Sutton Who?

An Anglo Saxon riddle

holidaying on the coast of Suffolk, heroic (though only to himself and dog), hoo could this possibly be?

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Cider co-op

It is Apple Day today and, with 179,000 tonnes of uneaten apples thrown away every year in the UK, we are launching a new guide encouraging people to set up a cider co-op at work.

The guide, ‘Setting up a cider co-operative at work – Get fruity with your colleagues!’ is written by my colleague, Mark, having run a cider coop for a couple of years in and out of our office kitchen. So, now every workplace can have it’s own co-operative.

Arthur Potts-Dawson, chef and visionary behind The People’s Supermarket has added his voice (thanks Arthur), saying “cider clubs are a new flavour of co-operative. Setting up a cider co-op at work is an easy and sociable way to make the most of one of the UK’s most unsung fruits.”

Linked in to loved ones

After 19 years of marriage, LinkedIn sends me a message:

“Ed, Congratulations!
You and Plank are now connected.”

That’s a relief then.

Talking energy

I had a fascinating meeting this afternoon with Shann Turnbull, Robin Murray, Sion Whellens and the team from the New Economics Foundation about ideas on linking currencies with energy.

Around the same time, the Prime Minister held his Summit with big energy companies, I was hearing about the ‘kiwah’, operating in Amsterdam. This operates as a currency used locally whose value is tied to renewable energy co-operatives. The name stands for kilowatt / hours.

There has long been talk of complementary currencies and in ways some of the traditional cooperative milk tokens fit into that history. But there appears to be some rapid innovation and growth – perhaps fuelled by economic austerity (the Depression was a time of similar innovation and ferment), perhaps by Eurozone weaknesses (new local currencies and barter re-emerging in Greece) perhaps by thinking on sustainability and how renewable energy can underpin economic activity.

Brixton has just launched a electronic version of it’s local currency and I understand that Bristol credit union may do the same later this year.

Energy is clearly vital to pretty much the entire landscape of economic life. Alongside this meeting I met the Paris-based team at the visionary 40 Foundation who are renewing the ideas of an early twentieth century Nobel Prize winner, Frederick Soddy. The argument is simple – that we should understand, account for and align economic and energy flows in a more direct way than treating the market price of energy borrowed from the future as our measure of sustainability.

The price of energy is one to watch, but more important still is its true cost.

Character – John Wayne or Robert Owen?

One of the great passions of Robert Owen, the idea of building people’s character, has resurfaced in a prominent way in recent weeks.

A handful of new free schools have started this term in England and the word that their advocates use time and again to describe how they are different to what else is on offer is the idea of ‘character’.

It is perhaps not surprising that the ideas of Robert Owen, the great social reformer and co-operative advocate of the early nineteenth century, should echo again today. But when I was approached by the think tank Demos to contribute to a new collection of ideas on character, from a co-operative perspective, it was striking to me to see how his ideas have been turned on their head.

Robert Owen was fascinated by the idea of character from an early point. Penning the first of his Essays on the Formation of Character in 1812, Owen saw character as a set of habits, behaviours and beliefs that were formed by the environment in which people operated. Character emerged from people’s circumstances, but could in turn shape or reinforce the context and community that people lived in.

What Owen stressed was the formative role of a nurturing, social environment in which people experience co-operation. Today’s more shallow versions see character as what you develop when exposed to relentless competition – a John Wayne screen model and a license for education based on market ideology rather than children’s well-being and development.

I write more on this in a feature for Co-operative News

Co-operation is contagious

New research from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard provides the first laboratory evidence that “cooperative behavior is contagious”, in that it spreads from person to person to person. When you benefit from a kindness, you are more likely to be kind to someone else who was not originally involved, creating a “cascade of cooperation” that spreads.