Author: Nick Booth

A learning journey to Hastings – or how to but buildings and build community

Sometimes you need to just trust people when they say come on a journey.

That’s what we did when UnLtd (a lab partner) invited us to Hastings for a thunderously damp day-and-a-bit by the sea learning journey. The heavens opened and ideas poured in.

Lorna Prescott, Louise Cannon and Nick Booth spent the day with a range of others who are building place-based community.

We were hosted by Jess Steele and the rest of the team at White Rock Neighbourhood TrustHeart of Hastings Community Land Trust and Jericho Road Solutions in Hastings.

This is Jess explaining the work they’ve done to buy buildings which act as the basis of long term sustainable community and neighbourhoods.

Some notes:

They began with a meanwhile space in the basement of an old office block in Hastings, £200 a month, with the aim of animating a curious alleyway in the town. It turned out that this was a toehold into a neighbourhood they cared about.

Partly because they were already there the landlord approached them to see if they wanted to buy the building — ‘why not?’, they thought. Jess offered nearly half the asking price and, within a few weeks, they owned a 9-floor office block.

We bought this building in 2014 before we’d done a lot of the thinking, this building helped us do the thinking”

Now full of life and living, this developed gradually

 

They began to use the building even as they were refurbishing it, three floors, at first, now all 9 floors are used for a mixture of homes and workspaces.

We wanted to:

Use community freehold — to de-commodify the market. Use the freehold power for social good instead of private profit

explains Jess.

This means that the tenants have a sustainable rent which only rises by the rate of inflation. Tenants are selected thoughtfully:

1 Based on need
2 They have a local connection — this is for Hastings people
3 They have enthusiasm for the ethos of collaboration and self-management
4 They have a willingness to make a personal contribution to the physical and cultural aspects of the neighbourhood.

But the idea has evolved beyond one building. In part through the creation of Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust, they have gone on to buy a huge print works next to rock house and acquire other buildings. The money is raised and the buildings run through an ecosystem of organisations, private, social enterprises and charities, which share an ethos and ambition.

It’s a combined desire to provide affordable living and workspace, resist the pressures of gentrification and nurture a neighbourhood for social good. All for the long term, or rather forever.

Ecosystem

Jess explain that through the ecosystem the boards of the organisations are integrated, they intentionally work to understand each other’s values :

The neighbourhood is the enterprise

Together they tackle the twin challenges of dereliction v gentrification, they take community action “forever “ and Jess tells us “No we won’t wait for the master plan — we don’t accept your master plan”.

“Ownership is a process,” she explains, “it’s not an event. You need different skills and cultures. At one point you have to do the deal at another you need to build different expertise alongside other organisations good at other things — these are alliances based on shared values. “

They call it intentional neighbouring.

Lessons?

This day in Hastings was stimulating, encouraging and energising. Some of their approaches echo many of the principles we are working to at Colab Dudley:

Persistence and Being There matters.

Relationships matter.

Encourage abundance thinking and practice.

Nurture the courage to be curious and experiment.

Default to a doing imperative

Work at the speed of trust.

But above all, I was bowled over by the vigour, the emotional heft and intellectually flexibility that the team is bringing to the ambition to buy and build a neighbourhood for sustainable living, forever.

 

(first published here: https://medium.com/colab-dudley/hastings-community-building-s-a-learning-journey-2a70eac52cf9

Commscamp 2018 – what I heard and what I learnt

These are notes from Commscamp 2018, held in Birmingham 12th July 2018.

Session: Public Health Campaigns

The general view is that public health messages often fall flat.  One public health team not keen on meeting the public, instead they do a leaflet.   Often the message comes better from the GP, not the council.  At one council they have data which says the messages don’t work on our channels.. so we stop doing it.

It is also often “messaging for morons” – often patronising.

How do we have a different conversation with the public?  One always checks messages with real people first.

Health and Wellbeing boards should have their local priorities.  One described putting people in a room to discuss a topic, eg neglect.

Session: Stress and Mental Health

Problem for blue light comms in terms of stress and impact.

The problem of always-on digital comms and the impact of being trolled.

For some public services who receive many online complaints or criticism (for example the courts) means that staff deal with large levels of negativity. One charity offered subscriptions to headspace app and other ways to look after your head.

Find the people at work you can trust and talk to.

Keep the work limits clear, when you stop work stop monitoring social media.

Employers have legal obligations for your health and safety – if you’re expected to work 24/7 or something big happens like the Manchester bomb, the employer is obliged to assess risk and make sure you’re alright.

TRIM Trauma risk incident management happens after major incidents in the blue light services, but comms people don’t always have that option.  Some roles. like family liaison officers, have to have it but comms teams are only just starting to use it.

“I sobbed all the way the home after a suicide – but hadn’t been troubled by anything else in 3 years”

Session: Co-production and engagement

One way to think about this is councils getting out of the way, help support people create spaces where they can connect.

Community reporters collect information and report it back to services. Community information champions. Training on how to offer information.

Some of the best co-production work happens with vulnerable people and personalising what they receive, thinking about the individual. The way to measure the success is through whether the individual feels they have been listened to.

Get real people in and expose them to the management team,  it’s rare

Software building is iterative, not try and fix the services, keep asking, keep changing, keep iterating.

Improve the system, don’t create a fix.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is the loop of generosity?

I often use the phrase ‘loop of generosity’ to describe the good stuff I see happen in communities.  It sits at the root of the most enjoyable work we get to do.

But what is it?

I think it is elegantly described by Terry Pratchett in A Hat Full of Sky:

“Filling what’s empty and emptying what’s full”

Tiffany couldn’t quite work out how Miss Level got paid.  Certainly the basket she carried filled up more than it emptied. They’d walk past a cottage and a woman would come scurrying out with a fresh-baked loaf or a jar of pickles, even though Miss Level hadn’t stopped there.  But they’d spend an hour somewhere else, stitching up the leg of a farmer who’d been careless with an axe, and get a cup of tea and a stale biscuit. It didn’t seem fair.

“Oh, it evens out,’ said Miss Level, as they walked on through the woods. ‘You do what you can, people give what they can. Old Slapwich there with the leg, he’s as mean as a cat, but there’ll be a big cut of beef on my doorstep before the week’s end, you can bet on it. His wife will see to it. And pretty soon people will be killing their pigs for the winter, and I’ll get more brawn, ham, bacon and sausages turning up than a family could eat in a year.”

‘You do? What do you do with all that food?’

‘Store it,” said Miss Level

‘But you -‘

“I store it in other people. It’s amazing what you can store in other people.’ Miss Level laughed at Tiffany’s expression. ‘I mean, I take what I don’t need round to those who don’t have a pig, or who’re going through a bad patch, or who don’t have anyone to remember them.’

‘But that means they’ owe you a favour!’

‘Right! And so it just keeps on going round. It all works out.’

The best public and social services do what is needed and they do their best to do it in collaboration with people.  To recognise that what we are creating together is part of the loop.

At CoLab Dudley – where we’re currently working – everything involves some part of the loop of generosity.  Whether it is a trade school where the learners bring something to say thank you,  a crafting circle that exchanges materials and skills or the pay it forward stash in the Gather Cafe that allows people to receive a drink or food when they can’t pay.  As Miss Level says,’You do what you can, people give what they can”. (even though some are more generous than others).

This generosity is commonly found in the stories we and others captured through the Community Lovers Guides (Birmingham here, full of others who get the loop) and forms the basis of the Participatory City movement Tessy Britton has built out of those who generously told and shared stories.

It is core to organisations like Gateway Family Services and Grapevine Coventry who may be delivering services, but do so with a mind to being generous and creating space for the people they help to close the loop and be generous in turn.

The social media surgeries are an exchange of time and skills, they are a kindness that gets passed on and passed round. It’s through watching those that I first started talking about the loop of generosity.  It has led to more than 5000 small and local charities and community groups receiving help and passing it on.  Generosity can make tangible things happen, at scale.  Indeed, the loop is almost always found in peer to peer programmes.

It is also key to good help.  The sort of support that Nesta and Osca are now encouraging public services to embrace. The sort of help that organisations measure through our Impact App – which records ‘helps”

Primarily though, the loop of generosity is found in people. How they think and feel and act. Not in formal contracts.

It often thrives in community groups and is often broken by large businesses with large contracts.

Why?

I’m not sure.

Perhaps to work it requires kindness and a memory of a kindness. Miss Level’s trust that she can store food in people.

This is recorded in communities but not so well in institutions. In a community, a  kindness is seen as an asset.

To a corporation a kindness might look like a liability. Worse: a memory of a kindness is accounting for a liability! High liabilities lead to a lower share price. If you forget the kindness you lose the liability from your books, but at the same time you break the loop of generosity.

 

Notes from the #Locality17 session on: Community Health and Wellbeing – what works

These are just notes from a session at the Locality Convention 2017.

Meena Bharadwa introduced the session and explained that locality has a place to link real community groups into the academic research on this subject and translate between the two. She briefly reminded us that Community Wellbeing is Complex.

Andy Pennington – University of Liverpool

The point of the programme is to provide state of the art evidence to help allocate resources.  The focus is on people, place and power.  research is being shared here:  https://www.whatworkswellbeing.org

Andy outlined some of the key ways in which issues around the quality of places and power within places can either lead to better or worse community health.

There is so much evidence that decision makers are becoming overwhelmed.

Key things it shows….

1: In the workplace environment (Marmot’s work on civil service) showing that those with more control have better health.  Cardio-vascular heath and life expectancy.  In health institutions those who can share in decision making fare better health wise..

2: In the living environment (in our communities) –  Is there joint decision makaing (by which they mean “the meaningful involvement of people in decisions that affect their environment…”.  Positive outcomes of being involved are..

Depression, self-esteem, sense of mastery

Sense of community, creation of social capital

New skills,  learning, better employment, personal empowerment

Also wider impact for those not directly involved in decision making.  So they also receive the benefits of improving community resources.

Adverse

Psychological strain from being involbed

Some groups are over consulted leading to stress and frustration (although not convinced about methods used for these studies)

David Wilford , Royds Community Association in Bradford

The community Association focuses on getting people into work.   They say they found a lack of investment from CCG’s – they called the residents:  Buttershaw men and Buttershaw women and thought of them as drinking to much and needing fixing.   We studied what people were doing in their communites.  Foudnt hat to get thing going

People needed a little help at the beginning

Proper co-design (not the council working up most of it)

Community anchor orgs featured well (hospitals and GP’;s can be intimidating) – so community centres/setting important

Invited GP’s to decamp from their surgeries and come to local orgs.

So we’re building up social capital around health.  There’s a lot of talk of pooling budgets – but people not willing to put theirs into the pool.

Voluntary sector assets need to be resourced

The money needs to follow the patient into the third sector (as it would to a physiotherapist)

System says VCS are not evidenced, clinical interventions also not evidenced (often)

The voluntary sector needs to steadily and deliberately re-train the public sector rather than hope for a radical change.

We need to convince that the VCS is value for money.

“We drop 10 million pound balls regularly in the NHS – what could the VCS do with £10 million!”.