By Joe Mancini, Annual Report, September 2001
Over the last five years The Working Centre has developed concrete, working knowledge of what community tools are and how they best operate. Our experience is rooted in our trial and error efforts and the particular circumstances of The Working Centre in the context of the Kitchener downtown.
During this period we have tried to ensure that each project has developed a consistent set of general rules from which they operate. Of course, there is still a great deal of variability between each project as each has its own nature and history.
These projects include Recycle Cycles, BarterWorks, Queen St. Sewing and Crafts, St. John’s Kitchen, The Front Window, Computer Recycling and the Urban Agriculture Project. The following defines some of these characteristics:
- the projects have the ability to incubate new ideas in an informal atmosphere
- the materials used are either free because they are being recycled or procured very cheaply
- administration is very minimal – it consists of general project coordination and the maintenance of a cooperative, friendly and inviting atmosphere
- the key ingredient is inspiring people to use the tools in creative ways
- the projects provide concrete ways for an individual to contribute to the community good such as fixing a bike and giving it to someone who needs it, helping to prepare a meal at St. John’s Kitchen, helping to fix a computer for someone who has little money
- The Working Centre has created other projects (community voice mail, self-directed computer training, and public access computers) that have a ‘tools philosophy’ but are directly operated as service projects with volunteer assistance.
These projects are designed to provide skill development, the reuse of old materials to create new work, and to provide community and self-help opportunities for creative livelihood beyond employment.
Community Tools fit well into the Sustainable Livelihood research that is researching how industrial work will change in both the overdeveloped and developing worlds. Such changes will inevitably include;
- environmental conditions that demand that the means of livelihood become less destructive of the earth
- redefining work to include activities which enhance the environmental sustainability of local communities.
- recognizing the role of the third sector as facilitating ‘full-engagement’ - both employment and community self-help in order to meet basic material needs and creative desires.
Sustainability research is also profitably combined with Jane Jacob’s work describing the core of poverty as lack of opportunity.
“When a proportion of a population is excluded from developing new work then this is lost energy. People don’t need to be geniuses or even extraordinarily talented to develop their work. The requirements are initiative and resourcefulness - qualities abundant in the human race when they aren’t discouraged or suppressed.”
Jacobs also observes in the Nature of Economies the optimal way to stimulate development through interdependence:
“Expansion depends on capturing and using transient energy. The more different means a system possesses for capturing, using and passing around energy before its discharge from the system, the larger are the cumulative consequences of the energy it receives.”
In this light one can observe that community tools embody a new work ethic. The projects share energy while recycling bikes, trading or creating such as when a BarterWorks member supports the computer recycling with new technical assistance, or when people from the sewing or craft projects sell their products in The Front Window, or when a BarterWorks member uses Recycle Cycles facilities to fix a bike for Barter dollars.
These community tools could inspire other new recycling initiatives, other concrete opportunities to control one’s work, new pride in one’s skills, and a supportive environment to help people think through other ways of working outside of the formal system that excludes them.
The Working Centre is committed to learning from, researching and creating new means of expressing work through these creative community initiatives.