• The Story Behind Bridgedale360

    I just had to leave…

    I had been walking aimlessly, as if my body just carried me along, for what seemed like forever. I still didn't know where I was heading or what was propelling me forwards. Except the reverb of that thought - I had to leave - and a name. Bridgedale360. My fist tightened around the scrap of paper on which it was written. I didn't have to open it, again, to see it. By now the name and the X that marked it on the spidery map was already etched into my mind. Instead, I looked up and wondered whether the turn in the road was starting to look - not exactly, but still - like the curve of one of the lines on the map. Like one of the spider´s legs. All roads lead to Bridgedale360? I first heard about it from a friend a few months ago and then later, overheard it in a bar. Just people talking over loud and dull pop - but I heard it for sure - and then I found this map, or it found me. I had to leave, my heart needed to believe, I had to believe.

    I picked up the pace, my heart beating out a rhythm for my legs to follow, and my right side stung. Exhaustion and fear tugged at me, and perhaps it was regret that made me look back every now and again, but this time I wasn't going to let it get the better of me. Not this time. I threw some of what was left over from my bag of dried fruits into my mouth, hoping it would hush my hunger. My feet yelled out in pain; my new boots had still not been broken in. Instead, the boots seemed bent on breaking me in. Blisters and all. My insides screamed at me in revolt.

    Suddenly I heard voices. I got cautious, a bit afraid, but my curiosity brought me closer. My ears twitched like antennae, trying to figure out where the voices came from. I stood still. There. “Bridgedale360”, I heard it. My heart rattled my ribcage. “Over there, not so far anymore.” I had to get to them. “Wait!” I think I said and cut through the row of trees, hesitantly at first, but then found myself pushing and shoving shrubs aside, until I saw them and they saw me. “Hi,” said the woman, smilingly. I gasped and smiled back and my insides kept quiet, for once.

    We were walking for days, mostly quietly. But there was a sense of unity that I had never felt before. We were all following our dreams somehow, but without really knowing what it was. Layla showed me some pictures of her family, and said that she didn’t know any longer where they were, if they were alive. Could we blame the “system crisis”? But I also felt conscience-stricken, because I saw how privileged I was. Yet, I was unhappy. But happiness does not come with abundance, I learnt it the hard way. I could not imagine myself continuing like before. I desperately needed Bridgedale360 to be more than a silly fairy tale…

    Once we started off together, everything fell into step so to speak. We moved as if we were one, people from the west, people from the east, just people...fleeing the old system and searching for that unknown place. Conversations bubbled up here and there, naturally without any haste, but then we would retreat into a silence again, as we mulled over things we had just heard, and I imagined how life was for them before in the countries where they were coming from, and how much it sounded like my own in some ways; while in others, mine was completely foreign to theirs. I remembered the things I used to enjoy, but that was in the past, I told myself, as I shook off an all too familiar sense of heaviness. Excess does that to you, somehow. But, here on this dirt road to Bridgedale360, I was just like them. Bridgedale360 was and will be the great equalizer for us all.   

    Arriving happened by surprise. We came to a stream and a little further up a girl was playing in the water, singing for herself. We came closer and when she saw us she smiled. “Ahoy there, comrades!”, she said. And she smiled and waved at us. I was surprised by the openness with which she was greeting a bunch of strangers. In the middle of nowhere! But it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, we soon found out. Further up the stream we saw a mill and some mechanism pumping water. And then it all just opened up. Without waiting for us, the girl skipped ahead and we followed, not skipping like her, but feeling a slight hop in our own step. We exchanged glances and before we knew it, buildings and gardens and people working appeared from behind the trees. Everybody stopped to greet if only briefly, and smiled before they got back to doing what they were doing. Cows grazed past us. Even they seemed to smile.

    Our little guide, we could see, had come to a stop before the most impressive of all the buildings that we had passed. A man stood there rubbing his hands and then approached us, as if he couldn´t wait for us to get to where he stood. “Welcome,” he said, while his hands rubbed and patted our weary shoulders, ”first some rest and then I´ll show you around Bridgedale360, ok?”

  • The Free Store and the Bike Pool


    “I discovered that my security no longer lay in my bank account, but in the strengths of my relationships with the people, plants and animals around me.”

    -Mark Boyle, the Moneyless Man


    Zhang Wei, shopkeeper at the Freestore

    I remember reading John Steinbeck's “The Grapes of Wrath”, which is set during the 1930s depression in the United States. There is one chapter where the family comes across an orange plantation, to find that all the oranges are being destroyed. It has been decided that this is the most economically viable thing to do, less oranges in the world = higher price. The despair of the family, who had travelled from one coast to the other to find a living, was unimaginable, and while reading, I could feel it in my bones: “A million people hungry, needing the fruit—and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificate—died of malnutrition—because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. And the smell of rot fills the country.”

    It struck me, this is not just a dystopian novel, this is how our economy actually works! Its main objective is to increase the circulation of these abstract paper notes called 'currency' rather than catering to the real needs of human beings. It’s both absurd and inhuman!

    In Bridgedale360, we are trying to think of the economy differently. Its main objective here is to meet everyone's needs to the greatest extent possible - “from each according to her ability, to each according to her needs”. If you have an extra orange, you give it to a neighbour - as simple as that! These values and ideas in practice are manifested in the Free Store and Bike pool. The Free Store supplements the market economy and is based on gifts. There is no formal exchange involved; instead you take what you need and leave what you do not need, both money and possessions. It’s all based on trust. But as much as the Free Store requires trust to function it also generates trust. To put it simply, if you feel that the economy is there to help you and cater to your needs, you will want to contribute to that economy. Such an economy makes you trust, and you’ll want to give back to it. Thus, the most important commodity, instead of money, becomes your relationships. Can you imagine how this different approach to economy can radically change a community, society, life? A gift-based economy can also be a real personal challenge, it forces us to consider the needs of other people before our own egoistic wants. But when successful, it invites a new dimension into our lives, the joy of giving. As a result, we’ll also be able to enjoy the quality of a real community.

    The bike pool, the carpool and the other pools that we’re using are really about practical common sense solutions. Pooling resources like this is also about basic humanity and equality, it is about distributing resources to maximise their utility. Efficiency. While the proponents of a market economy tend to argue that it’s (market economy) highly efficient, we ask how can a system that destroys oranges and is prohibiting vacant buildings to be used - even though there are people in dire need of a roof over their heads or hungry people - seriously be called efficient? Well, from a common sense perspective, it can’t! That’s inefficiency! In the bike pool you can ride a bike when it’s available, and when you’re done you return it to the pool. It’s about sharing and shared ownership. In the best of worlds this should be easy, but in this world shared ownership is a real challenge. It’s because in the old culture our sense of ownership is so deeply rooted. What’s mine I care about while what is yours I care about less. If it belongs to a person that I don’t know, I may care very little. Therefore in the beginning you may have a lot of broken bikes in the pool, many flat tires that people didn't bother to fix. But people start to evolve their attitude with time.

    When entering the Free Store or the Bike Pool, it is always good to pay attention to your own attitudes towards money, ownership, giving and sharing. You would find out that in the end, our little Bridgedale360 economy is all about relationships and our attitudes towards one another. It touches upon deep human values. So let yourself be selfless, let yourself care about others. Why? Because you deserve it.

    Learning Outcomes

    • To have a wider notion of ownership

    • To familiarise yourself with ideas about minimizing consumption/excess stuff

    • To practice basic concepts of gift economy

    • To understand local possibilities for sharing in your area

The MarketplaceThe Workshop