Sarah Osei* moved to London from Uganda a number of years ago. She trained as a social worker, and currently manages a community centre which supports migrants who are at risk of violence and homelessness. She frequently travels back to Uganda where she runs a number of business and charitable projects, supporting girls to stay in education and working with women to maintain financial independence through making and selling cheese. She is just one of more than 500 people who have applied to take part in the RSA’s new Diaspora ChangeMakers programme since the recruitment process started three weeks ago.
Diaspora ChangeMakers, funded by Comic Relief and Unbound Philanthropy, seeks to identify and support a network of people from the African diaspora who are passionate about driving social change in their communities of heritage or countries of origin. The project takes its cue from the original ‘ChangeMakers’ work led by my colleague Ben Dellot in Peterborough last year, which posited that there are key individuals, rooted in their communities, who have an appetite to apply their skills to local issues. We believe that by mapping and bringing together networks of these individuals great potential for positive change can be unleashed.
The new project combines these principles with the international interest in the contribution of people in the diaspora in supporting development in their countries of origin. By identifying key ChangeMakers in the diaspora and supporting them with a programme of leadership development courses, peer support, knowledge exchange, mentoring, project development workshops and networking with our 27,000-strong RSA Fellowship, our hope is that these individuals will be able to achieve a greater impact in their various enterprises which benefit the lives of others.
But we’re not simply looking for maverick ‘community leaders’ as commonly defined. In line with our other work in the RSA Connected Communities team, we’re interested in social networks, and we want to find the individuals who seem to be in key positions of influence through having connections to different groups of people. When people apply to take part in our project, we don’t only ask them about what community work they have done in the past and what change they want to see in the future – we ask them who else they consider to be ChangeMakers. We will then contact these other people who have been nominated by others, and encourage them to apply to the programme too – and ask them to tell us about yet more ChangeMakers from their own networks. Over time, this will give us a good idea of how our potential ChangeMakers interact with each other, how they can influence others to share the burden of bringing about the change they wish to see, and how they themselves might change as a result of working with others as part of a network.
Gandhi is often quoted as saying ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ But there is no specific record of Gandhi ever having said this. It is a misquote and a misconception. If we introspectively focus on changing only ourselves and assume that the world will catch up with us eventually, we are unlikely to achieve much more than misplaced self-satisfaction.
What Gandhi actually said was ‘We but mirror the world[…] If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him […] We need not wait to see what others do.’ The key words of this passage are the ‘if’ and the ‘attitude’ of others. Completely changing the self would change the tendencies of the world, but this is difficult or even impossible to achieve on one’s own as we are but ‘mirrors’ of wider society (for more on the importance of understanding the individual as a mirror of society, read about our Social Mirror project). What the individual can do is to take a lead, without waiting ‘to see what others do’, and gradually change the attitude of others towards him or her. Once the attitudes of others begin to change, then the social world might change too. It is because of this necessity of influencing and cooperating with others that the Diaspora ChangeMakers programme focuses on networks as well as individuals, and relationships as well as leadership.
Pleasingly, we can already see some of those networks and clusters of connected people who have nominated each other as ChangeMakers. The image below is a visualisation of the applicants from the first two weeks of the recruitment period – before we had even approached the nominees of initial applicants.
Each dot is a potential Diaspora ChangeMaker who has completed our application survey, and the lines linking the dots represent connections between those people. Here is a close-up of a few of these groups of people and they are connected:
Some of these people are recent immigrants to the UK who have lived most of their lives in Africa, and some are people who were born in Britain and whose families have lived here for generations. Their careers, interests, and ambitions vary hugely. But all of them feel a personal link to the African continent in some way, and all of them are passionate about achieving social change that benefits African communities, either in the UK or in the African continent.
If you are a Diaspora ChangeMaker and want us to know about your place in this network, or if you’re interested in benefitting from the Diaspora ChangeMakers programme activities, then please complete the application survey and find out more about the programme at www.diasporachangeakers.com
*name changed in line with data protection procedures
This is a guest blog by Mark Power FRSA. Mark is an architect and a member of the Fellows Artists Network.
As I recently discovered at this summer’s RSA Reboot event-Re:Engage, creativity is in plentiful supply within the London Fellowship network. The event focused on how Fellows could use the 4 ways to engage model to find and support each other in their work. It also featured a lightening talk by a member of the cross-disciplinary Fellows Artists Group which myself and a group of other Fellows have set up. Our members range from film-makers to sculptors, architects to writers and we meet seasonally and informally to visit exhibitions, discuss artists, discuss each other’s work and discuss ourselves and what makes us tick. We also encourage creative ways of recording our responses to the Reboot events, such as this stop-motion video which shows the buzz surrounding new connections being made.
Reboot events are organised by the London Region Fellowship Councillor, and are an excellent platform for getting to know other Fellows; getting to know what they do, what they believe in and getting them tipsy on whatever they bring along. However, running parallel to this social exchange, as RSA Fellows we have a more urgent and vital agenda: to engage in the current debate on public funding and support for the Arts, a debate which so often excludes the artists themselves and tends to emphasise instrumental over intrinsic value. We pursue this in various ways, the London Region has supported a range of events including a debate at the ICA a and a celebration of the 160th Anniversary of the Royal Photographic Society, founded at a meeting held at John Adam Street in 1853.
For me, as a member of the Group and architect running my own practice I am interested in the tension between instrumental and intrinsic intents that makes architecture what it is. At the first FRSA Reboot event I showcased our design for the Jubiloo, a marvellous new public convenience temporarily moored on the historic Thames riverbank, 100m from the London Eye; a dramatic image for a dramatic setting.
As a result, I was able to invite a group of RSA Fellows to experience the Jubiloo, which according to Mary from Manchester was ‘the best toilet I’ve been in’. Fellows heard about the rich historical allusions embodied in the floating barge-like image of the pavilion, admired its flush detailing (automatic of course), whilst also learning of its capacity to turn rainwater into greywater. Although the project was funded by a private company who built and now operates the facility, public funds were contributed by Lambeth as part of its efforts toward landscaping and integration in the public realm. The Jubiloo serves as an amenity for the Jubilee gardens and Queen’s walk, both of which are part of the ‘continuous foyer’ of London’s South Bank, hence the public contribution could be justified on instrumental grounds. The formal and material allusions integral to the design which give the building its intrinsic cultural value interestingly, were paid for by the operating company who felt they would attract more people to use the toilets.
Responses to the Jubiloo have been both instrumental and intrinsic; at the launch, the South Bank Community Choir sang “Up, up and away in my beautiful Jubiloo”. In Summer 2012 a specially convened Jubiloo Shakespeare Company performed Act II Scene 2 Antony & Cleopatra “The barge she sat in, like . . .” remembering the Bard’s sighting of Elizabeth I in her golden vessel on this stretch of the Thames.
Looking back at the activities of the last year, I can truly say that the partnership between the RSA London Region and the Fellows Artists’ Network has given me some highly sought-after opportunities to meet and exchange ideas and experiences with other Fellows. I am looking forward to continuing the conversations with Fellows from around the world in our new Artists Group on the RSA social network and seeing what events we can come up with for the London Region Autumn programme.
What do you say to people when you talk about the RSA? Do you mention a great lecture you’ve seen, a Fellow you’ve met or perhaps share an animate online? It’s easy when you’ve got an example but sometimes when you’re on the spot, it can be difficult to in articulate all the many aspects of the RSA’s work. It’s a multi-layered, multifaceted organisation that is governed from a huge house which can feel like a bit of a labyrinth - so where do you begin?
Here in Fellowship we’re pretty clued up on the benefits of joining the RSA’s 27,000 strong network; we can tell you about the Four Ways to Engage, all the House facilities and how our Regional Programme Managers can help you find like-minded people in your area. But, we also know that when you join an organisation it is important for your commitment to have meaning that goes beyond having a place to meet and free Wi-Fi. You need to have a clear idea about what those four letters – FRSA, represent. There are thousands of organisations out there to join and thousands of worthwhile charitable causes.
What makes us different?
When you join the RSA you join a rich history of enlightened thinking. As the Changemakers handbook demonstrates, the RSA is here to facilitate people thinking differently about social challenges. Back in 1754 when the RSA was founded, the people of Britain were facing the dawn of the industrial revolution; a period that saw great technological advancements and equally, many unforeseen problems.
What is remarkable about the RSA and its Fellows is that they began to find solutions to global problems long before buzz words like social justice and sustainability were on the national political agenda. In 1758, an RSA Fellow suggested providing an award to whomever could devise the best plan for the establishment of a charity house to shelter women whose poverty put them at risk of prostitution. Just under 20 years later, we offered an award for inventions that could reduce smoke emissions.
It is easy to underestimate the importance of having a social space to share ideas.
In 1852, the RSA organised the trial of the first public Water Closets but unfortunately, few people were inclined to use them and the campaign was deemed a failure. The idea was temporarily laid to rest but then dug up many years later and, where would we be today without public lavatories?
Sometimes, planting an idea is enough.
This is how I prefer to explain the RSA’s significance to people who are interested in getting involved. By joining our network you are continuing the history of Fellowship: a group of people who are not only willing to think more broadly than the majority, but who have proven many times over that they have the tenacity to pursue their ideas and turn them into practical solutions for the public good.
Find out more about Fellowship http://www.thersa.org/fellowship
If you already a Fellow but know someone who would be a great addition to the Fellowship, why not nominate them?
Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordinator at the RSA
Sharing is popular again. It’s been 25 years since Harry Enfield mocked 1980s greed and individualism as his Loadsamoney character – a cockney plasterer. Now, a quick and exciting route to riches is promised by the sharing economy. Airbnb, its posterchild, is worth $2.5bn (£1.5bn) and Silicon Valley is buzzing again. Does sharing represent a scalable opportunity for a socially productive economy? This blog grounds the sharing economy in some context, and is followed by Part 2, analysing of who profits from sharing.
Since 2008, our dominant economic and financial structures have come under increased scrutiny, from many directions. Many argue that existing systems have delivered material wealth at great environmental cost, contributing to (or even relying upon) growing inequality at many scales, and that as we get wealthier, wealth is increasingly an ineffective means of delivering well-being. As the public sector started talking about “doing more with less’ and “sweating the assets” politicians and business consistently urged the public back on to the treadmill of buying more stuff a generation of social entrepreneurs said “let’s use what we have better”, and were spurred to develop their own peer-to-peer circuits for production, distribution and consumption. They were driven by objectives which ranged from getting rich themselves to meeting their neighbours to minimising overall consumption, and we now have a carnival of applications which connect individuals to one another to exchange in new ways.
The sharing economy in a tweet: “#whyishare is making MORE, for LESS and with NEW people”.
The sharing economy is how we describe this system which widens access to goods, services, assets and talents, through arrangements of collaborative consumption, a term first applied in 1978 to car-sharing. The sharing economy is a bunch of new ways to connect things that aren’t being used with people who could use them. It often does this through internet-based applications, and therefore does this radically better than previous systems in achieving higher utilisation of the economy’s ‘idling capacity’. According to Professor Clay Shirky, “the world has over a trillion hours a year of free time to commit to shared projects”.
In 2011, the RSA hosted Rachel Botsman and Time magazine said collaborative consumption was one of ten ideas to change the world. Now sharing economy initiatives are squaring up to entrenched businesses, and regulators and tax collectors are becoming interested.
Rachel Botsman defines three types of collaborative consumption: product service systems (like Barclays bikeshare in London and Netflix, where you rent for short periods rather than owning), redistribution markets (like eBay, Freecycle, Gumtree, where you sell or give away unwanted stuff) and collaborative lifestyles (like Landshare, Streetbank, and Couchsurfing), where people swap skills, time and other assets.
Like efforts to build a circular economy the sharing economy often promises environmental efficiency. Reducing waste appeals to our moral sentiment (waste is a feature in two of the seven deadly sins) while sharing means we get access to more, and perhaps put individualistic materialism (the envy and jealousy associated with coveting thy neighbour’s goods) in the back seat. To paraphrase Neal Gorenflo, the idea is that instead of keeping up with the Joneses, we are inspired and enabled to collaborate with the Khan’s, rent our under-used assets to the Cheng’s and get tips from strangers on how to hack, fix and rejuvenate objects at a makerspace with shared tools. We meet new people (online and offline) and make a living in new ways, while using money less, hoping to reverse declining social capital.
Sharing can get really creative: through Waze (which Google just bought for $1bn), drivers share their live data on traffic to help others travel more efficiently. GoGenie shares information about disabled access. Carrotmob organises campaigns for people to vote with their money, giving businesses positive incentives to make sustainable investments. On TaskRabbit, people bid to perform chores and…tasks, while Instacart specialises in matching your shopping list with someone to do your shopping and deliver it to you.
Of course, sharing goes way back. We’ve always been sharing, bartering, lending, gifting, and swapping. Collaboration has been our primary competitive advantage as a species. Before we had money, we had a gift economy – “you owe me one” – rather than a barter economy. Within modern capitalism there have emerged a range of redistributive institutions such as co-operatives (800 million members globally) and credit unions. Good 360 has taken $7bn in corporate donations over the last 30 years and distributed them to charities. We often lose sight of the fact that efficient resource allocation is what the (old) economy is fundamentally driven to do, but often fails. The sharing economy might be best conceived as a system to address market failures in personal consumption; to share market information, lower transaction costs and lower barriers to entry, therefore expanding the market of buyers, sellers, donors and recipients.
In contemporary society, what some have dubbed the core economy – the unpaid care, support and nurturing we provide for one another – structures our lives as much as the monetary economy. Sharing mechanisms have long supported the core economy, through informal networks and more formal institutions: 28,000 people have collectively pooled their skills and support at 300 local Timebanks across the UK, on the basis that an hour of my time is worth an hour of yours, and there is potential for institutions and business to do the same – e.g. Hackney Shares.
We are at a moment of hyperbole, so there is a risk that new tech applications divert our attention from the breadth and heritage of sharing structures in society, and the risks of failure. Many sharing platforms struggle to reaching critical mass in activities which represent a natural monopoly based on a network effect, so efforts are now being made to build infrastructure to consolidate the sharing economy – comparison websites and sector-wide initiatives (…is this meta-sharing?). But the growing consensus is the sharing economy could be as transformative as the industrial revolution; and Natalie Foster says sharing “will be the defining economic story of the 21st century.”
The sharing economy is beginning to look like a panacea: an all-conquering system of innovations which can drive can drive economic growth and social outcomes. It’s more complicated than that, and Part 2 on this blog discusses profiting from a sharing economy.
It’s been a while since my last blog post, and it’s been a busy 6 months for the Partnerships team!
I have been leading on Fellowship partnerships for two years at the RSA (my ‘RSAnniversary’ was in May), and I’ve seen big changes, big challenges and gained insight into the value of the RSA as a convener of networks. My colleague Adam, wrote a great post in February that outlined our general approach to partnerships, which we strive to keep to whilst allowing us flexibility when working with such a range of organisations – my key aim, is to ensure that we can develop collaborative partnerships that use our resources efficiently and can support the charitable objectives of the RSA and the organisation we’re partnering with.
So what have we been doing?
1. Messing around with a new database…
Don’t worry, I’ll keep this brief! Trying to get to grips with a new database is many things, if not challenging. However, with the implementation of this new system of administrative delights, we’re beginning to recognise the exciting possibilities of having all of our partner administration in one place; easily accessible. This will eventually feed into all of the work we do with our Fellows from partner organisations and how we report on the impact our work is having.
2. Forging some new relationships…
Legacy Trust UK: LTUK’s recent report on the impact of Olympic and Paralympic Games on the country’s next generation, was recently launched at a fascinating panel debate held at the RSA, which was hosted by Jonathan Edwards, CBE. You can watch it here.
Following this, we have begun the process of creating a Fellowship partnership, whereby we hope to connect with the present and former programme managers that LTUK has supported across the country. There are some fascinating projects and we hope that Fellowship can further support them through the skills we hold within our networks.
NCVO: As a champion of the UK’s voluntary sector, NCVO provides its 10,000 members with key advice and support for nearly all areas of organisational operation. We met with NCVO to discuss the natural connection between our organisations, and soon recognised this may be an opportunity to make RSA Catalyst support more visible to NCVO’s members. We are also working to discover how RSA Fellows can get involved with NCVO to offer their expertise.
3. Developing our work with existing partners…
Winston Churchill Memorial Trust: The past two years have seen some great developments with our partnership, thanks to key RSA Fellows and staff that have really driven this collaboration. My colleague Vivs, recently wrote about the advising scheme that is bringing RSA and Churchill Fellows together in Wales, East Pennines and the South West (do have a look at her blog).
We are also hoping to do this in an international way too…
The RSA Fellowship extends across the world to more than 80 countries. In many of these countries we have an RSA Connector. RSA Connectors are a new and growing network of RSA Fellows worldwide; acting as a first port-of-call and a ‘friendly face’ for new RSA Fellows who want to find out more and get involved. As part of the RSA’s continuing partnership with the Churchill Trust, we are piloting a facilitated introduction between selected Churchill Fellows with an RSA Connector in the country they are visiting. We hope that this will be a valued connection, and may help Churchill Fellows link up with contacts on their travels that will enrich their research.
UpRising: In January we ran an event to bring together London’s UpRising participants and RSA Fellows, giving them advice from Fellows and making them aware of the expertise and support that the network can offer. The 36 UpRiser’s in London that attended are working on some important Social Action Campaigns: crime, food waste and affordability, education (behaviour management), partnerships and communication, young translators, safeguarding young women, bringing politics to people and housing.
We’re looking forward to running something similar Bedford and Birmingham for the new cohorts this year, as we had some good feedback from the London group:
So what now?
Updating our partner web page, measuring our impact and looking regionally…
Two immediate areas of focus for me, will be to re-vamp our Partner page on the RSA Website, (which will reflect the lessons we’ve learnt over the past few months and give a clear, transparent picture of how we want to work with our partners) and to start along the journey of impact measurement (now that’s a whole different post right there!) It’s easy to get lost in the smog of emails, phone calls and events, without stopping to reflect and explore exactly who is gaining (or losing) from this, and in what way. As yet, reporting on the impact that our work with partners is having for the RSA, and RSA Fellows in particular, isn’t something that we’ve done. However, it has become clear that this is a really key thing to do, not only to for the various stakeholders at the RSA, but also for staff motivation and learning.
I’ve found that some of our most rewarding collaborations exist because our Fellows have connected RSA staff to amazing organisations, and put a huge amount of effort into driving these relationships forward.
For the moment, there will be a few things that I will be focusing upon to draw success stories from our partners. I’m keen to show how existing and new Fellows are benefiting, so story- telling will be just as (if not more) important than the number crunching. Two immediate examples come to mind; firstly, as I mentioned earlier, through our work with WCMT, RSA Fellows that are getting to use their time and expertise to help with Churchill Fellows’ research across the country. Secondly, a relatively new Fellow that joined the RSA through our partnership with the Emerge Venture Lab, Juan Guerra FRSA, was awarded Catalyst Funding and mentoring from the Fellowship Council for his crowdfunding platform, Student Funder. Juan’s project recently made it to the final 10 from 600 entrants to the EU’s Social Innovation Prize.
One continual theme that runs through our partnerships, is the central role that Fellows play to develop these relationships. I’ve found that some of our most rewarding collaborations exist because our Fellows have connected RSA staff to amazing organisations. They also put a huge amount of effort into driving these relationships forward, and I very much look forward to updating you about the regional/national work with partners in the coming months.
Finally, interested in becoming an RSA Fellow or partnering with us?
Then get in contact with me via firstname.lastname@example.org
Jo Painter is the Partnership Development Manager at the RSA.
The Centre for Citizenship and Community, a new collaboration between the RSA, the University of Central Lancashire and the Royal Society for Public Health, was formally launched at the RSA House yesterday. Grounding academic and social research in community practice, the Centre will bring together researchers and practitioners from universities, public bodies, voluntary organisations and business to implement community projects and guide social policy using a Connected Communities approach to social and community networks. The launch consisted of key-note speeches from the Centre’s associates followed by a series of discussion groups held by delegates from numerous professional backgrounds to debate the policy implications of the Centre’s early perspectives.
Co-production: a connected communities approach to social policy
In a plenary speech David Morris, Professor of mental health, inclusion and community at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Centre for Citizenship and Community, spoke about how the Centre will promote a vision of the ‘social value of empowered communities’ being integrated into public policy, with a culture of co-production emerging in public services. He stressed the need for policy makers to recognise the complexity and potential that lies within communities, to build innovations around shared community assets, and to use Connected Communities-inspired research to inform the production of community owned, networked social interventions.
Afterwards, RSA Connected Communities director of research Steve Broome criticised what he described as the standard ‘deficit model’ of viewing communities, which focuses exclusively on their problems rather than their assets and potential. In contrast he demonstrated how social networks approaches help us to understand communities using an ‘attribute model’ which reveals which assets in a community help people interact and support one another. He emphasised the prominent role that public services play in supplying or supporting these community assets, and went on to highlight the danger that ill-considered spending cuts present to social networks when community assets are not mapped or recognised. A forthcoming RSA report will develop these themes further, focusing on the viability of community assets and social networks in the context of government austerity.
Theory into co-produced practice: Murton ‘mams’ and ways to wellbeing
Examples of such projects were presented by Mandy Chivers of Mersey Care NHS Care Trust and Lyndsey Wood of the East Durham Trust. Both organisations are working in partnership with the RSA and UCLan to implement co-produced, network-based community projects based on findings from Connected Communities research. In Liverpool, Mersey Care is training volunteers from the BAME community in the principles of the New Economic Foundation’s ‘five ways to wellbeing’, while in Murton, a former mining town, the East Durham Trust has helped set up a new social group for single mothers called ‘Murton Mams’, in which the activities and programme are led by the members of the group themselves to help combat the widespread isolation among this group that the Connected Communities findings revealed.
Challenges ahead: austerity, tolerated harshness, and championing social networks
Following the introductory talks, attendees split into discussion groups to debate the implications of the presentations for public policy and community practice, and to begin to think about what the Centre can contribute to such debates in the future. Some key points that emerged from these discussions included:
i) The need for the Centre to promote and build the status of social networks in a context in which the very existence of ‘communities’ often seems to be doubted. The evidence base for a networked approach to public and community policy must be vigorously argued.
ii) The need to be conscious of the risk of ‘making a contrivance out of ordinary connection’. Co-production, in other words, must avoid the pitfalls of regularising informal, reciprocal relationships, or exposing what David Halpern has called the ‘hidden wealth’ of communities to overly harsh light where they would be better preserved by remaining hidden. An example given was the ‘spontaneous expression of citizenship’ of a train ticket saleswoman who enjoys smiling at her customers and once decided to give Easter eggs to her regulars; if a statutory system of formalised gift-giving on public transport was initiated, the spontaneity and charm of the exchange would doubtless be compromised.
Other challenges were also discussed. Morris and Broome both highlighted the dangers posed to sometimes fragile networks by austerity, growing inequality, and ‘externally enforced fragmentation’, while it was elsewhere noted that cultural norms are becoming less social, along the lines of what Hugo Young described as a growing ‘tolerated harshness’ in society. Other attendees urged that co-productive services must be genuinely co-produced with public services taking an active role, rather than simply deferring responsibility or ‘outsourcing by another name’.
The mood was on the whole optimistic, however, with numerous attendees stating that they welcomed the opportunity to network and debate issues in this way, and praising the new Centre as a valuable line of communication between community-oriented actors from the academic, public, private, and third sectors.
Based in the School of Social Work at UCLan and the King’s Fund offices in London, the Centre for Citizenship and Community will meet regularly over the coming months and offers organisations dedicated support for community engagement through:
- Strategies and integrated programmes for social and community- based commissioning
- Service development and redesign, based on economic modelling and cost-benefit analysis, organisational, leadership and workforce development
This is backed up by:
- Bespoke programmes of accredited learning and professional development
- Programme evaluation and research evidence.
Its associates will be posting regular updates from varied perspectives on the RSA’s blogging platform; in the meantime, more information on the Centre including contact details can be found on the RSA website. If you would like to be notified when the forthcoming RSA report on the impact of austerity on communities is published, or to be kept informed of the work of the Centre for Citizenship and Community, email email@example.com and request to be added the the RSA Action and Research Centre mail list.
At the RSA I have the opportunity to meet and work with a diverse and motivated group of Fellows. I’m always amazed how they manage to juggle the range of different ideas and enterprises that they are developing. With 27 000 Fellows there are so many stories it can sometimes feel like you can’t see the wood from the trees but today I’d like to tell you a story of Fellows getting together, discussing an opportunity and providing a solution that helped the environment but more importantly a young man called Sam.
Hill Holt Wood lies on the borders of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and is home to an award winning social enterprise. If you get the chance to visit please do, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and always offered a cup of tea. In just over ten years of operation, the enterprise has transformed the woodland from a failing, flooded rhododendron-smothered patch of trees into a thriving broadleaf wood.
The main stay of the enterprise has been as a supplier of alternative education. The woodland provides a developmental resource for excluded or marginalized young people to build skills, confidence and improved prospects. Benefits to the young people and to the woods feed back positively one on another. Kids need the woods to learn and in turn the woods are maintained by kids. So year on year a trickle of woodland converts graduate from Hill Holt Wood who are interested in sustaining woodland and so the story goes on…
The wood itself was privately owned but is now open to the public and community owned and the social enterprise operates from a stunning eco-build that incorporates an eco design team, meeting rooms, and a café.
Salvation Army enterprise manager Steve Coles was looking for a similarly sustainable project in which to invest a small fund of £10,000 donated as a bequest by the Booth family for the purpose of planting trees. Hill Holt Wood seemed ideal and proposed the money be used to support a young person through a horticultural apprenticeship AND plant trees. The long-term on-going gains are obvious.
Sam Welch was 15 years old when he first visited Hill Holt Wood. As part of his school curriculum he attended for a day a week on a junior rangers scheme. He developed an unexpected passion for woodland and went on to attend Riseholm College in Lincoln but when he graduated with Level 2 and 3 qualifications in arborioculture he could not find work in Gainsborough. At this point a Job Centre advisor suggested that he return to Hill Holt Wood as a volunteer on the flexible support fund. Sam proved to be a fantastic volunteer and an obvious candidate for the Salvation Army fund.
The award was given to Hill Holt Wood and they have funded Sam’s on-going apprenticeship in horticulture. He says he has two main goals in life “the biggest one is to get a full time job at Hill Holt Wood which I would love, or work somewhere doing the same sort of job…”
The Fellowship Team are always looking to hear about Fellow led projects. If you know of work that is going on that would benefit from Fellows support and advice please get in touch directly, shout about your work at rsafellowship.com and apply to RSA Catalyst. If that work is based in the East and West Midlands then I’m your first point of contact, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @pickfordrich I love hearing about new ideas especially when they are told over a hot cup of tea and some cake.
One evening last summer, for reasons I can neither adequately remember nor explain, I found myself at the ‘alternative’ 300th birthday party for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in the outdoor courtyard of a former squat in Geneva.
Being neither an expert on Rousseau nor a French speaker, I sat awkwardly through the lengthy speeches from local historians and activists, while an English-speaker patiently filled me in on the history of this cooperative-run apartment block; how it had been earmarked to be bulldozed to make way for a supermarket in the midst of the city’s 1980s housing crisis before being squatted by a band of community activists who had, eventually, secured ownership rights to the building.
Finally the speeches ended, and the party switched to an activity I could understand: eating. Heaps of sausages and vegetable cous-cous appeared as if from nowhere, and people squeezed alongside each other on long picnic tables to tuck in and chat. Any divisions among the group were invisible as private tenants and former squatters alike talked and laughed and kept each other’s glasses filled with cheap red wine. Nobody seemed to object to my presence as an uninvited stranger taking far more than my share of sausages, a greedy Anglo-Saxon unacquainted with their continental and collectivist ways. They explained to me that, while this was a special occasion, they often met as a group to share a meal, and that this ritual fostered the community spirit which enabled them to successfully organise and manage the once dilapidated but now thriving property. I remember feeling a distinct sense of warmth, a convivial and exciting atmosphere as people bonded over the breaking of bread.
This is the kind of scene that Tim Smit, the founder of Cornwall’s Eden Project, has been creating all over this country through his latest brainchild, The Big Lunch. He was at the RSA last night, along with the broadcaster Fi Glover, Linda Quinn from the project’s backer The Big Lottery Fund, and Jonathan Carr-West of the Local Government Information Unit, to discuss what can be learned from The Big Lunch project about community building.
The title for the evening’s event was ‘Where Does Responsibility For Community Lie?’, and this is a question that greatly interests me as a project developer on the RSA’s Connected Communities programme. Is it possible for a third party or an external campaign to help build social capital and encourage a community spirit, or can such feelings only be aroused by people acting independently and spontaneously? Does government have a role in creating the conditions in which communities can flourish? What is the role of business and the third sector? And what the heck do we mean by ‘community’ anyway?
Smit and his co-panelists had much to offer on these subjects and much besides. Smit talked about how food, and the British institution of the Sunday lunch, is a crucial element in encouraging people to gain the confidence to knock on each other’s doors and turn strangers into neighbours. This, in short, is what Smit claims an external project like The Big Lunch can do; in his words it can ‘give people permission’ to overcome shyness and take responsibility to act in the community.
Smit said that he hopes that within ten years the pizzazz of ‘The Big Lunch’ branding and publicity won’t be needed, and that a regular, grassroots ‘neighbours day’ will have outgrown the initial project. But he also sees the potential for something much bigger to emerge out of the initial small-talk that occurs over an outdoor dining table. Especially keen Lunch organisers are invited down to The Eden Project for training as social activists and organisers, and are encouraged to develop the confidence to help mobilise communities in new and potentially radical ways. In the modern context of the traditional, hierarchical modes of centralised politics being seen to be losing relevance and influence, Smit says that ‘the potential for a really powerful social force’ lies among horizontally-organised groups of citizens.
Back in the present, Carr-West was on hand to discuss the impact of The Big Lunch to date, following the publication of his report on the project. Headline figures of 8.5 million participants over four years, with 82% reporting that they felt closer to their neighbours as a result, are remarkable, but some of the more qualitative observations are just as significant. Conversations, he said, weave the fabric of communities and allow people to feel better about themselves while also building social capital. He pointed to evidence that an increase in social capital is good for people’s health, it’s good for the economy, and it helps to lower crime. Furthermore it cannot be monopolised – or cut – by governments as it is held collectively in society. And yet the public sector does have a role, he maintained, in helping to connect community activists with one another to run services, provide social support, and enact change, with local councils especially well-placed to facilitate a kind of ‘connected localism’.
All of this may sound like a lot of lofty talk when placed alongside Big Lunch photographs of people wearing face-paint and cutting Victoria sponge cakes underneath lines of bunting. But the culturally ingrained custom, built up over millennia, of people coming together around food in an atmosphere of sharing, warmth and safety, allows for social connections to form. And as the RSA’s Connected Communities programme helps to show, our social networks go a long way to determining our wellbeing, our employability, our health and our ability to get things done in society. And that is something that my erstwhile dining companions in that housing cooperative in Geneva are living testament to.
Guest Blog from Dharmesh Mistry FRSA
RSA Dialogue serves as a fantastic platform for Fellows outside of London that are looking for ways to engage with the RSA Dharmesh Mistry
Fellows in the North West are always keen to try something new. Their latest initiative is RSA Dialogue, an alternative book club method using articles within the RSA Journal. The Chester Network volunteered to run a pilot which offers a chance to discuss a topic and then, vitally, generate output that can be fed back to the Fellows network. Meeting in March at Chester University, the group debated Can Cities Save Us? by Dr Benjamin Barber from Winter 2012.
The session attracted a diverse group of people from local residents, professionals plus many international students with interests ranging from architecture to students of faith and culture, IT professionals and community organisers. The diversity of the group enriched the conversation.
Some of the key points discussed included
- Cities maybe the largest level of organisation that people can conceptualise and identify with. A resident of a city can easily keep track of how different areas are developing. Even for a small country like England, it is difficult to have the level of insight of different parts of the country. For this reason, cities can foster increased participation and can be more democratic.
- Cities are not immune to the conflicts or ideologies that nations are. Currently, conflicts between nations are visible. Regional cooperation such as the EU would be much less possible with city level organisation.
- In the western world, perhaps in UK only, the current generation is much more likely to self organize and not rely on government to do things. RSA and its Fellowship does and should continue to encourage this. The establishment of cross-discipline networking platforms in cities can make a big contribution here. Is this why the RSA should priorities the establishment of City Chapters as considered by Mathew Taylor is his comment piece for the Winter 2012 Journal.
- The idea of the Parliament of Mayors was initially received with cynicism that it could become another talking shop, however through the conversation opinion moved to seeing the value as a platform to share ideas and practical solutions.
One group voted at the beginning and end on ‘whether cities are better at getting things done than nations.’
Start - Yes:9 No:5 Dont Know:5
End - Yes:9 No:2 Dont Know: 8
This change shows the impact and value of dialogue and hearing the different opinions.
Other questions raised during the Dialogue session were
- What can cities save us from?
- What defines a city? Its people or its infrastructure?
- Would the opinions be much more in favour of cities if this conversation happened in London?
Feedback on the format and approach of RSA Dialogue has been very positive. The session served the purpose of engaging locally based Fellows and taking the ideas of the RSA to a wider group. The second RSA Dialogue will be organised again in Chester following the publication of the Spring 2013 Journal.
Thanks for such an engaging session. Our European colleagues gained a unique insight into the RSA Allan Owens, Chester University
If you are interested in getting involved with the Chester Network or would like to organise your own RSA Dialogue event please contact Dharmesh Mistry for more details
Mental health is a globally pressing issue. Conservative estimates suggest that 400 million people worldwide suffer from various mental illnesses, while the World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 depression will be the world’s leading cause of the burden of disease, with mental health problems already exacting a greater toll than tuberculosis, cancer, or heart disease.
Yet look at this global picture more closely, and to some observers it appears as though this burden might not be spread evenly around the world. With recovery rates for schizophrenia and depression in the USA, UK, and other wealthy countries worse than those in Nigeria, India, and other developing nations, it looks as though the poor world is outperforming the rich when it comes to dealing with some mental disorders.
Theories as to why this may be abound. These range from the perhaps outdated and stereotypical idea that there is a greater tradition of family and community solidarity in economically developing nations, to the social anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann’s theory that a combination of greater stigma and “disgraceful” normative care practices in the West often mean that sufferers of devastating mental disorders like schizophrenia concurrently experience a range of other afflictions – ostracism, homelessness, poverty, substance addiction and a set of humiliating interpersonal experiences that she calls ‘social defeat’.
Last night, in his RSA lecture entitled ‘The Global Mental Health Crisis: What the rich world can learn from the poor’, Professor Vikram Patel of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine offered a slightly different perspective. Focussing on access to care, he gave examples of the relative ingenuity of mental health care practices in countries like India, where he has done extensive work.
There is, he said, no shortage of psychiatric professionals in wealthy Western nations; for example California alone has more psychiatrists than the whole of South Asia. Despite this, some 60% of people with mental illness symptoms in the USA do not access any form of psychiatric care. The UK, even with its free-of-charge National Health Service, only performs slightly better, with 40% of sufferers not seeking or receiving treatment. As explanations for this he pointed to the sometimes alienating, over-complicated professional culture of DSM-influenced approaches to mental illnesses in the West, and the remoteness of psychiatric practitioners to their patients in both lifestyle and outlook as reasons for people not knowing about or feeling they can access services.
By contrast, he presented a model of public health in India that, with limited resources in the form of professionals or pharmaceuticals, utilises lay community health workers to provide collaborative, locally appropriate community-based care. Specially trained lay workers operate under the direction of psychiatric professionals to provide outreach services, ‘psychiatric first aid’, and social interventions based in the home, in a Wellcome Trust-funded controlled trial, documented in a series of documentaries available online.
Back in the UK, the RSA is looking to draw upon a similar approach as part of its Connected Communities project, which seeks to explore ways of building resilient communities in which people’s wellbeing and life satisfaction benefit from social connections with their peers. Working with Nicky Forsythe of Positive Therapy, we shall shortly be launching an innovative Talk For Health peer support programme which will train key members of community networks as lay counsellors, giving them the confidence and knowledge to take the therapists’ skills of empathy, non-judgemental listening, and conversational support out of the doctors’ surgery and into the hands of the community. In Bristol, we’ve just launched an innovative tablet computer app called Social Mirror, which volunteer health champions will use to help people map their social networks and, where necessary, receive suggested social prescriptions. Simultaneously, we are working with Talk To Me London to launch an exciting pilot project in New Cross that seeks to encourage Londoners to engage in conversations with strangers, with participants identified by their ‘Talk To Me’ badges which show that they are friendly and willing to chat. The designers of the project promise that it will “be the most innovative, culture-changing campaign of our times”, so stay tuned for more on that.
With ever-increasing strains on public health and social care budgets, and worrying research that demonstrates links between social isolation and the risk of mental illness and death, it is hoped that we can learn much from Professor Patel and others in the ‘poor world’ who are demonstrating that innovative, ingenious social interventions can help manage the burden of mental illness by supporting connected communities. Keep checking this blog, follow #RSAConnected and @SocialMirrorApp on Twitter, or email email@example.com and ask to join the relevant email lists to keep updated with how this work progresses.