The first in a series of Voices of Stoke blogs by our Local Comms and Partnerships person Angela Ghadery
Stoke-on-Trent, still known today as The Potteries, is up for restoration, renewal and empowerment; but that’s actually nothing new or surprising! Although the city is known for its history as one of the great northern powerhouses that each generated so much traditional wealth during the industrial era with their own specialised industries, the story didn’t actually begin with large-scale industrialists but with small cottage industries in villages, using the local clay to make pots. It required this community collaborative enterprise in the first instance, long before the industrial capitalism that later harnessed it, to grow the villages into the six towns now constituting the city, sitting alongside their adjoining market town of Newcastle-under-Lyme, and both surrounded by the rugged Staffordshire Moorlands, and the historic county town of Stafford to the south, which altogether constitute North Staffordshire.
“it’s probably important to keep in mind those early roots of community enterprise which by means of skill and creativity used the local clay for the benefit of all”
So although the many factories, with what were as many as 2000 of the famous bottle ovens at continually at work during its height, and companies such as Burleigh, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Minton, Emma Bridgwater, Portmeirion, Moorcroft and Spode earning world wide acclaim, it’s probably important to keep in mind those early roots of community enterprise which by means of skill and creativity used the local clay for the benefit of all.
When we see the exciting new vibrancy in the form of both smaller ceramics enterprises setting up again along with an extraordinary multitude of individuals, groups and organisations, fighting back to restore life, community and sustainable economies, we can see the energy, determination and collaborative commitment that was always there, and once able to grow again, is inevitably now doing so but now with the aim of creating healthy, sustainable, inclusive and participatory futures, this time by and for the people of this central England conurbation, lying almost equidistant between Birmingham and Manchester.
One such enterprise is that of CTRLshiftpartner, CounterCoin, an alternative currency, made symbolically at first with coins from the local clay, and now being set up digitally. Founder Mike Riddell says, “It began a couple of years ago with a bunch of kids from the YMCA, a laser machine and a few sheets of coloured acrylic as the launch video shows”:
Mike continues, saying “today we’re busy planning the Hartshill Project that will bring together a number of community groups and local businesses to work in partnership to recognise and reward the contribution made by the army of volunteers without whom the economy would collapse…The contribution made by volunteers and frontline community groups is massive. If we are all to get behind the organisations that pick up the pieces of people’s lives when they run into problems, then we should value and celebrate this contribution properly. Now what we’re saying to the business community is this: it won’t cost you a penny. There’s plenty of stuff that you throw away that volunteers, sometimes on VERY low incomes, could make very good use of, for example perishable food or unsold tickets. Please don’t waste them – be kind instead – let those who contribute to the community pay for them, wholly or partly with CounterCoin.”
More local voices to come in the lead up to the Summit!
Participatory Budgeting (PB) enables people to make their community better, starting with issues that concern us all. The biggest concern we face as a society is climate change. In this blog CTRLshift PartnerShared Future CIC’s Alan Budge connects PB and climate change. They have also offered to host a Solutions Session on PB during the summit
In August 2018, Greta Thunberg, a fifteen year old Swedish schoolgirl, went on strike. She sat herself down outside the Swedish Parliament building and began a one-person ‘climate strike’. Just over six months later, schools around the world are now ‘striking for the climate’ on a regular basis. On March 15th, thousands of children across the UK as well as strikers in over 100 other countries skipped school in order to protest.
I was at a Participatory Budgeting (PB) voting event, where people vote directly on spending money in their communities, in North Yorkshire a few years ago; one of the participants there, a boy about the same age as Greta, said to me about the PB voting day, his face glowing with enthusiasm, “This has got to be better than general elections or any of that other stuff. It’s brilliant.”
I’ve been working on PB for over fifteen years now, and
during that time have also, in common with millions of others, become
progressively more alarmed about the state of the planet.
At its best, PB evokes genuine passion, real enthusiasm for change,
for making a difference: and if one thing above all needs to change
today, it’s how we tackle – or are failing to tackle – climate change.
As I said to someone living in Norfolk recently, “We can do the best PB exercise imaginable, but it will have limited traction if most of East Anglia is under water.”
The recent ‘Green New Deal’ proposal announced in the USA by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
provides a potential focal point for ‘how to green PB’. As well as
advocating major infrastructural work around developing renewable energy
infrastructure, retro-fitting properties to be more energy efficient
and so on, the Green New Deal idea places emphasis on social justice and
the need for participants to be meaningfully engaged with the design
and delivery of the programme. Which is where PB comes in.
We know that a local PB event can attract literally hundreds of participants
(often many new to political engagement). That is why we are interested
in developing a programme of PB events, developed within the many Local
Authority areas (58 and counting at the time of writing) to have
declared a ‘climate emergency’ since December 2018. We want to call this programme Our Money, Our Planet.
These PB events would be ‘green themed’, allowing
residents to vote on local environmental initiatives, whilst at the same
time creating fertile territory for people to discover, debate and
develop more strategic ideas relating to a national programme of green
investment and renewal – a green new deal indeed.
We’re currently pursuing funding opportunities to develop the
programme further, and are looking to hold some initial
awareness-raising events in early summer, to bring together officers,
elected members, environmental organisations and community members, to
further develop the thinking around this project.
Forget Brexit: The climate emergency is the biggest challenge we
face. We believe our most useful contribution to helping address this
existential issue is through using our experience of, and passion for,
PB, to help give practical voice to peoples’ all too legitimate concerns
around what is looking increasingly like an impending climate
PB Partners will be at the upcoming CTRLshift emergency summit for change, in Stoke on Trent on the 9th-10th May 2019, where we will be discussing how to take forward Our Money, Our Planet. Find out about CTRLshiftsummit and book places here.
Basically, it’s an informative and participatory workshop about existing solutions or responses to the unfolding crises we face – ideally solutions that could potentially be linked together, scaled, and rolled out across communities in the UK and beyond.
There are going to be between 12 and 16 Solutions Session slots available at CTRLshift 2019. Each Solutions Session is 45 minutes to 1 hours in length and will take place in one of three main rooms at the venue we’re using, Potbank Hotel at Spode Works in Stoke-On-Trent
Solutions Sessions will take place around a table – physically or metaphorically depending on numbers. Up to 6 Solutions Sessions will take place simultaneously dependent on number of sessions requested and final numbers attending the Summit.
Solutions Sessions will take place at the following times:
10.30 – 11.15 / 11.30 – 12.30 Thursday 9th May
10.00 – 11.00 / 11.30 – 12.30 Friday 10th May
These Sessions are part of the main programme and give an opportunity for partners and other attendees to share with other organisations the work they’re doing. An example would be the Totnes REconomy Centre explaining, briefly, their work in different fields; or Solidarity Economy Association showcasing a report on diversity in the cooperative sector. Whether it’s a specific project you’re involved in, a research report or a general overview of your work, all offers are welcome.
They offer a space to seek collaborations, explore mutual opportunities and challenges, and have a conversation with others that you may not otherwise have. These Solution Sessions are designed in a similar vein to the overall programme with an edge of spontaneity and an eye to interaction and participation.
Who can offer a Solutions Session?
Priority for Solutions Sessions goes to our partners in CTRLshift and to certain local organisations. Over 30 organisations from across a wide spectrum of sectors have already signed up to support the event this year. However, if you are not a registered partner, that doesn’t bar you from applying and we welcome interesting and exciting offers of participation.
It is likely that not everyone who requests to run a session will be able to and so we will have a mind to diversity of voices, genders, locations, ethnicity, sectors and projects when we make the final selection.
To ensure inclusive and diverse participation we encourage people who identify as BAME , LGBTQ+, disabled, women, working class and young people to apply.
What should happen at a Solutions Session?
Solutions Sessions are not about powerpoint presentations delivered in an ‘expert to audience’ format. Though facilitators are welcome to bring a laptop and show a short presentation to introduce their work, the aim is to use these sessions to stimulate discussion, share knowledge and learnings and build bridges for better collaboration in the future.
Facilitators will have 45 minutes to 1 hours to discuss their work and open to the attending participants. We recommend that you bear in mind that the goal of every session is to get participants to bring value to the work you’re doing – be that through collaborations, suggestions, new actions and so forth – and for your own work to inform theirs in turn.
What topics can be covered at a Solutions Session?
We are not prescriptive about what topics are covered at Solutions Sessions, however we will aim to limit them to subjects of relevance to the overall discussion. We are looking for sessions, in particular, that are backed up with sound research and demonstrate best practice (or, if not, learnings that highlight what didn’t work!).
We are keen that subjects covered have relevance to the wider national and global picture, but also the locale of Stoke-On-Trent. We ask you to consider how your solutions might apply to the area that the event is taking place in. We’re also looking to actively feature sessions covering marginalised groups across gender, class and ethnicity.
How do I apply to run a Solutions Session?
The first step is to fill in the Google Form here.
We’ll look at applications as they come in and make decisions as quickly as possible. We intend to have a final programme no later than 30th April 2019. We know that this is late notice, and we’ll do our best to make decisions significantly before this point wherever possible.
Guide to Facilitation of a Solutions Session
Do a short introduction to your project/s, network, research and/or other things you are bringing to the table. We would recommend no more than 10 minutes.
Feel free to use a powerpoint presentation but don’t rely on it. It should only be there to inform or illustrate what you are saying.
We request you bring your own laptop/tablet where possible. We will have some available but compatibility can be an issue. Where borrowing a device from CTRLshift, please ensure any presentation is saved as a PDF.
Remember, Solutions Sessions are only an introduction to your work. There’s plenty of chance to have detailed follow-up conversations across the event. There is a room available, Seminar 1, for impromptu meetings; and the Postcode Coffee House can also be used throughout for more informal discussions.
What help would you like to receive from those attending?
What information or perspective would benefit you most?
Where are there opportunities for collaboration?
How does your work fit into the wider picture?
What is your work doing to help bring about a CTRLshift?
Enter the session with a willingness to listen; be open; share ideas; receive support! We recommend meditating on the virtue of broadmindedness as a useful tool.
There will be a flipchart available for each session. Feel free to make use of it or even assign a note-taker from the audience to help capture what you discuss.
For a guide to running a participatory workshop, please look here.
Green Party councillors in particular have been active is proposing
motions which then gain support from other parties. While in some
authorities Conservatives have abstained, arguing that the measures
required are undeliverable or that they have too many competing
priorities, several Conservative controlled councils have passed
ambitious motions including: Wiltshire, Scarborough, Mendip, Somerset
The motions commit councils to work towards going carbon neutral: 25
of the 40 councils have committed to aim to do this by 2030, after last October’s report
by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for
“rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of
society.” Nottingham City Council has committed to 2028, while others
have set 2050 or left the date to be determined later.
Ten percent of the 418 first and second tier UK councils have passed
motions in the four months since Bristol became the first council to
pass a motion last November and the movement is gaining momentum, with
five councils declaring last week. Town and Parish councils are also
joining in and declaring their own emergencies.
Public galleries have been packed for many of the council meetings
where climate emergency motions have been discussed, with both
Extinction Rebellion activists and young people heavily involved.
Labour led Carlisle Council passed their motion after hearing from
six-year-old Emily Graham, who told councillors that she felt like
“politicians are stealing my future from me by doing nothing. We have 12
years left to stop making greenhouse gases if we want to stop climate
change…..My future depends on the decisions you make in this room.”
In Lancaster 16-year-old Rosie Mills started a petition to call on
the City council to declare a climate emergency and, with help from
university student Millie Prosser, gained more than 1500 in a few days.
Both young people spoke at the council meeting, where the motion was
Ms Mills told councillors: “Despite us having been taught since a young age of the
dangers of climate change, the majority of adults in our community have not yet changed in the
ways we have been taught are available to us…. If our leaders do not
make the change themselves or do not accommodate the change for others,
then how can any progress be made to adapt to and mitigate climate
Ms Prosser appealed for community involvement in the process of
decarbonising her locality: “I feel passionate that the people of
Lancaster District be considered and included in plans for climate
action. Especially that the young people, whose futures and livelihoods
are at stake, have a voice that is heard throughout the process.:
Lancaster, like several other councils, has promised a Citizens
Assembly to discuss the issue. Both Millie Prosser and Rosie Mills are
on the council’s Cabinet Liaison Group, which has been set up to come up
with a zero carbon plan and also includes representatives from local
business and universities, and other experts.
Councils can have a direct impact on carbon emissions in a variety of
ways including: insisting that developers build to higher energy saving
standards in all new residential and commercial buildings; ensuring
their own vehicles are powered by renewables, and insisting public
transport providers do the same; switching their energy supplier to
renewables and investing funds in renewable energy; divesting council
investment and pensions from fossil fuels; requiring suppliers to be
low/zero carbon or to reduce their carbon footprint; expanding green
spaces and planting more trees.
Some councils have been working on this for many years, with
Nottingham District Council setting up 100% renewable Robin Hood Energy,
installing energy efficiency measures in 4500 domestic properties and
decarbonising its transport by investing in a fleet of electric, biogas
and retrofitted buses, cycling facilities and bike hubs, part funded
from a workplace parking levy. Stroud District Council claims that it is
already zero carbon in own activities, and is now working towards
decarbonising the district as a whole. Simon Pickering, the Chair of
their Environment Committee said “Stroud District Council took a long
term approach reducing carbon emission when it started auditing it’s
annual C02e emissions in response to the Earth Summit in 1992 and was
one of the first councils to gain EMAS* accreditation in the late 1990s.
The aim was to embed carbon emission saving into the culture of the
council, not just a nice to have add on.”
Cllr Kevin Frea, who proposed the Lancaster motion, is organising the UK’s first Climate Emergency Conference
in the city on 29 March. Speakers include politicians and experts on a
wide range of topics including local planning, citizen’s assemblies,
health, rapid transition to a zero carbon Britain, food growing, land
use, transport and climate jobs.
“We need to make changes fast and to keep up the momentum, so
councils and experts need to share their experience. The conference aims
to give practical advice both to those who want to persuade their
council to declare a climate emergency and to councils who have already
declared and want to learn how best to turn their motion into action.”
The climate emergency motions also call on national government to
change national policy and to provide more funding to support local
Councillor Kevin Frea, acknowledges that funding is an issue,
especially with councils continuing to face cuts. “What has shifted is
that deadlines are being set without the means to achieve them but with a
recognition that this is the reality of what the science is telling us
and that we have to act: but there needs to be massive increase in
funding to support this and changes in national regulations such as
planning and support for renewables.”
At the Ctrl Shift conference in Wigan where participants aimed to shift power over our democracy, economy and environment, from Westminster and multinational corporations, to people and communities across Britain.
COBAL: our working group was born out of a call for action by Julian Thompson who observed that the great appetite by investors for long-term low-risk ethical investments is disconnected from the huge requirement for investment in social enterprise and infrastructure. So our founding purpose as a working group was “To access capital & business model (market) building to scale quickly. Build investment vehicles.”
COBAL is a playful hybrid of Cooperative (autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations) & Cabal (a group of people united in some design, often secretively).
COBAL members agreed to come together as an unincorporated association with a simple founding constitution:
The Aim of Cobal is sustainable finance for the Common Good
Build business models and markets
Access capital, engage with an organisation ready to invest in change
Scale quickly – design a replicable model that could work across sectors.
Cobal shall achieve its aim by:
identifying and convening all stakeholders and partners necessary to create a platform bringing together finance with the enterprise;
identifying and designing scalable legal vehicles, institutions and optimal instruments for sustainable finance;
creation and testing of vehicles and instruments through proof of concept investments and initiatives on the Cobal platform.
Our strategy is firstly, at the micro level to create proofs of concept of investment models by sector (e.g. care homes, food/farming & hemp products). Secondly, on the principle that networking successful micro leads to successful macro, we aim to identify common principles, templates and instruments and simple, effective narratives promoting viral spread of successful proofs of concept
Current economic problems cannot be resolved within the transactional commoditised economic paradigm which created them and our focus is on legal designs and investment instruments which are complementary to conventional investment such as debt, equity and derivatives.
We observe how collective investment whether public (state) or private (corporations) has led to alienation and conflicts of interests and we aim to create new relationships bringing together investors with investments using new equitable ways of sharing risk, costs, and surplus.
We therefore propose a newNondominium framework agreement whereby productive assets may be held in common owned by all and by none, and value may be created, shared and exchanged equitably with no stakeholder having power of dominant control over another.
While we all have other commitments we have established a committed core team who meet regularly on zoom, and this has already led to project meetings in respect of possible proofs of concept in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Dumfries.
COBAL has also submitted an initial application to Friends Provident for grant funding to create a simple generic financial technology platform and we await hearing whether we will progress to the next stage.
Meanwhile, Summer is finally here, and the Wheel of Life rolls on.
A series of structured conversations and open space sessions that allowed us to share information and plans for how we might actually work together around a series of ‘cardinal questions’, ie those issues that if unlocked could allow breakthroughs that would lead to an increase in our potential – e.g. land access
Many new relationships and connections between attendees leading to new initiatives for their networks
A number of emerging projects related to taking the whole process forwards, with many people stepping forwards to help develop the CTRLshift process in the coming year.
For this is part at least of what industrialism has done for us. Columbus sailed the Atlantic, the first steam engines tottered into motion, the British squares stood firm under the French guns at Waterloo, the one-eyed scoundrels of the nineteenth century praised God and filled their pockets; and this is where it all led – to labyrinthine slums and dark back kitchens with sickly, ageing people creeping round and round them like blackbeetles.
George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier
Eighty years ago George Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier, which detailed the horrors of 20th century capitalism in what was then the richest country in the world, Great Britain. The appalling conditions he described were not atypical of any industrial city in Great Britain, and indeed the world. The Road to Wigan Pier woke up the world to the hidden (at least to the wealthy in London) results of a system that was immensely profitable for a small minority while bringing misery to the many.
A few weeks ago a group of representatives of UK grass roots social, political, and economic change agents met in Wigan to challenge the current abuses the system (arguably the same system as George Orwell wrote about) visits on the many for the benefit of a very tiny minority, the infamous 1%. Only this time ‘round there is a new twist in the narrative of social and economic injustice. This new twist is the ecological degradation that the Industrial Growth Society visits on the Earth ecosystems. Gaia Education was one of the organisations represented.
It is no great secret that while 21st century industrial capitalism is extraordinarily successful and resilient and has provided many with a decent way of life in the Global North at least (a far cry from the conditions that George Orwell wrote about 80 years earlier) but at a cost to many around the world and the afore mentioned ecosystems. It is also no secret that the deleterious effects of this social, economic, and political system are no accident or mistake, but rather part and parcel of these systems.
The reason why this gathering of grass roots organisations was so important was the recognition that we are facing systemic problems, problems which can only be solved at a systemic level. There was a general recognition that as we are facing a large, well resourced and powerful system which those who are profiting from can and will defend, that our individual efforts are bound to fail. However our collective and coordinated efforts just might be more successful.
CTRLshift – En emergency Summit for Change was held in Wigan, in a effort to highlight the enormity of the tasks we are facing, and to issue both a rallying cry to others to join us, but also to sound an alarm that as grass roots change agents we are failing to stem the tide of ecological destruction, social and economic inequality, and political inertia. We are seeing the failings of our system in many ways; making many of us sick both physically and mentally, the early effects of climate change, and economic and political systems run for the benefit of the few.
As with any new initiative this is an experiment, and there is no guarantee that the good will and hard work that was in evidence over the three days of the emergency summit in Wigan will make a difference. However we created six working groups who are all tackling some of the deeper systemic issues facing us. These working groups are mapping grass roots change initiatives, creating light touch, low resource but highly functioning ecosystem of organisations and initiatives and networks, to the planning of another gathering and imaginative actions that will bring publicity, and fire the public’s imagination and yearning for a better world for all.
As one of the organisers and movers of the Wigan Summit, I am astounded with how far a group that had never met, and who embodied many diverse ways of working and collective cultures were able to create the framework for the work ahead. Now the hard work of establishing our collective ways of working (which must be robust enough to enable workers in multiplicational, virtual work teams) creating a functional organisation capable of taking this initiative to the next step. Both our internal and external communications must be co created by the new partners.
Governance structures which so far have been fine for our small group will need upgrading. Questions of power, ownership (and indeed membership), and accountability all need addressing. We have a way to go, but as other networks or ecosystems of grass root change agents emerge in other parts of the world (see here and here), I feel hope and optimism that we can do what we have set out to do. Visit CTRLshift Summit for updates. And join us for our next summit, which we are planning for the day the UK Brexit’s the EU (or not!), 29 March 2019.
It was billed as “an emergency summit for change”, and it was a call that drew around 150 people from across the UK, and even some from further afield. Hosted at The Edge, a community-funded church building in the centre of Wigan just round the corner from the actual Wigan Pier (yes, that one, the one with the road famously leading to it), the event, exactly a year before Brexit becomes (or doesn’t) a reality, was co-presented by at least 40 organisations.
At the opening, Andy Goldring of the Permaculture Association presented the event as an opportunity to “step out of our silos and connect” and to create “a cunning plan for how to change the country for the better”.
The aim of the event was to share the successes and potential of the different movements, from permaculture to community ownership, from the solidarity economy to rethinking governance, to build new coalitions, create and deepen relationships, understand each other and our different work better, map a common understanding of key issues and opportunities to align and work together, and identify things we can do together to realise a real power shift towards greater local and regional autonomy.
Aiming to create that “cunning plan” in just 2 and a half days was a big challenge, but a challenge that needed taking up. The event had been 12 months in the planning, and the facilitation was very well thought through. I saw one comment on the feedback board at the end of the event that read: “it must be tough trying to facilitate so many people”. Having been part of facilitation groups for similar events I can attest that yes, it is tough, but thrilling and rewarding too.
Here is my podcast, a gathering of voices from across the three days, presented in the sequence they were recorded during the flow of the event. Hopefully it gives a sense of the feel of the event, and of some of the people who attended.
The event featured many of the facilitation techniques that regular attenders of Transition events will be familiar with: Home Groups (here they were called ‘hives’), Open Space, Fishbowl, workshops. Alongside these were techniques I hadn’t experienced before, such as a Design Charette, of which more later.
We kicked off on the Tuesday afternoon with a mapping exercise, seeing where people had come from, how hopeful they felt about things, and the degree to which they felt they had the answer to the problems. We were welcomed to Wigan by Donna Hall, CEO of Wigan Council who thanked the event for coming to Wigan, and talked about the work they are doing in a similar vein.
We organised ourselves into Home Groups, who we would then check in with throughout the event. We ended the first day with ‘Solutions Sessions’. I went to one on Participatory Budgeting with Jez Hall of Shared Future, and then another with Unltd about their thinking on how to support social enterprises with more of a sense of being in a ‘place’. Both were fascinating.
Wednesday morning started to identify particular areas that we wanted to focus on, getting us thinking about the Open Space events. It started with Jay Tompt inviting us all to pause for a moment to meditate on the importance of broadmindedness, and how it’s ok to live with the uncertainty that we may not have all of the answers.
Open Space was introduced, and questions were harvested. I went to one discussion about narrative and story, and how our movements might become better storytellers. We explored the kinds of language that can connect and galvanise people and how, as one person put it, “you don’t fear someone whose story you know”.
In the other, we talked about local economics, hosted by Mike from Newcastle Under Lyme, who talked about the CounterCoin, a fascinating local currency experiment. Here’s a photo of some of the coins and a video about it:
The Open Space was followed by a Fishbowl. For the uninitiated, this is where a few people sit in the middle of the concentric circles of chairs and add their thoughts to a conversation, then stepping out and allowing other people to step in. It was a very insightful discussion, which ended up also being a powerful reflection on actually how much courage it takes for some, especially women, to step into a circle and speak.
Lastly there was another batch of Solutions sessions. I went to one led by Zarina Ahmad called Diversity Adds Value, an excellent overview of issues around diversity and inclusion. After this I went to one led by Lucy Antal of ‘North West Food Stories’. Again, really fascinating too get a sense of what’s happening in different parts of the UK.
The second day opened with a live video link discussion with Caroline Lucas MP, and with Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper, who was with us in person. It was a very useful discussion about the relationship between grassroots movements and politics. Caroline Lucas said that “the power of good examples all around the country is that when the government says that “things are impossible”, it means she is able to say “no, they’re already happening around the country”. While there is a lot that we can do, it is also true that policy changes can enable activities currently in pockets to spread.
Hilary Wainwright said that we need to recognise power in two senses, firstly power as domination (i.e. that wielded by governments) and secondly power as what she called “transformative capacity”, which we have, and need to make the most of.
Andy Goldring then set out to draw out a sense of urgency for the rest of the day, inviting people to share what they’re angry about. “The world around us is dying”, he said. “In this context”, he went on, “do we demonstrate against? Or demonstrate?” (I liked that line, might have to use it myself).
In the first session, we were invited to suggest projects we wanted to see come out of the event. Not ideas, not “someone should”, but actually achieveable, ambitious things that could be started tomorrow. When about 8 ideas were gathered, groups formed around each one, and we had just over an hour working in ‘Design Charettes’ (a charette, according to the dictionary, is “an intense period of design or planning activity”) to come up with a worked up, beautifully presented proposal. It was amazing to see, when working under such tight constraints, and Jay cracking the whip to keep us focused and hard at work, to see what people came up with.
Ideas included a model for accelerating place-based wealth building, a co-op of co-operatives for the Wigan area, a think and do tank for accelerating these ideas, an ‘Imagination Intervention’ – a one day event which transforms a place in such a way as to bring the future to life, and a couple of others I didn’t make a note of! The final session then attempted to nail these down into final commitments for actions that would arise from the projects.
That’s a brief sense of the event, hopefully gives you a sense of the flow. I’d like to give you a sense of what felt to me like highlights, and what felt to me like the challenging bits:
I have never been before at an event with so many organisations under one roof all with similar aims and wanting to find new ways to connect and collaborate. It felt like an historic occasion, a brave thing to attempt, and I made lots of great connections
Spending time with so many what one person called “positive deviants” is wonderful, and very life-affirming
It was great to be in Wigan, with its long radical history, and with its Council attempting to do some very interesting things, and to have the Wigan Diggers Festival entertain us on the Saturday night, and to have Fur Klempt feed us deliciously using surplus food from local businesses. Bard Company’s (described as “the oldest boy band on the circuit”) reinterpretation of the Beastie Boys’ classic ‘You’ve got to fight for your right to party’ into a Jeremy Corbyn anthem of ‘You’ve got to fight the right in your party’ will stay with me for a long time.
There was lots of social connecting time, and it was great to spend some quality time with old friends and new ones too…
The graphic note-takers did an amazing job, capturing the event’s many nuances and debates with colour and flair (see below).
It was fascinating how hard it was to coax people away from their key peeves, their soap box issues. It felt like for some people, it was a struggle to let go and listen enough to allow things to go where they might go because they kept pulling it back to some distant and overarching concern
Likewise, it was interesting how hard it was to get some people to move away from vague generalisations like “we must reform the financial system” or “we need to transform the political system”, to something more tangible, achievable, focused. It felt like there was a default position that we often fall back into without even realising it
Diversity and inclusion was an issue that kept coming up. We were honoured to be joined by a group from the Glasgow Multicultural Centre, who got very involved in the conference, and ran a great workshop on diversity. What was fascinating was that there seemed to be a particular issue with younger women saying they felt it difficult to speak up, to get involved, not a problem I’ve seen at previous such events. I noticed a comment on the feedback board at the end that simply read “be aware that people are at different starting positions”, which felt like a really useful observation for future events. What could happen at the beginning to make sure that everyone is given as much confidence as possible to chip in? It would be useful to hear what other people do around this..
But what was so intriguing about this event was that all of the above was really to be expected. Bringing such diverse organisations, a mixture of grizzled battle-scarred community/sustainability veterans and younger, more idealistic activists, and people with very varied degrees of anger/exclusion/distress about the state of the world was always going to be a very charged field. And to try, in such a short period of time, to get them to actually not just meet and talk, but to work together to come up with actual, tangible, achievable projects, was close to trying to put a man (or woman) on the Moon.
Bringing these people together to attempt something so ambitious, with their very varying levels of familiarity with and comfort with process and the more ‘touchy-feely’ work like exploring grief and anger, was always going to be difficult. As the title of the event says, this is an emergency. We have lost more than half of the living creatures we share this planet with since 1970. Climate change is accelerating. What does a bottom up response look like, and how can the bottom up movements become the drivers for it? There are few more timely questions.
For me, this was an amazing event. It was messy, sure, with its bits that didn’t work, its tricky edges, its blind spots. But putting on this event at this time was an amazingly brave thing to do. The facilitators sailed into unknown waters, and it took all their navigation skills to keep the ship on course. For some people I spoke to, they were frustrated that it didn’t feel tangible enough, that they had heard many of the discussions before, that they needed bigger responses than could be achieved at such an event. But that’s a bit like blaming a lawnmower for making lousy toast.
This was an event that set out to mark a moment, a historic moment when everyone who heeded the call headed out from the towns, the cities, the hills, the woods, the fields, to meet and try to figure out what to do, how to use what they have more effectively. That really matters. I felt honoured to be there. We won’t know for a few years just what impact this event had. But I’ll bet you now that it will be looked at as a key moment, a watershed, from which much flowed that had previously been unthinkable.
Compromise offers the promise of surprise,
Open your eyes to
Multicoloured hues and multicoloured views
Plan, do and review,
Roll with the punches,
and the pats
On the back – don’t slack from the task
Mankind is on the brink of being extinct
Strength is in human numbers, not credit card numbers –
Earn your tomorrow today.
Wigan-er (we’re gonna)
dream togetherBusy bees
you and me
no more “Them” and “Us”
Love and peace, greed will cease
No more war and fuss
All alive on our hives
helping all together
Nice and warm in our swarm
safe from stormy weather
“Think big – start small – act now!”