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.