Bristol: Economics of Happiness Conference

I do love Bristol. It’s a city which in my lifetime has always had a youthful vibe and it’s perhaps this zeal for life and a desire for independence which has helped the city to stand out from the crowd.

Bristol has made its mark in many ways for may people but for me it’s the culture and the forward thinking of its strategies.

The two go hand in hand.

I was there over the weekend (19–21st Oct 2018) to attend the Economics of Happiness Conference co-organised wonderfully by Local Futures and Happy City.

There’s such a lot I could cover here, it really was a jam packed weekend, so for the purpose of keeping this post useful I shall attempt to get over the flavour and introduce you to some of the organisations involved.

I’m sure that details, notes and slides will be published at some point and I shall link to those when available!

Day 1 — Friday 19th October

The first session took place at Triodos Bank.

Mike Zeidler (Happy City) and Roger Higman (Network of Wellbeing) introduced themselves and their organisations.

It was good to hear mention of the Share Shed in Totnes, an idea which is an example of the straight forward common sense which has been shared by all humanity for all time, as well as demonstrating how useful a 21st century sharing economy could be.

Liz Zeidler made a very strong contribution by speaking of the need for a ‘we’ first economy and the power of collaboration and diversity.

We split into 2 workshops to look at how the Bristol Pound (Our City. Our Money) could be used for even greater local success, and a new partnership involving Bristol and Bath Regional Capital that seeks to coordinate funding towards social good.

Local need and the local economy really captured the essence of these sessions.

If you’re not already familiar with the ‘Leaky Bucket’ analogy to describe how local money is extracted by non-local players then here’s a video for you.

Evening Debate — What role is there for big business in an economics of happiness?

This was the first chance we had to hear from Local Futures’ Helena Nordberg-Hodge.

Day 2 — Saturday 20th October

Today’s activities took place at the Arnolfini — Centre for Contemporary Arts.

This entire section consists of the descriptions as provided within the weekend’s programme and links to relevant videos and websites.

Poem outside the Arnolfini


Why do we need Wellbeing Economics? — Liz Zeidler
What’s the point of an economy? If it’s growing and producing, what does it grow and what does it produce? Liz Zeidler describes world leading work supporting a radical practical shift towards an economy growing the wellbeing of people, place and planet. What could be different if at a local level but on a national and global scale — we use this new compass to drive decisions, and new tools to navigate a path to a more sustainable and equitable future? Liz will share insights from work across the UK to make this new economy a reality today.

Thriving Places Index (measures how well areas are doing at growing the conditions for equitable, sustainable wellbeing)

Happiness Pulse — The Happiness Pulse tool measures the detailed reality of personal wellbeing in communities. It gets to the heart of how people feel and function in their lives, work and communities.

Economics of Happiness — Helena Norberg-Hodge 
Our current global economic system accelerates climate change, widens the gap between rich and poor, fractures communities and undermines personal identity. Helena champions localisation as an effective strategy for systemic change which can shrink ecological footprints, create jobs, lessen conflict and satisfy our need for connection. As a key player in the new economy movement, she brings news of inspiring alliances and initiatives which are emerging worldwide.

Local Futures: Economics of Happiness. Local Futures works to renew ecological, social and spiritual well-being by promoting a systemic shift towards economic localization.

Cancel the Apocalypse — Andrew Simms
Andrew critiques the debt-based global economy, with evidence-based hope for a rapid transition to a healthier, more sustainable kind of economy that operates within ecological limits. Highlighting a blind spot for ecological and economic reality in mainstream media, he argues for new stories of policy-making possibility. With inspiring lessons from history about rapid change in the face of imminent crisis, he cites modern-day tales of communities working together in an ethos of public spirit, cooperation and mutual aid.

The New Weather Institute is a co-op and a think-tank, created to accelerate the rapid transition to a fair economy that thrives within planetary boundaries.

Rapid Transition Alliance — Things change. It’s one thing we can rely on. But our environment is changing faster than we are. We need to speed up.

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing.” — Raymond Williams

Localising Finance — Michael Shuman
Several decades of experience promoting localization have convinced Michael that the key to further progress is the localization of finance. Michael will share work he and others in North America have done — and continue to do — to overhaul securities, banking, and tax laws to facilitate local investing. Connecting these innovations with similar initiatives in Europe and worldwide is an essential next step.

Farming for People, not Profit — Colin Tudge
Small scale food production can feed the world. It is widely believed that industrial agriculture — with its huge monocultures, chemical inputs, GMO seeds and massive equipment — is the only way to feed the growing global population. Is this true? Colin Tudge will counter this myth and describe the many benefits of small-scale, diversified agriculture — including its ability to produce more food per unit of land than large-scale monocultures. He will explain the vital role food and farming play in connecting people to place and community and revitalising culture.

The Campaign for Real Farming — “Farming that is expressly designed to provide everyone everywhere with food of the highest quality, forever, without wrecking the rest of the world”.

The Future of Cities — George Ferguson
55% of humanity lives in urban areas, so cities hold the future of our planet in their hands. Can we re-configure urban living in ways that promote flourishing lives on a thriving planet? Our panel will look at the ways citizens and governors are coming together to address this most urgent of problems.

People and Cities — This is the official personal site of George Ferguson, past president of the RIBA and the first elected mayor of Bristol, UK.

Workshops & Panels

I only refer here to the workshops that I was able to attend!

What role does Culture play in defining and developing place? — Andrew Kelly
‘Culture’ is both a product and a way of doing things. It is the heading we use to describe the ideas, customs, and achievements of a society. With over 25 years as a promoter and creator of cultural activity in Bristol, Andrew will share what he’s learned about the value of investing in stories of who we are.

The Bristol Festival of Ideas aims to stimulate people’s minds and passions with an inspiring programme of discussion and debate throughout the year.

Bristol Cultural Development Partnership — Our Story

The Happy Museum Project looks at how the museum sector can respond to the challenge of creating a more sustainable future.

How can we improve relations between `Mainstream and Minority groups? — Roger Griffith, Sibusiso Tshabalala and Lisa Whitehouse
In this session, we’ll eavesdrop on a conversation between people with a passion for inclusion. We’ll hear about the challenges of working against the odds, sources of resilience and inspiration and ways of prompting more receptive relationships between groups of significantly different sizes.

Cognitive Paths facilitates cross-sector collaboration to improve leadership perspective in society.

Ujima Radio CIC (Community Interest Company) is your local Bristol Community radio station — supplying you with news, discussion and music.

Interculture CIC — We have a strong belief that all humans are of equal value. Through training, education and bringing people together we can break down perceived cultural barriers. Interculture creates safe spaces and provides advice, consultancy, and support.

What values drive behaviour change? — Chloe Hardy and Angela Raffle
Unleash your power — The Social Change Project has been exploring how people are trying to strengthen civil society in the UK today. With many examples of ambitious, bold and transformational initiatives involved, the research has produced rich results. Chloe Hardy will share the findings of the project to date, introducing the ‘Social Change Grid’ and 12 habits of successful change-makers alongside Angela Raffle as they map the progress of the Bristol Food movement using the grid.

The Social Change Project continues to ask one critical question: what can we learn about how social change is happening that can strengthen civil society’s efforts?

Bristol’s Good Food Plan PDF

Final Presentation

Happiness: Deep Ecology Deep Culture
With Stephan Harding and Helena Norberg-Hodge
Stephan and Helena explain how modern civilisation — built on the cultivation of self- centeredness and ‘freedom of choice’ within an economic system addicted to growth — has provided some short-term material benefits but has been immensely damaging to our wellbeing and to the planet as a whole. They believe the breakdown of community and alienation of the human psyche from nature is the cause of depression and anxiety as well as anger and violence. We urgently need to awaken to the profound need for connection to others and to nature.

Closing plenary

Moving forward; Joining voices for a new economy
With Stewart Wallis, Naresh Giangrande, Anja Lyngbaek and Mike Zeidler
This final discussion will introduce you to three networking initiatives on a national and international level that are focused on building common ground and a joint voice for a new economy. You will also hear about other initiatives that are paving the way for a system that prioritises human and ecological well being. This plenary will help you find ways of transforming your inspiration from the conference into action and show you how to stay involved with the new economy movement.

Wellbeing Economy Alliance — WEAll exists to help bring about a transformation of the economic system, of society and of institutions so that we all prioritise shared wellbeing on a healthy planet.

Transition Network — A movement of communities coming together to reimagine and rebuild our world.

The International Alliance for Localization (IAL) is a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs dedicated to exploring radically new visions of development and progress.

Happy City is a small UK charity with a big mission: to ‘make what matters count’. It offers a place-based model of change that puts the wellbeing of current and future generations centre stage.

Day 3 — Sunday 21st October

Strength in numbers: How local businesses can support each other and enrich their local communities
With George Ferguson & Jamie Pike
This session explores the benefits of looking for collaborative rather than competitive advantage when you’re running a local business. The Bristol Beer Factory, Canteen, Grain Barge, Mark’s Bread, No 1 Harbourside, Harbourside Markets, 5 Acre Farm, The Assembly Bakery, Tobacco Factory and Tobacco Factory Theatres have built up relationships which not only help them survive and prosper, but also improve conditions in their local communities. It’s not always plain sailing, but it’s well worth the effort. George Ferguson and Jamie Pike, share their personal experiences on this rewarding journey.

People and Cities — This is the official personal site of George Ferguson, past president of the RIBA and the first elected mayor of Bristol, UK.

Coexist — Hamilton House was a vacant and neglected office block for many years. In 2008 the owners, Connolly and Callaghan invited a group of friends to create a centre for the community. Ever since, Coexist has been working hard to create a space in which the community can grow, share, collaborate, and learn what it is to live in coexistence with each other.

Sign Off

That’s all I have for you, although I will update if possible.

Until then I can only wish any readers success with your local projects. The organisations listed here are just a small sample — YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Connect. Work together. Share everything. Find common ground. Occupy.

The world was made for those that share it.

‘The Creation’ at entrance of Bristol Eye Hospital (1st Viscount Samuel)

*My sincerest thanks to Reconomy Practitioners for the kind offer of a ticket.