I was invited to talk in Australia by Hemisphere Design in Adelaide, linked with Regional Development Australia for the Barossa Valley, the renowned wine growing region of oz, and to speak at various venues across Victoria as part of the Main Street Australia Conference. Over the course of 18 days I delivered a total of 14 workshops, presentations and Q&A s with people as varied as town planners, mayors Government representatives, market traders, council members, renowned winery owners, food growers restaurant owners, community activists- in fact there’s bound to be a juggler and a sky diver in there somewhere!
I spoke to members of the Australian Government, The Planning Institute of Australia, Market Traders at the fabulous Adelaide Central Market, Geelong, Hulme & Moreland Councils, Barossa Valley Businesses (as part of the Adelaide Festival of Ideas), members of the Hallet Cove Community, and planners & place makers at Melbourne & Adelaide Hubs.
But they all had one reason for coming to the talks. They wanted to know about Totally Locally, how it has spread so quickly, with no money, no government backing and most of all how it has been so effective in helping to transform towns from Scotland to Wales, London to Yorkshire and Devon to Waiheke (the fore mentioned paradise island in New Zealand!).
And the talks were about one thing. It’s about people just doing it for themselves! No rules, no hierarchy, no committees. Give them the tools, give a bit of support (via a closed facebook group and lots of easy going instruction) tell em to have a bit of a laugh and ask no one’s permission. And light the blue touch paper!
Now being of European state of mind we assume the Aussies to be free thinking, devil may care, chuck some prawns on the barbie and she’ll be right sort of people. Surely they will operate their towns, councils and governments in a similar way? How wrong we are!Â There seems to be a culture of rules-Â In fact there probably a rule about which box to tick for how rule bound a project must be. Everywhere I went the main frustration was over red tape, rules, “you can’t do that”, and a generally “CAN’T DO” attitude. And this frustration was from planners, business owners, council members and government people too. It makes you wonder who actually writes the rules, as everyone seemed to hate what it is doing to their country.
There is also a genuine fear that corporate chains and absolutely huge out of town shopping centres springing up everywhere, is starting to have a big impact on the future of the Australian Main Street, small town and suburbs of Australia, and their survival into the future.
So the concept of a load of disparate towns in the UK getting off their arses and doing brilliant stuff for tiny amounts of money and then pushing the concept further and helping each other fired the imagination of our Australian friends. Especially the slide that says “ask no permission – not even from us. Just do it!”.
We did a workshop in creating an event or “thing” that has great impact in the community with a budget of no more than $50. After a resounding “that’s not much!” from lots, some frantic scribbling and chatting, loads of incredible ideas came out. And best of all hardly anyone managed to spend their $50. People genuinely committed themselves to doing what they said after too.
We built a 1 hour website for a town using iPhones and tumblr, worked on a shop local campaign across 4 suburbs of Melbourne and even started the idea of a young traders group, for all those cool hipsters under 30 running amazing cafes, bars and food shops. We then went into how you tie those ideas with other industries like design, architecture, accountancy and those aspects you don’t normally see on the Main Street, to create vibrant centres in places of high shop vacancy rates. And I have no doubt they will succeed knowing the people involved.
The talks after the presentations were always brilliant, and free afternnons ended up being spent drinking coffee or beer, discussing mad, crazy things and being taken to see some projects already on the go. And since I got back to the UK, there’s been messages to say parts of Australia jumping on board with Totally Locally, and adding their own twist. We talked local currencies, co operatives, food sharing, co-working and much, much more.
A special afternoon happened with Ben & Matt from a superb restaurant / cafe / bar / shop called Pope Joan. Everything we’ve been talking about in one place. A fridge hired out at minimal cost to the local farmers to sell their meat, hyper local suppliers, allowing a grower to put food beds in the yard of the restaurant, then paying him for the food when it was ready, everything. And Matt was from Barnsley! A coffee, turned to many beers and food. Lovely.
After a full on schedule in Australia I took the opportunity of being on the other side of the world to visit my brother and his family in Auckland, New Zealand. This was purely a wind down to see much missed family after all those talks.
But being in Auckland we HAD to take the 1/2 hr ferry journey to Waiheke Island. Yes it is as idilyc as it sounds – all palm trees empty beaches wooden house but also a thriving artist and ex hippy colony. They have been running the Totally Locally campaign via the online toolkit for 4 months with tremendous results. Much credit for how much it has been taken up can be leveled at the Gulf News, the local paper of the island and it’s incredibly supportive owner/editor Liz Waters and her partner in crime Kelly Bouzaid. They live and breathe Waiheke, and their passion for the place they live was infectious.
So when walking into the bar on the ferry from Auckland to the island,Â I saw a pile of the Gulf News I grabbed one for a read. My nephew carried it to our seat while I manhandled 3 cappuccino an then he started laughing. “Uncle Chris you’re in the paper!” And I was. A three page article on Totally Locally, and comparing our Calderdale town of Hebden bridge to Waiheke in the way it embrace local-ness, it’s arty vibe and it’s slightly off kilter way of looking at the world. And a photo of myself leaning on the iron bridge in Hebden, that Liz had taken on a fact finding mission to Calderdale during a holiday in England earlier this year.
You couldn’t make it up! And when we got off the ferry we saw banners, car stickers posters and all sorts all promoting Totally Locally Waiheke with all the messages we came up with on the other side of the world!
I met with Liz and Kelly for lunch and chatted to a few of the business owners. They told of how the campaign has brought businesses together for the first time with a focus to work alongside each other. “We’ve been trying unsuccessfully for 25 years to get people to re-think the Islands Independent shops and businesses”said Liz, “With Totally Locally it has finally worked”.
Kelly told me of the new found togetherness that the traders had found whilst working together, and also of the dentist who gained 40 (yes 40!) new customers during the $10 Town campaign (The NZ version of our Fiver Fest) . “These new customers would have normally used someone on the mainland after work”, said Kelly, “but when they read about the impact they could have on the local economy, they chose to move their business to the Island”. It was amazing to see the whole town kit being used with such effect, and great to talk to shop owners and businesses who were running with the whole thing.
I spent too much money on gifts for home too! But as Waiheke is a Totally Locally Island, does that mean I did my local shop? I think so.
A few days off with family, some cycling and a visit to Lion’s Rock, where one of my favourite films The Piano was shot rounded off the trip beautifully.
A BIG thank you to Stuart Heseltine, Steve Bentley & Graig Grocke for making the whole trip possible, & for their generous hospitality and to everyone who came along, said nice things and supported everything we did. Thank you – I won’t forget this amazing trip.
Some links you may like to explore: