Category: Community Lovers Guide

A guide to people in Birmingham trying new ways to develop the city

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.


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.


Strategic Doing – has much of the ring of 21st century public service about it

Tessy Britton linked to an article on accelerating civic innovation through “Strategic Doing”.  It reminds me greatly of her/the thinking behind the Civic Foundry she’s running here in Birmingham and will also help me articulate some of the ideas behind a community partnership we’re supporting in Birmingham.  ON top of that it helps define some of the skills 21st Century Public servants will need.  The essence from the article is that doing things is more productive than planning things and that doing works best if you apply these principles…

To quote:

Now consider another really messy challenge: bridging the manufacturing “skills gap.” With the Advancing Manufacturing initiative in Lafayette, Indiana, manufacturers have joined with the community college and local government to strengthen the collaborations needed for more-productive job training. The initiative is now spreading across Indiana.

Craig Lamb, former executive director of the Corporate College at Ivy Tech, Indiana’s community college system, organized a core team to take on the challenge of filling the manufacturing skills gap. Advancing Manufacturing aligns several organizations (the community college, the workforce board, the city, the chamber, employers, and others) into a functioning unit under a single brand.

According to Lamb, “Strategic doing provided the framework for us to find common purpose. We developed a new program without adding any overhead—every resource came from linking and leveraging existing entities’ strengths.” For Lamb, strategic doing integrated simplicity, inclusion, and strategic focus.

This approach formalizes a set of seven factors that correlate with successful strategies we’ve seen in more than 100 communities across the United States—the more effective the strategy, the stronger the correlation. Successful strategies:

  • Build on existing assets

  • Operate with a network organizational structure that connected those assets

  • Use an iterative planning and implementation process

  • Decentralize implementation responsibilities among multiple organizations

  • Move forward with a progression of shorter-term goals

  • Use metrics to learn what works and make adjustments along the way

  • Demonstrate high levels of trust and a readiness for change among the those engaged





#futureshift notes – Pam Warhurst, incredible edible.

Incredible Edible – if you eat you in (reminds me of the New Optimists Food futures here in Birmingham


I missed the beginning so here are some lighter notes.

  • This is not community development – it’s the will to live life differently.
  • We don’t need strategy documents we create propaganda gardens – not guerilla gardens, too aggressive.
  • Do people a favour – don’t ask permission. After we started a garden the council later mowed the lawn and put a bench in.
  • People gradually change the way they work.  Kids would pick cabbages and herbs – they started to sue the gardens first.   They found that people made food from the veg picked from someone’s garden and came back to give them the finished food – a bowl of soup or whatever.
  • Don’t tell us to eat five a day – instead surround every public building with edible plants.
  • Gradually changes behaviour.
  • Scouts created incredible edible badge.
  • Policing – vandalism down because people don’t vandalise food – community relationships improved because a police officer with veg is disarming.
  • If people help themselves to entire bed of potatoes they only do it because they need it – plant more potatoes.
  • The only thing we asked of the job centre could we plug our drill into your electricity – they said no.
  • 57% of local residents are now growing food.
  • We have created vegetable tourism.
  • People can make a better world of the people in power get out of the way.  We set up a farm (without planning permission!).  and
  • Stop being a victim and find a simple way to communicate.
  • People building initiative which used food as a universal langiage.
  • To gte involved go here.
  • Believe in the power of small actions.


#futureshift festival – notes from the day: Maurice Specht

Futureshift is designed to help civic activities and civic good flourish in Birmingham and the Black Country

FutureShift has brought together a powerful mix of spaces, resources and investment for idea development and new initiatives. FutureShift will enable you to become a bigger part of this exciting and important shift towards co-designing society in a more sustainable way, economically, socially and environmentally.

Here are some notes form some of the sessions.

Maurice Specht

Guerrilla knitting going on in Holland – it’s nice but it isn’t going to change the world.  But grannies finest might – it connect design students who have to make products to elderly who are lonely. The students develop their talents and the elderly are less lonely – without money from government.  They wanted to grow – growth means capital.  They want to the bank – who said this is to social. they went ot the government who said you are too commercial.

Mentions communty lover guide.

Desire path’s demonstrate how we want to go – not how the system wants us to move. What if we translate this idea into how we want to organise out society.  The stories in the community lovers guide might be quantitativly small – but point to a qualitative change.

eg Voedseltuin in Rotterdam which grows food for the foodbank.

Government is trying to create pockets of centralised activity – robustness comes from connected local efforts.

Zorgvrijstaat Rotterdam West  connects caring organisation to improve their chances of bidding for public money. is a coalition of citizen initiatives which is now running for electoral office`

Distinction between practicing and rehearsing.  Practicing is what you do on your own. Rehearsing is what you do with a collective – where you learn to work with others.  We need rehearsal space to learn how to work towards learning new ways of organising our society and democracy.

New motto – dare to make.