Twitchforks and the real story

Below is the comment I have just added to the NatCAN forum at http://nationalcan.ning.com/. You have to ask to join. There was a thread of 70 comments on the subject ‘How do we relate to Community Organisers’, many of them very hostile to the programme and to Locality.

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Oh the joy of #socmed and the twitchforks mob…!

I could never respond to this bile and bitterness in a way that would bring you on-side. In fact, people who complain “I am unable to get into the game” may not deserve a response.

And yet I’m drawn here [to NatCAN ning], partly under orders from people I respect and partly because there are many good people on this site and you shouldn’t be so misinformed.

Let me tell you about where we’re up to with the Community Organisers programme:

Our approach is that COs need to come from the local area and they need ‘a place to be’, somewhere supportive and interesting from which to practice their systematic listening to local people. The idea of local control is in our DNA, it is the heart of our movement.

We applied to be national partner for the Community Organisers programme because we believe it is an exciting opportunity to put into practice what many of us have been arguing for – an assets-based rather than deficit approach to communities, resources that focus on self-defined collective interests rather than top-down silo policy interests. We also believe that our approach – rooted in local neighbourhoods, encouraging them to express their own needs, to mobilise their own people, and all the time to keep sharing their experience more widely – is the right one.

This programme is the largest ever state-supported approach to community organising. For whatever reasons, this Government has decided to pump-prime 500 neighbourhood-focused, broad-based community organising training places over the next four years. You may think the state support is fundamentally wrong, that’s a valid argument. But the opportunity is much too good to ignore. You may have preferred that a different approach had been chosen. But the decision has been made. Some of you complain that you can’t get a look-in. Well you know what: this isn’t about you.

It’s about trying something different, and important. You and I have both seen many years of failed regeneration (I can guarantee it if you’ve had your eyes open). For example, we have watched what happens when £50million quid lands on poor communities. Every now and then it goes really well, mostly not. We have had all the arguments about how local people know best, about ‘bottom-up’ (horrible term), about the need for new behaviours, power-shifts, community leadership. Now we have the chance for something completely different: no strings organising. Our mantra is that COs ‘bring no message, seek no specific outcome’. This disconnects the power-cable from the top, so yes, the initial resources are flowing from Government, and the capacity to manage the overall programme is coming from Locality, but the impetus and the content is all locally made.

When we were writing the bid, back last December, we made use of fantastic local intelligence, built up across the Development Trusts Association and bassac over several decades, to choose some trusted organisations that could be the first ‘Kickstarter’ community hosts. Right now those Kickstarters are recruiting the first cohort of Community Organisers. They will start their year-long training this September.

On the subject of MMU – we wanted to try out the CO approach in one university setting, to complement the mainly community sector hosts. MMU were keen and the students on the BA in Social Change are primarily local, mature students well-rooted in their own communities who have as much right to this opportunity as anyone else. We have two Kickstarter hosts in the Greater Manchester area (the other is St Peter’s Partnerships in Tameside). Remember, these are just the ‘discovery phase’, the first cohort.

Later this week we’ll be launching the future host recruitment to find great community-rooted hosts for the next cohort (starts with host induction in October and CO training in December) and begin to build what you might call a ‘pipeline’ of excellent host organisations that are interested in participating in one of the total of 14 cohorts that will be trained and supported over the four years of the programme’s life. With 10-12 hosts in each that will involve 140-170 hosts in the lifetime of the programme.

The programme is complex and unfolding, and there is plenty more to do.

I’ve been a bit sharp but not nearly as nasty as some of you. How about we have a more civilised conversation from here on in?

 

Best wishes

 

Jess Steele, Locality

 

PS I am a genuine collaborationist, non-dogmatic, historian, anthropologist and activist, interested in and respectful of the perspectives and ideas of a very wide range of people of experience. Some of you know me already, many of you would admire my community credentials but are blinded by your assumptions about Locality as an ‘infrastructure organisation’ from #thatlondon, trying to take over. Locality is not an umbrella, it is not a piece of infrastructure; it is an independent membership body spearheading a national movement with the simple weapons of solidarity and peer support. Our members are everywhere, and so are our staff (#nationallydispersed).

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