#2 Designed to scale, conversations about meanwhile space, caring and competition, and dictionary stories

1. Designed to scale: mass participation to build resilient neighbourhoods

Civic Systems Lab have been beavering away doing brilliant work in communities for a while now, running experiments on how to help people make a difference where they live. In 2014/2015, they worked in West Norwood, Lambeth, London with Lambeth council to set up The Open Works. The Open Works acted as a prototype and co-created a network of 20 practical projects with 1,000 local people creating new opportunities for sharing knowledge, spaces and equipment; for families to work and play together; for bulk cooking, food growing and tree planting; for trading, making and repairing and for suppers, workshops, incubators and festivals. 
They found that people want to participate regularly in improving their neighbourhoods but there aren’t enough existing opportunities to participate in practical and sociable activities, that build neighbourhoods together as equals, and that fit within the fabric of everyday life. They’ve pulled together all of their learning from The Open Works prototype in the Designed to scale report and have just launched a new project Participatory City to carry on the work.
Civic Systems Lab have been such an inspiration to me around what is possible and doing community work in a different way. They are the people behind the Community Lovers Guides to the Universe and the Compendium for the Civic Economy.

2. Two day conversation

I’ve spent the last couple of days in a two day conversation called Do we need to grow up? hosted by the The NewBridge Project. The Do we need to grow up? project explores artist ecosystems: the models and systems by which we thrive or barely survive. It’s also The NewBridge Project’s 5th birthday. Happy birthday!

We heard from some thought provoking and inspiring organisations that have used temporary spaces or more permanent spaces to make good things happen including The NewBridge Project itself, East Street Arts from Leeds who have been working in and around temporary space since 1993, Grand Union in Birmingham, our own Star and Shadow talking about their history and their future plans on Warwick Street and Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery and their new art spaces using temporary buildings.

We also heard from Kamiel Verschuren about Rotterdam-based Foundation B.a.d who as a group of art students occupied a building for over 20 years but, by working imaginatively with a housing corporation, now own it. He also told us about NAC Foundation, which has taken community asset transfer to new places by taking on an initial 40 houses and developing it for artists, bringing life to an unloved part of Rotterdam. NAC has moved on to other housing projects and disrupting how things are done in their part of the world. The message I took away was to just start something and not wait for permission.

For me, it was important to start the conversation with people outside of NCS (where I’m a trustee) and Broadacre House about empty space and what we can do together to address the problems of empty buildings, shops and houses in Newcastle city centre and its neighbourhoods. I know I’m fed up of seeing empty, wasted spaces, unused and unloved but could be used for art, culture, social action, social change and even just living in. All a way to shape our city and neighbourhoods as a place we want to live, has a richness and value, includes community participation, adds enterprise and builds resilience and sustainability in communities. I think we can do something about it and I think there is appetite (or at least I hope there is) to work together as individuals, organisations and public institutions, bringing our skills, experience, power and assets to make it happen on a bigger scale than in one building or one pop up shop.

3. Out care your competition

Wil Reynolds, founder of search engine optimisation company, SEER, talks about ‘out caring’ your competition. In the short video, he talks about doing work you love, running a ‘heart business’ and even when you lead a business/organisation to keep doing some of the ‘real’ work so you know what is going and can continue to care about customers. This is about knowing the purpose of your organisation and sticking to it. I found this via A person you should know, which is well worth a look. The founder, Josh Spector, says “The concept is simple: Each day I feature one person you should know about and share the reasons why. If you do creative work of any kind, you’ll find yourself better off for knowing them”. And it’s true.

4. And finally…

Dictionary Stories, a project by Jez Burrows, shares very short stories composed entirely of example sentences from the New Oxford American Dictionary with some punctuation thrown in to help it make sense. I found out about this from Austin Kleon

September 2015