Frequently Asked Questions
There are lots of people doing amazing work for ecological and social change, and we are inspired by these projects and have a lot to learn from them. What we believe is needed is an example of all three aspects - sustainable production, living and activism - in a way that both demonstrates that it is possible, and supports other people to do it.
There are organisations and bodies that talk the sustainable talk, because it's the in word, without getting much done. We are different from them, in that we are about stimulating and creating radical and genuine change.
We feel there is room for projects like Kindling all over the country - we want to be part of a movement that is pushing for change and creating the possibilities to make that happen.
There are various definitions of sustainability - lots of them are really good and involve protecting the world for current and future generations: economically, socially, environmentally and culturally. When we talk about sustainability we use three different terms that are inextricably interlinked: production, living and activism (see description page for more detail on each of these themes, and how we aim to work on each one). In each one of these areas we try to think about the impact of our choices and actions at both a local and a global level, and we make our decisions based on that.
We believe that sustainability includes working to remedy the negative impacts of our way of living, particularly those of us in the Global North. That means not only dealing with and trying to prevent the most negative impacts of climate change, but also trying to address the attitude that people in other countries are not our responsibility. For example we need to confront the fact that it is not OK that people live in terrible conditions to provide us with cheap clothes, or suffer the consequences of climate change or conflicts through our irresponsible resource use.
Although this might sound like a huge complex nightmare with far too many things to think about at every turn, we actually think it's a much more desirable way to live. We realise that there's a lot of work involved in trying to make this happen on a wider global level, but that on a local level it isn't as difficult as we may think. There are lots of people trying to do it in one way or another, and what we want to do is find ways to support that movement for change to become sustainable in every sense of the word.
Global change can only come about by different organisations and individuals working together, pushing for change and creating the world that they want to live in. There are small groups of people and individuals taking actions that have a global impact on a daily basis, we just don't always get to hear about them. Everyone has the potential to take action to create change, the hard bit is believing it is possible. We want to create a place that stimulates and supports action that will be taken by many people, not just us as a small group, but by forming part of a much wider movement for change.
We haven't started looking for land yet, that is the next stage of the process. The first stage of developing Kindling has been to: form our vision, principles, aims etc.; develop our ways of working; and to research and write our business plan to make sure that the project is really needed and viable.
Another part of what we do, is to work on and with projects here in Manchester, where most of us are currently based. Part of the reason for doing this is to develop our skills and experience in areas such as supporting land based projects, and looking at ways to increase access to sustainable food in cities etc. We also think it's important to be working towards sustainability whereever we are, rather then just writing about how we will do so in the future (plus getting out from behind our computers helps to keep us sane!).
During our previous projects (e.g. MERCi), we found that it isn't neccessarily useful to look for the place too early in the process, as the situation can change pretty quickly. We have just completed our business plan however, so part of the next stage will be to start looking for possible land.
We are unsure at this early stage of our development, where the exact location of our physical base will be - except that we want to be somewhere within the food belt of Greater Manchester. We have begun to prioritise criteria, which will determine the areas where we look for land. For example good public transport links with the nearest city are crucial so that it is easy for people to visit, and ideally for exchanging goods (e.g. by train or canal). Part of our research over the next 6 six months will be to help us identify possible locations - so we'll keep you posted.
- It's our home and we like it. Most of us have lived and worked in this part of the world for the last 10 - 20 years. We have worked towards ecological and social change in a number of different ways and built up contacts and networks here, so it makes sense to keep building on that foundation and experience. Through this previous work, we have developed a good understanding of how the Northwest works, as well as what the challenges are and what areas need improvement. We therefore feel that we are better placed to help push for the necessary changes here, than starting afresh elsewhere.
- Greater Manchester is one of the most poorly served areas in terms of availability of locally sourced food 1. According to the Soil Association's 2007 Organic market report, the Northwest has a very low percentage of organic farms (4% of the UK total), with the figures of in-conversion organic land declining more since 2006 than in any other region of the UK 2. We would like to play a part in improving this situation.
We believe that urban and rural communities are mutually dependent, each meeting the needs of the other. Stimulating the local economy in rural areas, by producing goods for local cities and towns, will address many different issues such as the need for more local production and less dependence on fossil fuels, as well as securing a long term future for rural communities in terms of local jobs and services.
We agree that there is a huge need for working on these issues in urban areas, that's why we developed MERCi. However we also feel there is a need in rural areas, where communities are facing equally challenging issues in terms of education, employment and disadvantage, and at the same time where there is huge potential to increase sustainable production at the level needed.
We feel that it is only through a greater coordination between rural and urban communities, that the problems in both areas can be tackled in a more realistic and long term way.
Based on previous experience we believe that it will take around six years to physically get the project off the ground. We have just completed our business plan (which is currently being reviewed), showing how each theme of the project will develop and what that will entail (including costings).
The next stage of the development will be to raise the funds and secure the land. It's hard to say how long this will take but we hope to have secured a large piece of land by the end of 2012, and we envisage that the site will be established and operating a number of key projects and enterprises by 2014 (see timeline). Saying that, we are currently working on a number of pilot initiatives and projects in Manchester, so in many ways we already are off the ground.
Members of Kindling who work for the project, be that the centre for social change, the rural enterprise support, or one of the social enterprises, will mainly live on site, as part of the idea is to live in a low impact and low cost way, which is easier living as part of a community. They will take part in the day to day running of the site, from looking after volunteers and guests to maintaining the buildings, and will be involved in the decisions made about the project. Volunteers will also live on site while they are working there, as will guests while they are visiting. Anyone wanting to live there permanently will need to apply for membership and go through a probationary period.
One idea is that we will develop low impact affordable housing in partnership with the local community, to enable people to stay living in their local area. People living there will not have to become members of Kindling, and will not have to take part in all the Kindling tasks and meetings, but how it will work in practice - whether it will be a co-op or have a residents group, who will live there, how people will apply etc. - will be defined through the consultation with the community. The development of this idea will depend on the needs of the community in the area.
At the moment we are a small group of people developing a plan to take the project forward (see the Team), but as we progress with our plans we hope to gather people who share our aims, and have ideas and skills for making it happen.
Throughout our development we will be talking to people who may be interested in working with us on the different aspects of the project. From urban based social enterprises who want to source produce from local rural areas, to groups who will want to use the centre for social change, to people with enterprise ideas who are looking for land and others to work with.
We will also be working on a number of pilot projects in Manchester to develop and share some of our experience and contacts (and get us out from behind our computers!). We hope that people will get involved in and benefit from these projects along the way.
Once we identify a possible location the next step will be talking to the local community(ies) about our ideas and their hopes, ideas and needs, and trying to work out what will work best and how we will work together to make it all happen.
We have spent the last 6 months researching and developing our business plan, which contains full costings for the project. We are now at the stage of approaching funders, to help us complete the next stage of the project. To set up MERCi we were able to raise £4 million and so are confident that we have the experience to raise the finance, though we realise it will be a challenge.
Financing for the project will come from a range of sources including funding from private trusts, loan-stock, community investment, and individual donations. We have already secured seed funding to help us with initial costs, and we have several hundred thousand pounds promised in the form of properties that will be sold once a site is secured.
Our six year business plan shows that once we are on site and operational we will become financially sustainable relatively quickly. We will have a number of sources of income, including: hiring out the centre for social change (with accommodation), the programme of courses, renting out land and facilities to social enterprises, consultancy and advice services, the rent paid for accommodation, a number of Kindling owned enterprises. The business plan shows that we can make these services affordable but generate an income that will cover the running costs.
The other angle of our 'exit strategy' is our low running costs. Working co-operatively and living as part of a community is cheaper. We won't be living in one big house, doing everything together, but we will be looking for ways to cut our resource use (and therefore costs) by joining forces, through for example:
- dramatically cutting energy consumption and therefore costs due to very low impact buildings (high levels of insulation, highly efficient appliances and heating systems etc.,), and sharing resources.
- generation of energy on site through renewables (which can also be sold).
- organic food production on site (for residents, visitors and for selling), and sourcing other produce locally (cutting transport costs).
- co-ordinated food production between growers - lessening food waste and cutting costs through shared machinery, equipment, resources etc.
- lower wages needed due to these lower costs of living (though not a lower standard of living!)
We don't want to be. Our ideas are based on talking to people in both rural and urban communities, reading reports about the various problems of our current society (including about rural disadvantage), learning about and visiting other projects, as well as our own ideas. One of our strongest beliefs is that people have to sort things out for themselves, and that they are the best placed people to do so. For example our work with the communities surrounding Bridge 5 Mill (where MERCi is based), involved talking to people, finding out what they thought the problems were and the potential solutions, and supporting them to put those into practice. Not all of the ideas worked, but some did and people felt listened to, developed new skills, and felt happy that they were in control of what was happening. We do come with an agenda of promoting ecologically sustainable change - but a big part of this is about working with the people around you, and finding solutions together. We've found that working together in this way helps to find things in common between all sorts of different people, including people with a long historical connection to an area and completely new arrivals.
Kindling is about supporting people to carry out their ideas. It is about promoting a way of living and working, and pushing for positive change. Any projects, or courses that we run, or opportunities that we offer both before our base is established and once we have a rural base, will be promoted as widely as possible through a range of grass roots community networks. Once the site is located any buildings constructed will be fully accessible.
We also think it is important to actively seek to involve a wide range of people, and not just wait for people to come to us. We currently work with a number of projects that try and involve people who wouldn't necessarily think of themselves as part of the social change or environmental movement. For example we are working with a Carbon Co-op project that focuses on supporting groups of residents to work together to cut their own energy use and therefore carbon emissions.