Changing the system from the bottom up

Systemic stories

Jules Peck

29 September 2017

Jules Peck, one of our Future Stewards, fills us in on our San Francisco Pathfinders Quest in May – and how meeting grassroots leaders inspired him to launch a community bank.

A rare chance to reflect 

The Pathfinders Quest came at quite a good time for me personally. I was a bit burnt-out and thinking about what to do next in my career. With the work climate leaders do, and the tough changes that we are trying to make, there is a risk that we run ourselves into the ground. 

What I valued more than anything was the opportunity to recharge my batteries and have the space to slow down and reflect. It was unique because it wasn’t too outcome orientated – so much of our work is focused on outcomes and this was chance to think differently. 

The combination of interesting group sessions and then going out into the field and meeting people working on very different challenges to us was very powerful; and the facilitators were very skilled at holding the space. 

Grassroots inspiration 

One of the visits that will stay with me was to the drop-in needle exchange run by the San Francisco AIDS foundation. 

A lot of people on the Quest, myself included, are more focused on policy work. It was really refreshing to see change delivered on the front-line, benefiting real people, and to understand the nitty gritty issues of working on the streets. 

The team at the needle exchange also talked about how they have to take care of their own well-being, working with people who have traumatic life stories. It reminded me that I need to do that too. The personal energy audit that we did later was a useful tool for understanding how to steward our own energy sources. 

Those two things will really stay with me and help me focus on looking after myself in the future. 

Driving change from the bottom up 

My background is in systems change and I’m used to thinking ‘big picture’. The Quest got me thinking about how we can create systems change from the bottom up – by creating solutions at a community level. 

It crystallised my desire to make practical change – and gave me the energy to take action. This summer, I founded a community mutual bank in the West of England – Avon Mutual – that will serve Bristol, Bath, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. 

We’ll meet the financial needs of ordinary people, community groups and small companies. We’ll invest local people’s savings in organisations that are building a more sustainable future for the region. And every single one of our members will have a vote on how we operate. 

Helping to build a new economy 

We’re part of a growing network of similar banks across the UK, supported by the Community Savings Bank Association (CSBA). 

My vision is that banks like ours will play a key role as anchor-institutions for a transition to a participative economic democracy where we are all invested in our future. An economy supports the wellbeing of everybody – from sustainable food and farming, to clean and affordable energy, transport and housing. 

I spent eight years running the WWF global network on finance sector accountability. It was often a frustrating task, trying to get big financial institutions to change. Now I’m helping to create the change I want to see on the ground. 

In a way, I’ve jumped sides. I guess it’s a case of if you can’t beat them, join them – then beat them! 

Jules Peck is the Founding Director of Avon Mutual, Founder of the Real Economy Lab and Avon Mutual and a Fellow at Next System Project, Trustee Nef and Happy City. You can read more about the his regional community bank project in the Autumn issue of Stir to Action.