Demob happy – fragments

Off tomorrow to Prague to celebrate 10 yrs with DH (v dear, not quite H). Very excited, but before I go, I need to record a few fragments of conversations from today:

I’ve been to JRF’s ‘Communities Under Pressure’ report launch and exhibition. Great report by CRESR – beautifully written and very clear that poor communities are not ‘broken’ or culturally different or ‘chav-land’ but in fact bastions of traditional values around mutual support, family (complex not nuclear) and hard work. A couple of niggling concerns – it’s difficult to extrapolate from 6 places (‘the plural of anecdote is not data’, though it’s often insight); the white wine event at the Building Centre did not include anyone from any of the 6 communities so it felt voyeuristic. But it certainly led to some interesting conversations:

1. With Matthew Oakley of Policy Exchange who can’t help but support the Government but does recognise some inconvenient truths – that the 500,000 vacancies are not concentrated in the areas where people really need jobs and that the 100s of 1000s of SME jobs don’t get advertised in job centres so you need good networks to access them (networks which welfare dependency tends to stifle); that JobCentre Plus needs to be rethought – perhaps as a mutual part-owned and managed by local community organisations. I pushed him on the Community Allowance as the community equivalent of the Work Programme providers ‘black box’ and was interested to hear his visceral fear about losing the ‘engagement’ with JC+. I argued that ‘mandatory engagement’ is an oxymoron – it’s not engagement at all, it’s claws in the claimant’s back. What JC+ do is fortnightly social control of the poor on behalf of ‘the rest of us’. Yesterday I was at Marsh Farm in Luton where they have a beautiful building paid for with NDC money and they would like to see an outpost of JC+ so North Luton people don’t have to get the bus into Luton centre for their bi-weekly (or weekly, thanks Labour!) grilling but can come to Futures House and access not just jobs advice but council, health, police, a load of private and social enterprises and, crucially, a fantastic children’s play facility. So a trip to the ‘job centre’ would actually be fun (imagine!) and would be rooted in the networking that really can get people into jobs. I don’t think Marsh Farm have thought about running a local job centre directly but I bet they’d be willing to give it a go given half a chance and a contract to do so.

2. With Angus Kennedy and Alexandra Rook, both veterans of the regeneration world, about the endless Groundhog Day of regeneration. Roll on the 1980s: oh look, we’re losing the north and the inner cities (again), we’ve demolished communities with their ’embedded energy’ (in all senses) and built rubbish or got distracted half-way through (again); people are talking about abandoning the ‘structural failures’ (here comes Category D for demolish, again). As I said to Angus, I feel older than my years because in my 20s I chose to be a historian of regeneration so my memory goes back to Urban Programme and there have been at least 25 initiatives since then. To be honest, my ‘memory’ goes back to the Deptford Green renewal project in 1485… so I really am tired. It feels like some of us have been learning as we go but we’re still forced to have the same old arguments. Many years ago I asked Joe Montgomery where the archive of Deptford regeneration programmes was (after govt spend of around £220 million). He answered that he thought it was “in a cupboard in the Home Office, but you know I can’t get it for you”. WTF (as they say on twitter).

3. With a guy from PLAN Project (sorry he had a hand-written badge and isn’t on the delegate list). They had worked on the Salford Pendleton PFI – the ultimate in purchasing social solutions. I was staring fascinated at a string of photographs of a ‘renewal’ process, captioned with residents’ words into which regen-speak had seeped [“they were doing it in key stages…” – no-one in real life talks about ‘key stages’ except teachers]. Having been involved in training other local people in Deptford to be their own regeneration managers, I know how powerful it can be for residents to speak the lingo on their own behalf, but this was infiltration not empowerment. When it’s done to you, regeneration feels exactly like colonisation, whether by well-meaning missionaries or cut-and-run gold-diggers. The *best* of the consultants act like missionary anthropologists, enchanted by indigenous culture but unable to curb their tendencies to impose bettakulcha in the name of widening horizons. Given a chance to connect through solidarity, people can widen their own horizons, thx all the same…

I’m out of here… c u next week

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