7 ways to change the world right now, like this minute, if you live in Bristol

In a world of ever-increasing connectivity, we are more aware than ever of the problems humanity faces. Thinking about fixing some of the global systems creating these issues can be daunting at best and can often be downright depressing.

But here in Bristol, we won’t let that stop us! This city, and our world, is shaped through every action we take. It’s up to us to choose the world we want to live in, by doing stuff. In Bristol, more and more of us are choosing a world where we put people first, not profits, by doing some or all of the stuff on the list below.

Last week we hosted the UK-wide premiere of Demain. Tickets were sold out and we all left the venue buzzing with renewed enthusiasm. The film revealed all the potential, showing us just some of the many alternatives happening around us, which we can be a part of to bring about the better world we all know is possible.

So, in 2017, we’re looking at 7 broken systems and how to fix them – 7 actions you can take right now in Bristol (like right this minute), to change the world.

 

1. FIX THE MEDIA – Join the Bristol Cable

Problem: Recent years have seen a decided downturn in trust, viability and quality of traditional media outlets, locally and nationally. Yet, it is more important than ever to have unbiased reporting and accountability which challenges power with the interest of people at its heart.

bristol-cable

Solution: What luck, here in Bristol we have a media co-operative! The Bristol Cable is created and owned by over 1480 people in the city. They provide online news and events as well as a quarterly print edition and distribute it across the city. You can join the co-op from £1 a month, and once you’ve joined you own the media, not some media baron or shareholders in some distant company. You. So, join now and give control of media back to the people: thebristolcable.org

(Want news, features and ‘what’s on’ around Bristol? Follow B24/7 a Community Interest Company)

 

2. FIX THE STREETS – Go to an Incredible Edible work party

Problem: The mainstream food system has moved food production into some far off land, out of view. Meanwhile, our cities have been left with ugly, unused spaces and disconnected communities.

incredible-edible-bristol

Solution: Hey, what if instead of disused lots and uninspired corporate planting, we had edible gardens created by local communities? Well, we do! Incredible Edible Bristol has over 30 edible gardens across the city – they’ve taken over underused land and made gorgeous gardens. They’re in places like Millennium Square, the Bear Pit, right next to St Mary Redcliffe and just off the roundabout next to Temple Meads. They’re everywhere and they’re for everyone. And who is Incredible Edible? Well, it could be you. You can go along to an Incredible Edible group near you, learn about growing food, and when the food’s ripe for the picking it’s anyone’s for the taking! The events are free and frequent – have a look here and just tun up to any session: ediblebristol.org.uk

 

3. JOIN THE FOOD REVOLUTION – Order a Veg Box

Problem: The mainstream food system involves over-intensive farming which relies on chemicals and fossil fuels and leads to soil degradation and loss of natural habitat. Vast amounts of food we could grow here in the UK is imported from across the globe, with massive carbon footprints.

community-farm

Solution: Get a local, organic veg box delivered to your door. Take your pick from: Community Farm, Bristol Veg Boxes, Sims Hill Shared Harvest and Real Economy Coop. The more people support this way of producing food, the more food will be produced this way. And hey, they all take Bristol Pounds too.

 

4. FIX SOMETHING! Anything!

Problem: Throw away culture and ‘planned obsolesce’ (stuff designed to break) make us use up more resources, and leaves us with piles of waste and no handy skills.

bristol-bike-project

Solution: Fixing something instead of replacing it is the new vogue! Plus, it can reduce resource use, save you money and give you practical skills and a sense of accomplishment! There’s sooo many How To videos on the internet to help you do it, or you can go to Craftisan for crafty things or go along to Bristol Repair Café for help fixing stuff, and when it comes to bikes there’s a Women’s Night at the Bristol Bike Project.

 

5. FREE US FROM FOSSIL FUELS – Change your energy supplier

Problem: The big six energy suppliers are profit-hungry fossil fuel guzzlers. They keep prices high long after the cost of energy production has fallen and primarily use fossil fuels to generate electricity literally costing us the earth.

bristol-energy

Solution: Switch to a local, renewable energy tariff. Right now. Just go to Bristol Energy or Good Energy and get a quote. See what you think. As more of us move onto green tariffs we show our demand is for clean energy. Pay your bills in Bristol Pounds for a joining bonus.

 

6. REBUILD THE ‘GIFT ECONOMY’ – Join Helpfulpeeps

Problem: Over the last century, many of us have become disconnected from our communities. When we need a helping hand, we don’t know who to turn to. And if we have skills and resources and want to help others, we don’t know how to find those in need.

helpful-peeps

Solution: Here in Bristol we’ve got Helpfulpeeps. It’s an online platform where we can ask for help, and earn Karma when we help others. This is what’s called the ‘gift economy’, where we give without expecting anything in return, but instead earn the respect of our community.

 

7. CHANGE MONEY – Sign up as a member of the Bristol Pound

Problem: Every time we spend money in a corporate business it leaves the city and heads off via London to places like the Cayman Islands, instead of being respent in the real economy and stimulating our local economy. On top of that, banking and the money system exploits us and the inequality gap is increasing.

bristol-pound

Solution: Become a member of Bristol Pound. Switch your sterling into Bristol Pounds each month and spend it in business which are also members. Every Bristol Pound is a commitment to spend locally and when you pass it on, you also pass on that commitment. Money circulates around the local economy, supports local independent businesses and is protected from abuse by the system. Using Bristol Pounds, we keep money circulating in the real economy, supporting local jobs and keeping the power of money with the people.

By doing the things on the this list, you are choosing a world where people come before profits. This list is not exhaustive and doing these things won’t solve the problems overnight, but if we want a healthy, happy city which is world-renowned for leading by example this is the way to achieve it. There is such power of just doing stuff.

So, let’s make a New Year’s revolution.

There’s a new sterling £5 note out – so let’s celebrate… why Bristol’s is better

the-new-fiver-header

In celebration of the UK’s new £5 notes, let’s remember why Bristol’s are better

This month the Bank of England has launched the new sterling five pound note. It will be stronger and more durable, with better security features: it is said to be “cleaner, safer and stronger” – so says the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney.

In celebration of the new, durable £5 note, let’s remember why Bristol notes offer a cleaner, greener, fairer alternative

The Bristol £B5 note reflects the colourful cultural diversity of our city and was lovingly created by local artist and musician Yoshino Shighara. It features an Aye-Aye; a highly endangered nocturnal lemur exploring Hotwells (or is it Totterdown?) with its colourful houses and bright lights.

Carney’s comments about the new sterling fiver are of course about the physical note itself, but we couldn’t help but think that the way money works today is far from ‘clean’. It is very easy for bankers to gamble our wealth away,  for multinationals to dodge tax and for arms and drugs dealers to plié their trades. It encourages unnecessary transport of goods that could be sourced more locally and so polluting the air and causing climate change. Is this money clean?

How ‘safe’ is our money when it is wisped out of our pockets and out of the city by chain stores while distant shareholders and inappropriately disproportionate pay CEOs stockpile this wealth? Is this money safe?

And how ‘strong’ is the system of making this money? It is based on debt and interest charges (Yes, 97% of money is created this way by profit seeking banks). In fact if us ordinary folk ever repaid all our debt the economy would instantly collapse. We are still paying for the collapse of banking in 2008. Is this money strong?

The new sterling fiver also features both an unelected head of state and the face of Winston Churchill; most see Churchill as a national wartime hero, and who can argue with needing to stand up to the Nazis? But Churchill was also a divisive figure who’s undoubted national achievements come with some serious flaws: as referenced in this BBC source Churchill was a self-professed racist, favoured genocide and let 3 million people in India die of starvation*.

So in celebration of the new sterling note, let’s remember why Bristol notes are better!

This city is created by all of us, in every action we take. In which projects, businesses and cooperatives we support and in who we choose to respect – Bristol’s £B5 note has not one, but a dozen influential figures on by local artist Stewy: DJ Derek, J.K. Rowling, Robert Wyatt (of Soft Machine), Blackbeard, Tony Benn, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Tricky, Elizabeth Blackwell M.D., Banksy, Alfred the Gorilla, Colin Pillinger CBEClaudia Fragapane.

I know we’re talking about the Bristol fiver, but while we’re here did you know, the £B10 shows Bristolian suffragette Annie Kenney; a working class member of the Women’s Social & Political Union. Kenney was a leading figure in the Suffragette movement and was imprisoned for assault and obstruction in 1905 following a heckling incident in the struggle to gain women the right to vote. Annie Kenney features on our £B10 note in an inked pen portrait by local artist Juraj Proda painted between 1997 – 2004.

Also depicted on our £B10 note is a celebration of the successful Bristol bus boycott of 1963. Local civil rights campaigner, Paul Stephenson OBE, can be seen picketing against the racist refusal of Bristol Omnibus Company to employ Black or Asian drivers or conductors. His campaigns were instrumental in paving the way for the Race Relations Act in 1965. The artist is Luke Carter, Bristol based illustrator.

All in all, we think these historical figures make for much better role models (except maybe Blackbeard!) and better represent the people and history of our progressive, inclusive and creative city. So here’s to our Bristol fiver, cleaner, safer and stronger!

B£ 2015 (3d)

Find out more about the Bristol Pound paper notes here: bristolpound.org/new-bristol-pounds

*You can read about ‘the 10 greatest controversies of Winston Churchill’ here: bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29701767

Written by Ruby Szarowicz and Adam Rich

Can Bristol Pound bridge the Divide?

The Divide ScreeningThe post-film discussion with (left to right): me (Ruby Szarowicz), Cleo Lake (Green Party), Kat Wall (New Economy Organisers Network), Mary Rivers (the Equality Trust) and  Chris Sunderland (Bristol Pound).

Using local currencies isn’t going to defeat neoliberal capitalism, but it is a positive change anyone can make to support a fairer, more equal society.

Over 75 people packed into the Wardrobe theatre on Thursday night to watch The Divide, a film inspired by the critically-acclaimed book The Spirit Level. The film examines global inequality, following seven individuals in the USA and UK, where the top 0.1% earn as much as the bottom 90%. The crowning message of the film tells of a failed experiment: neoliberalism.

The film paints a bleak picture of the world we have created; a wall street psychologist misses his daughter’s bedtime and struggles into work the morning after back surgery, thinking only of the big house beyond the security wall. On our side of the pond, care worker Rochelle is also missing her children’s bedtime to make up enough hours on minimum wage to pay off £4000 of catalogue debt. This economic disparity has created dangerous social division, and the consequence is that neither side of the scale can truly be happy.

A panel joined us from the Green Party (Cleo Lake), the New Economy Organisers Network (Kat Wall), the Equality Trust (Mary Rivers) and Bristol Pound (Chris Sunderland) to discuss what meaningful changes we can make in our community to tackle inequality and make Bristol a fairer city. There are key small changes we can make which can lead to a big difference.

We ask people to choose independent businesses over corporate ones because we know that big corporate businesses can be really bad for communities; we know from the Panama Papers that these companies aren’t paying taxes on their profits, sending them to offshore tax havens and not contributing back to the social infrastructure they are benefiting from. The owners of these businesses often earn four or five hundred times more than the lowest person on their staff role. The work they create is often repetitive, low-skilled and often workers’ rights are diminished with zero hours’ contracts and minimum wage. These companies exacerbate inequality whilst giving us a false sense of choice as they monopolise whole industries.

By spending Bristol Pounds, you are passing on a pledge for an independent business to source their products locally, with less carbon footprint. Circulating money in our local economy prevents it from being lost to offshore tax havens; even the council are accepting it for council tax and business rates, which means more of our taxes are being spent in Bristol. Strong local economies can protect jobs, stimulate growth and make Bristol a fairer, more equal place to live.

So if you want to do one thing to fight inequality in Bristol, use the Bristol Pound!

Ruby Szarowicz is the membership manager at the Bristol Pound CIC and chaired the discussion at the screening of ‘the Divide’ on the 18 August 2016

Inequality: the nexus of wealth and debt by Frances Coppola

Debt

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/austerity-media/frances-coppola/inequality-nexus-of-wealth-and-debt

Frances Coppola hits the nail on the head in focusing on the impact of debt on our lives and how unnecessary it should be. He describes many ways to avoid the debt structured economy we have, which ends up dictating and impoverishing so many people. The solutions are out there for national governments through taxation and governments investing in its citizens’ education and general well-being, but in truth the evidence is that most governments in rich countries actively encourage the build up of personal debt.

David Graeber’s video on the relationship between government debt and private debt is a must see on this issue too. Debt, for millions of ordinary people, forces people in to work which they may not have chosen to otherwise do, and for much of their lives . When debt with interest is not a choice for most people who need a home and to get an education, I think it is immoral and probably makes for poor productivity too.

This piece is highly recommended reading, with one caveat – I think he misses the issue of interest on debt almost completely. The matter of interest changes fundamentally the nature of debt and is something that at Bristol Pound we hope to take head on in the near future through giving zero interest credit or loans to businesses that join our scheme.

Ciaran Mundy  – CEO Bristol Pound CIC

Bristolians are taking control of their future following the EU referendum

“The morning after the Brexit vote, I was sitting in Small Street Espresso feeling pretty bewildered. As I paid for my coffee with text to pay, it occurred to me (and gave me some comfort) that by using the Bristol Pound it was a way of bypassing national political craziness and keeping things small and local. Our currency makes both a local and collective statement. It made the day a little brighter (and still does each time I use the currency).” Nick Hand, Director of the Letterpress Collective CIC

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Are you paying for your council tax in Bristol Pounds yet?

If, like me, you’re someone with many good intentions, always making lists of things you want to improve – signing up to a greener energy company, finding a better way than supermarkets to shop, getting round to paying for council tax in Bristol Pounds – I say shut down this screen right now and get to it. Pay your council tax and business rates with Bristol Pounds.My favourite quote about procrastination is Picasso’s “only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”. OK, this is admittedly a little heavy for simply changing your buying habits. But when something really matters, and for me, supporting the local community and the people in it deeply matters, I think you’ve got to seize the moment to make those lifestyle changes you’ve been thinking about for so long.

Paying for my council tax in Bristol Pounds has been on my to-do list since it was announced that you can pay this way. A quick Google search makes me realise that that was more than a year ago. It was only when the latest bill came through in March that I thought it’s time I get this sorted. What’s fiddly about the process is that the first council tax bill is a slightly different amount, so setting up the regular payments is a little clunky. But so worth it. I’m sure the more people use this system the more streamlined it’ll become though.

Now that a healthy amount of cash is going into my Bristol Pound account each month, I’m paying for more stuff in Bristol Pounds. On the way back from a meeting in Whiteladies Road, I had a quick search to find vendors accepting Bristol Pound. My first try wasn’t successful – I popped into the RWA gift shop to try to buy some greeting cards, but was told their text-to-pay wasn’t currently working. Hey ho. Instead I visited Park St Local newsagents and came out with the guilty pleasure of a Grazia mag. Park Street, Bristol Later on in the week I paid for my lunch at Bagel Boy by text message and, on another day, coffee out. Easy. Even if I did have to explain what Bristol Pounds are on occasion (and a manager had to come and assure the shop assistant), once you’re set up to text from the app and everyone knows what they’re doing, the process of paying is much quicker than using a bank card.

So anyone in Bristol without a Bristol Pound account – and anyone with an account lying dormant – I urge you not to kick the bucket leaving it undone. Get an account by signing up online or pop into the Bristol Credit Union office on Cheltenham Rd as soon as you can, then crack on with sorting the council tax too. Once it’s done it’s done.

Ramona Andrews is a food writer and digital content producer who has written for the BBC, Time Out, Channel 4 and many more.

Sign up for a Bristol Pound account here and find out how to pay your council tax here.

Park Street image courtesy of Rept0n1x

How sharing can help Bristol

A special speaker is coming to Bristol tomorrow to discuss how sharing can help cities progress.

Julian Agyeman

Professor Julian Agyeman is the co-author of the book “Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities” – in which he explores how sharing offers cities the opportunity to connect smart technology to justice, solidarity and sustainability.

He will be joining Bristol’s Friends of the Earth group to discuss these innovative ideas and to see how Bristol can make the most of them.

Sharing Cities – a Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities
When: Tuesday 10 May from 7.30pm to 9.15pm
Where: Watershed Cinema, Harbourside, Bristol, BS1 5TX
Book now: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/sharing-cities-a-case-for-truly-smart-and-sustainable-cities-tickets-24785074826

Julian brings a wealth of examples from every continent to show how innovations in sharing are working in practice to make cities fairer and more sustainable places – that includes the Bristol Pound.

So come prepared to listen, learn and engage about the potential of the sharing economy across our city.

Spaces are limited so please book your place now.

 

 

Why we don’t have a fair money system

I was dumb-struck when I heard yesterday how much money super-rich people and corporations are hiding using the offshore banking system. Billions of pounds are being put through bank accounts across the world to avoid paying tax – and by some very recognisable names.

Tax haven stunt by ActionAid

The names in the leaked Panama Papers are making headlines today but back in 2010 Nicholas Shaxson, in his book Treasure Islands, made it very clear this was a growing problem reaching over £20tn at the time. That figure is likely much higher today. This matters because it is money that no longer supports the jobs and lives of ordinary people and the public services they depend on.

There is a lot of outrage at the enormous scale of hidden and stolen wealth – and rightly so. However, it is important to remember this is the tip of an iceberg and we should not be fooled into thinking it is the work mainly of corrupt despots and bad apples in overseas nations.

The City of London is the epicentre for much of the world’s shadowy banking. Most of the hidden wealth is the product of endless hours of hard work by ordinary people, siphoned upwards, sometimes through corrupt governments but it has become normal in some corporate and wealthy circles. Wrestling it back through introducing a fairer system requires a recognition of how widespread it is.

For me the question is not whether a criminal act has been committed, but why we have money and banking system that actively encourages this hoarding of wealth by a tiny minority of people. It does not need to and ultimately serves no-one – I doubt even those with the swollen offshore accounts.

In terms of well-being it has long been understood that increasing wealth above a relatively mundane £20 or £30k does not bring greater happiness, in fact it may well be the reverse.

The rapacious pursuit of wealth and power that some of these people are compelled by seems to me a problem and not something we should structure monetary and banking systems to serve.

In Bristol it is now very possible to avoid much of the system all-together by using Bristol Pounds. Thousands of people have started on this journey of using local money that stems the losses into the shadow banking system. It is a simple but powerful way to prevent money going offshore and sends a clear signal to those that run the current system that we want more positive values-based financial services that serve real people and real jobs.

We need many more people to join us and we are supporting similar schemes across the UK. We want to be a small start in a great and building movement to take back our economy. In two weeks we will meet with dozens of similar schemes at the Guild of Independent Currencies in Liverpool. Our goal is to support each other at a national and international level and together create money that serves society at large right now and helps create a better future too.

Ciaran Mundy is Chief Executive Officer of the Bristol Pound.

Picture credit: ActionAid UK