Speech at the launch of Jericho Road Solutions, 15th May 2013

Welcome, and thank you for coming to wet the baby’s head.

I’m going to revisit a speech I first gave in November 2010 which was the first time I used the Jericho Road quote. Goes to show you never know where an inspirational quote might take you!

“On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will only be an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s history.”

Martin Luther King, ‘A Time to Break Silence’, 1967

At that time the Government was busy drafting legislation [now law] to ‘give’ a series of rights to local communities. After many years of the rhetoric of ‘community empowerment’, the cliché that ‘local people know best’ and the fundamental failure to do anything practical about it, this new language of community rights had to be welcomed. And we will not wait to see if they mean it this time: we must make it true.

In the real unequal world rights are not legislated by government. The Equal Pay Act did not close the pay gap, anti-discrimination laws do not end prejudice. In his Civil Rights Message on the day the Alabama National Guardsman were called to enforce the rights of two black students to attend the university, JFK said that Congress had to act but that civil rights would only be achieved by the human decency of every American citizen. He also famously acknowledged that “those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

Even in 2010 the parallel shock-and-awe of spending cuts, welfare raiding and mass asset disposal made his words more relevant to us than they had been for 25 years. That was 2 ½ years ago and we’re still only a third of the way through the deficit. One of you told me last week that there are bigger horrors to come and asked how to give communities as good a chance as possible in that world?

How can we possibly remain optimists? I suppose the reason I am still optimistic despite everything is that I always knew that it wouldn’t be the state or the market that creates the positive local change that people long for.

It is collective local action that will transform the Jericho Road.

In 2010, working for Locality, I spoke specifically about community anchors – independent, neighbourhood-based organisations led by local people – with their long history and impressive geographical spread, their commitment to social justice through collective social action, creating local wealth and keeping it local, building resilience for themselves and throughout their communities – surviving in order to adapt in order to serve.

I’ve often said that Locality members are bi-focal organisations. As well as dedicating passionate energy to their own fine-grain patch and its people, they care about and support each other across the country.

Jericho Road Solutions is also bi-focal. I came from 10 years of neighbourhood work, into 10 years of national roles. Now I want explicitly to do both.

  • On the one hand, Neighbourhood coaching – to help local leaders make change that is fulfilling, balanced and done well.
  • On the other, National POP Design –creating policies, organisations and programmes that make local change easier.

If collective local action will transform the Jericho Road, then the bonds between localities will make sure that’s not an isolated right enjoyed by the few, but a control-shift that genuinely enables people in any neighbourhood to get on with what needs doing.

Jericho Road will be an active pollinator. Those of you who follow @LocalityJess on twitter will know that one of the few non-neighbourhood causes I promote is Bees. That’s not just cos they’re so cute and fluffy and brave and useful; it’s a total admiration for the bee as metaphor – the pollinator whose self-interested busy-ness is so fundamentally for the common good.

[I said in 2010] This is not a bid for power-over, for ‘communities at the helm’ of big budget regeneration – we know that time is over, for what it was worth. This is a demand for power-to, for groups of local people to be allowed to make our own change, using whatever resources we can collectively marshal.

The challenges ahead [at the end of 2010 and still now in mid 2013] are undeniably frightening and the opportunities are hard to grasp before they slip away. I believe in the value of individuals and communities. Not all communities are ‘good’, any more than all individuals are ‘good’; but they all have the potential. I believe in the economies of small scale; the power of Margaret Mead’s small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens; the hard craft of cooperation as described by Richard Sennett.

Lindon Johnson said “The Great Society is not… a resting place… a finished work. It is a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us towards a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the marvellous products of our labor.”

We need to be sketching the new horizon. What would our world look like if the rights & resilience of neighbourhoods
were given
due weight?

Imagine this…

By 2020: Scorched-earth regeneration and maturbatory masterplanning are old-fashioned and discredited. New regeneration focuses on supporting ideas, conversations, leadership and collective action.

It’s based on values: compassion, equity, integrity, courage

  • COMPASSION: We feel for each other, not for charity but for solidarity. And because as listening and collective action becomes increasingly normal, we are less scared of each other.
  • EQUITY: No decisions about us without us – the recognised signs of a good LA or LEP (or whatever has replaced them) are its creative outreach, multiple networks , visible accountability
  • INTEGRITY: We approach challenges in good faith. We say what we mean and mean what we say – an old cliché but one still worth living by
  • COURAGE: Often we say and do things that fail. Failure is the development cost for the next attempt. We need the courage of honest doubt, to have a go anyway, to feel your way in the dark. We need the optimism bias that allows us to take risks for innovation, for change, for freedom.

On that new horizon is an approach that squeezes every single resource – it roots out ‘waste’ like a truffle pig. Not the waste of giving people a biscuit at meetings, but the economic and social wastelands left by the failures of the paternalist state and the reckless market.

In their place, supported by an enabling state and an incentivised pro-social market, self-renovating neighbourhoods go with the grain of the three great grassroots virtues – impatience, thrift, and sociability – that were ignored for so long.

  • People are doing stuff right now, they are used to meanwhiling, it’s part of how you make change. Even the funders have caught up, admirably led by Heritage Lottery Fund back in the day.
  • People are proud to be resourceful, thrifty, to make things happen by unlocking the hidden resources
  • People are actually enjoying themselves. All that energy and money wasted on fake consultation has been diverted into what I call the Biscuit Fund. No more draughty church hall meetings… instead picnics and pot-luck dinners, bake-offs and curry nights. Bringing the food bank and the planning workshop together… bringing hospitality back into community action.

And by 2020 there has been a big change – one that has released many millions of pounds back into the economy and begun to heal the scars of the welfare wars . The danger and stupidity of the foul talk of ‘scroungers’ was finally exposed by a campaign of the stature of ‘Cathy Come Home’. It became obvious that the abiding principle of 21st century welfare should be communities. Welfare policy must recognise the role communities play or could play in an individual’s transition to productive work and personal independence. Welfare spend must be an investment in communities as well as individuals. The Community Allowance – which lets community organisations pay local people to do work that is good for the neighbourhood, without losing their benefit status – is part of a wider shift towards a pro-social economy. Picture it…

OK, open your eyes! Here we are in 2013. When will we start towards that horizon?

The rest of the evening is a taster of the Social Salon which we aim to launch later this year. Let’s use the idea of ‘sketching the horizon’ to seed some conversations. So what do you see when you look at the line where NOW joins the FUTURE? What are you doing in your life/work to move towards that horizon to make the good things better and the bad things less scary? And how might enlightened conversation in mixed company help?

A toast to the rights and resilience of neighbourhoods.


And a toast to Jericho Road Solutions, which gives me the opportunity to be useful and brave (if not cute and fluffy!).


This entry was posted in Community Allowance, Jericho Road Solutions, Locality, Self-renovating neighbourhoods, Thinking. Bookmark the permalink.

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