Thoughts on cooperative council so far

July 4, 2012

By way of background, I am a community member who took part in the Cooperative Council training led by the Design Council. I have been involved with the Lambeth Poly project that came out of that process.

Here are some thoughts and questions that have arisen during the training and commissioning.

  • What kind of projects are appropriate? E.g. only projects that meet existing aims of the council, or projects that expand the remit of the council, or only projects that innovate or cross-pollinate between departments or meet multiple existing aims
  • What kind of projects should be cooperative council projects?
  • Because coop council projects have a bit more freedom to work outside existing council processes, I think projects that span department responsibilities should be targeted. Lambeth Poly is a good example of the multiple benefits that can be gained by projects that span departments – it tackles job training, sustainability, community cohesion and healthy living.
  • Projects that leverage the knowledge of community groups or individuals should also be pursued. Traffic calming is a good example of this – working with neighbourhoods to understand speeding and rat running issues means that targeted solutions can be found, rather than blunt force solutions such as blanketing streets with bumps.
  • Where should cooperative council project ideas come from? I suppose the short answer is everywhere – council employees, community groups, residents. But the people best placed to see synergies and opportunities, where a coop council project can solve problems in innovative and efficient ways, are people like Sue Sheehan. She has a broad understanding of what’s happening in the borough and is networked to a large number of community groups.  Because I was invited to the training as a community representative, I was able to propose Lambeth Poly as a project. Like Sue I have a good understanding of what’s happening in the green champion community.
  • Money – how much money is available, and for what? What roles can be paid, what resources can be purchased? It is not sustainable to rely on volunteers for key positions.
  • Leadership  – If the project leader doesn’t work for the council, who makes the decisions and who is responsible for pushing the project forward?  With Lambeth Poly, Fiona has faced a series of barriers, particularly around getting a site for the polytunnel.  At one point it looked like a single resident was going to prevent siting the tunnel on the Tulse Hill Estate. She has also had three people in rapid succession managing the project from within the council. Without her persistence and commitment to the project, the project would have failed weeks ago.  She can speak in more detail on what barriers she faced, but they largely come from breaking new ground (sorry for the pun!) in relation to how the council operates.
  • Longevity – what timeframe is the council committed to these projects for, assuming a successful project?