Just spent two and a half days in Derby for the DTA conference 2010. Absolutely shattered now but I really enjoyed it and there’s been good verbal feedback. Hurtling southwards with Ray and Lesley from the Hastings Pier & White Rock Trust and mulling over the highs and lows.
Definite low was my poor colleague Carole having her laptop stolen from her room at the Jury’s Inn. Apparently 4 men came into the hotel, ‘overpowered’ the housekeeper and stole her key and then spent just a few seconds in each of 6 rooms nicking laptops etc. They’re on CCTV but they got away with it and the hotel was not particularly good about it – suggesting Carole would have to claim it on her own insurance.
But lots of highs – including the global session this morning with fellow community enterprise travellers from Japan, South Korea, Australia and Scotland. Had a lovely time with Google Earth whizzing around on the big screens, capturing all the places where DTA members already have links. Seriously, it reminds you of the smallness of the green and blue planet, the meltdown of global capitalism, and the enormous potential of community enterprise as an alternative to the amoral casino. There are opportunities to explore the potential for a better-connected global movement, support for country networks in those places that don’t already have membership-based infrastructure, and even more excitingly community-to-community trade like the Just Change project that ties together the adivasi tea-growers in India with the tea-drinkers of Marsh Farm estate in Luton.
This afternoon’s session with David Prout, Director General of Communities at CLG was both interesting and frustrating. David was clear that DTA is “a persuasive voice around the tables in Whitehall” and that it has “universal appeal”. He was especially blown away by the conference visit he’d been on that morning – the 25-year commitment by local people at Arkwright Mills contrasted with government’s infamous inability to concentrate beyond the next election. Sadly, the exciting announcements Twitter-hyped by Social Enterprise Magazine failed to materialise – his response on Community Right to Bid was “all options are under review and announcements will be made in due course”!
The debate was fairly vigorous but I felt we did ourselves a disservice by getting distracted. Of course as community activists we are horrified by the impact of cuts on the most vulnerable, as local organisations we are endlessly frustrated by opaque decision-making, as deliverers of the Future Jobs Fund, Neighbourhood Renewal, etc we get cross with a government that can’t bear to recognise the good things that were dreamed up by the previous lot. But I felt that as the hall rumbled with righteous anger, we missed the chance to be clear about what we bring. We can’t expect government to engage preferentially with us on the general questions; but when it comes to creating wealth in local communities and keeping it there, development trusts are the engines of the Big Society and we have something special to contribute. Let’s remember that distinctiveness next time we’re in front of a minister or senior civil servant.
And finally… Everywhere I go there are pretty little buildings in need of love like this one and I can’t help myself now I’ve got a half-decent camera. Colleagues were laughing at me for taking pictures before drinking, but the pictures definitely come out better!