I count myself fortunate in the jobs I’ve had. I’ve enjoyed them all – bar one. Working for a large local authority, I had become poacher turned reluctant gamekeeper, with the principal cause of my discomfort an involvement with the Council’s funding of the City’s voluntary sector. Perhaps a little naive in those days, I was still shocked by the culture of control being exerted through the medium of a simple grant – ‘the Council runs this city and the reason we fund voluntary orgs is to help us do that.’ While nowadays few would (openly) subscribe to that sentiment, there’s still much ambiguity – and in some quarters ambivalence – around why the public purse provides support to our sector. Is it a no-strings public investment in the common good, what William Beveridge described in 1948 as ‘the distinguishing mark of a free society’? Or is it the formal procurement of a prescribed set of goods and services. For months now, Scottish Government has conducted a competitive tendering exercise to determine who should be allowed to represent Scotland’s social enterprise sector. Just pause for a second to reflect on that last sentence. Whatever the outcome, this just feels wrong. A line has been crossed.
In the most recent briefing…
Fifty years ago the myth that local people couldn’t be trusted or didn’t have the know-how to run their own public services began to unravel as groups of tenants from across Glasgow’s inner city set about transforming the slum conditions they were being forced to live in. By creating housing cooperatives and community controlled housing associations local people began rebuilding their communities. However, running these organisations is a complex and demanding job and the sceptics believed that eventually the tenants would step away and leave it to outside professionals. Recent research highlights that quite the opposite has happened.
When it was reported in the press recently that there are more food banks in the country than McDonald’s restaurants, the story passed by almost unnoticed. Such is the normalisation of food poverty – a feature of life for many that is certain to exacerbate with mounting pressures on household budgets. In the face of mounting food insecurity, Nourish Scotland and others have been working hard to develop good practice principles for placing dignity at the heart of community health provision. Interesting article in The Conversation about the potential of community fridges to shift the dial.
It’s becoming increasingly common to carry a bag for picking up other people’s litter while out on a walk. We seem to have a problem with litter that’s on a scale other countries just wouldn’t recognise. Marine litter however is a different sort of problem but in many respects, a more serious one. It’s a massive problem for our islands – not just in terms of what to do with it once collected – as islanders endlessly do – but also because of the impact it has on marine wildlife. A joint initiative is being coordinated by umbrella body, Scottish Islands Federation.
A broad consensus is emerging that many of the systems that have served us well in the past (economic, environmental and political) are fast becoming either completely obsolete or at the very least, in need of radical overhaul and upgrade. They no longer appear able to respond to the multiple and existential challenges of our age (climate change, wealth inequality, pandemics, rise of populism etc). What we seem to lack however is any consensus around what the alternatives might be. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance suggests that the answer may lie with a concept that has been around for millennia.
How anyone can assess whether the European structural funds that have been lost to the system by Brexit are being adequately replaced by the ironically named Shared Prosperity Fund is a mystery. But what these funds will never compensate for is the loss of the knowledge and cultural exchanges and the peer-led research programmes that so many communities have engaged with over the years. Argyll-based InspirAlba has recently collaborated with colleagues from Estonia, Finland, Germany and Romania to explore best practice in rural social enterprise. A great piece of work the likes of which we’re unlikely to see again.
From a distance Scotland’s progress in community empowerment looks impressive, with a smorgasbord of legislative devices (asset transfer requests, participation requests, local place plans etc) for communities to choose from. But as we know, devolution of real power requires more subtle changes in the system to occur, and at a deeper level. In Bologna, the City’s leadership has completely reversed the dominant logic – where the citizenry initiates and proposes, the city enables and supports. While some might claim that already happens here, a trip to Bologna might help in understanding the difference between rhetoric and reality.
Out of the Blue Arts and Education Trust is based in the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh. Our vision is that Edinburgh becomes a creative, participative city in which everyone is able to access the spaces and resources they require to pursue their own creativity, no matter who they are and what form it may take. Our mission is to provide affordable and appropriate spaces, resources, projects and opportunities for the residents of Edinburgh to be creative. Out of the Blue has established a reputation as an independent, dynamic and innovative cultural social enterprise. Out…Find out more