The Matter of Dreams: 2020–2021

Published in
33 min readDec 8, 2021


“Why are we having a crisis of the imagination in 2020 when our survival depends on our imagination to reimagine and rebuild everything? We’re in a perfect storm of media, politics, austerity; anxiety and trauma, that is causing our imagination to shrink when we need it to expand.”

— Rob Hopkins

This piece was co-authored by members of the CIVIC SQUARE team to coincide with the launch of an open source Dream Library as part of the Department of Dreams work by CIVIC SQUARE. It is a long read and deeper dive that looks back at how the Department of Dreams emerged, its design, early work, tools and reflections on the necessity for imagination infrastructure, casting a look forward to the next steps of the movement. It is primarily focused on the Dream Matter + Department of Dreams work, but also shares a brief wider context, which will be expanded up in more depth in 2022.

Written in November 2021 it reflects our progress, learning and insights at that time. It’s long form nature reflects the breadth we wished to cover as we step forward, following a lack of team capacity in 2020 and 2021 due to the pressures of the pandemic, and the time and space constraints that it put on reflective time, documentation, storytelling and archiving. We are also experimenting with all of our funding applications, reporting and reportage being shared in the open for multiple benefits, prioritising learning and connectivity instead of creating many different forms of the same type of work for different audiences. This was further inspired and encouraged by funders, such as Esmée Fairbairn.

As this is one of the first pieces we are publishing on Medium around the work of CIVIC SQUARE, we have shared some wider context to frame our journey so far. If a long form doesn’t suit how you would like to engage, here are a few shortcuts to key articles and points of interest from the blog, including interactive media:

Dream Library Launch — November 2021
Initial Dept of Dreams Blog — May 2020
Watch Back Re_ Fest Talks — June 2020

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

— Arundhati Roy, The Pandemic is a Portal

An Emerging Context

The transition from Impact Hub Birmingham into CIVIC SQUARE was a deep and intentional one. We knew many of the ingredients that mattered to us, that we needed to step up and into the work ahead, and understood that what lay under the surface systematically had held back the rate of what could happen with the bountiful ideas, work and energy that emerged during our years at IHB. There was a lot to draw from our own learning, dreaming and doing, and also from those before us and our partners and peers but, as a team, we were aware a lot was yet to and needed to emerge around how we would craft this transition theory, and bring it to life in structural, imaginative and everyday ways together. The pandemic, whilst having a deep impact on us all that we are collectively still navigating, did bring this into sharp reality and brought a necessary, intentional and even more rapid focus.

In the midst of a challenging, grief-filled, uncertain and all-hands-on-deck first year as an organisation, we started to understand more clearly every day the material properties of the work ahead in a way and at a rate that we couldn’t possibly have imagined; a process accelerated and experienced at a higher concentration due to the huge pressures, like a diamond forming. From a working hypothesis and vision in crafting the work ahead of CIVIC SQUARE, in our v1 ‘theory of change’, at the end of 2019 we already knew that everything is interconnected, but it became more tangibly clear that there would be no way of separating out the deeply entangled systems that impact one another at a neighbourhood scale. From land to economics, local to global, participation and politics, we were all seeing live why we can’t crudely separate them out or create hierarchies around what is more important and when, nor perfectly predict what leverage point might have the most impact in a system and when.

CIVIC SQUARE Theory of Change v1 (May 2019)

“Leverage points are not intuitive.”

— Donella Meadows

However, it is also true that, in order for us to move forward, work emergently, and give the form, tangibility and experimentation needed, we must create some boundaries and some pathways to understand how to practically organise, craft and iterate the work together. In complex systems it has never been true that we know with certainty, then we act. We first experiment and hypothesise tentatively, with all the tools we have, until we understand the context further and adapt the course of action, following up quickly with what is required next. We began to build on the learning of pioneers such Guilio Quaggiotto and others, focusing on growing portfolios with a range of scales of activities, interventions and experiments across those early layers. Note: In 2022 we will follow up with a series of strategic system organising articles to expand on these ideas further. Subscribing to this Medium channel will notify you of further strategic pieces.

When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system.”

Ilya Prigogine

Through the early development of what a regenerative design system fit for a systems organising might look, feel and behave like by Daniel Blyden and Lou Byng in 2020, we turned a significant corner in being able to distill and describe the range of material properties of the work that we had experienced over the years, but had previously struggled to find language for, due to their interdependence, intangibility and fractal nature. The crafting of this early design philosophy and tools unlocked some language around these ideas for us that has gone on to be incredibly helpful in how we organise and how we deliberate and learn about how we organise, allowing these ideas to be incorporated more easily into our thinking, design and deliberation together across many parts of the work. A very early WIP development of these ideas can be found here.

CIVIC SQUARE: A Compass To Organise v2.5 (2020)

We had begun to find the language of physics and states of matters a helpful metaphor. The v2 ‘theory of change’ started to not simply depict different distinct ‘layers’ of work that could be worked on by different ‘departments’ of an organisation, or different teams, projects, or even portfolios, but instead visualise three properties that we understood needed to be organised around simultaneously, all across the system, all the time. Our mission areas expressed as matters helped convey that they are not separate entities, but simply different forms of the same ‘stuff’, much like water, ice and steam. These states overlap and are interconnected, with repeating patterns of how they are designed in and experienced across different fractal scales. The three intangible properties we needed to nourish, pay attention to, design for, and unpack across all of our work were beginning to swirl into something we could meaningfully exchange and work with, no matter which vantage point we had on the system, without any one displacing the other.

Dark Matter

We make no secret of how we have and continue to be be consistently inspired by the work of Dark Matter Labs in this space. With dark matter thought to account for over 85% of matter in our universe, they had already socialised this language for us, and we knew this property must be honoured through doing beyond single-point projects or objects that are always tangible, and into making visible, redesigning and reimagining the systems they are part of. As Kate Raworth eloquently and regularly shares, even those often deepest hidden and interdependent systems of finance, economics, land and so on were designed, and they can be redesigned. The dark matter, in many ways due to our partners, and pioneers such as Dan Hill and Indy Johar, was a property we began to relate to and develop language for early on, and this was the starting point from which the rest of the matters multiplied.

“The invisible structures responsible for producing the majority of the built objects and world around us. From policy and regulation to finance and data, governance and organisational culture, codes, rules norms, identity and democratic participation — this is all Dark Matter︎.”

Dark Matter Labs

Dream Matter

Whilst understanding, investing, and unpacking the dark matter of large scale system change, we had learned quite deeply through the practice, inspirational movements, imagineers and pioneers that went before us that we must also invest in the dream matter — the artists, writers, designers, dreamers and creative visionaries — those who dare to dream up bold new futures for humanity, and have the capacity to stretch our imaginations further than we ever thought possible. Artists have played, are playing and will play a central role in crafting collective visions that transcend our current reality, and radically illuminate our responsibilities to future generations. This is particularly driven by practices of imagination and identity, and, when woven together with dark matter findings and interventions, has the power to create a supernovae of transformation; the thinking, relating and behaving differently required to usher in a new reality becoming irresistible, and there for all of us build and craft together.

“With these creative ecologies of collective resistance, we experience just that: new combinations of images and stories, music and participation, solidarities and sacrifices, wherein this great transition has already been initiated.”

T. J. Demos

(Everyday Extra)Ordinary Matter

Classical physics helps us to understand that when we look around us, into the sky at night, everything we see; the sun, the moon, distant galaxies, our body, our shoes, are all made of what we call ordinary atomic matter. Ordinary Matter was therefore thought of as what things were made of; the building blocks, but it’s now known that most of what composes its mass actually comes from the interaction energy between the particles each atom is made up of, literally making it more than the sum of its parts. The value is in these connections and bonds and their potential for reactions and relationships; in our case a handy analogy for the public square as not just the physical infrastructure or individual interventions made there themselves, but what this can create the conditions for and what can be created out of those.

“People forge bonds in places that have healthy social infrastructures — not because they set out to build community, but because when people engage in sustained, recurrent interaction, particularly while doing things they enjoy, relationships inevitably grow.”

— Eric Klinenberg, Palaces for the People

It felt incredibly powerful to have language to represent the depth of thinking and feeling needed for the radical redesign, great transition and visibility of systems, data and knowledge, along with the democratisation of tools, spaces and platforms. These matters need to become was is combined in our ordinary everyday spaces, interactions, tangible ideas, practices, and rituals in our neighbourhoods, communities and places. They can be joyful and be experienced as extraordinary in the everyday, but they also need to be woven together to create a kind of new normality with seeming ease; a living, plural, choreographic love letter to the futures we want to see. They are only truly understood through the relationships between them, between us all; at the edges that divide us, but instead could be playgrounds for deep innovation.

How to practically organise and design our work to manifest the everyday tangibility, practice, ritual and form required for these matters to show up at every scale is the key challenge ahead. The rate of learning has been almost impossible to keep up with recording or sharing throughout the last few years due to its abundance and variety, but we are bringing with us a deep-rooted belief that we have an infinite capacity to dream, make, and redesign a transition joyfully, collectively and equitably. This isn’t to create an easy or over simplistic line between global and local practice, as we are deeply entangled and require a planetary consciousness, but to retain that the work, ideas, and practice also need an everyday neighbourhood participatory tangibility, form, momentum, collective and iterative practice from which wider factors can be seen and understood from, and related back to.

“To be truly visionary we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.”

— bell hooks

It wasn’t that this means of expression was so radically different to the layers we set out in the early vision, but it was about continuing to go beyond the focus of any one of them, particularly the tangible building positioned at the centre, that can often be seen as the dominant focus in and of itself. To further complicate things, we quickly realised that none of the layers show up individually in some of the ways we may have imagined. This meant that by trying to simplify or categorise things too much as our team grew, even by matters, we were at risk of losing what had made us who we were.

When we began organising all of our work around the principle that every single thing we touch, commit to, invest in and design should incorporate dream, dark and ordinary matter components, this meant coming together in assemblages of different skills, passions and vantage points across our ecosystem of practice rather than fixed roles we always play. The main thing we found that was important to distinguish was where an intervention was starting from, and where the energy for it was. What might begin over a coffee in the park at The Front Room, could be seen as a noble everyday exchange and a safe early easy entry point to unlocking our dreams and deep change in our places; ordinary matter leading us into the dream and dark. Or, if it’s redesigning the dark matter of large scale entrenched economic and finance systems, to also acknowledge the role of (re)imagination and (re)humanisation of these systems beyond current limitations, as well as create elegant processes, useful tools, highly communicative practices to serve and unlock what matters, every day.

Previously, a lot of what had featured and was bought together in our work over the last decade had been hard to describe and thus written off as a ‘black swan’ project; irreplicable without this exact group of people in this exact context and with acrobatic heroics required. Instead, we can now talk about the design factors that were showing up and that we have learnt are all as important as one another, and we believe are not the only factors of deep change, but will highly likely feature in the work of others, and certainly do for our collective endeavours time and time again. Note: In 2022 we will be sharing a large range of portfolio and project work to exemplify this further. For now, this is best experienced in our emerging Neighbourhood Doughnut portfolio.

The DESIGN MATTERS system has been one influence deeply informing how we go on to organise, and build just enough structure in the team, governance and system. Note: This is to be discussed further in the future open Medium series, and briefly below in the tools section, as we share our year-long Block Party design-led regenerative organisation development work, inspired by Dark Matter Labs‘Beyond The Rules’ work.

Surfacing The Dream Matter

“Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever manoeuvres and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us.”

— Robin D.G. Kelley



  1. a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations
  2. a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal



  1. physical substance in general, as distinct from mind and spirit; (in physics) that which occupies space and possesses rest mass, especially as distinct from energy. “the structure and properties of matter”
  2. a subject or situation under consideration.
    “a great deal of work was done on this matter”


  1. be important or significant.
    “your ideas matter”

In 2020, as our global systems began to buckle under the mounting cascade of crises, the visibility of their interconnected nature and how this shows up in our everyday lives became clearer and more implicitly real to more people. Across our shared communities the Dream Matter, the imagination, the need to think, dream, and imagine beyond our current reality was desperately needed. We saw from our own work and many others the deep yearning for these ideas and experiences urgently, yet this work was, of course, not new or original to 2020. For centuries radical imagineers have been bringing us to this very moment through crafting, organising, resistance and revolution.

“The ancestors remind us, despite the history of pain, we are a going=on people who will rise again, and still we rise!”

— Maya Angelou

For us, the momentum, organising, deep resilience, and imagination that surfaced during some of the most difficult years in our living memory was a deep reminder of the work, collectivity and abundance we will need to tap into over the coming years.

Here we share some of the highlights of the last few years in this space; the crafting, tools and organising that deeply inspired and enabled our thinking and practice, culminating into what we and many believe is the soil from which to grow the transformative infrastructure required in these times.

Olivia Oldham describes this further in the Imagination Infrastructuring vision as: “The imagination is defined by Yusoff & Gabrys (2011) as a way “of seeing, sensing, thinking, dreaming” that creates “the conditions for material interventions in, and political sensibilities of the world.” It is a “site of interplay between the material and the perceptual — a site for framing, contesting, bringing into being. Imagination is thus a transformative practice, which has the capacity to cultivate and foster alternatives to social, political, cultural and economic conditions; it is a prerequisite for changing the world for the better.”

The word regenerative in its simplest definition means to give more life, and we would like to give a humble nod to those whose work has literally and metaphorically breathed more life into us at CIVIC SQUARE, and the wider emerging field. Our open Dream Library contains work by all of these amazing peers, along with further reading and inspiration for you to tap into at any time, that we would love to invite more recommendations for on an ongoing basis, as we are by no means limited to our curation, and are only in the earliest stages of compiling open resources for regenerative futures.

  • Interdependence Festival
    Farzana Khan, Lena Mohamed + Thirty Percy
    A two day festival rooted in listening, learning, visioning and action in “Climate Just” Futures, centering the solutions and strategies of black, brown, lived-experience leaders, thinkers, innovators, activists and artists working on Climate Justice from a systemic and frontline positioning. The festival, through decolonial climate framing, will explore interconnecting issues including the Hostile Environment, Youth Violence, Energy Democracy, Housing, Artwashing and Land Reparations. It celebrated the long standing commitment toward sustainable futures for all through workshops, film, music, art, talks, breakouts and play.
  • The Spatial Imagination
    Channeling the abundance of ideas, passion, excitement and work of those at the intersection of art, culture, design and spatial practice, curated and brought together by artist, spatial practitioner and pioneer Amahra Spence.
  • Emerging Futures Fund and Imagination Infrastructuring
    Cassie Robinson + The National Lottery Community Fund
    When the term field building first started to come into our everyday consciousness as a practice, again for many of us at then Impact Hub Birmingham, it gave language to and made tangible a crucial deep intentional rigorous and often incredibly difficult and lonely craft. Cassie Robinson talks about this further here. In 2020 + 2021, we saw from a range of funders and pioneers in the space build on many years of development, and rapidly field build and invest into the everyday space of imagination, dreams and futures. A stand out example that we and many incredible often overlooked peers were supported and platformed by was the Emerging Futures Fund, and Imagination Infrastructuring vision and curation.
  • More Than Human Futures
    A field guide and vision by Anab Jain that can help us move towards the practice of a more-than-human politics.
  • Radicle Civics
    Dark Matter Labs
    Radicle Civics aims to explore alternative approaches for organising the future, focusing on pathways which encourage distributed agency and participation from a super-diverse public to challenge concentrations of power and responsibility.
  • Imagination Sundial
    Rob Shorter
    The Imagination Sundial is a design tool for those who wish to intentionally cultivate the collective imaginative capacity of people, organisations or nations towards the safe and just space of the Doughnut.
  • Time Rebels
    CoLab Dudley
    A growing movement of time rebels, experimenting live in the heart of Dudley, UK what it means to be a good ancestor, inspired by the work of Long Time fellow Roman Krznaric.
    Moving beyond pure imagination, which can stay as simple a fantasy, into a portfolio of experimentation. Imagine, Experiment, Repeat.
  • From What Is To What If
    Rob Hopkins
    Starting from a powerful book, that practically enables us to imagine beyond what currently is, and ask what if? Now an international best seller, a practical dreaming tool for communities, an inspiring podcast and more.
  • Angie Tangarae
    Powerful practice from Aotearoa, NZ by Angie Tangarae sitting at the intersection of design and Mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge systems), indigenising their work, to create spaces open enough to practice alternative ways of being in the aftermath of the effects of colonisation.

“You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”

— Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

Department of Dreams 2020 + 2021

“We have to connect our imaginaries of preferred urban futures to experimentation in the here and now. What really matters is the evolutionary potential of the present rather than waiting for some cognitive consensus of the future.”

— Mark Swilling, Imagining Urban Futures

For us at CIVIC SQUARE, one of the first pivots as we started to re-organise during the early pandemic was to deeply invest in how the dream matter was showing up in our work, crafting the early first version of the Department of Dreams, described more deeply at the time here. All across our movements amidst grief, loss, inequity, injustice, isolation, and the structural erosion of trust in our governance, societal imagination, vision and hope, pioneering imagineers across the world helped to light ways forward, through the darkness and uncertainty. In the next section of this long read, we share progress from the last 18 months, tools, and early insights from the first forms of organising of our Department of Dreams portfolio.

In April 2020, we co-invested as a whole team into bringing the Department of Dreams to life, intuitively feeling it was the right role for us to step into during the very early days of the pandemic. The design strategy for Department of Dreams drew upon regenerative principles, taking inspiration from nature, and a plurality of portals to possible future and creative experimentation. Across the UK there was a wider conversation developing more intentionally around regenerative futures. We identified 4 interconnected elements of Department of Dreams’ work to be dreaming, imagination, foresight and identity, to be explored over the next decade, and shared this sensemaking in the open to connect with those interested in how these facets overlap, and those who were able to invest in this work across the UK at this crucial time. We began to think about what the internal role of Department of Dreams might look like in our organisation, particularly around the importance of investing in team dreaming (the capacity of team to radically reimagine, whilst working in the everyday practice), and to not feel too boxed in by our identified portfolios of practice and how we design to keep thinking expansively. This went on to inform a deep governance reimagination and design process, which we will share thoroughly in an open series in early 2022.

“The courage it takes to have a dream is the actual freedom of it all.”

Jason Reynolds

Re_ Festival

Taking place Wednesday 17th June — Monday 22nd June 2020, Re_ came together into an online festival with over 2000+ registrants joining us for over 60 sessions with 100 speakers. Across 6 days, we explored multiple realities and futures together through a many and varied collection of talks, conversations, workshops and creative interventions of all kinds, featuring a whole host of Birmingham legends alongside international speakers and practitioners who inspire us.

Re_ Provocation Blog—May 2020
Re_Festival—June 2020
Re_ Play: Re_ Festival Videos — June 2020

The festival provocation leaned deeply into the plurality of truths, the cascading and entangled nature of the crisis, and the multiple realities and experiences of the time. Many of us were curating, operating, designing and hosting through grief and tragedy of our own, here and at home without our families across the world, but it was at the heart of this; from the might of mutual aid to the deep structural contradictions, that we deeply knew that all we needed was within us, around us, and it was in this interdependence that the true beauty, possibility and hope lay.

The festival curation itself spoke to the early ideas around the dark, dream and ordinary matters being true at a fractal scale. It sought to put many practices, starting points, experiences, world views, geographies, forms of practice, and ideas alongside one another as peers, rather than as a hierarchical system of perceived scales of impact. From a neighbourhood street corner to entire structural system redesign, we started to feel and experience that, rather than a strict definition of futures, imagination, or dream work, it was something much deeper these unlikely allies shared; a powerful belief in abundant, equitable, just, joyful futures that were in our hands to re-imagine, and that this would be a collective endeavour that needed to be much deeper and longer term than the time any one of us on earth can give.

The festival happened in the days following the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter uprising that followed. With the backdrop of the pandemic, divisive leadership, and the scale of our global interconnectedness and injustice felt and seen all around, the urgency, grief and necessity was palpable, with many people deeply grateful for the space to imagine beyond all of this, but not through ignoring the structural drivers.

The entire festival was recorded and is available here.

As a team, the hyperlocal reality and global interdependence, pain and joy, hope and loss allowed us early glimpses of the futures ahead of us as a planet if we were to be honest with our current trajectory, take the scale of the crises ahead seriously and genuinely build the conditions to be able to step up and change course.

As the Summer emerged, ​​the reality of the scale of stimulus, uplift and active investment that would be required by the wider sector in light of the millions who would fall through the gaps of the government support schemes became increasingly clear. A whole distributed network of organisations became anchors to onward grant, creatively support, and re-distribute funds, from MAIA’s Freedom Fund, initiatives by Ubele, Resourcing Racial Justice and many more stepping up together. More than a year on, it is now possible to reflect a little more on the scale of leadership, tenacity and resilience this took for many of those caring for their own families, pivoting their own organisation and rapidly learning how to be anchors for their communities. We probably aren’t really yet able to see and more openly understand the impact much of this has had on those who were and have been stewarding so much, but we certainly feel a deep debt of gratitude to everyone who did at all scales, from emergency food parcels to fuelling our collective dreams for what might come next. We joined the organising as a team by bringing together two funds, described below.

Re_ Collective

Working with Mark Norbury and Denise Ramsey from UnLtd in April 2020, prior to any of the large funds being bought together, UnLtd supported 2 cohorts of pioneering social entrepreneurs embedded in the heart of communities across the UK to be able to be proximate, resilient and stay on their feet.

As part of this, we focused on bringing together some of the brightest, boldest, most rooted leaders doing crucial work at their heart of their places, whilst radically reimagining the future. Follow their work and continue to invest, platform, connect and resource these leaders.

Aliyah Hasinah

Andre Anderson
Freedom & Balance

Andre Reid

Back To Brum Books

Cass HM

Lisa Lucy Gakunga

Melz Owusu

Sam Ewell

Sofia Niazi

Suriya Aisha

Tobi Kyeremateng

We were also grateful to join programmes like Tools For The Regenerative Renaissance, sit alongside inspiring panels and develop this Emerging Futures Fund Toolkit together with Resolve Collective.

Dream Fund + Launching The Dream Library

June 2020 saw the development and launch of our first round of the Dream Fund, inviting ideas to unlock and resource the bold, creative, regenerative dreams that are inside us and move them into the everyday consciousness of many. We felt this was important in direct relationship to Re_ Festival to think about how people could distribute and help the ideas and themes raised in the festival to travel and be felt in practical projects, creative interventions and tested in different contexts, with learnings to be gathered back and shared in the open as part of an online Dream Library.

In the unique circumstances in particular, it was our priority to get funds to a range of incredible practitioners at the fringes of support across the immediate and longer term, because we know these visions for the future we want to see must be plural, and actively challenge who, by circumstance, time and privilege, are resourced to dream for themselves, their communities and more broadly. The first and second rounds of the fund saw a combined total of £93,234.00 distributed to 82 recipients, supported by Thirty Percy, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, and TNLCF Emerging Futures Fund.

As part of the ongoing re-imagining governance work which we have been developing with partners, that will be shared in early 2022, we were deeply aware, even at this critical stage where time was of the essence, that it was very important to experiment with how to best reflect the vision of the work into the operations, processes and governance of administering the fund, from applications, invitations to commission and payment processes, to human(e) communication and a mutual gathering of learnings and findings. We know that how we start is how we continue, and so often our processes can be severed from the futures we are trying to nurture and usher in due to pressures and a need to act quickly.

We have linked some of the v1 tools, processes, applications and contracts below, and early reflections can be found in more detail on as part of the Dream Library here, and this is an open invitation to download, hack, improve, use, and feedback your thoughts on where we keep pushing further into imaginative, regenerative and accessible systems that allow for accountability in our current systems and freedom as we transition into more equitable ones.

Dream Fund Application Form v1June 2020
Dream Fund Invitation To Commission v1 August 2020
Acceptance Of Commission Form v1 August 2020
Dream Fund Invoice Template v1August 2020
Dream Fund Notion Portal v1June 2021

We were humbled by the feedback from those who have been part of the Dream Fund process so far, and can’t wait to honour these principles even more deeply in 2022 and put the countless learnings into practice from the first two rounds, and share our iterations in more detail as we go.

“It felt like I was a person and not just a number. That the person I dealt with really got it, they understood what I was trying to do. They were straightforward and brilliant to deal with.”

“I loved the positivity, openness, willingness to trust and explore new boundary pushing ideas, freedom and lack of ‘measurement’ or ROI.”

“The Dream Fund application was very accessible and different to any other grant funding I have applied to. Being part of a Slack group has been a helpful insight into other grantees commissions, shared research, and project updates.”

“The questions were laid back, open and allowed you to speak honestly about the work. It didn’t feel intrusive, or like you had to prove the deficit — it allowed the work to speak for itself, with power. It felt more human than other funders and less intense.”

The interventions by the first two rounds of Dream Fund imagineers are now either live or being prepared to be shared on our growing open Dream Library platform, which will be added to and maintained for the long term with contributions and learnings.

The idea behind the Dream Library was to draw together a range of existing references, contributions, and new materials from throughout Department of Dreams festivals and commissions, as the beginnings of a shared galaxy of knowledge, inspiration, questions and practical ideas around regenerative futures to be hosted online for anyone to make use of and contribute to.

“There’s a term you don’t hear these days, one you used to hear all the time when Carnegie branches opened: ‘Palaces for the People’. The library really is a palace. It bestows nobility on people who can’t otherwise afford a shred of it. People need to have nobility and dignity in their lives. And, you know, they need other people to recognise it in them too.”

Andrew (Librarian), Palaces for the People

Whilst a very early prototype at the moment, we are interested in continuing the rich civic role and history of libraries in our work, and joining movements of people across the world applying their principles of free public access, systems to organise and care for things of many different kinds, their role in civic life and in archiving our stories and findings for future generations, in ways that also reimagine this for the contexts we find ourselves in. Whilst a complicated man, Carnegie’s investment into 1,689 libraries over a 25 year period in the early 1900s saw a significant influx of civic institutions at the heart of communities to democratise knowledge through increased access to tools and resources, and that intervention being both widely felt and largely invisible demonstrates why it is imperative our own generations ask how large scale investments can democratise information at a time of deep change and transition.

Research + Development Work

Finally, as we begin to close the reflections and sharing of the last 2 years, the multiple lockdowns and the fluidity of organising in uncertainty and huge delays to many parts of our work, whilst creating deep pressures, allowed us to invest in research, development and experimentation at multiple scales of the Dream Matter of the work, as well as learn more about how our work intersects across the different scales and types of organising. 2022 will see much of the work come to life in place, and below we share some of the emerging learning, questions and plans as an invitation to join the movement of work. It is, without a doubt, the space to develop this work more deeply, more flexibility and openness around funding, enabling us to start to see connections across the work in ways we could never have previously imagined.

  • Re-Imagine The Street
    What does it mean to reimagine, and transition our homes, streets and neighbourhoods during a deep and urgent climate crisis at all scales? As households, generations and our partners at Dark Matter Labs unite here in Ladywood, we begin to unpack the everyday participatory movements, the reimagination of governance systems from individual responsibility to neighbourhood and street based institutions for the future, and rewire capital to equitably steward this transition. Whilst much of this development started with unpacking the dark matter of systems and the need to make visible the invisible, as we move into 2022 galvanising an imaginative, convivial, joyful everyday movement will be at the heart of ‘building back better’.
  • Unlocking Small Sites of Land
    We must reimagine the possibility from dormant sites as a cost to councils to upkeep, unviable for large developers but ripe for community stewarded housing, growing, play, respite and more. As well, there is a deep possibility to make real distributed manufacturing possible for thousands of people. Neighbourhood developers and supply chains for zero carbon housing at the neighbourhood scale will be important as we move into 2022. We will bring forward an ambitious vision for how we reimagine our neighbourhood infrastructure as micro factories and platforms for a range of land, retrofit, community house and green jobs experiments with Dark Matter Labs, Open Systems Lab and Architecture 00.
  • The Heart Of Reimagining Economic Possibility
    We have nurtured an ambitious neighbourhood movement of renegade economists through the work of the Neighbourhood Doughnut portfolio in collaboration with Doughnut Economics Action Lab. Over the last few months we have been understanding more about how our dreams, imagination and futures practice intersects with this work from play, creativity, artistry and indigenous wisdom. Note: In the coming weeks we will share another deep dive Medium post into this work so far, but for now join us live at
  • “In Order To Remake The World, We Must Remake Ourselves”
    — Indy Johar
    How do the conditions, resources, confidence, tools, practices, rhythms to dream, radically reimagine show up in the way we design the organisation? We began early experiments of team dreaming budgets, team dreaming weeks, remaking our contracts, iterative job roles, and team of teams organising structures in 2021, alongside the incredible Dark Matter LabsBeyond The Rules project. In 2022, we would love to work with many more radically redesigning at pace, whilst holding the tensions of the existing system, hospicing the old, and creating the space for the new. We invite you to read the latest from the Beyond the Rules for a taster of some of what this means.

We were able to design the roles for the new Dream Matter / Department of Dreams assemblage(s), and welcomed 4 new team members to drive this portfolio forward, learning the difficulty and balance of navigating our existing systems of recruitment, whilst designing open expansive roles for this work. We will be reflecting more on this with the team in the new year about whether it is truly possible to recruit for this kind of heart work, and how to work as blended matters to keep finding connections across the system.

Intentions for 2022

Dream Fund Round III

A Ladywood and Birmingham specific third round of the Dream Fund will launch in early Spring 2022, investing in the regenerative dreams, practices, organising, artistry and more.

Dream Collective

We will be launching a new 12 month programme and stipend for pioneering neighbourhood regenerative futurists, imagineers, and dreamers from across Birmingham.

Re_ Fest II

A neighbourhood-wide summer neighbourhood futures festival (in person — we hope), based in Birmingham, UK.

Dream Organising

Much of 2022 involved a deep redesign of every possible practice you can imagine as part of growing a new phase of the team, from structures to recruitment, contracts, financial systems and human(e) resources. You name it, we started to tackle it head on. We are particularly excited to share this work, as we have learned from our partners at Dark Matter Labs its invisible power to shape everything that it underpins. This, whilst it might not immediately feel obvious, is a huge practice of reimagination, remaking, and deeply tapping into our dreams of what might be possible.

As we move into 2022 we will continue to share, invite, recap and report back on Medium and through our emerging open Notion zone, intending to take next practical design steps required to move into more reflective, honest sharing of the ideas, propositions, progress, tensions, contradictions, challenges and more in the open. So, if you are reading, let us know: what do you want to know more about? What questions do you have? What tools are useful, what more would make them more useful?

Pioneering Funders + Field Builders

Of all the tragedy, crisis and strain the last 2 years have brought to our doorsteps, and the quite despicable failures of national governance and trust in our political institutions, one phenomenon that we have experienced as a deeply positive and visionary movement was the way funders organised, became proximate, imaginative, mutual partners in the crisis and deeply trusting those proximate to communities all over the country. A caveat here is that prior to 2020 we were a revenue generating organisation, and had very little experience of live funding relationships, and thus perhaps don’t have the fullest comparison, however our experience of the collaboration, communication, flexibility, trust has been inspiring. A deep debt of gratitude to TNLCF, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Thirty Percy, UnLtd and Esmée Fairbairn for resourcing and supporting the last two years of work and continuing that commitment, and Lankelly Chase for investing in the next phase of the Department of Dreams.

From field building and creative cohorts such as the Emerging Futures Fund by Cassie Robinson and TNLCF, to the velocity of capital that was moving to communities at pace with trust across the funding sector during 2020 and 2021, a deeper question remains for us, for the wider movement, and societal infrastructures and platforms to support this work at scale.

What happens now?

The impacts of our collective crisis will hit us harder and faster over the next 2 decades. Many agree we have missed the chance to keep global temperature increases down to 1.5, perhaps, 2 or 2.5 degrees, even with urgent radical global action. Now is the time to invest boldly across all scales, from households, to neighbourhoods and cities; from land systems, to finance systems; for everyday organising to mutual aid. The infrastructure, resources, tools, and capacity to reimagine need large scale sustained investment. It feels like things are slowing down, the radical imagination of the institutions and what feels possible is waning again; pioneers are struggling to keep momentum; organisers are exhausted — so what next?

As a start, we invite funders to continue to invest in those featured in the Dream Library, cohorts such as the Re_ Collective and Emerging Futures Fund generously and ambitiously, share agency, resources, power, skills, unrestricted and for the long term, as a minimum. Ask them who they would want you to resource in their ecosystems, invest in them quickly, and simultaneously commit to the the deep work on infrastructure building as peers with those doing the work within systems, reimagining them at a planetary scale, or an everyday. Invest not as a means to co-opt the work, or bring it so far into mainstream discourse that the radical organising and imagination is squashed, not to add to your diversity quota. Don’t use excuses, such as the scale of funding required is so large, and your means are not as extensive. This might be true, but quite simply we all have to do everything we can, as quickly, equitably and ambitiously as we can to gather the resource, redistribute it, to fuel the Dream Matter and Imagination Infrastructure of society urgently. To give this generation the most confidence, resource, collective support, space and time to devote their lives to the work to divert the current trajectory, to reimagine and redesign our systems, our neighbourhood, streets, lives, and futures we need a scale of ambition, imagination, resource to expand the possible and necessary, to resource a distributed movement of pioneers working towards joyful, propositional, collective, visions of the future in safe and just space for humanity.

Like we shared in April 2020, Yuval Harari poses two important choices, that we will make consciously or unconsciously through the decisions taken next:

“The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment.
The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”

We won’t be able to organise in entangled interdependent systems, with everyday tangibility and a global planetary consciousness from centralised top down strategies; UK funders won’t be able to do this alone, however it is absolutely necessary that they don’t step away as the initial crises lessens, and instead step up more than ever.

“The pandemic marks the end of an era and the beginning of another — one whose harshness must be mitigated by a spirit of generosity. An artist hunched over her sewing machine, a young person delivering groceries on his bicycle, a nurse suiting up for the ICU, a doctor heading to the Navajo nation, a graduate student hip-deep in Pyramid Lake catching trout for elders, a programmer setting up a website to organise a community: the work is underway. It can be the basis for the future, if we can recognise the value of these urges and actions, recognise that things can and must change profoundly, and if we can tell other stories about who we are, what we want and what is possible.”

— Rebecca Solnit, The Way We Get Through This Is Together

We also know the effect that Arundhati Roy’s powerful storytelling had on us all through The Pandemic Is A Portal is one we must not lose sight of, as it is with stories that move us, that make us feel, imagine and believe, that we have the capacity to change, and shape the narrative of ourselves as a society; a species, by doing so, changing the course of our future history.

What stories do we want to write together in 2022, and how will we tell them? What narratives will we hold onto about ourselves, and which will we leave behind, as we go forward lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world, and ready to fight for it” together?

‘To enact a paradigm shift in fundamental values — one that may take generations to accomplish, but that begins with the resources of past struggles as set within the emergency conditions of the present — will take nothing less than the building of entirely different cultures. With these creative ecologies of collective resistance, we experience just that: new combinations of images and stories, music and participation, solidarities and sacrifices, wherein this great transition has already been initiated. Now is the time to push it further and advance it into common sense, so that it can empower diverse allies and would-be participants to transform the world as we know it.”

— T. J. Demos, The Great Transition: The Arts and Radical System Change

#DeptofDreams #DreamMatter #CIVICSQUARE #Imagination #Infrastructure




Demonstrating neighbourhood-scale civic infrastructure for social + ecological transition, together with many people + partners in Ladywood, Birmingham