Free, Fair, Pay your share.

A few months ago this sign was seen in a local cafe window.

By a strange coincidence I met the cafe owner a few days later and he told me how the sign came to be.
He was looking out of the cafe window one afternoon and saw a man going through the rubbish bins in the street looking for food. Shocked that it happened in this day and age he went out to speak to the man.

No one should be in such need that they live off the waste of others, so the cafe owner hoped to bring the man into his cafe for a proper hot meal. Sadly the man didn’t seem to trust the cafe owner and ran off.

The owner wanting to gain the mans trust, decided to put this sign in his window, hoping the man would see it and not feel threatened or ashamed of his predicament.

Leeds (my home city) has had a few cafes recently open up with a different way of charging for food. The Pay What You Feel cafes give good food, company and discretion for those who might otherwise struggle. A bucket for money giving a descreet way of paying what you can afford rather than asking for charity. The idea of giving without shaming the poor appears to be a new idea, but somehow, I think this is how it should have been all along.

Just imagine having the collection plate passed around at church and instead of a plate that lets those close by see how much or little you can give there’s a bag or bucket you put your hand in (even braver, the possibility to take out what you need).

So, why am I thinking about all this?

Today I arrived in Windermere for a three day ‘get together’ to talk about poverty. The conference centre/hotel we’re staying at made a stand a year ago to run in a similar manner to the cafes. Whether you can afford £10 or £200 you’re treated to wonderful food, lovely accommodation and the friendliest staff around. No one knows who paid what and since everyone is treated as though they are family, no one worries about it.

You’d think it’d be the most disasterous business move of the century, but it seems to be working.

It got me thinking, would that work as a crafter?

What if I set up a stall and instead of pricing everything I asked people to pay what they think. My heart wants to give it a go, but my head says no.

On the other hand…

Imagine this hotel I’m staying in had kept to the old way of charging. Firstly if I had to pay a hotel price I wouldn’t have come, but it’s more personal than that. If you told me to pay £40 for a night here and I paid it there’s a sense that I have paid for £40s worth of luxury, and in that instance I’d expect a lot for my £40.

On the other hand, not giving me a price to pay makes me really think about what I’m getting. If the staff are nice to me I’d want to pay, then again, good food is worth money. At the end of my stay I’d like to give generously.

Putting this into a crafting context and whether I would risk a pay what you feel stall, the hotel experience has given me something to think about.

If I put a price on my item, lets say a skein of hand-spun wool. We’re not just talking about the price of the wool, but the couple hours carding, spinning, washing the wool. All things considered, £30 for several hours work maybe isn’t that much, but would anyone pay that much.

Then again if I put the wool on a stall unpriced, would people pay?

Here’s where the hotel experience comes in.

How do I get people to value my wool enough that paying a decent price – a price worth the time and skill put into it – is happily considered rather than smirked at?

One word – Experience.

If I can get people to experience the process of spinning wool, to see the skill of taking a fleece and turning it into colourful, bouncy yarn?

I need to look at the whole experience of buying from me. The little things that turn pondering customers into regular friendly buyers.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

2 thoughts on “Free, Fair, Pay your share.

  1. Your idea reminds me of something that Radiohead had did with an album “In Rainbows”. Here’s a link if your interested.

    By the way, I love how you are so involved with stitchery. I was thinking that the degree in arts would be a dream of mine, but I settled for accounting. I was just reading your about me part of your blog and we have tons in common. It seems that there are types of people like you and I who have to know everything about something we love.. and if that happens to be crochet, knitting, spinning, dying, weaving.. well that’s simply awesome! Thanks so much for sharing your free patterns you’ve created for the My Crochet Doll, that’s how I stumbled on your blog through Ravelry. Love your work.

    1. Thanks for your message. In my previous job I worked with homeless people, something I’m still passionate about. I’m very lucky to be given a second chance and be able to study something I love.
      If going back to University isn’t an option think about part time courses. I’m a believer in always studying something.

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