Tuesday, 13 November 2007


On seeing this story how painted eyes influenced people to behave with honesty (regardless if the research was dodgy or not), I thought I would dig out this story which was published in the EADT which I based on the transcript of a film I made in May 2005.

I had the idea to make a short film for the BBC Video Nation series about honesty boxes. As no one is speaking for them, I thought they should be publicised as this hidden economy is a convenient source of fresh food for communities without shops and selling directly to the consumer uses less resources than typical food retailing. That week my local supermarket had green beans from Kenya, apples from Belgium and courgettes from Spain.

After contacting the BBC, a video camera and blank tapes were delivered to me by a young producer and I set off to find out more.

After talking to a wide variety of interesting people I turned in my tapes to the BBC. A few days later the producer told me: "Although you got nice shots and interesting sound bites...the majority was unfortunately not usable in the context of Video Nation as it is about a personal view so having short interview pieces from a range of people in one video doesn't fit the project's format." They did use one bit of me talking straight to camera which you can see here.



By Nat Bocking

In rural Suffolk you see them everywhere. A cornucopia being sold from roadside stands. Putting faith in the public's integrity; people set out their eggs, vegetables, books, flowers and a lot more for sale from 'honesty boxes' open all hours.

In the village of Rumburgh, pensioner DIANA PALLANT stocks the weather-beaten kitchen cupboard in her front garden with her marmalades, jams and chutneys. The cost of setting up her micro-business was minimal. "I got it from the council dump for four pounds" she says. A distressed cash box is nailed to her gatepost to collect the £1 for each jar. Diana makes everything herself from local produce except the orange marmalade. At Christmas she decorates the lids and labels and always sells out quickly then. Many of her customers are regulars and they knock to ask for specific flavours. "It doesn¹t make much profit but I'd go around the bend if I wasn't doing something" she adds. Last year Diana planted a damson tree and hopes to add this to her expanding range soon.

Diana's village neighbour is the illustrator HELEN COCKBURN. Helen has 30 chickens in a ten acre smallholding and sells the eggs from an honesty box too. The two women became friends from buying each other's produce and both rely on local stands for fresh vegetables. Helen admits that given the outlay it is not very profitable but adds, "you can't have a small holding without chickens. They make you laugh. They are insane creatures that make us saner."

A mother of three children, ALEX ATHANASSOULI lives in Wenhaston. The village lost its last shop only a few years ago. Her walk home from the school gate passes several stands she depends on. "I like buying local produce. The eggs are free range. I detest battery eggs and I know the people that run the stalls. You don't have much variety but they are fresh vegetables grown in the village and I am supporting the people producing them by buying them. It gives you a sense of faith in humanity that they are accepting that people will pay for it." When the apple trees in her garden produce a crop, Alex's nine year old daughter puts them beside the road with an honesty box to earn some pocket money.

In the village of Holton there are four roadside stands beside each other. On weekends they become a shopping centre. Each has an honesty box but a watchful proprietor nearby. Bed and Breakfast keeper SAM GOODBOURN sells bits of second-hand furniture and leftover props acquired from his corporate hospitality business. Next to him a retired school teacher sells carrots by the bag. The adjacent smallholding sells duck, goose and chicken eggs and on weekends DAVID CANHAM sells refurbished garden equipment, bicycles, outdoor furniture and hutches that he makes as a hobby. Passer-by OLIVER BALLAM, a marine engineer, stopped to look over an antique bicycle for sale for £15. Oliver says he often stops at roadside stands looking for a bargain. He buys his vegetables and eggs from farm gates near his home in Waldringfield. "It¹s nice to know it¹s not coming from a faraway place and it's pretty cheap too.² Examining the bike, he thought it could make £50 later on eBay.

In the village of Westleton JUDY BOULANGER is raising money to improve St.
Peter's church
by selling second-hand books and videos from a stand outside her cottage. She says "people donate the books and videos and sometimes people bring them back and it gets donated again." In two years no one has ever taken the tea caddy of coins although it can be left out all day. Asked if she thought people are more or less honest today than before she said, "I think its just the same, especially in Suffolk. I wouldn¹t know about the cities but Suffolk is very special, it doesn't change."

Retired publican HAROLD BEST always gets his apples from a farm stand just outside Darsham. The 84 year old swears by two apples a day for his robust health. The farmer here is not so trusting as the honesty box is made of plate steel and it has CCTV. Asked for his opinion of people's honesty, Harold thought; "we used to slip in an orchard and scrump an apple and the farmer would grumble but you grow up and learn that you don't do these things. If I come here and I haven't got any money, I won't go home without apples. I'd take them and when I come next time I'd bring enough for that.
If you had a word with this man here, he would say "you come here next time and bring the money" and put it in and be honest that way. They'd accept it. You have got to be honest but it is open for abuse."

Some customers admitted to using the easy credit available from honesty boxes when they didn't have the right change but they always paid for them the next time. Stall holders say they often find IOUs. For some stall holders their attitude is that if you have to steal, then you must need the charity. Helen says; "I know there's not a lot of money there so if anyone want to nick it it's not going to be the end of the world. People are OK, people are good. If you expect the worst, you'll get the worst."

There are certainly thoughtless and criminal people around who abuse this trust. Recently Sam's teenage daughter set out plants she had grown herself. By midday some copper and silver coins were visible in the old jam jar when two young men driving a white hatchback stopped and snatched them. No doubt highly agitated by their clever and daring robbery, they drove off with squealing tyres towards Halesworth. The empty jar was tossed out of the window smashing onto the road. Unfortunately for them, there were witnesses who recognised them.

The costs of loss prevention and credit and cash handling for small businesses are a large part of their overheads so for micro-businesses, relying on people's integrity and accepting the losses caused by a tiny minority can make sense. Honesty boxes are used for parking fees, garden admissions, golf courses, telephones in B&Bs, newspapers in hotels and around the world there are honesty boxes for boat hire, restaurants and even bars.

The Cambo Estate near St Andrews in Scotland has collected the admission to its gardens for 10 years with an honesty box. Owner PETER ERSKINE says, "the honesty box is more cost efficient than someone collecting the money, even if some people don't pay." He adds, "honesty boxes don't take holidays or want overtime" and he doesn't have to build a shed for them in the car park, something he felt would not be in the spirit of the house and gardens. Location is important he advises. Their takings shot up 25% when the honesty box was moved from inside the gardens to outside the entrance so that only the most brazen freeloader could claim they hadn't noticed it.

One observation gathered from visiting many stands is that an attractive, well stocked stall will never want for customers no matter what the product or the time of day. One weekend home owner said, "there might be only one cauliflower left but at least I can get one at midnight if there's no food in the house." At weekends especially, stopping at roadside stands is a recreation for many. The demand for food fresh from the farm gate is partly driven by attitudes towards supermarkets and because of the lack of nearby shops but also because the grower is the consumer's neighbour. Harold says "we expect them to take care of our food and we have to take care of them in return."

Several academics and government departments were asked but nobody could provide any figures on the size of this roadside economy. Although many producers do it more for pleasure than profit, their income is significant to the suppliers of feed, tools, seeds and so on and some micro-businesses have grown quickly into multi-million pound concerns. At least three thriving farm shops around the country recount on their websites that they began with an honesty box at their gates.


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