Helen, a good friend of mine in Transition Norwich, used to tell this hilarious anecdote about the time she decided to ask her neighbour if she could borrow a cake tin. Motivated by a transition ethos of not wanting to buy a new one if it wasn’t necessary she plucked up the courage and faced the slightly confused awkwardness of the exchange with her neighbour. Having been lent a cake tin, she then was racked with worry about damaging it or not giving it back soon enough.

tetrapak walletIn true Helen style it is a slightly melodramatic example, but it beautifully illustrates my topic for this post. One of the most important skills we have lost, that facilitates the learning and practicing of all the other skills, is the skill of sharing. This is particularly true if you are on the receiving end, we are still fairly good at telling other people what to do or at doing a good deed, but so many people are no longer comfortable with asking for help or to borrow something. I wonder how much of this stems from the fact that you are then ‘in debt’ to the other person?

It is one of the key beliefs of the Gift Economy, that it is vital we rebuild this web of interdependencies and indebtedness. As it is that which makes a community strong. Money can get in the way of this, as it is essentially ending your ‘relationship’ as soon as you have paid.

Ragrug bagAn easy way to get over our initial discomfort with the asking is to start a resource library. My transition circle in Norwich did just this a few year ago. We all decided that we would like to share lots of the tools and other resources that we had, so we set about writing inventories of what we were willing to share, this ranged from spades and lawnmowers to whisks and jam pans, from reference books to hammers and spare bedding, we put it all into a big database and made a few rules, such as if you damage it you pay for it, and then we were off! Unfortunately I moved away pretty soon after setting this up so I didn’t get to see all of the benefits, but even just looking through peoples lists I got excited! All of the things that I could now do without having to spend a penny! Often you build up this kind of network informally amongst friends anyway, but it’s convenient to have a list of who has got what and a few rules so you know where you stand. In fact I have reinspired myself so much that I might look into setting one up in Shrewsbury!

So now that you have access to the tools that you need, it’s time to share the knowledge of how to do it. Like Ann on Monday, I am an avid skill collector and I have an ever growing library of awesome reference books. So I am quite good at having a go and making it up as I go along, but if you can find someone to share their knowledge and experience with you it is so rewarding. As Ann said 

There’s nothing like learning from a master, who can spot straight away where you are making mistakes and who will show you how you can improve your technique. An experienced teacher can guide and encourage you, let you in on the little tricks of the trade and give you a lot of background information that would otherwise be hard to come by.

But as Caroline’s post yesterday beautifully illustrated, you don’t have to find a master in order to learn a lot from each other. Working it out together also has immense value, our shared intelligence is so much greater than our individual knowledge. 

Shrewsbury Green DoorsI had great fun in Transition Norwich organising a series of reskilling workshops where we learnt how to crochet, how to make rag rugs, how to knit. They were all free and drew on the knowledge of Transition Norwich members to teach. There was a similar initiative in Glasgow called StitchUP. There was a drop in session in a local cafe once a month where any one could come and ‘upcycle’ and be creative. They have made some beautiful things and it has the benefit of creating a community gathering and talking space too.

My new initiative, Transition Town Shrewsbury, doesn’t have a reskilling group as such (yet!), but they do have the wonderful Shrewsbury Green Doors, which is happening in a couple of weekends time. Over this weekend 18 houses of all kinds that have taken measures to improve their energy efficiency will be opening their doors to the public, that includes everything from draft proofing to passivhaus. This is a fantastic opportunity for people to share their learnings and the skills that they have gained through taking the measures. 

So this month I challenge you to relearn the skill of sharing and to share your skills! On my part I am happy to share the skills of being a social reporter if anyone has any stories that they would like to share from their initiative.

Photos: A skill I have been taught that I like to share is making wallets out of tetrapaks, A rag rug bag I made in one of the Transition Norwich reskilling workshops and the Shrewsbury Green Doors leaflet (James Smith)