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Spotlight on downsizer member jema

written by Nell Merionwen

Every month the spotlight will shine upon a different member of downsizer, and show how the site has touched their lives.





3. location


4. Could you tell us how do you make a living?

At the end of a day, I have pretty much always been a computer programmer.

This has taken me from running a company, “Chalice Software” writing dubious programs for BBC micros as a teenager, through assorted Dilbertesque jobs in cubicles, to finally self employment working from home for the last 10 years.

Making self employment work has been a challenge, but ironically contacts made through has lead into the bulk of what I do. Which these days is running a forum business, “”, and being technical director of an innovative web advertising business.

I don't think either of these things is what I'd choose to be doing in an ideal world, but it pays the bills.

5. Could you tell us a little something about your home?

We're not exactly the ideal downsizer home. We moved here 15 years ago. The old place had no garden. We were pretty fed up of perpetual rising damp and slug trails inside every morning. So when we found a place in decent nick, with a large kitchen and some garden, I think we, kind of, overlooked just how small and north facing it was.

Trying to get more than herbs growing is a pretty disheartening experience. I swear the Snails and Slugs for a mile around detect some fool trying to grow a cabbage and are prepared to go the distance!

What we have done, however, is a fair bit of "greening". Including Solar PV, cavity wall insulation, better boiler and hot water tank, loft insulation and flat roof insulation, LED lighting and a few other odds and sods.

6. how did you find

I tried to, and it wasn't there!

This would be a good point to quickly recap how came into being.

Having read the River Cottage Meat book in spring 2004, it inspired me. After a lifetime of being involved in politics, campaigning on the big issues where results are few and far between. I thought “here is an area where some good can be done”, perhaps not world changing stuff but achievable things.

So, I joined the River Cottage Site (oddly the day before I joined was Hughes last post) and found a lot of very good people. Many with fantastic knowledge and experience, and many with small businesses that were trying to make a difference.

Over the next few months there were rumblings on the River Cottage site. The small businesses wanted to be able to advertise themselves, but the site rules prevented this, and there was no sign of that changing any time soon.

Also, being a forum the same questions were getting asked and answered again and again. I love forums but they are not suited to everything.

So, one day, it struck me that we all needed a site that would, essentially, have three things.

1) Free advertising for all the small traders.

2) A repository of knowledge, which would be both useful and a way of bringing traffic to the site.

3) A forum that would act as a reputation system for traders.

A big key to this was the "Free" aspect. Traders are constantly mis-sold space on web directories, although most of them get next to no traffic.

Even with considerable traffic by directory standards, hosting costs were going to be pretty low. I was happy to sub that, rather than looking like yet another scam.

I found the domain was free and I grabbed it. There has been some criticism of the name, but hey, you try finding something short, snappy, available and perfect.

I then tentatively raised the idea on River Cottage, and got a very positive response very quickly. Tahir in particular jumped in with enthusiasm, and we had a site, of sorts, online by that evening. The rest is pretty much history. Whilst myself and Tahir did give practically full time effort at the start, there were many others contributing even from day one.

I'd guess about 6 months later we were stable enough to take ownership of downsizer outside of my hands, and into a company, with downsizer members as directors. This seals in some of the core ethos. That it should be free for people to advertise suitable businesses on, and that it should be essentially volunteer based.

7. Has inspired a life change?

Well, it certainly totally transformed things for me. I have always been some kind of activist, and by contributing to downsizer I feel I have made some kind of positive difference to people.

8. What is your main objective to maintain a sustainable life?

We're still on the treadmill of the ratrace. Getting the mortgage paid off will let us start to make decisions about what sort of life we want to lead.

9. Does help you achieve this?

Downsizer teaches all sorts of ways people are managing to live in a low income/low impact way.

10. Which parts of do you visit most often? (not including the forum)

I'm embarrassed to say very little. What I think we have discovered with downsizer is the incredible sense of community on the forum and that drowns out the rest of the site. It's a shame as there is a lot of good stuff on the main site. I hope with better design we can do more to drag everyone over to the main site, at least a bit.

11. Which parts of the forum do you visit most often?

I use "Latest Posts", so pay little attention to the categories.

12. Do you feel there is room for improvement with you own downsizing and if so how will you implement this?

I have certainly fallen back badly in my "downsizing" type activities. I used to be the forum's most prolific amateur wine maker, but work means I no longer have the time. At the moment I see things as all hands to getting to a launch point to escape the rat race, and then try and achieve things in the downsizing arena.

13. Has led to any new hobbies and/or skills?

I now have a smattering of any number of different skills. Although, I'm hopeless compared to our experts.

14. Have you attended any skill shares or gatherings? If so did you learn anything?

I love the skill shares and gatherings. Full of wonderful people, keen to share knowledge and have a good time. I don't know where to start on the skills front, foraging, shooting, archery, net repair, wine tasting. The list goes on and on.

15. Have you felt you have shared skills already known to yourself?

Probably on the wine making side of things, but mostly I will happily admit to being fairly useless at crafts.

16. Do you have any anecdotes or stories relating to downsizer you would like to share?

It's hard to pick out any single thing. There are just so many stories on downsizer that make me go "wow"! Would that have happened without downsizer? We have even clocked up a site marriage or two!

17. How do you feel the site is most helpful/inspirational?

If I had to pick out any one thing, it would be the phenomenal generosity of so many members. From time to time a "crisis" is posted on the forum and people really rally round individually and collectively to help.

18. Have you made any "real life" friends or colleagues via downsizer?

Loads. I think we have made a lot of very genuine friendships via downsizer.

Next month's spotlight will be upon member Tavascarow.