The latest open call, Courageous Citizens, ran from March 29 2018 to May 9 2018. We received almost 600 applications from 50 different countries, with applicants being from 85 different nationalities. We selected 31 daring, bold ideas that focus on connecting people within and beyond existing communities. All selected Research and Development grantees are given the opportunity to participate in a tailored Idea Incubator Workshop. The basic concept is to bring together a group of grantees so they can exchange ideas and share knowledge among peers, and work on expanding the impact of the ideas in-development. We have asked organisations from our network that focus on cultural and citizen-engagement to host these short workshops.
The first out of five Idea Incubator Workshops took place at We Make Places in Liverpool, Great Britain, early September. We Make Places provides communities with access to professional expertise to develop land or building based projects but also provides fun and focused design engagement processes that develop the sense of community and leave individuals taking part with new transferable skills. Creative Director Steve Threlfall was an Idea Maker in 2015 and beneficiary of R&D grant with the Contrachapada con Alma project at Medialab Prado. The CEO, Kate Stewart, is involved with People Palaces Projects in Brazil and part of the Creative Producers International with the British Council.
The city of Liverpool provided a particular backdrop for this workshop. As Andrew Lees argues in his book ‘Liverpool. The hurricane port’ “this unique hybrid, and haunted city never quite feels like England.” As a former global port Liverpool – like London – rides the waves of the global economy. They have been rolling away from Liverpool, taking prosperity with it. Some Liverpool neighbourhoods rank amongst the poorest in the United Kingdom. Thatcherite redesigning of society left many Liverpudlians on their own. It is in this city ‘courageous citizens’ can and do make a difference. The program put together by We Make Places highlighted the practices of a series of Liverpool organisations, with one of them hosting the five grantees: West Everton Community Centre (WECC).
Ann of the WECC welcomed us during the opening workshop. She points outside and says “This is our neighbourhood. Families living here were always proud of their neighbourhood, and they respected one another. The gentrification and atomization of the area have not done a lot of good for us. So as a group of tenants we got together. Because we know this is what we want, and this is what we need: A sense of home. We want to keep families in our neighbourhood to keep the school open. It is part of a bigger struggle in the city; housing, health and transport for those who do not win in the globalization of economy.” WECC hosts various community run initiatives, and during the two days we share breaks and meals with various volunteers and visitors.
We Make Places also included a visit to SAFE in the programme. This community centre aka environmental work place aka sustainable enterprise aka arts hub was another example of what might be labeled ‘community led development’ which is the total antithesis to almost all current practices of real estate development. In the words of CEO Brian Dawe: “They build houses, we build neighbourhoods.” SAFE does so by maintaining a street corner pub and its’ surroundings, and soon by starting to build an apartment block so ageing people can stay in their own neighbourhood. Answering the question whether it wasn’t strange for a creative hub to transform into a real estate agency, his answer simply was: “There’s market failure in this area.”
Out of the wreckage
In George Monbiot’s latest book the author argues that community sense and communing practices might be two things fulfilling people’s apparent needs of belonging and co-operation. “We need to feel we belong to a particular place and a particular community, with whom we can achieve common goals,” as a reviewer described the starting point of the book. The Idea Incubator Workshop – perhaps unknowingly – was the perfect illustration of Monbiot’s thesis. And with the five participants joining this first Incubator Workshop coming from Romania, Denmark, Ireland, England and Spain we can imagine it is a notion shared all over Europe.
The #RDgrantees - Frederikke Hansen of ‘Talking About Art’, Geraldine Lavelle representing ‘Improving quality of life for physically disabled people through sport’, Sana Murrani of ‘Creative Recovery: Mapping Refugees’ Memories of Home, as Heritage’, Clara Nchama coordinating ‘Connecting Africa: Bridges between Europe and African Cultures’ and Elena Butica of ‘Purple dot’ – however different in their projects and personalities rapidly grew into ‘a particular community’ during these days. All of them – and the attending ECF staff – were invited to bring a small object representing their city or project to introduce themselves, so we all enjoyed a soft landing into the workshop.
The workshop itself used the Idea Camp ‘ideas on wheels’ method, in which mutual feedback sessions help participants in further defining and outlining their ideas. To prevent the group from being ‘locked in itself’, carefully selected Liverpudlian specialists joined the sessions at WECC. After two days of working closely together, a few shared take away’s became apparent:
- be a good listener, it is the only way to realise your promise of ‘working with them, rather than working for them’
- program time for yourself and take care of yourself, for your project always tends to go on
- make time for dealing with setbacks and grief
- make money (elsewhere) so you can do good
- cut your project into smaller pieces, so you can make progress every day
… and back into Europe
After two days of working, eating, walking and talking together Saturday morning saw participants travel to various destinations. With various digital tools at our disposal to continue conversations this two days were only a part of a process, but we all know saying goodbye is hard. The first Incubator Workshop had finished. Four more to go with #RDgrantees learning on scaling, co-exchange, sustainability and planning: in Rome, in Aveiro, in Marseille and in Zagreb. Five #RDgrantees joined the ECF community. Some 26 more will do in the other workshops.