This post has been written by Audrey Versteegen from SEA’s Oxford Mapping Pilot Project team. Much of Audrey’s experience has been built working together with international communities to secure community land rights in the context of industrial plantation projects. She is trained in GIS and participatory mapping methods, as well as public consultations. At home in Oxford, Audrey is involved in several community projects around housing and food waste: she co-founded the Kindling housing cooperative and a childcare co-op in East Oxford and often caters at mass events using food surplus.
One of the major strands of work here at the Solidarity Economy Association is to make the solidarity economy stronger in the UK, to encourage people to find out about it and to support it in their local area and beyond. As part of this work, we’ve started a new mapping project in Oxford, to discover, make visible and celebrate the initiatives and projects that are working towards a more just and sustainable world and that are important to our city’s communities.
Unlike other countries, the solidarity economy is not a widely-known concept in the UK. Simply put, it is an alternative model of economic activity, which aims to meet human needs while upholding values of co-operation, mutual support and environmental sustainability rather than cut-throat competition, isolation and profit above all else. It can include a range of different groups, from informal community meet-ups to legally-recognised businesses, across an entire spectrum of activities within sectors such as food production and distribution, finance, services, and more. It’s understood as a global movement of movements, and whilst it looks different depending on where it is, this interconnectedness is important.
Anyone who has lived in Oxford knows that it would take very little time for someone to track down people who are trying to do things differently. From a craft brewery working for social justice, to participatory architecture and design, to co-operative vegetable growing, energy production and housing, the people of Oxford are already using and furthering the reach of the solidarity economy, to create an alternative to the current dominant economic system.
In October 2018, we started contacting all of these organisations and initiatives, to collate a directory of the city’s solidarity economy. By building a map of this ‘alternative Oxford’, we want not only to celebrate what is already happening, but also to strengthen the bond between the different sectors of the solidarity economy. We hope that this will ultimately give it more economic and political power, as it has done in cities across the world who have already “mapped” their solidarity economy initiatives in this way.
This is a pilot project, so we’re learning from others who have done similar projects in other countries, talking to community groups in Oxford and working out what works best for us here. We’ll be documenting this process as we go along, and we hope that it will be useful for people who are interested in doing similar things in their local areas. If you have any questions about our project, we’d love to hear from you!
Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash