Some thoughts on Best City outcomes

The only test of 'best city' is not a position in a league table, but some very personal answers to a complex set of questions, which may include.... Is this the 'best city' for me and my loved ones? Is this the best place for me to make a life of fulfilment, dignity and pride? Will I find people that are willing to challenge and support me with compassion? Will I find opportunities to be stimulated, provoked and changed? Will I find it possible to connect with others with whom I share a common cause? Will I find the space and support to do my best work? Will I find myself in a political, social and cultural system that accepts my values and beliefs? Will it encourage the production of goods and services necessary for a becoming existence or will it do almost anything in pursuit of growth? Will it respect and nurture micro-enterprise, sole traders, makers, community groups and individual activists as much as it 'establishes proactive relationships' with 'large corporate employers'? Is this a place where I can help to shape a better future for my children and theirs? What kind of 'city development' processes would be necessary to allow the majority of us to be able to answer most of these … [Read more...]

Dismantling Barriers to Engagement

Engagement, co-creation, co-production consultation, and membership development all are high on the list of priorities for many.  Yet it can feel like an uphill battle to get beyond the usual suspects to establish a genuine engagement with the community. Are we beset by a tide of apathy? Or a complex web of cultural barriers that amount to intentional exclusion? Either way - what can we do personally and collectively to overcome these barriers to engagement and participation? To reduce them, undermine them, clamber over them? Is it possible to be disengaged - or are we just engaged in other things, with other folk?  Do we label people apathetic as a way of avoiding a real inspection of our own work? Apathy historically means 'free from pain'.  To what extent are choices not to engage sensible means of avoiding pain, disappointment and failure? How often is the 'engagement' that we are offered really in our own interest?  Or is it often more serving policy makers and service providers. Whether you are on 'the outside looking in', or on the inside, wondering why we don't engage... let's start looking for clues... I would welcome your comments, … [Read more...]

Working In Community Development Today…

Wheeler Hall in Leeds was packed for this conference, as busy as I have ever seen it, which I think reflects a couple of trends: the increasing interest of funders and policy makers in using community development to achieve their policy goals an increasing need to turn to our fellow citizens to tackle the small and big challenges in life as the impotence of governments becomes increasingly apparent. The conference opened with John Low from JRF providing a retrospective of his 40 year career in community development spanning major periods of work in Halton Moor, then Wrexham and finally Bradford, with an emphasis on highlighting strengths and weaknesses in different approaches to community development and importantly lessons that had been learned.  I am not attempting here to report what the various speakers actually said, as much as the thoughts that they triggered in my head with their words. John was attracted to community development because it seemed to offer a means of rebellion against his middle class up-bringing Work on Halton Moor, good though it was showed how the issues that caused poverty on the estate were not caused by anything on the estate.  The causes of poverty were not the poor or the … [Read more...]

Making Progress Through Austerity

There can be little doubt that these are relatively tough times in the UK, and the minds of many are focussed on how best to make progress when it feels like everything is being cut. But most of those who are thinking about it are the professionals, who control budgets for the delivery of services or front-line service providers trying to figure out how to stop things getting dangerous as they are stretched further and further.  The assumption is that the job remains to be done, that they are the ones to do it, and they need to figure what they are going to do to make the best adjustments that they can. But supposing they took a different tack?  Suppose they invited citizens in to explore the challenges that they face and how they might be met, how ordinary citizens might be able to use their resources, time, knowledge, skills and sometimes perhaps cash, to help? So, for example, we might invite citizens to explore issues around poverty in an area, and what they might be able to do about it.  And we might end up with something like Disrupting Poverty in Leeds ask people to think about what they can do about empty properties in Leeds and end up with something  like Empty Homes ask residents to explore how … [Read more...]

Are The Bin Men Coming? In the months in the run-up to voting day the service on our bins was excellent, after a really hit and miss few months.  First bin-day post voting day and guess what? No collection. Surely a co-incidence....   … [Read more...]

Jane Jacobs on Neighbourhoods in Action Pay attention to what local people want?  Now THERE is an idea. … [Read more...]

Inward Investment – What’s the problem?

Inward investment - the short cut to a prosperous and fair city where all of our communities can flourish? But, what exactly is it? It is the process where an investor believes that this is the best place to put their money to get a secure and sufficient return.  They may invest by setting up a factory or, more likely these days, an office or call centre.  And most cities employ specialist teams to attract inward investment - to present the best case for their city or region as an investment proposition. But it can go further than this. We may be able to offer specific incentives to investors to bring their money and their jobs to our city.  We may provide them with low or no-cost infrastructure, or other benefits such as an enterprise zone where they may enjoy high speed broadband, simplified planning requirements  and reduced business rates. So inward investment becomes a highly competitive, and sometimes very expensive process to get those scarce investors to being their money to our city.  Inward investment teams are under pressure to deliver, and the dynamic gets interesting as sassy 'investors' play country off against country, region against region, city against city and even neighbourhood against … [Read more...]

Big society was never a government initiative

It was a label to put on the self-sufficient work that communities have always done, and the capacity for which, over many decades a series of governments have effectively eroded. As McKnight says 'competent communities have been invaded, captured, and colonized by professionalized services' and I would say seriously weakened as a consequence. Now that some debt needs paying off, and the 'professional services' are being withdrawn, the ask is that we pick up where we left off, as if all that capacity and capability could just be turned on and off like a tap. And, that instead of focussing on real needs, we focus instead on how we can help these professionalised service providers to maintain their empires through 'volunteering'. Sadly many of us have been complicit in the professionalisation of services as we convert civic endeavours into social enterprises and re focus community development on state funded policy objectives - instead of having confidence to work on the priorities that we find at our own kitchen tables and at the places where, increasingly rarely, our neighbours meet. So for me it is about re-discovering self-sufficiency, self-interest and association as the means through which we can build … [Read more...]

Smile or Die – Why I don’t subscribe blindly to the school of positive thinking … [Read more...]

Big Society and Young People … [Read more...]


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