Wellbeing Economy Wales convened a meeting to talk about “building the wellbeing economy from the ground up”, bringing together community involvement practitioners from around Wales to share insights on what works (and what the obstacles are) when it comes to empowering and enabling people to step up and lead in their communities.
What emerged was a diverse picture of place-based projects, from food growing groups to swap shops, from co-working spaces to ‘womens sheds’, sometimes emerging organically from within communities themselves, but more often seeded and enabled by organisations such as development trusts, resilience networks, community councils and funded community development projects.
Access to land, premises and buildings emerged as a key challenge and obstacle, as it always does in these conversations. Where communities can get hold of vacant, disused buildings and patches of land, amazing projects and groups can emerge. But all too often the people and projects who want to do good things are “homeless”, lacking a centre of operations, whilst key buildings lie empty and unloved in the heart of communities.
Stephen Priestnall from Wellbeing Economy Wales, who also runs the South East Wales creative agency Oomph, described how one innovative businessman in Abergavenny has sparked a new wave of connection and cross-fertilisation by creating a shared office space in a disused building in the town. Meanwhile, Popup Wales is a Swansea-based initiative that is seeking to address this, by encouraging landlords to make their vacant buildings available at peppercorn rents to small businesses, entrepreneurs and projects who are crying out for space to do creative, wealth-building things.
In a wide ranging and organic discussion, a number of projects shared stories from their work, including Ecodyfi in Machynlleth, Grwp Resilience in Pembrokeshire, and FfocwsWELL in Cardigan.
The group explored the importance of community empowerment and local projects from an economic resilience perspective. The more of our needs we can meet for ourselves and each other within communities, the less reliant we can be on global and fiat money to access the means of our personal and collective wellbeing. Michael Chown described the gift economy, the exchange economy and the increasing relevance of these alternative systems for getting hold of what we need, and we agreed that every community needs some kind of platform, network or ecosystem to enable that kind of cooperation and sharing of resources within local places. Andy Rowland described a simple “swap shop” concept where people can post their “offers, wants and events”.
Dawn Lyle from 4theRegion shared the concept of a Shared Vision Meeting, which was developed by her team through the South West Wales community rail partnership. The idea is to hold space for inspiring, empowering, inclusive conversations to take place within local communities, choreographed around generative, appreciative questions such as, “what feels important to you?”, “what do you love about this place?”, and “what would you love to see?”.
In a project that brought communities together via Zoom during the pandemic, Dawn’s team found people really enjoyed being part of these positive conversations, and appreciated the opportunity to connect with likeminded people around issues they cared about. From these Shared Vision Meetings, what emerges is a shared set of values and sense of purpose amongst neighbours and community members who might, in many ways, be very different kinds of people. A small pot of funding was then made available for people to take forward the ideas that were co-created during these sessions, leading to around 40 initiatives being supported through a “Changemakers Fund”.
The importance of “connecting the dots” was revealed to be one of the most empowering things that organisations or groups can do for local communities – creating opportunities for people to connect with others who share their interests or concerns, or to tap into the skills, resources or knowledge they need.
Catch up on the full discussion by watching the event recording here!
This event was one of Wellbeing Economy Wales’ regular monthly discussion forums, and part of a series of conversations about hyperlocal changemaking initiatives and community-led activities, under the banner of “localising the doughnut”, inspired by the work of the Doughnut Economics Action Lab.