Do Me A Favour…please?

..and tell me what I am missing?

The Catalyst Centres in Leeds are into the implementation of  ‘sales plans’ designed to build membership and make the Catalysts the vibrant networking hubs that they need to be.

But the pricing strategy leaves me drop-jawed.

If I understand it properly the starting membership price of access to a ‘hot desk’ starts at £5 an hour.  With a minimum spend of £25 per month.

Now I understand that it is not about price but about value but it also HAS to be about access and inclusion for local people from the communities whose enterprise culture we are being tasked to ‘transform’.

Anyone who has been visiting the Catalyst Centres at Shine in Harehills or Rise up at Seacroft will know that they are not ending 2008 bursting at the seams.  (I am not sure how busy they are down at Hillside as I have not been dropping by there quite so often.)

I suspect that this represents a lot of investment that is not yet being used to anything like capacity.   Buildings, furniture, heating, lighting, salaries, laptops, printers all sitting there – burning cash – and not being used enough.

So the sales plans are underway and the centres are looking for people with money, working from home, who might be interested in a vibrant networking environment to get them out of their isolation. We are talking Sales reps, IFAs, life coaches, LEGI partners etc…

Does this really describe the target market for LEGI investments?

Or are we already witnessing a shift in social and economic policy objectives to achieve economic viability for the buildings and their owners?

I am really pleased that we have this great infrastructure available for residents of the LEGI areas in Leeds and the wider areas of influence. Indeed they may become real assets for the City. They could also become economic white elephants.

To avoid this we must develop a strategy for community engagement around enterprise (this is not the same as selling enterprise) and a funding strategy for the catalysts that allows them to play their part in transforming the enterprise culture of local communities – rather than making life on the road a little easier for an already employed mobile workforce.

So please do me a favour and tell me what I am missing….

4 Replies to “Do Me A Favour…please?”

  1. Interesting post, thanks for sharing!

    I had a similar reflection looking at “The Hub” in Stockholm… It seemed that they had focused on companies/individuals like graphical artists, life coaches, etc. who already had sufficient financial resources to be able to pay these types of fees you are describing. The connection (in that instance) with “social enterprise” felt hard to make, to say the least.

    What kind of funding strategy do you imagine would work? It seems that in order to survive these centers or hubs need to find other markets with the capacity to pay sufficient fees – rather than the ones that they might to have as an ideal to tailor to. Could there be a mix / reduced fees for some (Robin Hood style) or say a certain level of grants / donations to cover fixed investment ?

  2. Thanks for posting Linus. Yes I think that these sorts of infrastrcuture often become co-working ( for those already on their entrepreneurial journey.

    Bottom line is if we want them to be used by local people in the pre-start phase then they HAVE to be free. However the problem in encouraging enterprise in such communites is not the lack of hot desk space, freshly brewed coffee and enthusiastic advisers. It is lack of confidence and self beleif. And this is not tackled through new buildings.

  3. I’m not an opponent of the Catalyst centre approach: Tiger11 is pleased to host myCatalyst in our Hillside building. Nor, however, would I argue that “hot desk space, freshly brewed coffee … enthusiastic advisers [and] new buildings” are sufficient in themselves to overcome decades of – collective and individual – economic,social, psychological and cultural impoverishment. I’m also aware (as a potential punter) of the community consultation around pricing structure and the thought that went into issues around tapering, cross-subsidy, affordability versus the need for the Catalyst to become self-sustaining over time.

    Arguably , what you’ve identified are some the paradoxes and complexities of using an enterprise-approach to promote enterprise in deprived communities.
    I think what we need is not an either/or approach, but to see things as a jigsaw and I would make a number of points about parts of that jigsaw, in no particular order.

    There’s not necessarily any shortage of enterprise in some “deprived” communities. Some of it is anti-social and some of it is criminalised by the DWP benefits structure. If Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point hypothesis is to be believed both may be susceptible to influence and change by means other than repression.

    I agree that lack of self-belief and confidence are significant (and that eclectic/selective use of techniques from various therapeutic approaches is valuable). I don’t see that as being “marketable” in the conventional sense so the question becomes who will fund it, where does it fit in at a social policy/local strategic level as preparation for enterprise/job prep.

    Borrowing from therapy, I do think that there’s something about paying for a service that is important. It gives that thing value, and it’s a pledge to oneself as much as anything: a statement of self-worth and – by extension – about the value of one’s own work. It also represents an important break from “dependency culture” (it’s not a phrase I like, but I can’t think of a short-hand way of saying what I mean, which is altogether less judgemental in intent).

    Now to the importance of shiny buildings and shiny happy people…. I spent quite a lot of my time at the Shine opening talking to all sorts of people who used to go Harehills school, most of whom still lived around Chapeltown/Harehills. They weren’t saying “what’s with all the suits and posh frocks?” They were saying – to a person – “this is brilliant, we’re so pleased that people have done something fantastic with a building we love” and that they saw it as a statment of faith in Harehills. Similarly at Hillside’s community open day I talked to people of all ages from the surrounding the area who( with the exception of some of the far-left who are suspicious of the petty bourgeois, reformist nature of [the] enterprise) were chuffed to bits that the old school hasn’t been left to rot: again understanding it as a physical and symbolic investment in the area and the people. It’s about reversing the Broken Window Effect.

    White-collar workers/self-employed people also play a part in the creating a socially and culturally mixed environment. They are not the only people we want to be using the building/ attracting into the Catalyst but I think it’s important to the area as a whole that it is seen as a place that “aspirational” people come into, rather than move out of. Gladwell talks about the Power of Context, and that’s part of the effect we’re aiming to create.

    1. Hi Sue

      Many thanks for your well argued comment.

      I am not an opponent of the Catalyst approach either – although I am sometimes portrayed that way! History has shown us that timing is everything. If you launch a centre before there is sufficient demand from the beneficiary community you get an expensive but under used building that starts to incur significant losses. To ameliorate the losses, income is often generated from those outside the beneficiary group and before you know it you have a centre full of people who you were not aiming to engage. In my experience the catalyst centre type intervention works best when it is one of the last pieces of the jigsaw rather than one of the first.

      I absolutely agree with you about the ‘no shortage of enterprise’ point. This is just policy-makers shorthand for ‘not enough of the kind of enterprise that we like – legal and tax paying’. These communities are missing nothing to make significant progress except perhaps organisation, commitment and aspiration. We should not adopt a ‘defecit’ based approach to development.

      I am not sure I understand your point about what is marketable. Certainly collectively we have a history of buying tried and tested solutions that seldom work well. Also we have a love of capital projects that we can open, show off and take pictures of. My argument is that we need to invest in building social capital not physical capital. Entrepreneurship springs from conversations about dreams, aspirations, progress and improvements. It springs from belief. Belief in self and the strength that you get when someone else believes in you and your potential to achieve.

      I don’t buy the ‘we only value what we pay for’ line – except for in the most superficial and transactional of situations. I don’t pay for any of my most valued relationships. Indeed if I had to pay for them I probably could not afford them. There is an important point here about commitment – but when working in areas of deprivation commitment cannot be measured by willingness to pay.

      And of course SHINE is brilliant. It is wonderful. It is potentially a tremendous asset. Of course when people visit they are impressed. But my guess is that few of them are actually trying to do the hard work of balancing financial sustainability with social policy and aims, and looking at mounting costs of under-occupancy and laying awake at night wondering about how to square the circle.

      I am glad that we have SHINE and the other catalyst centres. What we need as a matter of urgency is now a community engagement strategy around enterprise. This should almost certainly be led by the third sector and should focus on developing conversations about the role of enterprise in building better communities. We must make sure that our communities are served by competent, caring and person centred enterprise coaches.

      There is a lot to be done – and it needs to be done soon if the potential of the physical infrastructure is to be used by those it was intended to serve.

      I think your final point illustrates some of the confusion about what we are really trying to do with the enterprise investments in these communities. It is part Richard Florida – Rise of the Creative Classes stuff (economic hunting) and part engagement and development of local residents (economic gardening). These approaches are borne from different philosophies. The first says this community is missing creative types- let’s attract them in and see what happens. The second says ‘this community has all that it needs except the opportunity to grow – lets facilitate what we have rather than import what we are missing’. Now it maybe able to combine the two – but I don’t yet see how.

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