Over the next six weeks, Channel 4 will devote three hours of prime-time television to making do and mending. Its series, Scrimpers, starting at 8pm tomorrow, is devoted to the 'new frugalists': people who pillage rubbish skips and refuse tips for mendables, turn old music centres into seed propagators and recycle toilet- roll cores into cheap and cheerful Christmas decorations.
The series symbolises a new economic consciousness. Its roots are financial: recession, unemployment, uncertainty; and psychological: growing environmental awareness, resistance to consumerism and the global cash economy. It has surfaced, statistically, in the rise of the black economy- last year, after a long period of decline, the number of hard-cash transactions went up.
The idea for Scrimpers came from Ian Davidson, a former Monty Python scriptwriter, after he had made a garden table out of bits of old wood.
The series' producer, David Collison, describes scrimping as 'a serious public statement that resourcefulness is a deep-seated and valuable activity - a reaction against the supermarket culture where all you do is jump in a car, drive off and buy stuff, then throw away what you don't use. The scrimpers represent something very widespread.'
They include a London man who is collecting and selling aluminium drinks cans, at 40p a kilogram, to try to save his pounds 70,000 house from repossession; the villagers of South Molton, Devon, where rubbish- scavenging has created thriving community businesses; and a Brighton single mother who collects old bricks from skips and sells them as hard-core.
Scrimping is part of Britain's informal economy - where the most radical changes in attitude are occurring and people are experimenting with new types of organisation. Other examples of this new consciousness include:
The mushrooming of Local Exchange and Trading Systems (Lets). In effect a reinvention of the barter economy, these create local currencies that enable people to swap skills and services without using cash. More than 200 schemes and 20,000 people are involved in the UK, with similar networks in nine European countries, the US and Australia. Advocates of Lets argue that eschewing cash creates genuinely local economies insulated from the global economy.
The growth of car-boot sales. In the UK, these date from the early Eighties and combine two of the most popular British pastimes: shopping and recycling. They are a response to the switch from public to private consumption in the Eighties and the 'waste mountain' this generated. A million people are estimated to visit car-boot sales every weekend.
A new 'proud to be poor' mentality. In Japan last year, The Concept of Honest Poverty, a book by Koji Nakano, sold 700,000. New magazines devoted to saving money include, in the US, The Tightwad Gazette and The Cheapskate Monthly. and in the UK, The Scrimpers, set up by a couple featured in the Channel 4 series.
A local economic renaissance. As banks, high-street chains and superstores have deserted deprived areas, the vacuum is being filled by charity and second-hand clothing shops, community businesses and co- operatives.
According to Ed Mayo, director of the New Economics Foundation, a green think tank, the informal economy is undergoing 'incredible ferment - partly because it provides an easy way into work and also a means of surviving. But there is an element of rediscovering the joys of self-reliance, autonomy and community.'Reuse content