Freeconomist or freeloader?

I must admit I was a bit disappointed to hear that Mark Boyle, the guy who was attempting to walk from the UK to India for free without using cash or credit cards, has apparently had to abandon his trip and use some money to get back to the UK. Boyle and his companions belong to a movement called Freeconomy which believes it’s possible to live without money using a kind of bartering system, exchanging different types of skills and labour across the world. The movement also says it promotes generosity and community spirit.

But perhaps the world – or the French at least! – isn’t quite ready for them yet. Alas, they only made it as far as Calais where, unable to speak the language and under threat of running out of food supplies, they had to make the difficult decision to go home, knowing that the long knives of the British media would be waiting for them.

I remember listening to Mark Boyle on Radio 4’s Today Programme talking about his trip before he left, and the interviewer robustly demanding to know what would he do if he couldn’t persuade the ferry captain to take him for free across the Channel. I had this image in my mind at the time of him being stuck at the ferry terminal for months until he managed to talk his way on there as he seemed pretty determined! Perhaps the interviewer will be feeling gleeful now that, as he foresaw, Boyle naïve-sounding project has apparently failed.

But this morning when I spoke to Mark Boyle he was surprisingly positive, albeit slightly stung by some of the negative media coverage. And, whatever the papers might say, he believes his mission is far from over. “It’s quite what I expected,” he told me. “The media focused on the negative. Unfortunately that seems to be the nature of the UK media. It’s disappointing. But despite what they said, we haven’t finished our trip. We’re just going to be walking around the UK instead.”

In hindsight Boyle does, though, regret the level of planning that went into the India trip. He has, for example, been criticised for travelling to France without being able to speak French! “We’re going to plan everything [from now on]. I didn’t have the time to do it properly before I left on the trip.”

But meanwhile there seems to be plenty of work for the group to do at home in the UK, moving from place to place and offering help in exchange for food. “This week we’ve been in a school helping with an organic garden,” he tells me. “Today we’re in an art studio and tomorrow we’re going to another school. The teachers are very responsive and the kids ask lots of questions [about what we do]. They get it really quickly because they’re not conditioned in the same way adults are.”

I asked him whether the Freeconomy project has problems with people accepting help but giving nothing in return. “When we started the project we were warned that people would take and take,” he admits. “But actually the biggest problem is that people are too afraid to ask for help. It’s the complete opposite of what we expected.

We’ve lost that community spirit. Now we feel like we don’t need other people. But we lose part of ourselves when we stop helping other people. I want to help reignite the community spirit in the West."

Certainly some food for thought whether you agree with his ideas or not! What do you think?

I’m hoping to meet Mark Boyle soon to find out more about the project so let me know if you’ve got any questions you’d like to put to him.


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8 Responses to Freeconomist or freeloader?

  1. Christine says:

    There will certainly be plenty of people who want something doing for nothing on his way round the country. There will also be plenty of people wanting to know if he has a current police check. If you live in an area where there have been a lot of travellers also known as pikeys going round taking money for doing nothing and generally causing problems you will not be generally willing to take on someone preaching the message of Mark Boyle.  I can hear the comments in the town where I used to live now …..If the worst comes to the worst and he has to rejoin what we regard as the normal way of life, it would be interesting to know what he would tell both the job centre and employers at interviews about his recent work experience. Can you ask him that one? Saying that, long ago when I was a child there was a young man who used to come out with his bike and trailer from March to early November and travel the roads of Northamptonshire and Oxfordshire living on the verges of the roads. When the farmers were short of casual workers for sheep dipping, harvesting or whatever else general labouring they needed, this would be the bloke that they called in. Apparently he made a good living for many years and just went "indoors" for the winter months to claim the dole.

  2. Harry says:

    I agree totally Christine, guys like this is are "freeloaders" or more cruelly….parasites. The rest of have to work for a living not scrounge.

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