Sunday, 13 November 2011

Angelic umbrellas

Party fundraising season is with us once again. While for some this means plush dinners at £60 a head, for others such as our little party £6 gets you in to a lively gig with local bands happy to play for beliefs rather than hard cash, in the back bar of our local Picturehouse. And an excellent evening it was, too.

At the end of the evening, a group of us decided to walk home: it was a mild, windless night and our definition of "walking distance" is somewhat elastic. But my confidence (backed up by a glance at the forecast earlier that day) that it wouldn't rain, had turned out to be misplaced. Well, that's Climate Change for you.

Bring on the Angelic umbrellas. They were large, white, and standing in a wooden latticework box behind a leather sofa by the door: I hadn't spotted them on my way in. Anyone faced with the prospect of otherwise getting wet could help themselves to one, no matter how long or variagated their journey home. I was amazed: didn't this little enterprise cost the Picturehouse a small fortune in wayward brolly replacement?

Elinor Olstrom won her Nobel Prize for proving scientifically that this needn't be the case. A "common resource" (fisheries, fields, umbrellas) can be managed by its users, without the need for a typical "top-down" commercial or government set-up, as long as there is some other well-defined social structure, made up of its users, which is as large as the resource in question.

And so I wonder, how big is the Picturehouse Social Structure (note no attempts at an acronym!)? And how strong is our sense of belonging? Do we all think of the place as just a commercial enterprise (in which case we'd nick the brollies: "after all, we've paid for them"), or does it count for more than that? After all, people meet in its foyer and bars, and see classic "everyone should see" films (Walkabout, Apocalypse Now, Metropolis), which make it something of a social and cultural space as well as just a business.

And would you nick brollies from your own and your mates' social-and-cultural-space? 'Course not.

Image blagged with thanks, from "Fresh Eyes On London"

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