Thursday 21 February 2019

Building Wellbeing Together

We believe that a person’s wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of the community in which they live and work, while the wellbeing of their community depends on the wellbeing of society as a whole, and the long-term health of the natural world on which we all depend.” 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one person can do very little to shape the future. Nigel and Margaret Woodward refused to accept that perspective. After retiring to Totnes, United Kingdom, they began donating to a variety of environmental organizations. But this wasn’t enough – they wanted to take a more hands-on approach. After much thought and consultation, the couple decided to establish the Network of Wellbeing.

The Network of Wellbeing (NOW) is founded on a belief that individual wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of the community, the society as a whole, and the natural world. Evolving organically, the organization has grown to 5 part-time staff working on a variety of projects. Mirella Ferraz, the Totnes Project Coordinator, outlined the scope of Network of Wellbeing’s (NOW) activities.

Wellbeing in Totnes 
The Network of Wellbeing’s initial activities were centred on its home town of Totnes.

Totnes Wellbeing Fund: In setting up NOW, organizers had asked community members what they needed and how the community could be improved. They learned that people had ideas and wanted to set up projects but needed some initial capital to help get the projects off the ground. As a result, NOW established the Totnes Wellbeing Fund, which offers small seed grants (under $1,000) to individuals and organizations in Totnes and the neighbouring areas to help them turn their ideas for boosting wellbeing into reality. Projects that have been funded in the past include a pond in the Follaton Forest Garden, Dartington Restore (repair café and workshops), and Wild and Curious (foraging walks and workshops).

Monthly Potlucks: NOW also noticed that there were limited opportunities for families with young kids, newcomers, and single people to meet other members of the community. They decided to organize a monthly community potluck and the idea took off in a big way. The first potluck attracted almost 40 people and the attendance quickly grew to 70-100. Bigger events with decorations and entertainment were held at Christmas and to celebrate the International Day of Happiness in March. After 5 years of monthly potlucks organized by NOW, a group of local people has taken on this responsibility so that the potlucks are “run by the community for the community.”

You Can’t Buy Wellbeing 
Gross Domestic Product measures goods produced and services sold, but it doesn’t measure personal or community wellbeing. NOW has chosen to counter the dominant consumer culture by focusing on sharing, recognizing that there are many ways in which we can find fulfilment and meet our needs without money changing hands.

ShareShed: ShareShed, a library of things, was established in Totnes 1½ years ago. They now have 340 members who can borrow over 300 donated items. Share Shed opens its doors for several hours 3 times a week. The 5 most popular items are carpet cleaner, lawn mower, pressure washer, hedge trimmer, and projector.

Storage is a problem with items temporarily housed in NOW’s offices. The High Street location is a good one, but 2 flights of stairs limit visibility and accessibility. In addition to looking for more permanent storage space, the organization has applied for funding to buy a truck that could transport the 50 most popular items around the community. This would eliminate the need for a car in order to make use of the sharing library.

ShareFest: Totnes is an active community offering a great variety of activities and organizations. A large part of the community is ecologically minded, but others feel alienated by this approach, resulting in a subtle community division. Network of Wellbeing was discussing ways of bringing the community together and integrating it without attempting to convert when they heard about ShareFests.

ShareFests are “participatory events designed to connect the local sharing economy” and “celebrate ways we can share, make, swap and repair rather than always needing to buy new things.” Over 50 ShareFests have now been held in communities around the world, and Shareable offers a how-to guide and toolkit to help organize an event.

NOW wrote to community organizations inviting them to participate in the Totnes ShareFest in November 2018 as part of MAKE SMTHNG Week and got a great response. Over 800 people attended the day-long event and there were activities for everyone of all ages, ranging from an ugly Christmas sweater swap, crafts, and storytelling to tool sharpening and appliance and textile repairs. 

Building a Wellbeing Network 
NOW believes that wellbeing encompasses society as a whole and the natural world, and their activities extend well beyond the boundaries of Totnes.

Urban Wellbeing: Totnes is a small town and NOW was eager to see what could be done to promote wellbeing in a large city. A recent workshop in Leeds brought different organizations together to discuss compassion and wellbeing. It’s a trial project and they hope it will lead to a community festival of wellbeing.

Building Wellbeing Together: A national conference in 2017 brought together close to 100 people to discuss ways of building wellbeing together. The conference was designed to share the organization’s vision of holistic wellbeing and to encourage dialogue among professionals in the field. A second conference is planning for September 2019.

Webinars and Online Resources: NOW shares its knowledge and resources with as wide a population as possible. Online videos explore themes such as beyond GDP, putting welllbeing at the heart of government, and businesses’ role in promoting wellbeing.

The Network also runs regular free webinars with topics ranging from the role of happiness in social change to the nurturing power of soil, wellbeing and wildness, and growing your own happiness through gardening.

You can follow and participate in the Network of Wellbeing’s ideas and activities through their blog, by signing up for a monthly email update, or on social media.

See Also 
Transition Town Totnes