By Max Comfort
Max Comfort talks about the benefits that slow shopping is bringing to stroud.
In the ‘grab, snatch, hurry’ society we’ve developed for ourselves, shopping (as opposed to so-called retail therapy) has become something to be done as quickly as possible. Usually in a supermarket. And with the attendant behaviours: head down, dashing for the drum-sticks on special, glowering at the slow person between you and the cat litter, and over stuffing plastic bags at the check-out in a desperate attempt to keep up with the bleeping till. 21st Century shopping can be a stressful experience, reminding us how much we have become of someone else’s system, propelling us through as many pre-determined and temptation-barbed routes as possible, encouraging us to lose our hold on fiscal reality.
Not so in Stroud. Here, every Saturday morning, we practice the art of slow shopping. Among the stalls in our award-winning Farmers’ Market, we might sample a piece of local goat’s cheese (named after the goat who gave her milk), decide at leisure between red or green pesto made that morning, sample a new local beer or two, or stock up on organic veggies from our favourite farmer. We experience the cornucopia that miraculously emerges every week from within a few miles of our town, and wonder at the deliciousness of it all. Munching on lemon drizzle cake or an organic beef-burger, we watch the Morris men or linger to listen to the five-piece band belting out the old favourites. Round a corner on the narrow streets, we may come upon a lone fiddler reminding us of the primal rhythms that still stir the soles of our shoes.
But, above all, slow shopping is a social activity. Pre-Caxton, markets were the world’s newspapers, places to exchange fact or fiction, tribulation or triumph, congratulation or sympathy. Today, despite Sky and Ipods, our Farmers’ Market is where we become our community at its best, where we bump unexpectedly and delightedly into old acquaintances, where we digest family news and examine new arrivals, meet friends of friends visiting from outside, share gossip and jokes, issue invitations, pass on messages. It is a generous and ennobling experience.
For, in Stroud on a Saturday morning, we are also part of a system, but one of our own making, on a human scale; one in which we can all make an equal contribution, where we engage as much or as little as we like. Slow shopping is a gentle activity and one which accommodates, refreshes and honours the individual. It also oils the subtle cogs of our diverse community, keeping it vibrant and locally focused.
27 Springhill, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1TN
01453 840458 ñ 07973 635868
By Molly Scott Cato
Molly Scott Cato talks about the ideas behind the Stroud Communivesity.
In mid-June around 70 people gathered in a community arts centre in Stroud to launch Stroud Communiversity – a space for shared learning on the road to a sustainable future. The evening featured a presentation by Professor Hugh Bartonóa Stroud resident who is also an academic planner at the University of the West of Englandóhelping us to develop our vision of the town and countryside where we will be living in the next decade.
It is my working life in a university that has convinced me that each community needs its own educational institutions, and that Stroud needs a Communiversity. In this late phase of global capitalism our institutions are being captured by the market and the university has not escaped. Our academics are trapped between seeking politically motivated research funding and achieving market-driven targets. Students arrive as consumers and buy degrees as passports to more lucrative jobs. Education is no longer the point.
The role of the universities in questioning and inspiring a critical attitude in young people is no longer encouraged. This would be serious at any time, but in an era when we are facing such serious problems it is a disaster that the very places where creative solutions should be developed are so neutered and contained. This is why we need alternative structures where intellectual creativity can flourish.
Ever year I spend a pleasant weekend teaching green economics at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. It is an enlightening and refreshing experience! One of the learners said excitedly how much she enjoyed the space to think. How can we possibly imagine a better future without this sort of space? We called it toga time’, remembering how good the ancient Greeks were at solving problems by drifting around in good company, great weather with scant clothing! We are lucky in Stroud because we have creative thinkers who have so much to shareóand people like Hugh who have spent their lives becoming experts. We intend to find the space for inspirational exchange creative learning in the Communiversity.
Our first eventwas held at the beginning of August and wasan opportunity for the community to share the examples of sustainable living that are flourishing here in Stroud. Itwas a weekend summer school where visitors were able to directly experience our projects and to develop their own ideas from them. We hope to make this an annual eventótogether we will celebrate what makes Stroud a successful and sustainable community, and discover collectively what we still have to learn.