Freeskilling

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A child of the Freeconomy movement, Freeskilling organically grew out ofits parent’s success, adopting its ideology, utilising the database of skilled and kind people it a ccumulated, and applying it in a way that made the most efficient use of its members’ time. A small group of people, including myself, set up the original group in Bristol in 2008, and since then the Freeskilling format has spread to many countries around the world.

Freeskilling is hardly rocket science (though rocket science could be taught using this model), and for us it began with a simple question: what if everyone in our local Freeconomy group took turns to teach everyone else who was interested – children and adults alike – one skill that they possess, completely for free? If the woman who knew how to carve wooden spoons taught that to everyone who was interested one evening, and if the man who knew how to make great bread taught local loaf lovers how to make a fantastic sourdough?

The answer: you’d have a community of highly skilled, economically resilient people, all of whom would become increasingly self-sufficient by the week and much less reliant on money to meet all of their needs. It would also create a growing database of available skills which, in turn, could be passed on to others in the wider community on either a group or one-to-one basis.

The Bristol Freeskilling evening takes place one evening each week (in other areas they have day long events, whilst others organise it once a month). One person from the local group, knowledgeable and skilled in a certain field, comes along to a free and regular venue and spends anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours teaching others in the community how to do that skill. The venue hosts the evening for free, the member of the community teaches for free (and often gets a valuable lesson and experience in public speaking in the process), and the attendees get to come for free. No funding is needed, and everyone has the opportunity to learn, regardless of their financial status. Skills shared range from bicycle maintenance, basic DIY and plumbing to wild food foraging, knitting and tutorials on using open source software and platforms. Within this model, the teacher one week is the student the next.

The Bristol group, as well as many others, has been a huge success, and despite not having a penny of funding it continues to attract anywhere between twenty to two hundred attendees per week. But that is only part of the story. It also attracts a diverse group of people and this inevitably leads to many friendships being made, strengthening the community and sometimes even resulting in further collaborative social projects being created by those who meet there. It’s a perfect example of the gift economy in practice, and proves that people don’t need the incentive of monetary reward to want to teach other people in their community the skills they’ve been able to acquire.

If you like this concept but haven’t got a group near you, then why not set one up? All you need to do is gather a small group of people who are willing to volunteer an hour or two of their week to help organise it (you can put a shout out for such people on your local Freeconomy network), find a venue that is willing to host it for free (cafés and social centres are often happy to), and then ask the local members of your community (whether it be through Freeconomy or as a poster on your various local noticeboards) if they want to fill one of the weekly/monthly slots on your schedule and play their part in the great reskilling of society. All that is left to do then is to promote it on the plethora of free networks that people in your area use, whether it be word of mouth or online social networking – you could even set up a website to this effect.(245)

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FREESKILLING IN PRACTICE: SOURDOUGH BREAD
Richard Andersen, a Freeskilling teacher some weeks, a Freeskilling student others

Freeskilling always appealed to me as a step towards what we need to open up to in society: sharing knowledge and resources in our local community without needing to involve money, a false resource that will only become more and more scarce. In a close knit community like a village or a local interest group this sharing might happen more spontaneously, but with half the world’s population now living in cities it is imperative that we try and facilitate community exchange on a wider scale.

A friend of mine taught me the simple steps involved in making sourdough bread and gave me some starter culture to keep. This was three years ago and the culture lives on in my fridge, having spawned several offshoots for friends and fellow Freeconomists. It is a joy to teach such a simple process and watch people go away with a bit of starter that could live to see their grandchildren make their own bread.

There is a sense of freedom in not having to use commercial yeasts, and a poetic beauty in working with wild fermentation as our ancestors did generations ago. You can make better bread than anything you see in the shops or supermarkets, and if you go skipping for flour, or grow and grind your own grain, it is totally free.

For the sake of ease I recommend getting hold of a starter from someone, rather than making it yourself. It’s more fun to share and less hassle! Here’s a basic recipe:

3 cups of flour (your favourite stoneground spelt or rye,
or whatever is in the skip!)
2 teaspoons of salt
1 cup of starter (see, it’s as easy as 3-2-1)
Water
Optional: seeds, herbs, spices, fruit, onion – literally whatever
you fancy putting in your bread. Experiment to your heart’s
content.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, salt and seeds/spices/etc.) first, then add the sourdough starter and a cup of water. Mix well together with a wooden ladle first, then squeeze it between your fingers for maximum mixing and enjoyment! You want a fairly wet mix, so add some more water if it feels a bit dry.

Let the mix stand in a bowl for an hour or so at room temperature with a towel over it to keep flies and dust out. Whilst you wait, grease a bread tin with some butter and dust it lightly with flour. Take the bread mix out of the bowl, drizzle a bit of oil on the kitchen surface to prevent it sticking and fold the dough onto itself a few times. No need for heavy kneading! Shape the dough to fit the tin and put it in the tin. Cover the tin and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 hours. I usually set my dough in the evening and bake it the next morning when I wake up. If you have a wood-fired oven and are skilled in using it, then bake your bread as you would normally do the first time, then simply alter your technique as you experiment with this variety.

If you are using a normal cooker, heat your oven to about 220ºC and bake the loaf for 40 minutes. You’ll have to experiment because all ovens are slightly different, but this is a good starting point. If your loaf comes out a little too hard or soft, just adjust your temperature accordingly. If the loaf is slightly undercooked in the centre turn the temperature down a little and lengthen the time. Take the loaf out of the tin, let it sit on the counter with a kitchen towel over it to cool slowly. And that’s it!
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