I don’t know that Pass It On Skills is unique, I know that its special and that other similar seeming schemes seem to require some form of currency.

Whether they are timebanks, Local Exchange Trading Schemes or even babysitting circles, they all seem to relay on a fixed exchange rate, usually based on an hour or a session and some form of voucher exchange based on this. (If you put in an hour of work for another member of the group, you get a credit. You can then swap that credit for an hour of work from someone else in the group.)

‘Skills (its shorter than typing and reading Pass It  On Skills every time and PIOS doesn’t work for me) borrows many of the ideas of the other groups and then does away with the exchange rate mechanism.  Since the core idea is passing on skills rather than exchanging them, we don’t hire expertise we aim to share it and enable people to gain and pass on that expertise themselves.

Sounds complicated? Well it is and it isn’t.

Jill knits and would enjoy sharing her skill, she’d like an excuse to get out more with her camera and feels guilty that the basic Spanish she learned at school is too rusty to embarrass herself on holiday.

Jess always wanted to knit, bakes wonderful cakes and thinks she doesn’t have any skills.

John enjoys DIY, but after 20 years has run out of jobs he can do on his own house, knows he has lots of useful DIY skills but is convinced he’s got nothing else to offer.

Jill persuades a local café that her friends knitting would be good business on a quiet afternoon and a beginners knitting group is started. While showing Sue how to cast on, Jill mentions that she’s just booked another holiday in Spain. Sue says she met her DIY mad husband in Spain where he worked as a holiday rep.  A few weeks later John’s leading a conversational holiday Spanish group.

John’s DIY skills and tools led to a workshop on building bird boxes, that led to a one on bee hotels and to a nature walk and combined litter pick. Conversations during that walk gained Jill a wildlife photography buddy.  Jess has learned that knitting isn’t her thing but crochet works for her, that she can use a sewing machine but a kitchen to share her baking skills is hard to find.

The examples are entirely fictional, but an example of how people have skills they’ve forgotten and aspirations that can be met.  The reality was much more diverse and complicated and wonderful – I’ll try and give a flavour of the reality another time.

Getting started is both very easy and terrifying, keeping it going needs time and energy, as well as a willingness to understand that its going to morph and change and develop a life of its own.

‘Skills was started by the founder of a local Facebook freecycling group - passing on unwanted items, which saved them from landfill and gave them another life.  So there was already an established network to float the ‘Skills ideas. Lots of areas have community Facebook pages, (and if there isn’t one in your patch then consider starting one) and these would usually be a good starting point.

Try to find a few like minded people – its easier to have people who can bounce ideas around, come up with new angles and reassure you that yes you are crazy but in a good way.

No like-minded people, fine, you’ll find them as you go along, it just means a bit more work in the beginning.

First thing is to get the idea out and see what reaction there is – you have an advantage over Jo – you can pull ideas and examples of what ‘Skills has done, the Facebook group is a closed group, but there’s a website – currently out of date, but showing a range of early activities.

I can almost guarantee that some people will say I’d like to learn x but I’ve no skills to offer.

Its amazing what skills people have without realizing. Some might be naturally green fingered, wonderful cooks, speak a foreign language. Some might have skills they use professionally that they are willing to share. For example a makeup artist offering a teens makeup class (then a follow up for mums).

Meeting spaces are an issue, but they aren’t an insurmountable one.  A quiet pub or café might be a cheap meeting point for a knitting or language group. We’ve done basic car maintenance in a youth centre car park. A sewing machine class hired a cheap community centre room – the same room was also hired for a short Mindfulness course. In both cases the room hire was paid by the members attending.  In the early days we were very mindful of people’s safety so tended to only use public spaces, as friendships grew among participating members, some groups started to use people’s houses.  A local library has offered space for a number of events and currently hosts our cake club – it has a banner made by our proggy mat group to celebrate its 100th birthday.

There’s space everywhere, sometimes it takes a bit of creative thinking and a friendly word to find, but as the group grows so does its contact network and its pool of ideas and resources.

‘Skills runs on almost no money, local small grants have funded materials for craft stalls as part of Whitley Bay Carnival, as well as knitting starter kits for World Wide Knit in Public Days.  

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