I recently attended a discussion hosted by Lambeth Council’s Leader, Cllr Lib Peck, when council officers and councillors met with Josh Lerner, Executive Director of the North American Participatory Budgeting Project, Alderman Joe Moore from Chicago and Jez Hall from the UK PB Network. During the discussion a number of important questions were asked that felt pretty important to address if we are to adopt PB in UK on a meaningful scale.
Lambeth recently hosted the visit of two Participatory Budgeting experts from the US, as part of a study tour organised by Church Action on Poverty, as the culmination of their People’s Budget campaign. Josh Lerner, from the North American PB Project and Alderman Joe Moore, from Chicago met with elected members and senior officers at a roundtable event hosted by Leader Cllr.
In December we put the project to bed. The Design Council project was over, we’d wound down the sowing regime, and in any case, it was so cold the remaining plants seemed to shrink rather than grow. Pamela, Bibi and I delivered the last batch of a mere 100g of microgreens to Cornercopia. Anne and Ian graciously paid and, as ever, with B£-by-text. They’ve always said they would take whatever we brought. Our leaves are great quality, so why not?
We had a wind up meeting at the PEP office and, as I’d been sent the innovation fund guidelines, I went to pitch for a follow on to the project’s success. This would be in the form of funding to build the business plan and look at governance for Lambeth Poly, Social Enterprise. ‘Really well done. Good luck. Goodbye’ was the upshot…
I was let down and, rightly or wrongly, felt
patronised by talk of ‘managing expectations’. I didn’t want to say ‘Really well done. Good luck. Goodbye’ to the volunteers, residents and Lambeth Living staff involved at Tulse Hill Estate. But I had to weigh up whether I could invest my time and effort in starting a not-for-profit business on no income when I have a household to support. Lambeth Poly is about enterprise (we won a London-wide award for it), but my motivations are about developing capacity for food production in the borough – not being an Alan Sugar.
While recognising the wonderful opportunity this particular Co-op council project gave, I’ve had frank conversations about lessons here and what it’s like to be a dumped community member. I wondered whether to walk away, and a chance horoscope reading gave me permission – or did it? I dithered all Christmas, while still researching and visioning different scenarios.
However, now, at the end of January I can report some creative developments.
- Fairy godmother Frances Farragher met with Lesley Robinson (ALS) and I. Long story short, but it looks like an accredited award, ‘Introduction to Urban Farming’will be delivered at the tunnel this summer to residents. This will include work experience and crop production elements. It will build on the informal training plan I gave last year and pave the way for progression routes. I’m working with Alan Clisham, Community Adult Learning Manager at High Trees, and it’s hoped some of the delivery will be at the due to be opened Jubilee Hall.
- Frances also fostered the notion of using Loughborough Triangle as an interim second site. We’ve now had two really productive meetings of the Loughborough Farm steering group, and a particularly inspiring trip to the Skip Garden in Kings Cross, less for the growing than for ways of integrating values quite overtly in the work. See twitter feed for more on this @lambethpoly. The linking of Tulse Hill and Loughborough Junction by Lambeth Poly is exciting and I’m looking forward to recruiting for the summer course from both areas – and other potential sites (there are a few others in the pipeline)
- The project gathered a lot of friends in 2012 – knowledgeable people and capable stakeholders. I’m hoping to gather a steering group with the makings of a board to see if we can set up a social enterprise. Salome Simoes is seeing if PEP can take some of their slim and valuable time to run a series of three workshops with this group. I know there’s a will and I really hope there’s a way…
- Capital Growth are making their 2013 focus ‘Grow to Sell’. They’ve already signed up Lambeth Poly to deliver a workshop for London’s growers – one of 5 beacon projects doing this.
- Through my work for Garden Organic, I’ll be working on an EU research project, ‘Food Metres’, looking at how food journeys can be shortened. The research group – headed by Garden Organic’s research partner, Coventry University, will be using London food businesses for the case studies, including Lambeth Poly. This should allow plenty of insights and support for our project. It’s already interesting comparing the London approach to other European cities, and we are wondering if we will find more in common with the ‘control’ city, Nairobi.
If you know yourself to be a friend of Lambeth Poly I aim to be in touch as soon as the PEP workshops get the go ahead or I find an alternative. Or if you feel you have something to offer as an individual or group, please mail email@example.com.
There is a really interesting blog on coproduction from our friends at Social Spaces:
The latest publication from Finland im finding particually useful!
On the 9th January Steve Broome, Directer of Research Actions and Research Centre, RSA gave a seminar on Connected Communities in Lambeth, slides form the event can be found below.
Last Thursday on the 29th November the latest Coproduction Action Learning Set was held in the Town Hall. The Action Learning Set is a workshop for officers to meet up and discuss coproduction and codesign, in relation to the projects they are currently working on.
We had a good turn out again with a range of about twenty officers from various departments keen to support each other in this relatively new way of thinking. There were six initial projects that officers needed support with and they covered issues from how you coproduce large departmental plans with a range of different customers and stakeholders to looking at more focused projects who want to add in coproduction at an already advanced stage.
From this last meeting a number of actions have arisen:
- Find a place online to record peoples little ‘do’s’ of coproduction. These are small examples of coproducing that all staff can begin to use.
- The Action Learning Set want to make better use of online networks to continue supporting each other outside of the workshop including LinkedIn and Lino–it, as well as the Cooperative Toolkit. We agreed that we will trial each of these methods for communicating and see what ones prove most popular.
- There was a call to move away from the split between Councillors officers/residents. How can we become more of a team? Make better use of officers who are also residents and invite Councillors to the Action Learning Set to share their experience of coproduction.
- Expand group invite to include anyone, regardless if they work for Lambeth Council or not.
Moving forward we are keen to develop this Action Learning Set further. There are three main aspects to the ALS; the workshop, the network and the toolkit. The workshop is well developed and we will continue to host these monthly. The network has grown out of the workshops and we are looking at ways to support and grow this network by drawing in new members and using online resources. Finally the toolkit needs more work to bring it to a place where anyone can access and understand it, and use it to start coproducing their projects.
The next event is Wednesday 23rd January in Room 8 of the Town Hall at 10 – 12am. As mentioned we are looking to widen the invite to this, so if you are interested in coming along please get in touch, and feel free to bring a friend!
Lambeth has set out its stall to become a cooperative council by 2014 and to transform the way it works in order to achieve this. One of the most important distinguishing features of this vision is to establish a fundamentally different relationship between citizens and the local authority – one based on collaboration, reciprocity and cooperation.
Changing things is tough, anyone working in large organisations or in the business of social change knows this all too well….of course it’s possible, but it can be a slog. One of things that helps creative thinking is to disrupt normal patterns of behaviour or thinking – causing us to question ‘normal’ ways of working and shakes us out of our pre-conceptions about business as usual.
We started to think about how we could begin to disrupt our normal approach to engaging residents in discussions, to develop a different, more ‘cooperative’, conversation.
The result is the Work Shop.
Lambeth Council has taken a short term let on a vacant shop on West Norwood High Street to set up the Work Shop. Over the next few weeks we will be trying to reach out to the people who live, work and visit the area and inviting them to join us for a cup of tea, a conversation and more as we explore the possibilities to work better together.
Three days a week – including some evenings and weekends, so as many people as possible are able to pop in – we will be running a programme of talks, hosted conversations and workshops on a wide range of topics. Some will be led by council officers, some by public sector partners and others by local voluntary and community groups. You can find out more about what’s going on here. But in addition to these more ‘formal’ elements, there will be plenty of more informal opportunities to engage.
We don’t expect everyone to want to come to a workshop, at least not at first….the Work Shop has installations of things going on in the area, inspirational examples of what can be achieved through collaboration, and space to capture people’s ideas of how things might be changed for the better. We’ll also be doing some asset mapping – gathering community perspectives on the services, buildings, people, talents, ambitions and passions that the local community has and values. This will be crucial in helping to inform what happens in the future and is part of a much wider shift in how Lambeth, as a Cooperative Council, views its citizens and communities.
A shop on the high street in one part of the borough for a few weeks is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a panacea for the myriad challenges we need to overcome in order to realise the vision of the Cooperative Council. Rather, it is an experiment in the art of the possible…an attempt to test out a new way of working with citizens, which we can learn from and apply to other parts of the organisation in the future.
We are not content to sit in the Town Hall and pump out laudable policy documents about how things will be different in the future. The Work Shop takes the conversation out into the community, changes the rules of engagement and, we hope, provides an opportunity for a more creative and meaningful conversation about what the Cooperative Council could be.
If you’re in the area, pop in for a cup of tea and a chat. If not, then we’ll be posting regular updates as we go along.