BURNT TOAST OR
WARM TEACAKES ?
An essay by Michael Bassey December 2016
PART FOUR: COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
A basic premise of this essay
is that happiness matters: it must be
built into any new political framework. One
of the essentials for happiness is having something worthwhile to do:
occupation to which one can devote much of one’s time and energy and gain
So unemployment must be
tackled. But in tackling the problem of
global warming by moving from fossil fuels to environmental sources of energy, some
industries will suffer and unemployment will rise. So some new thinking is desperately
needed. Here I am drawing on my 2012
book Convivial Policies for the
TACKLING THE ABSENCE OF PAID WORK BY CREATING WORTHWHILE
What follows is the case for
developing local communities that to some extent are self-sustaining. The argument assumes that everybody is in
receipt of citizen’s income and every earner pays income tax on a progressive
scale (as described above).
The essential idea is to enable
people who have no paid work the opportunity to engage in worthwhile activities
within the local community and through this build a lively community spirit.
Everybody needs money to buy
the necessities of life. Most people
have a job that provides this money.
Some people have no job and receive money as a benefit from the
state. Children depend upon the income
of their parent(s). Older people depend
upon pensions. That is today’s model.
A different model is proposed here starting with the
premise that everybody, from birth to death, receives a citizen’s income from
the state. This is just sufficient to live on.
Most people will seek a paid job in order to live above the mere
subsistence level although in families with young children or with aged members
who need regular attention, often only one adult will be in a paid job.
What of those who cannot find a job? Automation is already cutting jobs and one of
the consequences of avoiding fossil fuels is likely to be job losses, so more people
will not be earning an income. The proposal here is that these people have the
opportunity to work, unpaid, in the programme of the local community. How this programme arises and functions needs
careful administrative and financial support.
Underlying it is the concept of local partial sustainability.
Instead of thinking on the
scale of nation, county or district, start with the parish. In most rural and many suburban parts of the
country the local unit of government is the parish – with a parish council
which, if very limited in its powers, is a democratic body elected by the local
adults. They vary in size from a hundred or so households to several
thousand. According to Wikipedia there
are 8,500 parish councils in England and they embrace 35% of the population.
What of the other 65% of the
population, living for the most part in denser living spaces? Local government in England is gloriously
complicated with counties, metropolitan boroughs, London boroughs,
non-metropolitan districts, unitary authorities and other bodies. In principle, however naïve this may seem,
they could be sub-divided into parishes for the purposes to be described. There is, of course, the considerable problem
of drawing boundaries to delineate parishes, but it could be done.
PARISHES AS SELF-SUSTAINING COMMUNITIES SUB-DIVIDED
The central idea is that
parishes could become to some extent self-sustaining, ie looking after
themselves by growing some of the food they need, generating some of the energy
they consume, and in part looking after the disabled, infirm and aged of their
parish. Essentially it needs to be done
on a very local scale.
Suppose that a particular
parish council votes to participate in a Community Self-Sustaining (CSS)
programme. Suppose that this means that
for say five years they will have an ‘executive mayor’ who is a trained
professional worker who will lead the CSS development of the parish. He or she will be appointed by the parish
council as someone whom they feel they can trust and whom they believe can help
the parish. This executive mayor will be
paid by national government for the five years of office and will have a
limited sum available each year for parish projects.
The first task for this
executive mayor will be a geographical one – of dividing the parish into what
may be called ‘manors’ – each an area with between say ten and fifty households. These manors will be the main agencies for
the Community Self-Sustaining programme.
Inevitably some manors will be eager to participate and others will
reject the idea – the mayor works with those that choose to. The workforce of the manor will be the
unemployed and retired people who choose and are able to take part. Each manor must be small enough for people to
know each other and learn to trust each other, but large enough to have
sufficient people to undertake whatever tasks are chosen by the manor.
The executive mayor will then
seek to identify persons who can take the lead, as a voluntary task, of
developing the CSS programme in each manor.
Since ‘manor’ is a medieval term let’s use another one for this
volunteer – ‘reeve’.
MANORS AND REEVES: A 21st CENTURY VERSION OF
The first task of the reeve
is to foster any sense of neighbourliness that exists in the manor, or if it is
lacking, begin to try to create it.
Neighbourliness is having positive answers to questions like these.
you know the people in the houses near to you?
you ever visit each others’ houses?
you ran out of, say milk, could you ask a neighbour for some?
you are away would they put out your refuse bin and take it in when emptied?
you were to fall ill would you expect anyone nearby to come and support you?
a new family moves into the neighbourhood are they welcomed?
These are, in a way, very
intimate questions about a neighbourhood.
In some places such relationships are taken for granted, in others,
One way that the reeve could
begin to develop neighbourhood spirit is through the Big Lunch. This is a national programme of street
parties, mostlyl held on the same summer day and promoted by the Eden Centre in
Cornwall [ii]. This remarkable process, started in 2008, has
been picked up in small communities all over Britain. The national government has no part in it at
all – it is just a happy idea promoted by a few entrepreneurs – and with no
money changing hands! It is described
“a day when, for a few glorious
hours, cars stop, shyness stops, gloom stops and Britain comes together in the
street to meet, greet, share, swap, sing, play, and laugh for no reason other than we all need to.”
The second task for the reeve
will be to make some kind of a survey and census of the manor. She/he will need to learn which people could
be involved one way or another in the Community Self-Sustaining Programme. Who are unemployed or retired and could
become active in the project? Who are
elderly or infirm and may benefit from local support and help? Who live under roofs that could carry solar
energy panels? Is there unused land that
could be turned into allotments?
A long-term aim of the
Community Self-Sustaining Programme should be to develop some sustainability in
each manor. To this end there could be
three major objectives for the manor to try to work towards:
(1) growing some food;
(2) generating some energy;
some support to members of the manor who are sick, infirm or otherwise needing
For growing potatoes, other
vegetables and fruit the manor needs some land that can be treated as common
land. It might be a communal plot or
divided into individual allotments.
Chickens might be reared for eggs and for meat. This is going to be easier in rural and
suburban areas. It may be that only the
third objective can be achieved in densely populated urban areas – unless roofs
can house vegetable plots and solar panels.
The most obvious way of
generating energy is solar panels on roofs – for either hot water or
electricity. In some areas small wind
turbines may be appropriate and where there is sufficient common land quick
growing wood, such as pollarded willows, could provide fuel for wood-burning
Supporting those in need of
help will depend upon the extent to which neighbourliness has developed. For the infirm elderly it could be a vital
contribution to their staying in their own homes.
An important aspect of the
concept of the manor is that it is small enough to act as an
Decisions on what to grow and how to share what has been grown should be
taken by the manor as a whole, acting under the leadership of the reeve. It will all be part of the growth of local
It is not intended that
anywhere should be completely self-contained, but rather that people should find
some alternatives to buying
everything with money obtained in employment and from citizen’s income. And for those who are workless – either
because there are no jobs, or because they have retired but still have some energy
– these voluntary activities could provide the mystical quality of meaning to
their lives as well as opportunities to associate with others in worthwhile
tasks. As noted earlier they need some state income - citizen’s income which,
of course, comes from the taxes paid by those in paid work across the country.[iii]
The executive mayor would be
an adviser to the reeves and also the source of limited funds allocated by
government for the purchase of tools, seeds, energy-generating equipment,
etc. She/he would negotiate the feed-in
tariffs to the electricity companies for any electricity generated by the
contributing manors in the parish.
She/he might establish a parish ‘food market’ once a week where any
surplus from the manor allotments could be sold or bartered. In addition the mayor might organize – or
cause to be organized – sports and social events for the parish.
These suggestions are not
intended to supplant national provision.
In particular the work of the social services and national health
service would not be reduced but augmented by the volunteering. But our present dependence on imported foods
and fuels could be reduced and prepare us all for any major crises that lie
Over time other forms of
self-sufficiency might develop. For
example building eco-houses and making simple furniture. Also existing clubs,
sports facilities, local societies might become involved and new ones developed
in accord with local interests.
After five years, say, the
executive mayor should be replaced by a democratically elected mayor of the
parish – a local person, unpaid, who hopefully, as best able, would continue
the sustainable development of the parish and its manors.
Does it sound like the
probably phony idyll of Merrie England before land enclosures robbed the
peasantry of the opportunity of growing their own crops? It is not.
It is an answer to the enforced idleness that rampant forms of
capitalism put undeservedly onto some communities. It is an answer to the loss of paid
employment that may arise as the national economy flat-lines (or declines) due
to national changes in energy provision.
It is an answer to transport becoming more difficult and people needing
to live more within their own communities.
It is an answer to the repairs needed for freak storm damage associated
with global warming because communities will be more geared to supporting each
other and doing things for themselves.
With the benefit of scientific
understanding of small-scale agriculture and small-scale energy generation it
can herald worthwhile activity for the workless of today. By mobilising volunteers it can foster
community support for the aged and infirm by helping them to live in their own
ideas are in tune with the democratic ideal that government should not be the
fiefdom of the rich and powerful but a manifestation of the will of the
people. Parochial manors with competent
reeves may be an important answer to unemployment today and to many of the
problems of the future.
Above all, they can put happiness
into the lives of people who have little prospect of paid employment, but every
opportunity for community involvement.
[i] Convivial Policies
for the Inevitable, Michael Bassey,
(2012) Bookguild, Brighton [Now
out-of-print but copies available from the Resurgence Trust, Bodmin, Cornwall,
[iii] There is a coherence of the ideas of
citizen’s income, minimum and maximum wage, and community self-sustainability,
but it could lead to numbers of people choosing unpaid community work rather
than paid but uncongenial employment and clearly this could affect the revenue
from taxation. It would require careful
planning by the Treasury.
[iv] After I had first put these ideas
together I came across Rob Hopkins book, The
Transition Handbook: from oil dependency
to local resilience (2009) Green Books, Totnes, Devon where similar notions