There is no doubt in my mind that community based and bottom up approaches to enterprise support like those pioneered by Ernesto Sirolli and subsequently developed and transformed by projects like Bizz Fizz and on a much more modest scale Elsie, provide significant clues to the emergence of truly sustainable and enterprising communities.
‘Hope is the power of the powerless’.
The real quality of leadership, lies in its power to inspire hope and associate it with coherent actions designed to make progress.
Because hope is not a plan…
Buildings are expensive things to run. And these days fewer of us need them as places to go to work. Or at least we don’t need to go to just one of them. And we don’t need to pay rent.
Yet there is a vibrant industry driven by developers, politicians and consultants bringing semi derelict buildings, especially in poor communities where regeneration cash is easier to come by, back to life as managed workspaces, incubators and start-up hubs.
When money is being sought to kick these schemes off the business plans always look achievable. This occupancy rate at these rates per square foot, taking a contribution from the community cafe, with fixed costs of x and variable costs of y, within z months we will be generating a profit and re-investing in the local community. Money is raised work is done and with hard work and good luck the building is eventually opened.
Except it is rare that members sign up as expected, rents are hard to collect in an economy where most cities have millions of square feet of empty office space. Fixed costs are usually higher than projected as budgets over-run and interest repayments are higher than anticipated. That break-even point always seems to be ‘just around the corner’ even as social objectives for the building get thrown out the window in pursuit of revenue.
So lots of money, usually intended to help people living in deprived communities, goes into the pockets of consultants and developers and into interest re-payments on loans and the community gets a building that continues to swallow up revenue as the various parties who supported its development and staked their reputation on its success do all that they can to keep it open. Including setting rents that frequently act as major barrier to access to local people.
Of course it doesn’t always work out like this.
Some communities can stand the overheads associated with such developments. Typically they are vibrant, affluent and well-educated, with disposable income to invest in ‘community share issues’ with no real need to generate a financial return. Hardly the intended beneficiaries of regeneration cash. But even in these communities, building based regeneration is an expensive, risky and demanding endeavour requiring a lot of know-how and goodwill to keep the show on the road.
If we are restoring a building for its own merit then that is fair enough.
But, there is a world of difference between a pretty building and a building that is doing a beautiful job.
So, here is the idea, developed by Paul Burr of The CAN-Do Project (CAN= Community Advertising Network).
We set up a Leeds community group to run an advertising business. We put up roadside hoardings on land on some of the prime thoroughfares in our city, having got the permission of land owners and applied for planning permission where necessary.
Advertising on the sites gets sold to:
- National and multi-national corporations at premium rates
- Local small businesses at heavily discounted rates – with further discounts available for those that agree to take on a trainee, provide a placement or take on a mentoring role for example (wouldn’t it be nice to see local small businesses advertising on prime sites as well as the big corporates and multi-nationals?)
- Local social enterprises, charities and other good causes who help to manage the network get to a limited number of adverts free of charge.
Surplus revenues get re-invested back into the local community, for example to fund a micro-enterprise startup or loan fund, or to fund community and youth workers perhaps.
A great way of helping to use assets in the community (roadside land, and passing traffic) to realise community development through:
- direct income generation
- affordable advertising for local businesses
- creating jobs in administration of the scheme, erecting hoardings and posting up adverts
- building community capacity by encouraging mentoring and other social goods.
Paul’s research suggests that it might be possible to generate several hundreds of thousands of pounds in advertising for local businesses and third sector organisations as well as substantial cash revenues each year.
Who could possibly object?
It seems that there are several major private sector providers of roadside hoardings in Leeds, who pay rent to the council for access to prime sites. Paul’s proposal could see money retained in the community where the hoardings are placed rather than going to the council, and could see a new competitor to the private sector suppliers.
I am sure too that many will protest against the positioning of further advertising hoardings across the city. These things are not always easy on the eye – but this would have to be off-set against the benefits.
A group of us, including LS14 Trust and SLATE have already met to explore the potential of such a Community Advertising Network in Leeds and see enough potential to explore the idea further. If you would like to join us to discuss the idea further. A meeting will be held between 12 and 2pm on March 5th at a venue to be confirmed.
We would especially love to hear from you if you would like to:
- get involved in managing the project,
- become a beneficiary of it
- provide us with legal advice and guidance
- offer us, or suggest, some land that we can use for these hoardings.
Whether you love the idea or hate it, please do let us know….
Why do we choose to live cities? What are they for?
Well, for many of us they are ‘Where the jobs are’. We don’t choose to live in or near them. We do so because that is how our economy is configured. We are drawn into they city and ‘enslaved’ by it and the economy is exists to serve. But many of us are, on the whole, happy slaves as the city fathers and their investor friends ensure we are regularly supplied with both ‘bread and circuses’, superficial means of appeasement, from which they too can often make a handsome profit.
And, on one level, this is a purpose of the city.
To organise a modern population effectively and efficiently for the benefit of employers and those who bankroll and tax them. They are above all else economic entities, where ‘culture’ and ‘community’ play secondary roles as part of the mechanisms for appeasement while the primary narrative is about the economy, productivity, profitability and gross domestic product.
As Margaret Thatcher put it “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”
But, we can look at a city differently.
We could choose to believe that “Head, heart and soul are the method; the object is to change the economy”
We can choose to see the city as a collection of people who have converged on a specific location because it offers them opportunities to do the things that they want to do, to be the person that they want to be and fulfil their potential. In such a city the primary relationship would not be one of ‘enslavement’ to an economy but as a collaboration of powerful citizens in a participative democracy. A city where citizens primary responsibility is to each other and to the future. Where an economy is produced that serves people, both now and into the future.
Such a city would almost certainly not depend primarily on the development of its physical infrastructure, (Supercasino anyone? Or perhaps a high-speed train or station entrance to inspire the business folk?) but on psychological infrastructure. A network of relationships, support and encouragement that valued people, regardless of wealth or education, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or age. A psychological infrastructure in which help could be asked for and offered. A city in which collaboration, association and innovation in the pursuit of progress was everyone’s business.
Now THAT would be a city I would want to live in.