We had an excellent start to our first series of Virtual Cafes yesterday with a good turn-out of members and supporters despite the imminent Easter holiday exodus.

It was encouraging to see old and new Alliance colleagues from so many different parts of the country join the session, from Scotland and the North of England right down to Kent and Dorset. After all one of the main aims of these online Cafes is to provide a convenient venue without the logistical constraints of a physical event.

The session kicked into gear with Nick Franchini’s fascinating account of the values-based community activities that have sprung up in Todmorden, an old mill town in the South Pennines. These are based on the value of Kindness – a word that appears in placards all over the town.

Nick has been one of the catalysts of a plethora of initiatives that are transforming the town. These include Nick’s own community-centre café, Kava Todmorden, and Incredible Edible, an urban gardening group which grows fruit, herbs and vegetables in public places around Todmorden for everyone to share. Since 2008 this concept has burgeoned into a global movement with some 700 Incredible Edible groups active around the world.

This story of values in action stimulated some lively group discussions about the lessons that could be learned in our own various communities. Some of the key takeaways here were

  • The lack of rules and hierarchy in Todmorden is clearly important in allowing people to “do their thing” and “to be themselves”, be authentic.
  • All communities are different so it is important to understand what works in one place my not do so in another.
  • As Nick said the “can do” attitude is important – don’t wait for others, or look for a grand strategy, just have a go.

We then talked about the format of the café, and its time and timing. The general feeling was that the format of a single main speaker/topic worked well ( and that it would be difficult to fit in more), that an hour was a good length of time, and that the 1pm start also worked well, though we might also have a try at a later start – say 6pm.

There were a number of other helpful suggestions made, including several via the Chat function:

  • the idea that attendees could be prompted to circulate a 1-2 paragraph document of current interest to them prior to the meeting, with a short opportunity for discussion on the day;
  • The cafés will be good for keeping in touch and pursuing collaborations as well as for networking, especially for those further away from the rest of us such as Scotland;
  • another thought was that we might ask for members to put forward case studies or testimonials;
  • an idea we have already acted on was to put this question to UK Values Alliance members/supporters in general (this has now been done via our latest newsletter): What suggestions do you have for these cafes which would help them be of practical use to you?

Please send us your suggestions about future Virtual Cafes (contact any member of the Steering Group or email us at  contact@valuesalliance.co.uk) and don’t forget the next Virtual Café is on Tuesday 4th June at 13.00 – 14.00.  Please register here for this Café.

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