Barking transformation

POSTED: December 20, 2019

Sophie Hope drew my attention to an article by George Monbiot in the Guardian, in which he describes a set of projects taking place in the London borough of Barking and Dagenham.

He regards them as potentially transformative.

Just as the council began looking for ideas, the Participatory City Foundation, led by the inspiring Tessy Britton, approached it with a plan for an entirely different system, developed after nine years of research into how bridging networks form. Nothing like it had been attempted by a borough before. The council realised it was taking a risk. But it helped to fund a £7m, five-year experiment, called Every One, Every Day.

Researching successful community projects across the world, the foundation discovered a set of common principles. Typically, they demand little time or commitment from local people, and no financial cost. They are close to people’s homes, open to everyone, and designed to attract talent rather than to meet particular needs. They set up physical and visible infrastructure. And rather than emphasising novelty – the downfall of many well-intentioned schemes – they foster simple projects that immediately improve people’s lives. The foundation realised that a large part of the budget would need to be devoted to evaluation, to allow the plan to adapt almost instantly to residents’ enthusiasm.

They launched Every One, Every Day in November 2017, opening two shops (the first of five) on high streets in Barking and Dagenham. The shops don’t sell anything but are places where people meet, discuss ideas and launch projects. The scheme has also started opening “maker spaces”, equipped with laser cutters and other tools, sewing machines and working kitchens. These kinds of spaces are usually occupied by middle-class men but, so far, 90% of the participants here are women. The reason for the difference is simple: almost immediately, some of the residents drew a line on the floor, turning part of the space into an informal creche, where women take turns looking after the children. In doing so, they overcame one of the biggest barriers to new businesses and projects: affordable childcare.

He goes on to describe some of the range of work carried out as part of the project, while admitting that it currently involves only a very small (and self-selecting) group of people. ”Four thousand of the borough’s 200,000 people have participated so far”, he notes.