at the Community of Dragon’s event, May 11th, Royal Seven Stars Ballroom, Totnes – networking starts at 6pm, programme at 7pm. Further information are available on the REconomy Centre website at www.bit.ly/lef2017

Prototypes and Hacks

This year, we tried something new. Isn’t that the point?

If we know that the current economic system isn’t working for most of us, that it concentrates economic and political power into fewer and fewer hands, that it leads us to consume greater quantities of crappy stuff made in far off lands, that it’s putting too much pollution into the air and oceans, cutting down too many trees, and more – then we know we must try something else that doesn’t do those things. This means supporting local enterprises and local innovations.

So, we tried something new on April 8th, a hack-a-thon designed to help take forward 5 local projects that would, in some measure, provide better alternatives to what’s currently on offer. With the help of energetic Schumacher students, Pricilla and David, we borrowed ideas from innovation design firm IDEO and others and put together an action-packed day of tools, activities, storytelling and models. Lots of models.  Some things worked. Some things didn’t work. Failure is part of the process. Our hack-a-thon was a huge success in teaching us how we might continue to be a catalyst for a new kind of entrepreneurial culture, the kind where solutions to our challenges and alternatives to destructive business-as-usual models can emerge, take root, and thrive. We might have helped these projects along, too.

A huge thanks to Claire, Inez, Bridgette, Ben and Mat for bringing forward their projects to be hacked. And to all our hackers, about 25 local designers, consultants, old business hands, and enthusiastic new enterprise supporters.

Images can be found, here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/rpleft/photos/?tab=album&album_id=498636793593460

This event was part one of our 2017 Local Entrepreneur Forum. Part two is the Community of Dragons on May 11 at the Royal Seven Stars Hotel, networking at 6pm, presentations at 7pm. More info, here: bit.ly/lef2017

Transform Your Local Economy in One Day or how to run the Local Entrepreneur Forum

Local Entrepreneur Forum or ‘How to transform your local economy in one day’

REconomy Centre
Nov 19 10am-4pm
Cost: gift
Booking:  send email to jay@transitiontowntotnes.org

Four happy local entrepreneurs.
Four happy local entrepreneurs – Iola, Marie, Jack, and Sima.

This workshop is for people interested in making economic change in their own communities and regions. Want to create a more regenerative, resilient and inclusive local economy? The Local Entrepreneur Forum can be your catalyst project.

After 5 years, the Local Entrepreneur Forum has been incredibly effective. It is the focal point of the REconomy work in Totnes, facilitating practical support for enterprising change makers, engaging and including the wider community in a powerful new economic narrative, and catalysing the emergence of an entrepreneurial culture. The event brings entrepreneurs and investors together for learning, connecting and support, where everyone is part of the ‘Community of Dragons’ and can invest in the kind of enterprises – and local economy – they want to see in their community. In this session you’ll learn:

• how it works as an event and an ongoing strategic platform for ‘REconomy work’
• about our results: financial and non-financial investments, new firms, livelihoods, etc.
• why this can model can work anywhere – it already has in London and Gothenburg
• what tools and resources are available to support you implementing the LEF in your community

Led by Jay Tompt, is a coordinator of the Totnes REconomy Project, a social enterprise consultant, and activist. Since 2011, the Totnes REconomy Project has launched innovative economic regeneration and resilience building projects, such as the Local Entrepreneur Forum and the REconomy Centre. He has been leading workshops and giving talks about this work and on community-led economics, across Europe and Japan.

Prior to moving to the UK from San Francisco, Jay spent 10 years as entrepreneur and consultant in the ‘green business movement’, after a 12-year career in Silicon Valley. Jay holds an MBA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a BA in Philosophy from San Jose State University.

Community of Dragons Spreads the Wealth at LEF5

Over a hundred people gathered at Totnes Civic Hall on Thursday May 12th, for a day supporting local social enterprise at the Local Entrepreneur Forum, hosted by Transition Town Totnes’ REconomy Project. After two inspiring speakers, including the new CEO of Dartington Hall Trust Rhodri Samuel, and an afternoon of discussion and networking, it was down to business and the Community of Dragons, where local people invest time, money and skills into local ethical businesses.

Four happy local entrepreneurs - Iola, Marie, Jack, and Sima.
Four happy local entrepreneurs – Iola, Marie, Jack, and Sima.

There were four people pitching for financial and practical support this year, from Iola Weir’s theatre arts start up and her vision to create local livelihoods amid a flourishing regional arts and culture scene, to Sima Cutting’s Totnes-based and expanding sustainable catering company The Kitchen Table that supports local producers and raising awareness of important food system issues, to Marie Franco and her expanding horsemanship training practice that offers a range of services supporting the use of horses in agriculture, health and care. Last but not least came Jack Skuse’s ‘Share in a Sheep’ scheme at Lower Sharpham Farm, a not-for-profit running UK and European training projects that help people achieve their goals for nature, science, education and employment.

Each of these projects aims to contribute positive impacts to the local community in a range of ways, from providing worthwhile employment to training opportunities, to decarbonising agriculture to providing an ethical and localised alternative to catering large and small events.

The fine detail of the pledges is still being gone through, but at a rough estimate, overall a total of 75 ‘investments’ were made, including 16 investments to this year’s pitchers from current/past pitchers. Nine ‘friendly & patient’ loan offers were made, totalling £4,000, a sum that is expected to go up substantially after follow up conversations. Gifts of money to the tune of £1,850 were also made. Fourteen ‘share in sheep’ memberships were pre-sold, guaranteeing Jack  £1,400 in pre-sales. Six days labour worth approx £600 were offered, as well as 26 offers of networking, promotion & collaboration worth approx £1,000, 16 hours of professional services worth approx £1,000. There were seven offers of equipment, either loaned or gifted, worth approx £2,000. And then there were all the hours of unpaid time that went into organising the event, totalling about £1,250, which doesn’t include the volunteer time given on the day itself, as well as an approximate value of £5000 in non-financial gifts. Bringing a preliminary total of £18,100+ investment into the local economy.

Previous projects have raised £70,000 as a direct result of pitching at the LEF, and indirectly a couple of hundred thousand have been raised, in a combination of loan, equity, grant, pre-sales, and gift. ‘Investments’ have also included offers of non-financial support, including professional business services, legal services, marketing and communications, advertising, video and radio production, mentoring and coaching, use of buildings and office space, use of land, labour, fruit trees, mulch, horse paddock, lunches, home-cooked meals, and much more; all gifted but worth thousands of pounds, and all representing an investment in the growth of the South West’s new economy.

Overall a great result for all concerned, including our local economy.  Jack Skuse summed it up by saying “We’re delighted with the pledges and have started the follow up. Nearly two weeks on and the glow of the LEF still shines – a great network and positive conversations that will I’m sure lead us further along our respective paths. For me its about developing a network with the local community and widening the opportunities for our team at the farm as well as ever important revenue; I feel we developed these at the LEF.”

For more information on this, and on plans for the next Local Entrepreneur Forum in 2017, please send an email to info@reconomycentre.org

 

Pitching to the ‘Community of Dragons’

This is proving to be an interesting year for a very young, but growing, ‘new economy’ emerging in this region.  A new economy, we say, because the key value drivers are fairness, ecological integrity, resilience, wellbeing, and earning a ‘regenerative profit’. And growing, because young, new enterprises are launching and expanding all around us.

On May 12th, Totnes and the 5th annual Local Entrepreneur Forum become the focal point, with a full-day agenda designed to help new economy entrepreneurs, organisers, activists, supporters, investors, catalysts – and everyone in the community – connect, share, learn, collaborate, support and invest.  Four very worthy entrepreneurs will pitch their projects to the ‘Community of Dragons’, (that means everyone – we can all be investors!)

Pitching this year:

Iola WeirIola – iolaweir.co.uk – a start up led by Iola Weir in the theatre arts space with a vision to create local livelihoods and be catalyst for a flourishing regional arts and culture scene.

Sima CuttingThe Kitchen Table – thekitchentable.org.uk – an expanding sustainable catering company led by Sima Cutting, supporting local producers and raising awareness of important food system issues.

marieHorse and Heart – www.horse-and-heart.com – Marie Franco leads this expanding horsemanship training practice offering a range of services supporting the use of horses in agriculture and health & care.

Jack SkuseAmbios – www.ambios.net – an expanding farm and educational project led by Jack Skuse, producing organic food and serving the land-based educational needs of young people.

Each of these projects is looking to contribute positive impacts to our community in a range of ways – please stay tuned for more information about them and their pitches. And please plan to attend the LEF, May 12 at the Totnes Civic Hall, where you can hear their stories first hand and invest your support, it whatever way you’d like. In the meantime, please don’t be shy about rallying the support of your friends and neighbours, and cheerleading for these hardworking change makers on social media.

 

How to transform your local economy in one day

We want community-led economic development, the kind that’s just, ecologically regenerative, inclusive and equitable. But it’s easier said than done. Creating bottom-up economic change is incredibly difficult. But for the past three years, we’ve been doing something that seems to be working. It’s relatively cheap and easy to do. And now it seems like a good time for this innovation to start spreading. We call it the Local Entrepreneur Forum.

The recent World Cup was an amazing spectacle that held the attention of a billion people with the on-field drama of football, but it also serves as an instructive example of the dominant economic development model at work at every scale, from multi-national down to local authority level. At the core of this model is a shadow play of free market capitalism, characterised by corporate-government partnership, benefiting primarily the business and political interests of those firms who win the contracts and the functionaries who award them. Whatever the short-term bump to GDP, the preparations for this football tournament will do virtually nothing to improve the economic conditions and wellbeing of the common citizen for whose benefit it was ostensibly staged. In fact, thousands took to the streets, risking arrest and police violence, well before the first goal was scored and through to the final whistle of the final match, protesting the misplaced priorities and the corruption of the whole enterprise. But this is just the latest chapter of top-down, large-scale, corporate-led development whose trickle down benefits have never matched the hype, nor justified the massive investments, public debt, and corruption of democratic institutions.

The development model adopted by most local authorities is basically a smaller-scale version of the same game, but generally called by a benign sounding name, ‘inward investment’. As it implies, investment originates from outside the area and is led primarily by corporations or corporate-government partnership, or if not partnership, then collaboration. Imposing development from the outside-in primarily benefits those on the outside, whose economic interests are served by enlarging their market, gaining control over resources, or profiting from tax breaks and other largesse from local planners, who themselves benefit from the hassle-free, tick-all-the-boxes exercise. Local economic benefits, such as boosts in employment, are almost always short-lived, while profits and dividends are headed ‘outward’ until, sooner or later, they dry up and the corporate ‘partners’ leave for the next ‘inward investment’ opportunity. Meantime, duped or duplicitous elected officials expect the shiny new corporate signage on the motorway will lead to re-election, or at least economic advantage for their own real estate investments. Because the electorate is too often uninterested and disengaged from the practice of local governance, this model remains largely unchallenged.

A better development model is community-led and aims at fulfilling the needs of local people and the wider eco-system rather than maximising share value for distant owners. This kind of approach is about providing meaningful livelihoods, increasing inclusion and participation, decreasing inequity and negative ecological impacts, increasing local ownership and production, decreasing dependence on outside corporates and imports, increasing wellbeing and resilience, and so on. It’s often called ‘economic relocalisation’, for short. And this is exactly the kind of development we’re hoping to achieve in Totnes with projects like the Local Entrepreneur Forum.

The Local Entrepreneur Forum is a one-day event that nominally brings together entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs, investors and potential investors, as well as experts and enablers of all kinds. Really, the event is a focal point for a broader strategy and set of activities, bringing together a wide array of people in the community in what may be more accurately called ‘community supported entrepreneurism’. It’s playing a leading role in creating the conditions for new economic actors to emerge, new business and investment models to be tested, and a new social and sustainable entrepreneurial culture to take root.

Like many good ideas, the Local Entrepreneur Forum was born of setbacks and perseverance. In late 2011, after hitting obstacle after obstacle in our quest to develop an incubator for social and sustainable start ups, we decided to simply create an incubator experience for one day in the Civic Hall, inviting everyone we knew who might play a role in developing or supporting new enterprises. We designed the format to promote learning and relationships. We have a few inspiring speakers, because every event has to have them. And we have a shared locally-sourced lunch, because that’s prime networking time. But the two biggest and most important parts of the day are a couple of hours of an ‘open space’ style activity we call ‘Be like a Bee’, and a pitching session where 4 or 5 vetted entrepreneurs pitch their business plans.

The Be like a Bee session begins with some facilitated ice breaking – ‘constellations’, for those of you in the know – so everyone gets to see who else is in the room. This is where relationships begin – a friendly face and a good excuse to start a conversation. Everyone gets to meet who they need to meet. Then we slide into an open space activity where topics are proposed and decided, and breakout sessions are organised around a dozen or so tables spread across the hall. Topics range from ‘how do you write a business plan’ to ‘who’s interested in eco-tourism?’ and everything in between. There’s enough expertise in the room to make sure that everyone gets a chance to learn what they need to learn.

The other big part of the day is the pitching. Our first year, the projects were pitched to 3 very friendly ‘green dragons’. They weren’t like TV’s hard-nosed ‘business as usual’ capitalists, but social enterprise leaders with access to resources, networks, and expertise. Their remit was to engage and support these fledgling projects in any way they could. And they did. But Pete Yeo, one of the dragons, also told a story about how a café in his town that needed help received an outpouring of gifts from their supporters in the community, including everything from a bit of cash to taking a shift washing dishes. This is about more than just money, he said. This provided the spark for an important innovation.

The idea that the entire community could be involved in the process of supporting entrepreneurial projects, with both financial and non-financial ‘investment’, felt exciting and necessary. Many of us had already been working with concepts like ‘fundamental human needs’ and ‘gift culture’, looking for opportunities to integrate them into strategic projects. Entrepreneurs have all kinds of needs that go far beyond the acquisition of funding. The event itself, as well as the activities and narratives that point to it throughout the year, can also meet many of the needs of members of the wider community, for identity, participation, and so on. This led us to modify the format of the day to have the entrepreneurs pitch their projects to the entire audience, the ‘community of dragons’.

At the 2013 and 2014 events, a total of nine entrepreneurs pitched and the community responded with loans and gifts of close to £30,000, legal and marketing services, mentorship and access to networks, free labour and consulting, offers of storage space and accommodation, land for growing, dozens of fruit trees, tonnes of mulch, a horse paddock, massages and massage training, video and radio production, advertising and editorial coverage,lunches and dinners, and hugs, too. All the more thrilling because even though we coached the pitchers to ask for the things they needed, they got loads of gifts to ease their journey they could never have anticipated. This abundance of generosity sets the room aglow with a warmth of feeling that says this is a shared enterprise and that we’re all in it together.

The day provides a space for the concept of ‘investment’ to be cracked open and experienced. It provides an opportunity for the wealth of social capital that exists here to be put to work regenerating the local economy. This gives rise to a new shared narrative that includes everyone as protagonist. We all have a stake in our local economy and we can all ‘invest’ in the kinds of businesses, organisations, and projects we want to see flourishing. Entrepreneurs need all kinds of support. Money is important, but so is access to other tangible and intangible resources that new enterprises need to form, launch, and thrive. There are still more needs around what might be called ‘wellbeing’ services, what the entrepreneurs themselves may need – childcare, home-cooked meals, massages, hugs. Everyone’s gifts are valued. Everyone can be part of co-creating a new social and economic reality.

Now, the Local Entrepreneur Forum has become much more than a one-day event. It’s playing a prominent role in the work of the Totnes REconomy Project. We organise a range of networking events and talks throughout the year that support the Local Entrepreneur Forum directly or indirectly. There is a synergistic relationship developing between the event and other projects, such as the REconomy Centre, a small incubator we’ve been running for the past year, and Food Link, a network of local food producers and retailers. In practical terms, this is spreading the connectivity of a network, a network of networks, that will attract next year’s entrepreneurs, projects, and supporters. It’s also creating opportunities to make prominent the full range of concepts and models at the leading edge of this wider ‘new economy’ movement – financial and non-financial investment, patient capital and crowd funding, the local multiplier effect, cooperatives and collectives, circular and symbiotic industrial relationships, alternative means of exchange, new pathways for satisfying needs.

Less tangible but subtly detectable, the local culture is changing. Or perhaps it’s better to say a new culture is emerging, one that is growing in confidence, creativity, and collaboration. It’s bringing more people into the game, including young people and ‘not the usual suspects’. The students and faculty of Schumacher College are playing increasingly important parts in this story. Other organisations are looking to play their parts now, too, perhaps even the district council. These connections and relations, the growing sense of self-empowerment and collective self reliance – all this in contributing to greater resilience.

What’s next? We’re planning to run the next Local Entrepreneur Forum in the spring of 2015, of course, and hope that we can build on the positive results we’ve seen, so far. We’re also interested in seeing this model adopted by other community groups. Are you interested in transforming your local economy in one day? We’re ready to offer our support. Give us your pitch.

Images: World Cup Protest. Flickr Creative Commons user coolloud; poster for 2014 LEF; Louise participates in ‘constellation’ part of Be like a Bee, photo: Tim Strasser; The Living Projects pitch, photo: Tim Strasser; Shared locally sourced lunch, photo: Tim Strasser