FORTY YEARS AGO, we were in the early days of a fundamental economic transformation. Most community workers here in New Zealand were worried about unemployment, but we hadn’t yet really understood the brutal economic agenda of Rogernomics, Reaganomics or of Margaret Thatcher. We still had the space to dream and imagine what economic change could look like if it followed our best intentions: perhaps even a “New Economic Agenda” that spoke of the common good.

So I was working for the Salvation Army and trying to gain a vocabulary in my head for what I could see happening in the streets around me. I jumped on a plane and ended up in Scotland at an unusual community and conference venue called Findhorn that seemed to be specialising in talking to angels and growing enormous cabbages. But this conference was talking about Economics. And we were all on a much bigger learning curve than we could have imagined.

Nevertheless, Lance Girling Butcher, the editor at our local paper The Daily News, agreed to publish my report on the conference when I returned home to New Zealand. It became a series of one-page articles spread over four days in March 1985. The ideas and strategies I learned and thought about at that Scottish conference, and the community projects I visited afterwards, helped set the direction of the new Taranaki Work Trust that a few of us were just setting up to be a focus for our own community action on unemployment. It is interesting to re-read (four decades later ...) the mixture of hopefulness, practicality and naivety of a 29-year old community activist on his first visit to Europe.

A Buddhist teacher once told me that Economics was the “science of choice ... governed by desire.” That stopped me in my tracks. Yet it put me on a path to try to keep alive and feed the notion of what that “science of choice” would look like if it was governed by the conviction that people and the earth really mattered... 

— vivian Hutchinson (February 2024)