Breathing Life into the Future – Gower Power: Part 2
In the second part of Swansea News Network’s interview with Ant Flanagan, one of the founders of Gower Power Co-Op CIC, Ant talks to Patrick Driscall about changing things for the better, the good news in renewables locally, and great ideas like time banks.
What do you most enjoy doing in your spare time?
I love kite surfing at Llangenith.
How can we as individuals change things for the better?
That’s a very philosophical question. I think that people benefit from having time to think about what is important to them as individuals. If people took that time; I don’t think they reach conclusions that are necessarily selfish. I think they actually start thinking of things that are inspirational, and for the benefit of others, as much as for themselves.
I imagine the people involved in the community farm at Cae Tan are getting a good dose of feelings of community, being hands on and in the moment with volunteering?
Yes! Absolutely. It’s certainly filled a gap! That’s one of the reasons I wanted to set up a food project like Cae Tan because there just wasn’t that around here. You couldn’t access any local organic food and you certainly couldn’t get involved in growing easily. People, including myself, tend to have a certain disconnect from how food is produced, yet it’s in a food producing area that used to be renowned for it’s market gardens.
What as Gower Power would you like to achieve in terms of complementary currencies? (Complementary currency: Currency “used to supplement a national currency. An agreement to use a medium of exchange that is not usually legal tender.” Source: wikipedia.org)
I think at this stage it would just be to understand what forms of alternative exchange might work best. I absolutely love the Bristol Pound model. I think it’s fantastic. Would it work in Swansea? I’m not sure. I think it’s a particular set of circumstances in Bristol that has made that take off well. But that’s not to say that different forms of exchange couldn’t work well in Swansea and Gower. I don’t know what would work best. I know the time credits model is working really well across Wales.
Ownership can be as much about caring for something as it is about it simply being yours.
What are time credits?
A time bank is essentially where people do volunteering for the benefit of their community and they reward each other with time credits. There’s an organisation that facilitates the citizenship allowing people to do interesting and good stuff in their community. In the background someone approaches different organisations to talk to them about their under-capacity and coordinates. For example a cinema is asked; can you spare a few free seats? These are used as rewards for people, who can then exchange their time credits for those rewards. The cinema thinks my cinema will always be half empty on a Wednesday but more filled seats mean more cinema goers will buy popcorn. Businesses recognize there is value in giving away stuff. You generate social capital through spare capacity. I think that model is great!
What does ownership mean to you?
It means different things on different levels. There’s the stuff we own as individuals that we buy and acquire. Then there is business ownership which can have private, public or community ownership. Community ownership is very much about creating a structure that enables people to participate more democratically within a group or organisation. Sometimes it can include having some financial involvement. Personal ownership of stuff is different to the mutual relationship or community ownership where you have both a sense of belonging to something collective and it (the project) belonging to you. Ownership can be as much about caring for something as it is about it simply being yours.
Would you like to leave a legacy?
If I did, I would like it to be about people not shying away from themselves or crazy ideas about making society more integrated with the environment.
What’s the good news in the world of renewables locally?
It’s really good news that the Swansea Tidal Lagoon is sounding hopeful. It will put Swansea on the map! The turbines might be made in Swansea too! I speak to a lot of people that are a bit down beat about renewables, particularly given the current government’s attitude towards them, so projects like the Tidal Lagoon are great. They breath life into the future.
What skills do your directors bring to the coop and how does that work in practice?
They bring a mix of skill sets. There’s some renewable energy and business experience. Some Directors have business experience on the community development side and skills in consultation and social impact. Tom has his specific growing experience. It’s a mixed bag. I feel reassured if I need to call a meeting they’re there, and a really good sounding board. However, on a day to day basis sometimes it feels like I spend a lot of my time running around like a headless chicken! I am sure most people running small businesses feel that way a lot of the time.
– projects like the Tidal Lagoon are great. They breath life into the future.
Are you happy to share your views about Brexit right now?
I’m more than happy to share my views but much less happy about them! I am massively disappointed that the vote was partially swayed by the xenophobic crap that some newspapers publish. I think a lot of the public found the issue really confusing…. Someone told me the other day that the second most frequently searched for question on google the day after the vote was, “What is the EU?” That says a lot about whether the vote should have taken place in the way it did. Politicians on both sides lied throughout the campaign which exacerbated the confusion. Fundamentally, I think the UK could have far more meaningful engagement with other parts of Europe being part of the EU than being outside it.
What personal quality has helped you best in fulfilling this dream job of yours?
Dream job of mine? It would be a dream job if Gower Power could achieve everything I wanted it to do without feeling like it is such hard work! Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it differently? Maybe. I think you can’t set up a business without being blindly optimistic, often to the detriment of your own well-being and people around you. I think it’s about persistence and total belief in doing the impossible. That’s what gets you out of bed in the morning. I think that’s probably a shortcoming as much as it’s a quality. But that’s how stuff gets done.
What does the future hold for us?
As people, I think we’ve got some pretty dark times ahead. You look at the path we are on in terms of the environment and the entire economic system and it seems destined to fail. We’re travelling towards a brick wall and we’re not doing anything to slow down. We’re talking about slowing down but actually we’re accelerating. I think there’s going to be challenging times in our lifetime.
Do you think a new economic way of doing things will evolve?
Absolutely. But only after this system completely fails first. I mean we are living in a bubble economy and the next bubble is going to burst at some point. Whether that is going to be suitably significant for us to need to rewire how economics works and link that to the environmental limitations of the planet, I don’t know. It may be another pop, bubble, pop, bubble, pop. Maybe that will just go on for a few decades. At some point, maybe, sufficient people will clock on. I think it’s inevitable, unless we rework the economic system we are going to destroy ourselves as a species. I don’t know if that reworking will happen in our lifetime.
I think it’s about persistence and total belief in doing the impossible. That’s what gets you out of bed in the morning.
So what qualities does human kind have that can help us overcome these challenges?
We are amazingly creative and resilient. I don’t think any challenge is beyond us. Unfortunately, overcoming certain challenges is inevitably going to be brought about by extreme levels of pain and suffering. Until things hit people hard in some way or another, I find it difficult to imagine lots of people changing their behavior. It seems to be that as a community or society we don’t make major shifts in how we behave unless they are triggered by pain or some sort of venting that actually starts to make people think. Our media prevents us from thinking at the moment. A lot of it prevents us from thinking a lot of the time. Most of us, myself included, are walking about in a semi-somnambulant state most of the time.
Do you think the media needs to change?
Certainly! That’s the good thing that you’ve got here (encouragingly about Swansea News Network)!
Interested in investing in renewables?
Ant Flanagan and Gower Power are also involved in the Swansea Community Energy and Enterprise Scheme (SCEES) and launched a highly successful community share offer on November 7th, 2016 ( now closed). The scheme so far has installed 1440 solar panels on nine schools and a council-owned care home, at no cost to the building host. As the solar panels make electricity they earn income from Government subsidies and reduced cost electricity sales to the host buildings. The money will be used to offer investors into the scheme an annual 6% interest payment and will be used to generate a £500k+ community benefit fund to support skills, enterprise, economic growth and job creation in some of the most deprived areas in Swansea.
Interested? Take a look.