I went to a morning session held at “Skip Garden” – a sustainable, moveable community garden that represents just the kind of creative, bootstrapped project that I find so representative of what I love about London. The event was led by London Funders and focused on the evolving model of London Giving schemes. The examples given suggested these are great models of acting in at a very localised level, bringing in representatives from across sectors and working collaboratively to tackle issues in a specific community.
The well-established Islington Giving project featured as a key sustainable example, but the smaller and newer Camden Giving and Barnet Giving were also represented. The discussion was wide ranging and showcased examples of some of the projects fostered by these giving schemes, whilst also not shying away from covering some of the challenges of bringing such diverse groups of actors together in a relatively untested way. Some key success factors that I picked up were:
- Developing a strong theme of community focused messaging to create a shared sense of purpose and continuity
- Highlighting the importance of reciprocity – demonstrating that everyone has something to give
- A shared objective to recognise and bring together community assets across sector boundaries eg in Camden there is a strong SME sector, particularly focused on the creative and digital industries who are seen as a key stakeholder in the scheme there
My brief observations are soon to be superseded by a report on the progress to date of London’s Giving Schemes which is to be launched on 12th July. I’ve also listed below some of the projects we talked about.
One major factor that I picked up was that the effectiveness of these Giving Schemes seemed founded on the “cheek by jowl” nature of living in an urban environment, particularly one with the extremes evident in London. While I have worked in London for most of the past 20 years, I’ve lived for most of that time in Essex. Although this is a large and relatively populous county, there are very clear disparities. I was curious to know whether others in the room had seen working examples of similar schemes outside London. A few suggestions came out for some further research (listed below) but it seemed the existence of flagship examples was not well known or connected in any knowledge sharing capacity with the London schemes.
After a few hours’ gap I was also able to attend the final event of the week – a Garden Party in the beautiful Calthorpe Project gardens. On a glorious June afternoon, this was the perfect location, as a living example of the power of community action. The party was centred around the question “What does it mean to belong?”. With the levels of unrest and division becoming ever more evident in London, this was a topic that couldn’t fail to resonate with all who attended and gave scope for some thoughtful conversations.
As I mentioned above, I’m not a Londoner but spend much of my working time in the city and have a strong affection for it. I found the conversations about belonging quite pertinent as I often have a slight, perhaps unfounded feeling of being an outsider both where I live, in relatively leafy suburbia, and where I spend many of my waking hours in the heart of the capital.
I’ve always considered my own “community” to be something non-geographic and based on relationships with people with a similar set of interests and values. To a degree this works for me, but many of the examples I saw at the Festival and hear about regularly demonstrate that there are some connections and amazing initiatives that can only work at a hyper-local level.
I’d be interested to hear others views of community and belonging – what does it mean for you? Is it rooted in one particular place or wherever you happen to be living?
Overall I found the Unusual Suspects Festival an energising and thought provoking few days. It showed the value of individuals taking time out from the “day to day” to share thoughts and ideas. The extent to which those I met could be called “Unusual Suspects” is questionable – they may have been there but I didn’t find many representatives of corporate giants, even if they were workers taking time out to connect with the communities where they live and work.
Nonetheless at a time where London and the UK seem riddled with division, inequality and negative expressions of prejudice and intolerance, taking any opportunity to meet with others willing to commit their time and energy to building a better future seems time well spent. It certainly helps me to feel a sense of hope and purpose and I’m sure others at the Festival felt the same.
I noted down the following examples in the London Giving session:
Big Alliance – facilitating employee volunteering and business engagement in community, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations, education programmes and employment projects to support the social and economic regeneration of Islington
Help on your doorstep – empowering individuals to overcome the barriers they face, through proactive engagement and provision of advice
Inside Islington Tours – walking tours to visit some of the projects supported by Islington Giving
The Parent House – providing opportunities to parents
Wonderful.org – a fundraising platform where 100% of the benefit goes to charity
Dignity Platform – where individuals can offer their skills with the payment going straight to charity
These were the suggested places for additional research on place based giving schemes (I’m also aware that Collaborate, one of the partner organisations in the Festival has a significant focus on place based initiatives) :
Giving Tuesday– USA Case Studies