Just a quick update to say that we’ve just got back following yesterday’s (Saturday 7th December) Manchester & Saltford Anarchist Bookfair, which took place at the People’s History Museum in Manchester centre. We were there doing pretty much the same thing we were doing in Dorchester this September, hosting a stall to promote and educate about the Radical Routes network. As well as ourselves, there was a room full of interesting stalls, including (fellow Bristolians) Active Distribution, AK Press from Edinburgh, the Anarchist Federation, the Anarchist Studies Network, Cheshire Hunt Saboteurs (FB page), Footprint from Leeds (another Radical Routes co-op), London’s Freedom Press, the Green Anti-Capitalist Front, and Solidarity Federation, amongst others.

stacks of Manchester & Saltford Anarchist Bookfair posters

As well as the stalls, there was also a series of talks and workshops in the adjoining Education Space: these included Anarchism & Education; a discussion about the Anarchist Party; a book launch for PM Press’s ‘Marie Louise Berneri: Journey Through Utopia’; and discussions on another two books: ‘The Government of No One’ by Ruth Kinna, and ‘Chav Solidarity’ by D Hunter. Incidentally, the latter author will be present at BASE Social Centre in Bristol on Sunday 15th December, talking about his follow-up book, alongside other writers from ‘Lumpen’ journal; see https://www.chavsolidarity.com/shop-1.

Anarchist and radical bookfairs serve an important role for our movements. They don’t just flog books and zines to raise campaigning funds; as well as education from the print media on offer, they also create a great opportunity to introduce the curious to the important collective social change work ahead of us all, and help renew connections with friends and comrades, both old and new – in a similar way to the quarterly Radical Routes Gatherings (the next of which is in Liverpool, 14th-16th February). In the context of modern life, considering how easy it is for the bulk of our conversations and encounters to take place via digital media (like this blog!), it’s vital for both our individual and communities’ mental wellbeing that we meet face-to-face, particularly in spaces free from commercial or authoritarian pressures; the fact that these bookfairs are free entry (and volunteer-run) helps this happen.

Anyway, that’s about it. Despite the one awkward moment when anti-trans activists came in to distribute their brand of hate-speech (the atmosphere in the hall dropped about ten degrees, before they left!), it was a proper nice day out and a good crowd, featuring several good discussions with punters and stall-holders alike. Topping the day off with a visit to the pub (and a round of incompetent pool) made it even better.

P.S. There are still other events that Radical Routes are looking for people to do stalls for in 2020, on our behalf! If you’re interested, they are as follows:

  • Anarchist & Radical Bookfairs throughout the year (look out for Belfast, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, etc.)
  • Ctrl-Shift Emergency Summit for Change
  • Earth First! Winter Moot, 22nd-to 23rd February
  • Ecology Building Society AGM, April
  • Triodos Public Meeting, April
  • Co-operatives UK’s 150th anniversary ‘Festival of Co-operation’ in Rochdale, late June
  • Fast Forward Festival, July, Derbyshire (unconfirmed)
  • Tolpuddle Martyrs Fest, July, Dorset
  • Buddhafield, 15th to 19th July, Somerset
  • Green Gathering, Chepstow, early August
  • Common Ground Woodcraft Folk Camp, Kent, 1st to 11th August
  • Wigan Diggers Festival, 12th September

We originally wrote the following for one of our old business plans, and it occurred to us recently that some of this info might be of interest. So here it is, in all its gory detail:

Renting or buying houses in Bristol is becoming increasingly difficult, especially for those who are sick, out of work, disabled, or elderly. The bulk of landlords and agencies will refuse to let to those claiming housing benefit or in precarious employment; despite the huge rise in the number of people without secure employment contracts [1]. This adds to the factors increasing pressure on social housing, such as the continuing sell-offs of council properties; of which there have been 86 in Bristol since 2014, with much former Council land being re-purposed by developers to build new estates with zero affordable housing [2] (the 50 new planned Council houses in Ashton Vale [3] is a case of too little, too late). In March 2018, 11,500 families were on the waiting list for social housing in Bristol alone, which, as of April 2018, had only 20 properties available. Average time spent on this waiting list is six months for the most urgent cases, but can be more than 21 months. In South Gloucestershire, the Council saw fit to palm off its entire social housing provision to even less accountable housing associations [4]. Housing has long been a chronic problem in Bristol, as reported in the media since at least 2009 [5]. Precariously-homed people not yet on the streets are either getting evicted from their squats, moved on in their vans by complaining nimbys, or having their tents and vans torched by passing thugs. Indeed, according to official sources, the number of street homeless in Bristol has increased by 14% between 2016 and 2018 [6]. The current cocktail of low wages, incomprehensible benefits systems, and insecure housing is obviously intended to lead to homelessness but, rather than tidy up their political messes, ‘our’ rulers would seemingly rather that we scuttle off to a corner and quietly die (like the eight or more who died in Bristol last year [7]), rather than kick up a fuss.

Although average house prices in the South West have increased by 46% in the 10 years leading to 2018, and rose yet another 1.5% this year, the hike in rental costs has outstripped this figure dramatically (with an increase of 4.1% in Bristol in 2019, despite the pre-post-Brexit slowdown), and is expected to rise by a third more than the rest of the UK over the next four years [8]. This has led to residents being ousted from their communities as part of the process of gentrification, a symptom of the lack of affordable housing in Bristol. To even talk about “affordable” housing in any practical way is inaccessible. Formal definitions of affordable housing are simultaneously dense, unintelligible and vague, and are riddled with loopholes allowing those building new houses to match current targets without making meaningful change, and only minimal impacts on their profits [9]. This also makes it difficult to access for those looking for help with buying. Even going by these intangible criteria, not enough affordable houses are being built to buy, and Bristol Council felt compelled last year to half its targets [10]! Likewise, between 2016 and 2017, the total of affordable houses built in the UK was down by 40%, in comparison to the previous year [11]. To make matters worse, developers routinely exploit legal loopholes to reduce these numbers even further [12]. For us and a great many other people, this means buying through traditional means is impossible. Hence, forming a housing co-op is our best means to secure stable housing.

As well as providing housing for co-op members, housing co-ops can also have a positive impact on the wider local community by mitigating against the inflation of rents, whilst at the same time providing better quality housing. Approximately one in ten Europeans live in housing co-operatives, making them a well-established housing sector with a long history of providing accommodation at lower-than-average cost. There are many precedents to show that this is an effective way to provide affordable, quality housing.

The UK currently has more than 45,000 homes that are part of around 680 co-operatives or mutuals. This covers 0.6% of the population which, while somewhat substantial, is significantly less than in the rest of Europe. Reports, such as “Bringing Democracy Home”, have brought attention to the benefits of co-operative housing, stating that co-operatives have the highest satisfaction rate of any housing type [13].

References

1. Butler, Sarah (5 June 2017). “Nearly 10 million Britons are in insecure work, says union”. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/05/nearly-10-million-britons-are-in-insecure-work-says-union. The Guardian. Retrieved 27 January 2018.

2. Cantwell-Corn, Adam (15 April 2019) “Revealed: How the council flogged off public land in the face of austerity”. https://thebristolcable.org/2019/04/revealed-how-the-council-flogged-off-public-land-in-the-face-of-austerity/. Bristol Cable. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

3. “Bristol to sell houses on the private market for the first time”. http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/bristol-to-sell-houses-on-the-private-market-for-the-first-time. Public Sector Executive. 27 June 2017. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

4. Yong, Michael (16 May 2018) “The true extent of Bristol’s housing crisis: Council home wait list numbers and times revealed”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/true-extent-bristols-housing-crisis-1573863. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

5. “Bristol mum’s wait for a new home”. https://web.archive.org/web/20140623141025/http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/Bristol-mum-s-wait-new-home/story-11259538-detail/story.html. Bristol Post. 14 September 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2016.

6. Yong, Michael (16 December 2017) “Number of rough sleepers in Bristol revealed but it’s only the ‘tip of the iceberg’”. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/number-rough-sleepers-bristol-revealed-916343. Bristol Post. Retrieved 27 January 2018.

7. Yong, Michael (8 May 2018) “At least eight homeless people have died in Bristol in the past year”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/least-eight-homeless-people-died-1541954. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

8. Baker, Hannah (27 May 2019) “Renting and house prices in Bristol to increase more than London soon”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/business/renting-house-prices-bristol-increase-2887957. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

9. “Affordable Housing Practice Note April 2018”. https://www.bristol.gov.uk/documents/20182/34560/Affordable+Housing+Practice+Note+2018/31012544-f558-ee5a-79fd-0ee560191537. Bristol City Council. Retrieved 29 November 2019.

10. Davis, Krishan (25 May 2018) “Bristol City Council halves affordable housing requirement for new developments – to encourage more affordable housing”. https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-city-council-halves-affordable-1609252. Bristol Post. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

11. Thatcher, Holly & Gouk, Annie (10 November 2017). “A total of 740 new homes were built in Bristol in the last year, meaning affordable housing made up 29 per cent of all new builds in the city”. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/property/number-affordable-homes-being-built-759514. Bristol Post. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

12. Ashcroft, Esme (2 November 2017). “Bristol ‘lost’ 200 affordable homes due to legal loophole exploited by developers”. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/bristol-lost-200-affordable-homes-715907. Bristol Post. Retrieved 28 January 2018.

13. “Profiles of a Movement.” http://www.housingeurope.eu/resource-115/profiles-of-a-movement. International Cooperative Association & CECODHAS. 2012. Retrieved 12 July 2016.

Our search for loanstock continues. Thinking of investing? Remember that even small amounts (at least £100) are helpful, as is short-term (three- or five-year) loanstock.

Last weekend we had a generous offer of £15,000 loanstock confirmed, which leaves us with £28,000 to go to reach our target (of £43,000 new loanstock, i.e., £98,500 overall).

Just a quick post to say that we have posters and fliers now, on our Invest page, seeking loanstock.

Just a quick update regarding money. We have recently had a low-interest loan of £58,000 agreed from Radical Routes, at the Summer Gathering, which took place in Derbyshire on 10th August. Although we still need to secure a mortgage and attract a modest sum of loanstock (see our Invest page), this loan goes a long way towards making Anarres a reality!

Although we are grateful about the decision, it’s not for us just to say a ‘thank you’. For those of you that don’t know, Radical Routes is a member-led co-operative project, rather than being a service provider with customers. We can’t just take the money and carry on with our lives; Anarres is committed to being a member of the Radical Routes network in our own right, and we do our part of working to make sure that it can continue to expand and spread the values of co-operation and radical social change. Equally, we are also responsible for making decisions to help support other co-ops, regardless of whether they are existing members or future new additions.

The network is here to build on and distribute support for co-ops – be they workers’ co-ops, social centres, or housing co-ops like ourselves. This support takes many forms: not just financial support, but also expertise and advice in the many legal, financial, practical, and social pitfalls that might threaten any attempt at secure and dignified housing. Indeed, we can’t help but notice that attaining proper housing whilst caught inside such a corrupt and incompetent economic system as global capitalism, is becoming more and more difficult. Although we traditionally think of shelter as a human right, the reality on the ground is that’s getting closer to becoming a privilege: one which more and more of us can’t afford.

If you have any questions about Radical Routes, you can of course follow the links on our site, but we would also be glad to speak more in-depth on the subject: so get in touch.

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Just a quick update to say that we were doing a Radical Routes stall last weekend, during the third Dorset Radical Bookfair here. We were there to talk about Radical Routes and co-ops in general, and enjoyed various chatter with co-operators new and old – and at least one new Dorset-based co-op should be getting along to the next Radical Routes Gathering in November, to help get their project off the ground.

Various UK-wide campaigns and distros were present, doing their thing, including Berkshire Antifascists, Black Skin Black Flag, Dorset Parents Campaign Group for SEND Children (see link for their FB page), Freedom Press, IWW Dorset, Prisonism, Wessex Solidarity, and Weymouth Animal Rights, amongst others. There was also fellow Bristolians, Bristol Anarchist Federation and Bristol Radical History Group.

Various meetings were held, on the following topics: ‘Chav Solidarity’, ‘Green Romanticism’, ‘Land and Liberty’, ‘The News. Really?’, ‘Prison: A Survival Guide’, ‘Reclaiming Pride’, ‘Strengthening Global Links: On International Anarchism’, and ‘Wildcat strikes in the Royal Mail’.

The day was capped by an afterparty of punk and folk, with sets by the Sporadics, Blunders, Broken Dregs, Jonny L, and Ash Ludd & Dan Kemp. All in all, a good day out for all present, and we hope to be back there at the Corn Exchange next year.

Beyond Dorset, we’re also looking to get Radical Routes co-ops stalls present at various other events this year. We still need slots filled at the Derbyshire Woodland Festival on the 21st and 22nd September, as well as the Co-op Party Conference in Glasgow between the 11th and 13th October, and also at the Practitioners’ Forum in Manchester on 7th November; if you can help get Radical Routes stalls happening at these events, please get in touch. Also, the next RR Gathering takes place between the 15th and 17th November, at the Star and Shadow in Newcastle, and all are welcome* to come along.

*You know, if you care about co-ops and making the world a better place, that is.

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We had the pleasure of an interview with the Bristol Cable back in June, and that article has recently gone up online here (on 27th August, for their 20th edition).

For those of you that don’t know, the ‘Cable is a home-grown Bristolian community-owned co-op putting out a quarterly free magazine, and aims for “accurate and impactful journalism that engages our communities and holds power to account”. We support a lot of what the ‘Cable’s about, and include them in our Links page.

The article itself delves into the extortionate rents, lack of stability, and lack of control endemic to the ever-expanding private rental sector, and Bristol’s skyscraping property prices. It also explores the pros and cons of forming a housing co-op. They spoke to two of our fellow established Bristol co-ops, venerable Somewhere and youthful Hammerhead, as well as others, and our own contribution tops it off with a sob story!

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From time to time, some of us in Anarres have too much time on our hands, and like to indulge in the odd random doodle (fair warning, you know, in case you feel like moving in, and joining the geekgasm). As evidence to this claim, here is a mock-up of an Anarres coat of arms (which we almost certainly won’t ever use!).

Anarres coat of arms

To blazon this thing properly (that is, to use fancy heraldry-speak to describe it), you might say the following:

Arms: Per bend sinister gules and sable, a crescent reversed and hound sejant rampant silhouette to sinister argent, langed gules.
Supporters: A single constellation of the field.
Motto: Et ad lunam, retro.

When thinking of a name for our fledgling co-operative, we wanted something that was meaningful without being too obvious. After bouncing ideas around, we finally found one that summed up why we wanted to create a housing co-operative, and what we hoped it would (and wouldn’t) become.

Our name comes from ‘The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia,’ a speculative science fiction novel by Ursula K Le Guin. Anarres is one of two connected worlds that the story focuses on. It is a relatively desolate moon, yet one populated by committed idealists. Its inhabitants are attempting to build an ideal society in the face of scarcity, bureaucracy, and the tension between the freedom of the individual and the needs of the community.

Whilst our ambitions don’t quite stretch to the moon and back, we do find a lot of common cause with Le Guin’s characters. Our housing co-operative, like its namesake, should be an example of an alternative way of living, one that embraces an egalitarian outlook and an emphasis on collective decision-making. We also want Anarres to contribute to revolutionary change in wider society, and to take ongoing inspiration from other projects we take part in.

For those of you who are curious about Le Guin’s work, or contemplating reading The Dispossessed yourself, we have posted a review of the book written by a dear friend of ours.

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“I come to you like the beggar man…”

When I first sat down to write this review all I could think of saying was along the lines of “The Dispossessed is about two worlds divided by a wall, and what it means to be a beggar on either side of this divide. Go read it!” Unfortunately that isn’t much of a review, but with that in mind…

The Dispossessed is a work of speculative science fiction exploring two different societies living in orbit to one another:

Urras. The Blue-Green world of plenty. This is a world of class, a world of division. The place where the rich are rich and the poor are poor. Where workers take the brunt from the bosses wars and wants, no matter if the boss claims to be a capitalist or a communist. It is our world presented to us in another name.

Anarres. A moon colony of idealistic anarchists in exile. Now several generations old, it sits in isolation from the rest of humanity and the worlds beyond. Life here is tough and resources are scarce. When crops fail or disaster strikes the hardships leave deep scars against the egalitarian psyche. Although the ideals of anarchism are spoken of, the local conditions are helping the world sleepwalk into bureaucratic syndicalism that sacrifices individual will to the collective.

Each is presented in a spiral of oppressive behaviours, each holding the redemptive key to the other’s doom. The spirit of Anarres shows what can be achieved if society is reordered along the principles of horizontal organisation, free association, solidarity and mutual aid. The resources of Urras can break the bane of economic scarcity that is choking anarchism to death in the face of collective survival.

The opening of the book presents to us a wall.

The wall keeps one world in. The same wall keeps the other world out. This applies no matter which side of the divide you look from and it is this wall – constructed not only of stone but of the material conditions of the two societies – that is examined in great detail. Le Guin does not present this in dry terms however. Her deft characterisation of Shevek, our ideal anarchist cypher and lead character, is able to explore and reveal to us the words as they are lived, rather than simply providing us with dry exposition or simple narrator-descriptions, which could be read but not felt.

Alien planets beyond the entwined orbit of Anarres and Urras give warnings of other possible futures. Terra has been destroyed by self-created environmental catastrophe. Hain shows a disinterested world dying in spirit due to a lack of creative passion. The wall that separates and acts as the doom of Anarres and Urras is shown to also be the foundation to the downfall of these not-so-distant places.

A special note must be made towards the use of of language to convey the morals, philosophy, thought and behaviours of the people of Anarres. Their language sets up what they can or can’t put into words and communicate and commonly conceive. These altered boundaries of consciousness let us understand for ourselves the way their society behaves, and in doing so invites the reader to think in a different way, one that goes out-with those presented in the mainstream of our day-to-day lives. In short, it is consciousness raising.

Like the anarchist ideals the book so deftly explores, the story itself does not leave us with an ending so much as a staging point for our own journey. To use the ideas of the books, it comes to you like a beggar man, relying on you for all that it requires and leaving you enriched by realising you would be better with nothing but what you carry as long as all needs are met. By the end of reading it I was stood at the wall between two worlds with the choice over whether I help to dismantle it, and by choosing to do so build a greater whole.

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