Understanding the knowledge, experience +skills on the doorstep: Stories of now


Think of all the voluntary effort that has succeeded in bringing together retail, community and voluntary capacity to provide solutions, kindness and hope to people who need it when they need it, where they need it.

After the worst impact of Covid was mitigated by the now regular vaccination and booster campaigns we begin to realise that grappling with the massively different manifestations of the economy in Nottingham different people experience is a vital issue just now.

Beyond voluntary work, charity landlordism and agencies is the massive question of how to create permanent jobs, business development, stable homes in every neighbourhood for every single individual in Nottingham

It’s very hard now for us to imagine the conversations that took place in earlier prejudiced eras that effectively excluded some people from employment, housing, education and health and how you’d begin to unmake that social segmentation that’s still set in hereditary stone here.

More than that is to help people everywhere in Nottingham to connect better with employers, contribute to a working culture in a way that isn’t just about consuming but is about acknowledging the importance of culture, history and alternative versions of events here in Nottingham. Creating a working culture that welcomes people from all walks of life.

Beyond voluntary work we need to reinvent the social contract taking it deeply into the neighbourhood in the way that MPs like Ruth Edwards, Nadia Whittome, Lilian Greenwood and many other councillors and MPs do in Nottinghamshire.

We need to say to landlords, it’s ok to own property, it’s ok to make a profit but not to see tenants as a data harvesting and expensive financial and health services pool. It’s not ok to know that you’re going to put the rent up beyond what the nice people who rent from you can pay and evict tenants after they’ve paid regular increases in rent, the impact of these actions are effectively discrediting them saying to the world at large I can do this, these people don’t matter. And the world believes it.

It’s not ok that landlords, agencies, short term employers become a powerful interest group in society so that services like Citizens Advice, Trading Standards, Law Centres, employment, housing, social and health services set up to add value to a fully functioning democratic society instead become industrialised poverty services for a dispossessed underclass supporting privatised services for people who pay.

What we need to remember in our new social contract is that everyone belongs, everyone has needs and everyone is human and wants relation with others that is healthy, purposeful and contributes to the greater good. Not just the disadvantaged, everyone. We want our society back from the privilege of greed please in the 21st century.

At the moment not only have we industrialised professions, services and technical roles with this kind of accepting shareholder value thinking before anyone/anything else so that there’s no sense that we should be able to wake up eanting to do a great job develop it, grow it do ever better.

We’re told now that being a perfectionist about something isn’t a valid goal (and may even be a mental health issue rather than a human desire to achieve the very best for you and everyone).

We are supposed to accept the powerlessness of under/over work where neither is getting the job done when really that could be because of over determination of the workspace.

I think we need to build in a layer of representation that’s vital and missing from the neighbourhood, from the community.

Industrialising any area of life stops research, creativity in its tracks: whether it’s in the workplace of the people who really want to stop leaks in utilities or if it’s university lecturers, solicitors and barristers earning only as much as kids in coffee bars and McDonalds..these are terrible social harms that we’re doing to people.

Enfranchising working people in Nottingham neighbourhoods is the next important job that we need to do 100%: so that homelessness, disability, illness now a seemingly permanent and exploitative feature of capitalist planning can become a thing of the past.

For so many years we’ve refused to acknowledge the need for a modern parliamentary system that is interested in and accountable to the neighbourhoods of the UK. Instead we have a Westminster that is familiar to privileged individuals from public schools, elite universities and city businesses that employ people from these backgrounds but to everyone else just looks like a stately home.

The change we need is the change we all need to see: a parliament that’s modern, looks modern and reflects the neighbourhoods of the UK on its walls, in its corridors, that inspires the people who work there, who visit who lobby of where they’ve come from and that targets are human as well as financial.

We all need to think about what was lost with the ideological move to globalisation: what moving away from great local companies that were planning for the next hundred years and were put out of business by the greed of people we realise now were a very corrupt elite bringing a constant fight with a domestic enemy within in the UK and socialising everyone to believe that being in a union was letting the country down.

It’s time for the UK to grow up move on from the old colonial strangulation of capacity, potential aspiration to social equalities where we just value people and remember just how great all people are from all backgrounds, histories and cultures and just what harm the system we’ve lived in for the last seventy years has done to us.

Companies like Marks and Spencer, always at the heart of quality of life, change and community across the UK regularly commit food and people to volunteer and develop innovative local solutions that create new opportunities for local people.

This is the kind of collaboration that is stimulating new thinking and ways of building jobs, businesses and the local economy of Nottingham in local people and businesses.

Responding directly, quickly, is empowering to you and the the problem you’re trying to resolve mean that when you consider a problem respond unequivocally with all the resources you have to hand: go immediately to the problem, give to the problem, then observe, breathe and learn. 

During and after the second world war communities originally from all over the world collaborated, shared and grew homes, gardens, allotments, community centres which created a thriving and dynamic local, regional and national economy.

Remember when you were a child and you were asked to do something to help with a problem? Remember when you discovered that there were BIG problems in the world and the talks, discussions, arguments you’d have with family and friends about this or that injustice? 

Can you remember making, baking, letter writing, organising, saving, campaigning? How slooooooow adults, teachers, councillors, politicians seemed to be in just, well, doing something about it? The problems that they saw and you saw were so different?

I can remember at a time of many campaigns a local campaign with a petition started by veteran public services union campaigner Jean Stansfield (now 94) to persuade the council in West Bridgford to build a local park. Today as a new estate has been built where South Notts College used to be. That old park that the residents petitioned for is still a valued resource that looks modern because it’s cared for but has a much older root that’s hidden from view.

We all want things to be better than before Covid but what we need is to understand more than the simple soundbites about the world: we need a longer sense of history, culture, connection and stories.

For example, here in Nottingham we build inflatable art installations that travel around the UK and the world. What people don’t realise is that the original project started in exuberant neighbourhood, voluntary spirit of the 1970’s and 80’s where Alan Parkinson and the Probation service started a skills transfer project: young people learnt to build inflatables that would travel around the playschemes of Nottingham. Based originally in Sherwood Community centre this skills exchange and development project transferred to the Oldknows Factory where it remains today. Today forty years on from that voluntary project the Architects of Air have evolved into highly skilled makers of incredible structures using french manufactured delicate PVC that allows light to enter and filter a rainbow of colour throughout the structure.

The Luminarium has a brilliant story but think about how now in the Covid period that if local people work together to create a better culture just how much creative capacity there is. After Covid we need community workshops to build structures that could be used for new businesses, new ways of working, new products, new problem solving out of the lab into the community and then…back to the lab to produce something local and great that people actually need and want…

If we think about skills in a neighbourhood, community, if we consider the stories of our neighbours, if we stop judging, labelling and keep an open mind we can uncover so much potential on our doorstep. We need to relearn the skills of responding to people we live next door to and to remember how to build relationships, communities and neighbourhoods. This is a kind of catalyst we need to begin to consider new kinds of opportunity and business and move beyond charity.

We need to respond to each other in the kind of International Rescue response that children would approve of: “look mum/dad, if you think that something is wrong why don’t you just do something?” 

Well perhaps now in 2022 conjuring the magic of the 1960’s children’s TV show Thunderbirds where the Tracy family used their massive resources to rescue humanity from human and ecological disasters, we need to get that kind of impossible humour back……we can do anything…or we will get the skills, tools, people to do this…

The problem in the way businesses in Nottingham were working before Covid was to work within a very narrow view of their product, service, customer or interest.

Covid has provided an opportunity to creatively broaden that. In instant responses to problems we realised so much more about our skills, talents, view of work and businesses. We realise that in our neighbourhoods we’re never alone we are part of and can draw upon an ever developing team of energetic, enthusiastic and generous volunteers, supporters and resourcers.

I watched several videos about a brilliant voluntary organisation in Nottingham the voice over said: “We’re in a moment where nature just keeps on pushing through…” the camera pans around Lister Gate but around the trees that we’d normally miss….

Nature keeps on pushing through looking up from Lister Gate up to Middle Pavement Nottingham

We all keep on pushing through historical, cultural and social obstacles: helping and responding to each other encourages humanity to grow out of its anti sociable classism, racism and aggression-businesses representing everyone can come out of all of the volunteering should now be nurtured and developed. 

The Universities want to help but we need an understanding of neighbourhood history in Nottingham to welcome the people who already live here as well as we welcome students, inward investors and sports fans.

Since Covid we’ve been able to look further than our own immediate interests so that the ideas and ideals of growing the land, convivial food, growing, educational and skill communities are seen as a vital way to recover and rejuvenate. The great urban food hall work of Dr Marsha Smith is now being directed to bring rural/urban communities together through convivial food projects.

Local artist activist John Newling talks about how in his garden ‘I experience slow time. Slow time is born out of the natural patterns of growth. Plants don’t instantly grow, fruits do not just appear ripe overnight, or soils gain fertile richness in an instant. As we all coexist with the temporality of nature it stands to reason we have to accept the time it takes for living things to germinate and grow. In the garden I coexist with this pattern of time and learn the discipline that nature insists on. I often feel it is for me to help where I can but, by and large, it is me that is being taught by an intelligence that is so much greater than my own.
(Extract from Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman 
Image: Between Breathing and Spinning John Newling August 2022

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