John Bird: Community PLC can be profitable again. Let’s give it a go

We can knit back the local community and make it profitable again

The incredible movement of money and goods and the repatterning of trade and sales are going on at a quicker and quicker pace. High streets are disappearing in their old form. We mourn their passing. Yet it is all about the incredible becoming commonplace.

Likewise, the exportation of wealth towards China and the East disrupts traditional world commerce, creating new tensions. All the result of back and forth trades and the making of stuff thousands of miles away from where they are bought and sold.

On holiday in Ireland last week I talked to a cousin who has a dairy farm. He keeps a constant eye on the movement of prices globally, as whether he gets a liveable price for his milk depends on world prices.

We are going through such instant and complete changes, changes which in the past would only have occurred so quickly through war. The First and Second World Wars created the modern world. Now the modern investment patterns, shareholders, billionaires and the vast ocean of consumers are made each day, new, again and again.

But you’d think that this had nothing to do with us. You’d think it was being done to us from on high. As if the little ingredients we as individual consumers brought to the table had no say in the matter. As if we’re always being told what to do.

We hold the power

But we are the power. We, the consumer, direct the vast wealth. Most consumers move like wildebeest seeking new grazing grounds. En masse, into and out of products, and into and out of suppliers and producers. We are always the deciding factor; creating the Amazons, Facebooks, Apples and Googles along the way.

And as soon as our mass tastes shift, we shift like shit off a shovel to some other purveyor. Makers and breakers of fortunes, every last one of us. Empire builders and dashers of fortunes at one and the same time. And yet all the while, we marvel at change as if it’s ‘them’ doing unto ‘us’; rather than ‘us’ doing it to ‘them’.

Knit back the high street, stitch by stitch, transaction by transaction

I, and many more like me, lavished our money and affections on the likes of Woolworths. And then pulled the rug from under them. And the accumulators of our accumulated wealth worry themselves sick as to our next move.

With the above in mind, we are organising a very simple conference on November 22 in Northampton. It’s so simple because it’s about knitting local trade back together. It’s about recognising that if local shops, offices, councils, charities and bigger corporations trade with each other, then we can knit back the local community and make it profitable again.

Knit back the high street, stitch by stitch, transaction by transaction. And keep the social pound bouncing around inside the community like a ball in a pinball machine, as it ricochets and rebounds from business to business, before it’s sent around again, and again (and again).

We’re trying to do something different with this social trading conference. It’s not about all getting together and agreeing on how we should re-stitch a business and social community. It’s actually showing how it’s done and getting it done. There and then. The legacy of the conference is that people end up trading together from then on, and for the benefit of the local community.

The housing association that offers its gardening services to businesses across the town, the charity that can cook your lunch or do your conference catering. The accountant that can do your books while you paint their offices through your social programmes, and the vegetables that come from the homeless charity that go to the sandwich bar.


Last year, 27,000 people worldwide earned an income selling street papers, making a total of £23.4 million.

These are in fact examples. We are hosting this conference in association with the University of Northampton, Northampton Hope Centre, Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce and Voluntary Impact Northamptonshire to rekindle local social trading because we know if it works, all of us are winners.

What’s so beautiful about trade is that it creates changes for better or worse, and we can see what kind of traders we want to trade with.

The ingredients of a revived, improved and growing community can be set in motion not simply by empty pledges – but by delivering and maximising trade with each other.

If we were to see ourselves as the ingredients, the elements in all change, then it becomes a question of us trying to demonstrate to as many communities how social trading spreads social justice and helps heal and renew the community.

This is our first attempt. Let’s hope it works. We’ll keep you informed as to how it goes.

For more information visit