Trying out a little bit of Pembrokeshire

Simon Nurse challenges our ‘on demand’ culture

Do you get more observant as you get older, more cynical, or maybe both? There’s no doubt about it though, the onset of age (at 39, I’m an apprentice 40 year old ) makes you take stock a little. The current bee in my bonnet is community. Or rather lack of it. We move from place to place at great speed, barely interacting with our surroundings and expecting services to be available on demand – the phrase ‘on demand’ will become one of the signature phrases of our time.

Our instant, convenience based society that leads to apathy, a relative laziness (how far do I have to go to buy kiwi fruit?) and a lack of community engagement more widely. Perhaps most dangerously we fail to join the dots. Our actions carry tiny consequences and so often we are blind to them.

I was fortunate enough to spend a recent weekend camping in Pembrokeshire. That beautiful county is 80 miles from my door yet 30 years away in time. It’s a place where it’s quite normal for kids to play outside. It’s a place where you can buy your eggs from the farm on the corner or hang a painting by your neighbour the artist. I bet they even know the names of the neighbours. Imagine that!

Ok, I may be overstating things a little. But there is no doubt in my mind that there is a disconnect between people within communities, on many different levels. Silent wedges are driven between people and places by modern culture and its consumerist philosophy. To illustrate how simple it is to get swept up in the modern mindset and contribute towards a wider problem, I bought a collapsible camping chair for my daughter for £3.50 from the mega branch of Tesco, a huge store perched right on the edge of coastal Pembrokeshire in Haverfordwest. Fantastic! £3.50! How cheap is that! But where’s the rub? How on earth can we manufacture, deliver and sell such a product for £3.50?

Granted, this particular product may be a loss leader for Tesco, but it’s not a high profile one that will bring consumers crashing through the main doors. There’s every chance that the supply chain may have been squeezed to the nth degree, particularly as the product has be sourced far from these shores, arriving from the emerging economies of South East Asia.

Then again, I could have bought this product from a local outdoor pursuits shop. The price of course, would have been far higher. However, I could have discussed the options with the shop (meeting new people in the process), kept Welsh money in Welsh pockets, picked the brains of the – probably – knowledgeable sales assistant/owner on other outdoor products and possibly found lots of other useful outdoor sports goods from niche innovative companies (like DMM in north Wales or Howies in Pembrokeshire) far removed from the mundane homogeny offered by giant steel barns up and down the land.

They are places where we hurry in, spy the marvellous bargains and hurry out again at great pace, armed with lots of goods we may not need. It’s one of the great ironies of the mega supermarket, lots of choice, stifling…err….lots of choice. I could have shunned the cheaper product to support a local business. But I didn’t.

Well this worm is turning. If I have to spend an extra few quid then so be it (or I won’t buy it in the first place – so little of what we need is needed). It’s the price we pay to keep the local wheels turning, the price we pay to keep shops open, foster relationships and feel more satisfied that we are contributing to the local economy. Community shops serving the local community. Where community is concerned, every little helps after all.

And while I’m at it, I’m going to knock on number 76 and introduce myself. It’s been five years after all.

Simon Nurse is Editor of the Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Business website

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