...or how the self-sufficiency movement of the 1960's and '70's has much in common with the modern, entrepreneurial co-working communities of today - only the future for the latter is a lot brighter in my view.
The attached BBC piece is a nostalgic but interesting read. It explores the back-drop to the popular BBC TV sitcom, 'The Good Life', which was based on the one time very popular, self-sufficiency campaign of the 1970's. This campaign urged workers and families to adopt a simpler, healthier and organic way of life; essentially to farm and live off the land. Followers were encouraged to reject the trappings and dictats of (what was portrayed as) an increasingly materialistic and superficial, industrial society where hundreds of thousands of Britons slogged away like anonymous battery hens in meaningless jobs, and huge impersonal office buildings.
It was the era of plastic (think Tupperware), lurid sugary and additive-ridden fizzy drinks (that typically tasted plastic), synthetic materials (shoes and clothes felt like they were plastic) and almost everything from furniture to toys and transport, felt like it came with some kind of gloss, artificial sheen or fancy embellishment. The self-sufficiency philosophy was a call to arms and a revolt for those who really couldn't 'do plastic fantastic' any more. It appealed to people who sported instead a rebellious, pioneering streak and who were up for challenging the norm. Whilst the BBC sitcom centred on a middle class family's decision to go self-sufficient, in fact, many of those giving it a try were in their 20's and just starting out.
Challenging the norm in any era is tough. But self-sufficient communities grew up across the UK in support of this movement. Often collaboratively, they embraced and tackled the real obstacles of knowing nothing about how to plant and grow vegetables, milk cows and goats, source and manage heating and water supplies, communicate, etc. Yet they passionately believed it was the right thing to do. They learned from each other, lived, grew and eventually disbanded and departed together. Few of these communities still remain in existence today. Most of their surviving members will admit that they never really worked. But it was the notion of disrupting the accepted course of career and lifestyle, of building something, of taking control of your own life and of making a difference, that romanced many to believe in it at the time.
Today's co-working spaces, packed full of small businesses, have much in common with these original pioneering communities of decades past. We looked at them recently in our piece ‘My chicken for your developer’.
As for their future, however, I'm confident that these dynamic populations will have a lot more longevity. By that I don't mean I believe being an entrepreneur or running a small businesses is a walk in the park. It's not. It's extremely hard work.
The difference however is that these new communities make a clear contribution to the economic growth of Great Britain and their members are individually and collectively celebrated with national pride, rather than being consigned to the amusement or ridicule of the majority of society, (which was the angle essentially taken by the BBC's sitcom, endearing though its main characters were intended to be). The members (or entrepreneurs) within them are tomorrow's investment targets and are widely regarded as future solutions to national unemployment statistics. There is national (and international) optimism and hope for their success.
But it's not just how we feel about them as investors, consumers of their outputs or as governments with political quotas and targets to meet that matters. It's also the fact that whilst they similarly barter skills and band together in a semi-tribal fashion at times (like their 1970's counterparts), many of them can trade rapidly, efficiently and even internationally with big business and with consumers. Consumers even crowd-fund them. And finally, their constantly evolving skills are a clever mix of traditional and novel, willingly shared, so that many amongst them may benefit and thrive.
Forty years ago a new book offered city dwellers a way to escape the rat-race and go back to the land. The author of the "bible" of self-sufficiency, John Seymour, convinced thousands to change their lives. ... His books published in the 1960s and 1970s urged readers to return to a more traditional way of life and be less reliant on the outside world. He believed this would free people from their dependence on a damaging industrial society. "It is going forward to a new and better sort of life, a life which is more fun than the over-specialised round of office or factory, a life that brings challenge and the use of daily initiative back to work," he wrote.