We are the people

In a nearby town to me there is a revolution going on. The town is Frome and the revolution has people weeping with relief, joy, amazement and love.

How do I know? My seriously ill niece moved there. She is unemployable in any conventional sense. Between bouts of relentless illness and innumerable hospital visits, a regular job is out of the question and living in Tory Britain with our broken and punitive Tory benefits system she needed an alternative lifestyle, one in which she made the decisions and had control, as best she can, over her own destiny.

She didn’t know it when she moved there, but it’s happening in Frome and people are coming from all over the country and the world to see it and learn from it.

This from a Guardian article written by John Harris [1] – “Many of the people inspired by this growing mood of local assertiveness are looking to one town that stands as the crucible of this new movement: Frome, in Somerset (my adopted home town), where a group called Independents for Frome took power in 2011, kicking out the Tories and Liberal Democrats to take all 17 seats on the town council. The group has since introduced a new town hall, a publicly funded food bank, electric charge points for cars and a vehicle-sharing scheme. The group’s modus operandi was turned into a manual for radically changing communities, written by the council’s one-time leader Peter Macfadyen, and titled Flatpack Democracy. Some 4,500 copies have been distributed; a sequel will be published this year.

Macfadyen reckons there are between 15 and 20 town and parish councils being run along the lines of the Frome model, “with a non-confrontational way of working and a participatory approach to democracy”.

Anyone looking for the much needed revolution in Britain today need look no further. This is bottom up inclusive democracy and empowerment. Is it perfect? Of course it’s not, it’s people and they come in from all walks of life, including homeless people and they become stake holders in their own disenfranchised, broken lives. Did I mention weeping? That’s what happens when you’re treated and respected as a human being, offered a multiplicity of life tools, from screw drivers to relating and interaction skills.

No one is doing it for you, no one is dictating your hours, your labour, your worth, your life opportunities, your participation (on threat of sanctions), your pace.

What do you want to do? Where is your heart at? You may not know, after all this isn’t taught in schools. It requires space, time, acceptance and love. Your heart may be a frozen lump inside you, wrapped in barbed wire against more pain, rejection and suffering. Who, save a lucky few, hasn’t been there in broken Britain?

I live one step removed from this, a recluse who does not fit well in our broken system and world gone mad. For me it is like watching a dream come true, something I have worked towards all my life, but didn’t know how to achieve it.

My chosen work was Community and Youth Work, and our driving principles were participation and inclusiveness – when we still had Youth and Community Centres. But I was working within the system and traditional forms of work and wage slavery. I lacked the visionary skills to take it to this kind of holistic level.

I could help people prepare for interviews and introduced them to the idea of interviewing the company, rather than being mere supplicants begging for a job, and to ask themselves the questions, ‘Is this a company I want to work for, is it good for me?’ But choice was limited, because the structure and system of work is limited. If you really stand up for yourself in that system, you won’t last long. That’s the top down system that has dominated the world for centuries that enriches the few at the expense of the many and I certainly didn’t know what to do about it.

The radical change that was needed has now arrived, at street level, where it always needed to be for ordinary people. And it is happening across Britain. Street Gardening, Street Kitchens, Make Sheds, Makers, Community Hubs, food projects feeding children, but what’s happening in Frome takes it to the next level, because it isn’t a single focused project, it’s broad reaching development to enable people to choose and do what they want to do. If I can put it this way without it sounding like a top down imposition, people themselves are the project. People empowerment. Localism. If you’ve never seen someone overjoyed to learn how to use a screw driver (a skill, back in my day, I learnt as a child and have taken for granted all my life) you’ll see it in Frome.

See links below for Frome links and initiatives.

As representative democracy dies in Britain, people’s democracy is growing. There may be other answers to the growing dictatorship in Britain’s government, but this one is up and running and real.

The following is from the back cover of ‘Flatpack Democracy’:

“Britain today has a dysfunctional political system. Many politicians are making decisions to meet their own needs or those of their party, not the needs of the people they serve.

This guide is based on what is happening in Frome, Somerset. After years of missed opportunities, a group of residents took control of their town council and set about making politics relevant, effective and fun.

Flatpack Democracy is both the story of what happened and an instruction manual for taking political power at a local level, then using it to have a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives.”

In broken Britain there are too many questions and not enough answers. The answer is you and me, people power. That is radical and revolutionary and also just happens to be true.

A few closing words from Peter Macfadyen – “What austerity has done, has meant that if we don’t do it, no one else is going to. We’ve really got to be doing things at this local level if they are going to happen at all. The agenda of government and parliament is simply not the agenda of most of us”

We are the solution we’ve been waiting for. I’ve known this for years, I just didn’t know how. I needed a little help. From my niece…

Keith Ordinary Guy. 17 December 2019.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jun/12/how-to-take-over-your-town-the-inside-story-of-a-local-revolution

Frome links and initiatives:

Fair Frome https://fairfrome.org/

Our Projects

Community Fridge https://www.frometowncouncil.gov.uk/your-community/resilience/community-fridge/

Frome’s Community Fridge wins European award http://www.frometimes.co.uk/2019/12/11/fromes-community-fridge-wins-european-award/

edventure enterprises & initiatives https://edventurefrome.org/enterprises-initiatives/

Make Shed https://www.facebook.com/MAKESHEDfrome/?eid=ARD0slGiwIokrZb3nvgJv_yUMSbRnxiN_g7zegNd-N1J9_5_TKyO-wGKZfqJUJhOg1KmRQ_dvJPjjF29

Community Garden http://fromepotatoday.org.uk/community-gardening-in-frome/

7 thoughts on “We are the people

  1. Reblogged this on Wirral In It Together and commented:
    As it feels like we’re sinking into a swamp, what a heartwarming, uplifting post this is. This could be a way forward for determined groups of people to protect their children’s futures, ask some serious questions, use power to a good, positive end and get some control back.

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