So it’s been a month since launching Jericho Road Solutions and I’m in reflective mood. I chose to leave a good job at Locality and start out on my own because I want to be directly involved in local transformations as well as working at national level to shape policies, organisations and programmes that make local transformation easier.
As with any new business there’s been a lot of practical stuff to sort out – bank, phones, accountant, insurance, filing, website, etc. Had a couple of launch parties in London and Manchester, with fliers, badges, bunting. And I’ve spent some time walking the dog, helping my mother move house, taking out a retaining wall, doing sudoku and reading Caitlin Moran. What else?
My transition from programme management to legacy development within the Community Organisers programme is underway. I’ve been organising a Funders & Allies Forum event to be held at this year’s mega-exciting CO Action Camp. I’ve also helped out with recruitment, briefed the progression supporters, facilitated the first visioning event for CoCo the legacy body, brought together the COs across Greater Manchester in partnership with Powered by People UK, led a workshop in Blackpool with social housing tenants and workers, categorised 360 CO stories by theme, and participated in the regular programme team reflection.
At neighbourhood level I’ve begun supporting three projects:
Charterhouse Coventry – a 14th century Grade I listed monastery surrounded by a wealth of heritage assets in a 70-acre park next to the city centre, that no-one knows about! Significant potential to transform the reputation and economy of Coventry – by bringing silence. There’s a strong trust in place that has been granted the buildings and is negotiating with the local authority for a series of balancing assets to cross-subsidise. They’ve produced excellent material on the vision for the heritage park but need enterprise development support for this hyper-ambitious scheme.
London Road Fire Station, Manchester – beautiful Edwardian civic building (fire/police/coroners) occupying a whole block in spitting distance of Piccadilly station but empty for 27 years and in a ‘difficult ownership situation’. The friends group is at an early stage but already very enterprising. I’m keen to unlock some development funding for them.
Ancoats Dispensary, Manchester – where the current campaign to save the building brings back memories of the occupation of the building back in 1987-89 to protest the closure of its casualty department. Linking them up with igloo Regeneration has improved the prospects not only of winning the campaign but taking ownership of the building – a notion that would not have occurred to their 1980s predecessors but is highly likely in this new ‘community rights’ world.
In terms of my own local (Hastings) activities – the wheels of Heritage Lottery Fund bureaucracy grind exceedingly slow, but we are expecting the formal transfer of ownership for Hastings Pier late July and work will start immediately to demolish the remaining fire-twisted debris and begin the restoration. It has been wonderful to know that the ‘midwifery’ of the project by the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust will have delivered community ownership, £14 million and a dedicated charity to take the project forward. Now the White Rock Trust will drop the HP and focus on another important and neglected asset – the 7-storey Observer Building and its immediate surrounds.
At national level, Jericho Road is working with Locality, igloo Regeneration and the Prince’s Regeneration Trust to develop the Demeter Service – a dating, mating, translating and relating service between communities and private developers, particularly important as the new HLF Heritage Enterprise Scheme requires such partnerships. Developers and community groups don’t tend to go to the same parties and there’s a lot of mutual distrust. Yet they have a great deal to offer each other.
I’ve written to Don Foster, Minister for Communities, about the problem of irresponsible ownership and how we need to link up local support for groups struggling to rescue precious assets from delinquent owners with a national campaign, and policy development to tackle the problem.
My role as a non-exec director of Meanwhile Space CIC continues to inspire me, especially as we evolve a new business strand involving freehold acquisitions to create ‘permanent meanwhile’ spaces that will include live-work. The Meanwhile Foundation has now achieved charitable status and will become a useful ‘plug-in tool’ to help make meanwhile projects happen everywhere.
With many others, I participated in Big Lottery Fund’s development work around a new programme, currently known as ‘Enriching Places, Enterprising Communities’ but which I hope will end up as Enterprising Projects in Communities, or EPIC! I hope this could be a chance to begin to develop the self-renovating neighbourhoods concept I wrote about last year.
I haven’t yet got back in the saddle for the Seaside Towns Economic Partnership but practical solidarity between seaside towns to build their economic and political power is a brilliant idea that hasn’t gone away. I did manage to win a peer-to-peer learning competition on the back of a bad pun, so watch out for the People’s Piers UK.
I have a code in my timesheet for ‘learning’ (unfunded unfortunately!) and this month it has included attending the first meeting of the Strategic Advisory Group for the AHRC Connected Communities research programme and starting work with two Manchester-based academics on a research project to showcase ‘Model 5′ community governance (ie where communities are fully engaged in co-production). Under the same code I spent a day with a visiting Kiwi community entrepreneur, and an evening with a Social Innovation Strategist from the Australian government (which included hearing a lecture by Francis Maude on ‘Ministers and Mandarins’). I had another coaching session with the wonderful Pam Lidford and I allowed Professor Jenny Pearce of Bradford University to ‘systematise my learning’.
It’s been a brilliant month, I’ve set another load of plates spinning, just need to make sure I can stay underneath them all…!