A Land Conference – Full report out now


The full report of the Land Conference that took place on March 21 is out now – please click on the link below.

It tells you what happened on the day, includes the groups that were formed who are taking things forward as well as links to organisations working on land rights and housing issues. It also contains poetry and dreams, because we need those as we build our relationships with each other and the land. Enjoy!

A Land Conference Report

Behold my friends, the Spring has come!

A Land Conference report

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Last Saturday was the first day of spring. It was also the day a number of us had been working towards for the last six months or so. Inspired by our friend Tal Leshem we got it into our heads that we wanted to organise a land conference, bring people together to discuss issues around land ownership and rights and find ways to answer the question ‘How can we grow a proper relationship between people and place?’ We knew it was important not only because it mattered to us as a team, but because there was no getting away from the different crises around housing, food, climate change, inequality that were upon us in our own country and worldwide. If we are to solve any of these issues we have to start thinking about our relationship with the land. So we posed a question and on that very first spring day 130 people piled into Totnes Civic Hall to try to answer it.

To get the conversation going we invited a number of speakers to offer their perspective.

Tal Leshem compared our current system of land ownership to the ownership of slaves during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. If someone owns the land upon which your life depends, are you not in fact enslaved to that person? He argued that we have become so accustomed to this notion of ownership that we don’t question it, but the time has come to reform this dysfunctional system, the way people in the past had the courage to challenge and reform the slave system.

IMG_0623 resizeSome of this reform may start by transforming our actual physical and visceral relationship with the land, the soil and the creatures that live within and upon her – by learning how to tend to the Earth. Jonty Williams co-founder of the Husbandry school in Bickington, spoke about his mentor Walter, a rough man, he said, who tended to his animals twice a day, seven days a week, only brushing his teeth once a week on Sunday and doing his finances the same day. For Jonty learning husbandry is a long slow process and he believes we must take care not to rush into change, but to be willing to go slow, be considered in our actions and build something solid and lasting.

A system that shares the wealth of the land with everyone was the case put forward by Julian Pratt. Julian described a new form of property rights to land in which proprietors would have the responsibility to care for the land, enshrined in a husbandry clause, and the duty to compensate others for excluding them from their land by paying annual dues equal to the market rent of the land. This concept is also known as Land Value Tax, Location Fees or Stewardship Dues.

But how do we get access to the land in our current ownership system? Simon Fairlie is editor of the Land MIMG_0659 resizeagazine and advises small farmers and low income people on planning through Chapter 7. The planning system is necessary, he stated, but flawed: it favours the wealthy, the conventional and the profitable. Not many of us have the stamina to wait many years (17 was his record) to get planning permission for a simple dwelling on a piece of agricultural land. What we need is more affordable land available in areas near to towns that would not put extra pressure on existing infrastructure. Are upgraded caravans the answer? What can we get away with? His talk sparked many people’s imaginations, but also made it clear that the issue of land rights goes very deep.

It is an issue that is not restricted to the UK – far from it. Elsewhere on the globe in places like India and many parts of Africa land grabs are taking place which remove people from their ancestral lands to make way for corporations – all under the guise of development. Our final speaker Jyoti Fernandes campaigns for The Landworkers Alliance and La Via Campesina. She highlighted the plight of rural families who lose not only their homes and means of subsistence through these land grabs, but who are robbed of centuries long connections with the land where – alongside homes and crops – stories, songs, rituals and customs have been grown. This decimation of identity is as big a crime as their forced enslavement into the global neoliberal economy.

At a time when most of us in the West have become accustomed to our relationship with the land being limited and mediated by systems of ownership, Jyoti’s plea was a powerful reminder that there is a different way of being with the land that is still practised by many rural people around the globe.

voices resizeMany people present recognised that the connection to land that Jyoti described was once our own and it is time to rebuild it. Part of this rebuilding needs to incorporate the voices of those often ignored in our anthropocentric worldview: the land and all its other-than-human inhabitants. Artist Toni Spencer created a space to ‘listen to the land’ and those other voices. Which voices do we need to hear and represent if we are to build a land reform movement that is truly just for all living beings? Can we find ways to incorporate the needs of other than human lives into our plans of action?

So what to do?

When we set out to organise this conference we knew we wanted to come away with some practical actions to move us towards this proper relationship. Having had the morning to share and reflect we devoted the afternoon to creative conversations based on topics generated by participants – a bit like an action focused open space. The room buzzed with ideas.

“How can we connect land owners with land users and create useful legal structures?”

”How about an interactive land ownership map of all land over ten acres?”

“I would like to set up an Earth Sharing Devon network.”

“We need to think about urban access to land and about a sense of place in the context of cities.”

“It’s time to make land ownership a political issue and get these ‘radical’ ideas on the agenda.”

“What does it mean to be indigenous, what would Indigenous Devon look like?”

“Is the notion of the commons useful for creating a new paradigm, for creating a new relationship?”

“I would like to talk about the place of children and young people in the commons.”

“What are we prepared to give up in order to become richer in the true sense?”

Creative juices flowed, new ideas emerged. (A grand total of 25 which we are now in the process of collating, while we think of ways to keep connecting, building and growing together.)

Existing projects such as The Hillyfield, Shared Assets, Ecological Land Cooperative and Farm-able were posted on the ‘Great Stuff’ wall.

There was not enough time to speak about everything. There was not enough time to connect with everyone, but as the day drew to a close with a rendition of Leon Rosselson’s ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ and the beautiful acapella harmonies of Glorious Chorus there was a sense that this may just be the tiny beginning of something powerful. That in coming together in this way we start to remember connections and relationships easily lost in the busy-ness of modern life, we realise that we are not alone and that our struggle is part of a much greater struggle shared with people all over the world and throughout history.

As I was packing up a young woman came up to me and confirmed this. “For years I thought I was alone with my fears and frustrations. I have so many ideas of how we can make things better but I can’t do them on my own. Today I realised lots of people feel the same as I do and I am hopeful that we can make something happen together.”

Yes, so are we.


“Behold, my friends, the spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed has awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our neighbours, even our animal neighbours, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land.”

Chief Sitting Bull


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We would like to thank Simon Fairlie, Jyoti Fernandes, Dee Cunnison, Toni Spencer, Sky and Callum Williams, Eleanor Jubb, Rosemary Field, Emilio Mula, Craig, Glorious Chorus and The Water Pilots for the musical finale and Sima and Hannah of The Kitchen Table for their wonderful soup.

Special thanks to the Network of Wellbeing for their generous support.

And finally a big thank you to our wider community of friends. It would not have been possible without you.

The Land Conference was organised by Inez Aponte of Growing Good Lives, Roland Hague, Tal Leshem, Kamran Malik, Julian Pratt and Jonty Williams.

Housing Crisis, Housing Shortage



We are forever being told that there is a serious housing crisis and that we must build hundreds of thousands of new houses if this is to be solved.  It worries me that this has now been said so often that it is coming close to assuming the status of an irrefutable ‘truth’.  I increasingly wonder, however, whether a very real ‘housing crisis’, isn’t being conflated with a less certain ‘housing shortage’ for motives other than housing needs.

A former local authority housing officer once said to me that there was no housing shortage for those who have money.  The market may move a little slower here, a little faster there, but this is merely an inconvenience, in no way a crisis. The true ‘housing crisis’ is that houses and flats are simply too expensive for almost everyone to buy who isn’t fortunate enough to already own one.

I don’t doubt that provision of new housing is as necessary now as it ever has been.  Yet the current propaganda would have us believe that this crisis is solely a problem of supply; that an increase in population and family breakdown has led to the creation of more households, and that the only solution is to build more and faster than ever before.  If this analysis were correct, the number of UK households would have had to have increased by an order of magnitude sufficient to result in the five-fold increase in the value of my own house (as a typical example) in the ten years between 1998 and 2008.  It may well be that there are pressures on housing, but it is difficult to believe that these all occurred suddenly, simultaneously, and on such a massive scale during those particular few years (In fact the value of the house I bought had actually decreased by about 8% between 1991 and 1998 – are we therefore to assume that these same pressures were diminishing during that period?).

It is hardly remarkable that property values were rising with the general (and as it turned out, flawed) economic boom at the time.  It’s a straightforward game of Monopoly.  If you’re doing okay at the game you don’t simply hoard notes which don’t earn you anything; you buy property.  Soon you’re the owner of clusters of little green houses, and eventually clusters of big red hotels extracting punitive rents from anyone unlucky enough to land on them.  At the height of the boom in 2002 there was an average 22% annual increase in UK property values.  Anyone with money to invest needed to look no further, and many owners didn’t even bother renting them out.  Developers continue to market new estates as ‘investment properties’, and buy-to-let private landlords routinely snap up large chunks of new developments.

It wasn’t only in the UK that this has happened.  An extreme example is in Spain which, before the crash, built millions of new apartments and houses to cash in on the bonanza.  It has recently been reported that there are currently 3.5 million unoccupied dwellings in Spain kept empty by developers in the hope of a price-recovery, and yet Spain still has a housing crisis.  Britain, by comparison, has 700,000 empty properties – and a housing crisis.

For anyone who owned only the house in which they live in the late 90s, the fact that it’s now worth several times its original value is truly immaterial.  If they were to sell-up they still wouldn’t have any more choice than they originally had as every other house will have increased similarly.  Those lucky enough to have owned more than one house at that time have been able to realise the enormous increased value of their additional properties.  But those who were not owners at that time, now find themselves not only locked out of the property market, but forced to pay extraordinarily high rents to private landlords – and often without any real security of tenure.  With the continuing rise in property values relative to incomes – now increasingly fuelled by wealthy global players particularly in London – the proportion of those who find themselves locked out is increasing. This is the crisis.

Even now, however, increases in house prices are generally greeted in the headlines of many newspapers as a cause for celebration on the spurious grounds that it makes householders ‘feel better off’ and therefore more likely to spend money or take out loans.  Yet as we have seen, the only people with cause to celebrate are owners of multiple properties, whilst the growing ranks of the non-freeholders – including the majority of the upcoming generation – can only become more despondent.

In view of all this, one might well wonder just how a massive house-building programme, such as that promised by both the Conservatives and Labour, is supposed to solve the real crisis. This is even more puzzling since developers are increasingly allowed to wriggle out of their obligations to provide a proportion of so-called ‘affordable’ homes.  If the intention is to bring market prices down through over-supply, the developers would not want to sell them (as in Spain) even if they had built them in the first place, and the government would justifiably fear a property crash.

On the other hand, building construction is a major employer supporting thousands of ancillary industries.  It is the one UK manufacturing industry which can’t easily be transferred to China.  Because of this, the construction industry finds itself politically in a very powerful position; it has the ear of this, and any possible future, government. It brazenly manipulates planning laws to its own advantage and it does not share in the wider political, let alone environmental or social, agenda.  It exists solely to make money.

What’s to be done depends on which particular problem we’re intending to address.  On the face of it, the fastest way to solve the affordability crisis would be a drastic revaluation.  It has been suggested that the UK housing market is as much as 40% overvalued in relation to average incomes.  By such a devaluing, speculation would become unattractive and those currently without affordable housing would be able to get a foothold.  However, this would undoubtedly come with unintended consequences such as the collapse of the construction industry and widespread unemployment. In addition, UK housing stock, valued in Feb 2015 at £5Tn, is largely underwritten by mortgage lenders. If the stock itself suddenly lost 40% of its value it would no longer provide adequate security against the money lent resulting in another economic meltdown.  Perhaps there is a body of opinion which might consider these to be not wholly undesirable consequences, although clearly, if devaluing were to occur, it is unlikely to have been encouraged by any government.  On the strength of this it would appear that, if the politicians have thought about this at all, they may be considering that a massive house-building programme will solve the housing crisis, not, perversely, through the provision of houses, but through a general ‘rising prosperity’ engendered through the maintenance of a healthy construction industry.

The Life Center

martin adams

“I want to live in a world where everyone has enough—
a world where those who have more give to those who have less.”

Martin Adams is a social innovator, systems thinker, and community organizer. As a child, it pained him to see most people struggling while a few were living in opulence. This inspired in him a lifelong quest to create a fair and sustainable world in collaboration with others.

“We demonstrate a deep understanding of the process of social change when we realize that it isn’t an idea alone that matters, but the practice of it, no matter how small the implementation of our idea may be at first. In other words, we are called to implement new models of land stewardship that render our existing model of land ownership obsolete.”

“And that is precisely what a group of friends — Logan and myself included — are now attempting to do here in Middletown, California: We recently acquired a commercial property in the heart of Middletown. Pending the formal blessing of the people of Middletown, the plan is to construct a two-story building over the next few years that will house the next phase of The Life Center — this time with all of its intended components in place. The Life Center will provide food (via a café and a health food store), clothing, shelter (affordable living areas), education (human development workshops), and healthcare (treatment rooms) to the local community.”




Helping develop a ‘Culture of Wood’

Hillyfield is a 45 acre secluded valley within Dartmoor National Park with a remarkably rich diversity of environments. Woodland, Pasture, Lakes & the river Harbourne.

Their Aims:

-Develop & Implement a plan for truly sustainable farm & woodland management.

-Support and encourage ecologically diverse, rich, and varied environments.

-Involve the community in learning about and caring for the land.

-Bring people together in a positive active relationship with the land.

-Work closely with Dartmoor National Park, the Forestry Commission, and other partners including Universities & Colleges (Plymouth University, Bicton College, Schumacher & Dartington), Charities (Moor Trees, TCV, Woodland Trust), and local groups (Sustainable South Brent, Devon Rural Skills, Slapton FSC).

-Offer opportunities to learn sustainable holistic land management and traditional craft.

-Develop sustainable land-based business to provide quality produce for the local community including timber, charcoal, firewood, hay, and other products.

-Explore potential for green technology throughout all areas.

-Enjoy the land with annual camps and activities.


World Peace Game


“Musician, teacher, filmmaker and game designer, John Hunter has dedicated his life to helping children realize their full potential. His own life story is one of a never-ending quest for harmony. As a student, he studied comparative religions and philosophy while traveling through Japan, China and India. In India, inspired by Ghandi’s philosophy, he began to think about the role of the schoolteacher in creating a more peaceful world.

As his online biography says: “Accepting the reality of violence, he would seek to incorporate ways to explore harmony in various situations. This exploration would take form in the framework of a game – something that students would enjoy. Within the game data space, they would be challenged, while enhancing collaborative and communication skills.”

In 1978, at the Richmond Community High School, Hunter led the first sessions of his World Peace Game, a hands-on political simulation. The game has now been played around the world, on a four-tiered board. It’s the subject of the new film World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements.”


Regarding the Land

terence kearns resized“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
― Wendell Berry

Several years ago I was invited to work on a ‘Soil and Story’ project for the Soil Association.  It was a wonderful opportunity to do some research into different cultural approaches to soil and earth. Now that I am in the process of co-organising A Land Conference in Devon  I decided it might be worth looking up some of what I discovered working on that project. What follows is an extract from some of my research.

“The world’s indigenous peoples revered and still revere the soil as a power in itself, rather than as merely a provider of food, minerals or structural support. Native Americans say ‘the earth is our mother’ and refer to the soil as ‘our mother’s flesh’. The Maori of New Zealand call themselves ‘tangata whenua’, people of the land, and call her ‘the mother that never dies’. For the Australian Aborigines the land is the place of ‘dreaming’, and dreamtime stories explain how the land was created by the journeys of the spirit ancestors.

In ancient Slavic cultures the soil was referred to as Mati Syra Zemlja, ‘moist mother earth’ and treated with profound respect as well as imbued with magic powers. In Russian folklore, the hero, having fallen to the ground, often has his strength renewed, or even doubled, as a result of an appeal to “mother earth.”

No one was allowed to strike ‘mother earth’ with a hoe, until the Spring Equinox, Maslenica, as she was considered pregnant until then. Earth was so sacred that oaths were sworn while holding a piece of her, sometimes in the mouth, and ancient wedding vows were taken while swallowing a small clump of Earth or holding it on the head. Anyone spitting on the Earth had to beg her forgiveness.

Boundaries were measured while walking them with a clump of earth on the head and peasants settled property disputes by appealing to Mother Earth to witness the truth of their claims. Far into the 20th century the custom of asking the Earth’s forgiveness before death was still being observed and when a priest could not be found it was considered appropriate to confess sins to ‘moist mother earth’.”

Reading these worldviews again after so many years I was struck by how different they are from what passes for the Western approach to the uses and meaning of land.

At this very moment work has started on a canal that will bisect Nicaragua, running through pristine rainforest and wetlands requiring the removal of more than 4.5bn cubic metres of earth and displacing the indigenous population. Millions of hectares of African land are being bought by international corporations, many of these deals depriving local farmers of their livelihoods. Closer to home, in London, lifelong residents face extortionate rents and homelessness as the world’s super rich purchase homes as financial investments.

Nowhere in these interactions around property, assets, resources and profits is there any mention of ‘moist mother earth’. You laugh. Yes, how ridiculous would that be? How could we do business if we allowed the plight of the people who stand to lose their ancestral lands, their livelihoods, or simply the roofs over their heads to get in the way of a lucrative transaction? How could we run an economy if we had to consider the connection between humans and earth beyond the level of commodity?

These two worldviews – Earth as living being and Earth as commodity – could not be further apart and yet it is imperative that we bring them closer together. The ‘Earth as commodity’ view brings us ever closer to the brink of ecological collapse, in the process robbing the majority of us of the freedom to meet our needs in a way that is appropriate to our locality and culture. It uses a language deliberately devoid of relationship, reducing humans and the land to mere productive capacity and capital.

‘Earth as living being’ makes relationship explicit and it is this relationship that needs examining and deepening, with the aim of putting into place systems that bring about an ecologically and socially just society. Express it how you will – the words ‘Mother Earth’ are not likely to enter the boardroom in a hurry – but each of us has a relationship to the land.

Wherever you are – whether you are standing firmly on the earth or in a high rise with several layers of steel and concrete between you and the soil – somewhere below you is the land. Whether your food is brought to you by a complex chain of international suppliers or grown in your back garden, it started life in the land. The clothes you wear, the bed you sleep on, the car you drive, the house you live in, the plates you eat from, the smart phone in your pocket – it all comes from the land.

Despite what a rational-reductionist view of the world would have you believe, this is one relationship that is non-negotiable.

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Pic by Terence Kearns



If you would like to explore how we might grow a proper relationship between people and place please join us at A Land Conference on March 21 at the Civic Hall in Totnes.





From Dismal Science to Language of Beauty

brett davies

Towards a New Story of Economics

Humans are storytelling beings. In fact one could argue that it is impossible to make sense of the world without story. Storytelling is how we piece together facts, beliefs, feelings and history to form something of a coherent whole connecting us to our individual and collective past, present and future. The stories that help make meaning of our lives inform how we shape and re-shape our environment. This re-created world, through its felt presence in structures and systems as well as its cultural expressions, in turn tells us its story.

We live in a time of powerful globalised narratives. We no longer (or rarely) sit and listen to tales that were born of places we know intimately and told by people deeply connected to these places. Ours is a world saturated with information from every corner of the planet, voiced by ‘storytellers’ on television, radio, the internet, mobile phones, newspapers, billboards, books and magazines.  It would appear that we now have access to a multitude of perspectives and, with that, more understanding of the different options open to human beings to live fulfilling lives. In reality however, the majority of us have to conform to a narrow set of rules not of our own making: the rules of economics.

The way in which our lives have become dominated by the pursuit of financial gain is full of contradictions. We may not be driven by the ‘love of money’ but we still have to ‘make a living’. The fluctuations in the economy have a profound effect on our everyday lives, but very few of us understand how it works, let alone feel we have the power to influence it. This lack of agency fills most of us with a degree of ‘background anxiety’ that drives many of our decisions, consciously or unconsciously. The economic story is possibly the most powerful story being told at this very moment.

So how is this story being told (and sold) to us? How is it being framed?

1- The work/life balance

This term has become so ubiquitous that it is often used in its English form even in non-English speaking countries. It seems to be a concept that needs no translation; it can easily be swallowed whole. But hidden inside this seemingly innocuous phrase are some powerful assumptions.

On one side of the scales we place work, not just any work, but paid labour. On the other side we place life. By life we don’t mean the actual fact of being alive, but our aliveness, our joy, our pleasures. Placing work and life on opposite sides of the balance we are tacitly agreeing that paid work is worth sacrificing our aliveness for, that it is ok to be a little bit ‘dead’ in your job. If you are lucky enough to have a job you love the concept may seem irrelevant, but for people whose work is tedious, soul-destroying or even dangerous this is the perfect frame to diffuse any discontent: ‘We agree that having a degree of aliveness is important, but you cannot have all of it. You have to sacrifice some of your aliveness just to stay alive.’ The framing of paid work as a necessity for ‘earning’ one’s existence remains unquestioned.

2- The economy must grow

Having determined the necessity of jobs it’s no surprise to hear world leaders repeating the growth mantra over and over. The story goes like this: we need growth so we can create jobs so we can pay people money to buy stuff that creates more jobs. Nobody questions whether the jobs that are created are worth giving up their aliveness for or even whether what is being produced or provided adds any further joy or satisfaction to society. The frame of ‘employment for all’ is so sacred that anyone pointing out how many of the businesses providing these jobs destroy the planet we depend upon for our survival is presented with another false dichotomy: people against nature.

When George Bush sr, at the time of the Kyoto protocol, told Americans “I am the one that is burdened with finding the balance between sound environmental practice on the one hand and jobs for American families on the other.” he was setting up a frame that continues to be echoed by world leaders today. Even if in our heart of hearts we know we need the earth more than we need the artificial constructs of jobs and money, by now we have become so dependent on money to stay alive that this kind of language stifles our capacity to imagine a different solution. Fearing for the survival and safety of our loved ones we accept the war declared on nature in our name.

3- Humans are selfish

This experience of fearing for our survival dovetails neatly with our third and perhaps most powerful economic frame: the rational, utility maximising individual – Homo Economicus. This story tells us that given the choice humans will seek to get the most for themselves with the least amount of effort. It’s simply a ‘dog eat dog’ world.

Funnily enough it looks like the people who most fit the stereotype of the selfish utility maximiser are economists themselves. Various studies have repeatedly shown that non-economists are not as selfish or rational as economic theory would have us believe and that economists, or students of economics, consistently score higher on selfishness than ‘ordinary’ people. Despite these insights, the story that humans are by nature selfish and competitive persists.

But are any of these frames telling us the truth about ourselves and the world? Do we have to accept work as a necessary burden? Do we have no choice but to destroy the planet in order to survive? Are we really as selfish as economic textbooks suggest?

Perhaps the first thing we need to ask is: Is any of this about true economics in the first place?

To answer this question we need to travel back to ancient Greece where Aristotle was musing on two distinct practices: Oikonomia and Khrematistika. Oikonomia is where we get the word economics from and is described as ‘the management of the household so as to increase its use value to all members over the long term’. Khrematistika on the other hand (from khrema, meaning money) refers to ‘the branch of political economy relating to the manipulation of property and wealth so as to maximize short-term monetary exchange value to the owner’.

In their book ‘For the Common Good’ economist Herman Daly and theologian John Cobb, Jr distinguish between the two as follows:

“Oikonomia differs from chrematistics in three ways. First, it takes the long-run rather than the short-run view. Second, it considers costs and benefits to the whole community, not just to the parties to the transaction. Third, it focuses on concrete use value and the limited accumulation thereof, rather than on an abstract exchange value and its impetus towards unlimited accumulation…. For oikonomia, there is such a thing as enough. For chrematistics, more is always better… “

By now you might recognise our current economic system in this description of chrematistics. No wonder we are confused. We believe we are practising economics when we are in fact practising chrematistics. This has far reaching consequences for both the practice of economics and its perception. By allowing chrematistics to masquerade as economics the owning classes have perpetuated the illusion that increasing their financial wealth will be good for all of us and we, in our own misunderstanding of the proper function of an economy, have accepted chrematistics as the dominant form of resource management.

But what if there was another way of thinking and speaking about the economy, one that was in line with the true meaning of the word: the ability to manage the home for all, the art of living? What if we were able to redeem the language of economics so that it might liberate our imaginations and creativity and tell a beautiful story that expresses what we truly value?

Human Scale Development

In the 1970s, after many years of researching poverty in Latin America, Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef came to the conclusion that conventional economics, in practising chrematistics, did not have the tools to adequately address the experience of poverty and could not serve to alleviate it. What was needed was a language that allowed poverty and wealth to be understood in much broader terms. Together with his colleagues he developed what is now commonly known as Human Scale Development (HSD) or ‘barefoot economics’.

HSD proposes that there are nine fundamental human needs which are universal across time and place (as opposed to wants which are subject to cultural and historical trends). These fundamental needs are: Subsistence, Protection, Identity, Understanding, Participation, Creation, Freedom, Affection and Idleness.

Needs are not the same as the strategies or satisfiers we use to meet those needs. Needs are finite; satisfiers are culturally determined and infinite. In HSD each satisfier is valuated according to its impact on the rest of our own needs, the needs of others and, most importantly, on the conditions for life itself: a living thriving planet.

In this model of economics, you are wealthy when your needs are satisfied and if one or more of your needs are not met you are poor. Whereas our current model has conventionally defined wealth as how much money you possess and poverty as a lack of money – expressed as a poverty of subsistence – in HSD you may suffer from any number of poverties if one or more of your needs are not adequately satisfied. So you may have a full belly and suffer from poverties of affection, understanding or identity. Or you may feel safe and protected by having a secure well-paid job, but work so much you suffer from poverties of creation, participation and idleness. When enough members of a community suffer a particular poverty for prolonged periods it develops into a pathology. It becomes a sickness that is often hard to recognise because it has been normalised. We may ask whether our tendencies towards addictive behaviours, whether they be addictions to work, alcohol, gaming or sex, are expressions of such pathologies.

In HSD the key to living well, and therefore the purpose of a true economy, is to adequately satisfy our fundamental human needs within the Earth’s natural limits. Our role within such an economy is not only to seek to get our needs met, but to use our gifts to meet the needs of others.

This is good news, because here the time you spend playing with your child and meeting their need for creation, affection and participation creates a positive balance in the economy. As does the meal you made for your elderly neighbour, (meeting the needs of subsistence, affection, understanding, and protection) as does joining a community garden, learning a new skill, lying in the grass watching the clouds go by. Framing economics in this manner tells us that we are economic participants regardless of whether we are making financial gains. Other skills, gifts or abilities become our ‘currency’. In fact most things that the conventional (chrematistic) economy ignores create wealth in a Human Scale Economy.

The reverse is also true. Actions that are now considered beneficial for the chrematistic economy – for example, cutting down forests to build roads – soon appear uneconomical through an HSD lens. The destruction of the natural world also destroys opportunities to meet many of our fundamental needs: for idleness (going for walks in nature) identity (these places hold meaning that stretches back over centuries) participation and creation (it is where the community gathers, connects, plays) and understanding (the opportunity to connect with and learn from the more-than-human world).

Economies are created by the people

Economies, large or small, local or global, are created by the people. They depend on our collective efforts, labour and entrepreneurship as well as our songs, our dances, our poetry, our joy, our curiosity, our dreams. The macro economy must be reformed from the inside out, it must start with an understanding of who we are, what is dear to our hearts and from that place radiate our values outwards in order to truly meet our needs. A ‘barefoot’ economy is an economy where people – liberated from wage slavery, and with access to the means by which they can satisfy their fundamental needs – are able to choose adequate satisfiers suitable to their region and culture. It is one where we acknowledge and respect our dependence on a thriving earth. It is a place where we have once again understood the meaning of ‘enough’.

“If we are looking for insurance against want and oppression, we will find it only in our neighbors’ prosperity and goodwill and, beyond that, in the good health of our worldly places, our homelands. If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, (…) then we would begin to turn to our communities – and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”

“The Earth is what we all have in common.”    (Wendell Berry)

I look forward to a time when students of economics are required to study the work of artists, poets and makers. When economic text books, as well as addressing how we manage the earth to provide food, homes, clothing and jobs, also speak of the need for beauty, intimacy, community and love.

The Art of Economics (and may it one day become an art) needs a new story and a new language that doesn’t require us to choose between self and others, work and aliveness, our own lives and the lives of fellow humans or the health of the planet. A language that has the potential to re-frame the story, re-educate our thinking and get us back on the side of community, on the side of the earth and on the side of life.

Photo: Brett Davies

This post was first published on the Leipzig Degrowth website.

Bridging the divide

“We can’t change anything until we get some fresh ideas, until we begin to see things differently. My goal is to create a therapy of ideas, to try to bring in new ideas so that we can see the same old problems differently.”

James Hillman

Sometimes it would seem that those of us working for change divide into two distinct categories: Be-ers and Do-ers.

Super Kitchen

super kitchen

The Super Kitchen was set up to provide a communal space where families could eat one decent meal together a day for £2 to £3, made out of fresh, healthy ingredients.

It was founded by Marsha Smith, an unemployed single mum at the time, who saw the need for people to access better meals and to have social eating spaces in Nottingham. She borrowed £1,000 and the Super Kitchen was born. All food for the kitchen was sourced from wasted food from supermarkets.

The pilot originally consisted of 6,000 meals using six tonnes of food diverted from landfill – the menu was dependent on what was available, but there was always both a meat and vegetarian option.

Marsha has gone on to present TED Talks on her business and is now rolling out Super Kitchens across Nottingham. In the future, she wants to expand the Super Kitchen social eating model regionally, then nationally.

– See more at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/marsha-smith-super-kitchen#sthash.bgtVmuGZ.dpuf



Edventure is a social enterprise supporting young adults to take initiative and create viable, sustainable futures for themselves and their communities. In September 2012, Johannes Moeller and Temujen Gunawardena brought together a group of founding apprentices to co-create and pilot Edventure.

“There are over 1 million young people not in education, training or work in the UK. For many who do find work the conditions are far from ideal as they have to settle for part-time or temporary jobs that are often unrelated to their skillset, values and passions. This damages their personal and society’s potential.

The challenge is that many opportunities for young adults encourage them to ‘fit into’ an economic system that is changing, ecologically unsustainable and unjust; that much of education does not prepare young people with the transferable skills needed in today’s and tomorrow’s world; and that prolonged youth unemployment leaves devastating ‘scarring effects’ on the generation that society depends on for its future.

At the same time, we are facing unprecedented social, environmental and economic challenges. The problems we face call for a generation of young adults who can create positive change in whatever circumstances they choose to work – whether they are innovators, social entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, craftspeople, library staff, parents, carers or any other workers. We need people who can lead towards building viable, sustainable futures for themselves and their communities.”


Husbandry School


The Husbandry School was set up by Carole and Jonty Williams. A journey that started many years back, it is the passionately held culmination of both their lives.

“We feel that a much-needed contemporary re-working of the traditional values and practices of husbandry could offer some valuable answers to the global problems that we are all facing today.”

“The focus of our campaign is our practical application of the principles of husbandry on 47 acres of land near Ashburton. This land is intended to be an experimental learning centre where anyone who wishes can be involved in re-learning the most ancient of skills – looking after the ground which
looks after us.”




In a world that values winning and coming first L’Arche Communities are places where people can discover who they are not just what they can do.  

The first L’Arche community was founded in 1964 when Jean Vanier invited two people with intellectual disabilities – Philippe Seux and Raphael Simi – to leave their institution and come and live with him in a small house in Trosly-Breuil, which he named “L’Arche.”

The small community grew fast, soon welcoming new people with an intellectual disability and young people from around the world to share their lives. Unforeseen by Vanier, it did not take long for people to decide to create new L’Arche communities in their own countries. And so 1969 saw the creation of the first home in near Toronto, Canada, called Daybreak, the first of many later communities in North America. In the 1970’s, the vision of L’Arche also inspired people to found L’Arche in India, the Ivory Coast and Honduras.

This expansion meant that L’Arche needed to open up to a wide variety of cultures, languages, and social backgrounds. Although founded in the Catholic tradition, L’Arche communities rapidly became ecumenical or inter-religious, finding their point of unity in a common set of human values. Open and engaged in the world, they seek to be a sign of hope and solidarity.

The unexpected expansion of L’Arche on five continents revealed the need for proper structures in order to maintain the unity of L’Arche, and accordingly an International Board was established.

In 2014, L’Arche, with 147 communities in 35 countries on five continents, celebrated its 50th anniversary.