From Juliet at the Enterprise Group, Transition Town Lewes…
Is the depth of a recession a bad time to ask people to think about creating sustainable enterprise – or is it a truly inspired time to encourage people to think about building their own resilient livelihoods?
With national employment remaining stagnant – and youth unemployment continuing to rise – there may seem little choice about timing. Lots of people are realising they need to consider how they can make a living for themselves, rather than hoping that someone else will do it for them. And what better than to combine the need for new livelihoods with the equally pressing need to localise our production of food, water, energy and other essential services? Surely sustainable enterprise is an idea whose time has come?
But if creating a new business is daunting at the best of times, then setting up an enterprise when banks aren’t lending, consumers aren’t spending and every day, shops seem to be closing – can seem positively terrifying.
So how can we take fear out of the process? Is there a way to enable local people to take the leap and set up their own enterprises with less risk and more chance of success?
At Transition Town Lewes, it’s an issue the Enterprise Group has been mulling over for quite a few months. Having canvassed local people in a recent survey, there’s evidently no shortage of ideas for enterprises that might support a post-peak oil economy – from a local electric hop-on/hop-off bus to community wood schemes to an aquaponics site. But getting finance, finding customers and simply understanding how to run a business properly are all prevalent concerns, and reasons for not yet taking these ideas further.
What all our would-be enterprisers really seem to need and want is unlimited support.
Setting up an enterprise is often associated with “going it alone” – striking out and forging one’s own path. But perhaps enterprise in a REconomy world really needs to be about being in it together. Sharing resources to minimise the financial cost of start-up, sharing knowledge and expertise to reduce the chance of costly mistakes – and sharing awareness so that everyone in a community knows what businesses are starting up and can get behind them to give them the greatest chance of success.
In the Enterprise Group in Transition Town Lewes we are trying to do that in a number of ways.
We’ve started to invite local people to put forward their skills and resources for an Enterprise Resource Bank, with the aim that resources can be exchanged for free, reciprocally or for payment. We’re hoping that alongside traditional professional skills, the Enterprise Resource Bank can be a way for people to share any useful resource, be it storage space, premises, transport or bulk-buy materials.*
We are also starting to get behind individual start-ups such as our one-woman draught-proofing business, SNUG, which is providing draught-proofing demonstrations in local homes. Plus we are looking to team up with other enterprise support networks in the town to see how we can work together to give local people both practical business know-how and more confidence to make that leap from thinking about enterprise to doing it.
We’ve already seen in Lewes what can happen when a community champions a sustainable business, with the success of our community-owned electricity company Ovesco. We’d like to see other smaller enterprises elicit equal passion and support.
It’s about making enterprises sociable, connected and, most of all, truly wanted by the people who are going to use them. Once an enterprise can elicit that kind of support, then being in business starts to look a whole lot less scary – and a lot more like fun.
*And if anyone else in the Transition Network is doing something similar, we’d love to see how we can link up to create a national (or even international?) skills & resource bank.