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What resilience means for a community.

The theme of the network meeting in April 2011 in Volendam, Netherlands was “Resilicence”.

Here is an article shared by Anne Radford about a community in New Zealand that was affected by the recent earthquake, that connects to this theme.
What resilience means for a community.

Margaret Jefferies shares her thoughts and experiences in the Lyttelton community.


Last year I was so inspired by reading Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman’s book Spontaneous Evolution that I bought 4 or 5 more copies to share around the community, to build up a local understanding of how we as a species are evolving. There is always a movement towards more complexity. The next evolutionary step for humans is towards community.

I am fascinated by community, looking at it as an organism, asking questions such as, “How does a community make healthy decisions?”  “What is the role of community in the evolutionary process?”  This latter question is of particular importance in these challenging times or climate change, economic crashes, peak oil and peak just about everything else!

Thich Nhat Hanh says…

“It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community – a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”

I get energized whenever I read this statement.

For community to unfold into its fullest form it firstly has to survive. It has to become resilient. And as the community moves along this resilience path the glue that holds the community together is strengthened. Resilience for a community means working with issues of energy, transport, food, relationship, creativity, money…

Some background

I am involved with a grass roots community group called Project Lyttelton. Its vision statement is…Lyttelton – portal to Canterbury’s historic past, a vibrant sustainable community creating a living future.

Project Lyttelton’s mission is to bring this vision about. It does this by encouraging all in the community to be involved in community development, supporting those champions who emerge with their particular projects.

Project Lyttelton is a values based organization that works with an Appreciative Inquiry methodology.

We are creating a culture of possibility.

Project Lyttelton has a range of projects under way at any one time. Some of these become fixtures within the community, others for reasons of timing, community relevance or finance may rise and then retreat into the wings for a time, or simply become completed. All of these projects address resilience for the community in some form or other.

Projects that are established include the Lyttelton Farmers Market, the Lyttelton Time Bank, the various festivals, the welcome bags, walking maps, Lyttelton News and the Project Lyttelton weekly e-newsletter.

Some projects that are new or just developing include sprayfree.co.nz, a monitoring and evaluation process and an electric cargo bike.

Some projects that are waiting in the wings include the biodigester, continuing education and a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) system.

Outside of Project Lyttelton I am involved with a small group in a collective savings process where members help each other by providing interest free loans in conjunction with compulsory savings to undertake personal projects that otherwise might not be possible.

Some details about Project Lyttelton projects

Lyttelton’s weekly Farmers Market was set up to encourage people to buy local and seasonal produce, to reduce our carbon footprint. It is a highly successful market. It generates an income for Project Lyttelton to support other projects.

New Zealand’s first time bank, the Lyttelton Time Bank is an example of a local or complementary currency. People share their skills with one another – the unit of measurement is an hour, not the dollar. Everyone’s time is regarded as equal. Time banks foster reciprocity; they build a strong sense of community. The 4th   September earthquake and its aftermath gave a window to the community and the rest of New Zealand to see how effective a time bank can be in such a situation. As a result this community has been invited to create its own emergency response plan. Project Lyttelton is in the process of setting up systems to create a national Time Bank body to help other communities set up times banks of their own.

The Festival of Lights, Summer Street Party and the Walking Festival connect this community together creating a vibrant and engaged community.

Welcome bags are given out to all new Lyttelton residents. These cloth shopping bags – sewn by Time Bank members – are delivered complete with local information such as bus timetables, local directory, Project Lyttelton, community garden and Time Bank information etc and home baking. This is a simple and very effective way of drawing people into the community.

Lyttelton News is a four weekly supplement within the Akaroa Mail. It reports on what’s been happening, what is coming up, interviews and many pieces around sustainability issues. We are blessed to have a good relationship with the owner of the Akaroa Mail – an independent local newspaper. Getting effective communication channels within a community is of great importance.

A weekly e-newsletter keeps people informed about what is coming up, gives links and generally has sustainability as an underlying theme.

Lyttelton’s walking map – Snakes and Ladders – is a cartoon map of the town. It captures the fun nature of the community and draws people into considering walking as a means of transport. The map’s creation process demonstrated Project Lyttelton’s desire to always incorporate community participation.

Sprayfree.co.nz is partly under the umbrella of Project Lyttelton. It is a new project aiming to remove toxic pesticide use on public land and get fruits and nuts planted on the pockets of council land throughout the township. It hopes to encourage other communities to do likewise.

An electric cargo bike is under construction. This is to encourage locals to walk to the Farmers Market, providing a delivery service that cuts down car use.

Currently Project Lyttelton is undertaking a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation process. This is to monitor and evaluate six Project Lyttelton projects, for us to learn the skills to be able to extend that process to other Project Lyttelton projects and later to be able to share those skills with other communities. This process is helpful in identifying what is working, what else might need to happen and providing us with tools to move forward efficiently and effectively.

Building a small biodigester to create electricity and fertilizer as a by-product using kitchen waste has been a dream. Plans are in place, but as yet there has been no access to essential capital. The idea was to demonstrate on a small scale what is possible using our waste as a resource, to hopefully create the demand for a much larger system for the whole community. Attracting funding for projects that are a bit different has been a challenge. It is a little ironic as society is searching for new ways that might lead to sustainability, but funders tend to like to support proven methods.

Another project on hold is a CSA scheme utilizing a box system. We haven’t as yet cracked a sustainable model for this. There needs to be a finer balance between size of farm, labour costs and market involvement.

What follows now are a few random reflections I have on my experience of working within a community. These ideas all indirectly affect how sustainable we are.

There is a delicate balance that needs to be wisely managed between paid and volunteer work. Basically these two sorts of workers are from two separate worlds, with different sets of expectations. Working with the two alongside each other takes great skill, and you ignore the issues at your community organisation’s peril. It requires constant vigilance and understanding.

A wage can keep an employee engaged (but most want more than that – they want job satisfaction as well) but a volunteer wants to derive pleasure and satisfaction from the work they do, if they don’t have these needs met, they move on. I think the volunteer aspect of an organization is a measure of how vibrant or healthy it is.

Our culture, I presume influenced by the Christian ethic with its ‘more blessed to give than receive’ outlook doesn’t realize this belief leads to imbalance, to creating hierarchies. How can someone give if no one is open to receiving? It seems that receiving is not as good: the givers are virtuous and the receivers are somewhat weak. We need to learn how to receive and trust other receivers. There will be some who may abuse the system but not enough to justify our missing out on the blessings of reciprocity. We need to confront these sorts of fears that limit us, that make us live in small worlds.

Sniff out where fear resides making no decision on that basis – many of the daily decisions we all make have an element of fear in there. Our challenge then becomes – can we learn to trust one another? Can we trust that we live in a benevolent universe? Can we create that benevolent universe by looking for it and expecting it? I always liked Mother Theresa’s way of looking for the Christ in every person. (Some she claimed were in very distressing disguise!) It is believing that we are all inherently good, and that we interact with each other knowing this. We really create what we are imagining. I guess this could be called “love in action”.

I have discovered that creativity is an essential element in making us fully human. We need to play more too, laugh a lot! What scientists are telling us is the future we can expect can be seen as pretty dismal. So this creativity and laughing joyfulness becomes even more important at this time. This helps build a culture of possibility, an openness to exploration. It means we can laugh when we make mistakes, this enables us to explore out on the edge because we are not so paranoid about ‘failure’.

A wise man in business told us in Project Lyttelton that our trouble was that we didn’t ask big enough. All of what we do is related to who we are and our particular way of being in this world. We need to examine our beliefs about ourselves to see if we are limiting what we can create. Some of these beliefs might be, ‘we are just a small group’, ‘we can’t be greedy’, ‘actually we can do that on a shoe string, we all just need to work a bit harder’, ‘if I say no to someone I might lose them to the cause’. I am learning that the people who treat themselves with respect – their bodies, their time, their energy – have an attracting quality, they are bolder, things manifest more easily, they are more real. They are creating sustainable communities.

So the work of creating resilient communities, maybe becoming the next Buddha, is a constant dance between inner and outer work; from the microcosm to the macrocosm, understanding the inter-relatedness of all.

Download as pdf: What resilience means for a community