Collaboratively written article for the Guardian: What UK local government can learn from the unMonastery

We have been asked to submit an article (600 words) about the unMonastery and what local government in the UK can learn from it to the Guardian for their local gov sections (approx 60,000 Unique visitors/month). Deadline is Friday September 27th by 11:55 GMT. Update: I (Alberto) am deleting the Guardian’s questions and reference links. They can be found in the revision history.

The unMonastery draws inspiration from 6th century’s monastic life to encourage radical forms of collaboration and innovation: a sort of lay, off-grid mendicant order striving for a society that can better withstand present and future systemic crises. The social phenomena behind this project are the rise of hacker culture and the deepening of the crisis in Europe. Taken together, these two trends mean more and more educated, connected and generous young people. Of these, many aspire to a deep societal fix, and do not think they can bring it about by joining the public service, nor by working for the private sector. They don’t buy into the “gonna change the world” Silicon Valley rhetoric; for them, innovating means tackling the fundamental problems of expanding individual freedom, establishing a fair social deal, crafting an environmentally sustainable society – not inventing gadgets. Their walks of life seem unsettling, even dangerous to most of us: they are no strangers to nomadic lifestyles, squatting, cryptocurrencies, hardware hacking. They are technologically savvy, idealistic and almost always poor. The unMonastery offers them a deal similar of that of the monasteries of old: lodging, board and time to think and realize their ideas, relatively free from the need to make money.

Just like the early monasteries, the unMonastery does not seek economic sustainability through business planning: rather, it tries to be as self-sufficient as possible (for example through urban farming practices) and to embed itself in a local community with which to trade in kind rather than in money. This move allows unMonasterians to sidestep the unemployment problem completely: a happy, meaningful life is about making something that others will find useful, rather than one in which someone buys your time against money. At the same time, it encourages unMonasteries not to depend too much on the money economy – which is a good thing, since you cannot trust it to stay up in a systemic crisis.

A first breakthrough was simply finding each other. A year ago 27-year old Londoner Ben Vickers connected with an Europe-wide online community called Edgeryders, and through it to kindred spirits in Sweden, Italy, Norway, France and elsewhere. This created a first core of founding unMonasterians that could develop the project. The second breakthrough happened when Edgeryders developed a partnership with the Italian city of Matera, that agreed to host an unMonastery prototype as part of its own future building strategy. Matera added to the mix a very interesting unused building  and, even more importantly, an interface to a local community that wants to evolve and has some meaty problems to deal with.

There is much talk about smart cities, but many local communities are left on the sidelines if they cannot pay for expensive (usually proprietary) technologies. The unMonastery provides an alternative path: put the smarts in people rather than in artifacts, and use networks of individuals (mediated locally by the physical unMonastery building, and globally by the unMonastic “order”) to store and grow such knowledge. Imagine having a place where you can ask for help in developing social innovation initiatives in your local communities. It would help young people by providing them with opportunities for creative engagement in their communities, particularly in areas of deprivation. Also, it would enable local people to use their understanding of their communities to improve both their own skills and their place.

unMonastery Matera is accepting applications for residencies: unMonastery Matera now accepting application for residencies! - unMonastery - Edgeryders.

1st draft- a start/beginning/intro- needs concrete examples

In the far south of Italy, in a city called Matera, there is a strange experiment taking place called the ‘unMonastery’. A meeting between a bastion of tradition and bureaucracy and whirlwind of creativity and innovation is creating, not a conflict, but a collaboration.

Matera has been a city for a very long time, at least 2000 years and is famous for it ancient dwellings that are part cave and part building . They have survived and evolved through many changes and they know ‘change’ when they see it. We can all see that governance is changing, everywhere and rapidly. In Matera, they see this, yet again.

National governments are becoming increasingly constrained by the effects of globalisation, by the many treaties they have signed up to and by the absurd levels of debt that they have taken on.

As ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, equally ‘power’ seeks the levers it can actually move. Increasingly, this expresses itself in the growing voices and activism in our regions and in our cities.

Coming from the other direction, from the ground up, there is another movement that is seeking to leverage our new information technologies to breakdown old models of governance and bureaucracies.

In Matera, the face of this change is a EU-wide free-form community of activists, creatives, and hackers of hardware and software that calls itself Edgeryders.

Edgeryders and Matera have setup a year long project in a building in the ancient heart of the city, where members of Edgeryders are provided with food and lodging and they commit to staying for a month or longer to pursue projects relevant to fostering resilience and sustainability for Matera and other cities.

Edgeryders are clearly delighted to have a ‘living laboratory’ and Matera is equally delighted to be receiving this optimistic and vibrant input from such a diverse community who ‘get’ the predicament of this ancient but fragile city and it’s ecosystem.


This is already 320 words

This does not yet mention Matera ECoC 2019



Arthur, you write well! I have better content, but you definitely get the writing. We should pool forces. Apologies for not seeing the comment before, I focused on the wiki and assumed people would work by editing it!

Thank you

I only stopped because I wanted to collaborate on factual content with someone from the group… No worries… We’ll get hang of collaborating soon… I hope

why conflict?

why the “not a conflict” in the 1st paragraph? it feels like lashing against an objection that isn’t there.

Because this is ‘journalism’, not ‘ethnography’…

Because I wanted to focus on what is unexpected, on what is surprising…and ‘conflict’ is the norm… so this is ‘not conflict’…

Feel free to submit your own version… :wink:

Mistake :frowning:

Damn, I found a mistake. This sentence:

Taken together, these two trends mean more and more young, educated, connected and generous young people.

I have now corrected it in the wiki. Nadia could probably send it again…