Natural building and mutual credit: Phil Christopher of Huff & Puff Construction

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Natural building meets mutual credit: Phil Christopher of Huff & Puff Construction

This is an informal chat with Phil Christopher of Huff & Puff Construction. He’s a natural builder who has registered his business with the Open Credit Network. He sees mutual credit as a way to build an alternative economy – sustainable, based on small- and medium-sized businesses, and embedded in communities. We talk about ways we might build little ecosystems of businesses, doing at least some of their trade with each other in mutual credit; and then linking those networks together to create a national system – the Open Credit Network.

Summary:

About the Open Credit Network (OCN) / the experience

Somebody approached him about some building work 2 days after signing up as a trading member.

Phil thinks the OCN is a great resource, because it’s a way of obtaining free leads. He says “free leads is gold dust for small businesses.”

Well, that quote is going on the website.

Also, “Business is all about communication.”

He really liked the fact that the site prompts you to enter categories for your offers and wants, rather than random keywords.

Phil says: “The front end looks really good, and with a couple of clicks, you can find potential new customers” and “You can easily find people of the same kind of mind-set.”

Seems Phil is a mine of quotable phrases.

The first word he said when I asked what kind of approach would work for him was ‘community’. I’ve found the same almost everywhere – from hard-core greenies to working class communities.

He said we need to market in different ways to different people (which is exactly what Tom Greco tells us).

Building a network of businesses trading in mutual credit

His main suppliers are both big building supply companies, and also specialist natural building suppliers, like Mike Wye and Ty Mawr Lime (both in the Lowimpact directory)

I’m thinking that I should just start calling businesses in the Lowimpact directory and invite them to join the OCN.

He buys from the specialist SMEs regularly, and would be happy to buy from them using mutual credit.

He’d also like business support.

He wants to help localise the production of natural buildings – setting up (for example) more local straw-bale panel factories (rather than building with straw-bales on site, and rather than getting them from Lithuania), that would then spawn local lime kilns, clay plasters, timber etc. That could have its own local mutual credit network too (this is longer term, obviously).

He can (and will) try to persuade his SME suppliers to join the OCN and trade with him in mutual credit.

He’d like guidance on how to do that. (We’re going to produce a guidance pack for mutual credit enthusiasts in a range of trades to talk to their suppliers and customers.) He’d like to be confident in what he’s talking about if he’s going to approach other businesses.

He’ll also have to think about his suppliers spend their credits.

He’s also happy to talk to customers – like housing associations.

How would housing associations earn credits? They’re often quite ethical – they’re interested in natural building, so he thinks they might be interested in a more community-friendly exchange medium. Their income is from rents. So then we have the problem of how tenants can earn their credits.

Housing associations often get tenants to do maintenance work (etc.) in return for rent reductions. They could use mutual credit, and then they could spend it in any way they liked, including rents.

The UK Straw-bale building association (SBUK) are developing the idea of ‘local champions’ for straw-bale building. They have a slide-show that explains how straw-bale building works, to show to local interest groups, architects etc.

There could be local mutual credit champions in the same way. He’d be happy to be a local mutual credit champion in Dorset. He could maybe give a talk to local Transition groups – about straw-bale and mutual credit.

So maybe specialists in a range of topics, who like mutual credit, could add mutual credit to their talks / outreach.

We (as in, the OCN) are building a network of local conveners, who will host a mutual credit network in their community, which will be linked in to the national scheme. As well as these conveners, there could be a network of local champions, who use mutual credit and help spread the word among their profession / field / interest group. We’re interviewing a smallholder next week, who has registered with the OCN too.

He’s happy to try to put us in touch with other potential local champions, and happy to help in any other way that might be useful.