Lots of plans affecting London civil society – now we need someone to join them up for #TheWayAhead and @MayorofLondon

Lively discussion and networking at today’s meeting about London Plan social infrastructure left me with plenty of insights and one over-riding impression: no-one is looking in-the-round at the future of London’s communities.

That’s frustrating – but also an opportunity for convening different interests to realise the idea of co-production originally promoted in The Way Ahead plans for civil society.

We currently have a number of plans and initiatives relevant to civil society (links at the end):

  • The draft London plan, from the Greater London Authority: as thick as a couple of telephone directories, but mainly focussed on geographic and locational issues.
  • An emerging GLA civil society strategy: some good consultation by consultants last year, but likely to be more of an action plan than an overall strategy, we heard today.
  • The Way Ahead plans for a resource Hub for London: currently focussed on staff recruitment for an organisation born from Greater London Volunteering, with wider infrastructure plans awaiting staff.
  • Smart London: a more recent development, which has references to community and civil society but as yet little substance on that front.

At the same time we have lost the London Voluntary Service Council, now in liquidation after 107 years, and Greater London Volunteering is transitioning to become the Hub for London.

All this led to some discussion today about who will help articulate the needs of local communities faced with loss of facilities, and the future of voluntary bodies faced with spending cuts.

The original “Way Ahead” review by London Funders – who helped organise today’s event – advocated a pragmatic co-production approach:

  • communities identifying for themselves, with support if needed, what their needs are
  • funders, the public sector and civil society’s understanding of need being based on what communities identify for themselves
  • communities being enabled to change their own lives for the better
  • communities shaping solutions and responses to opportunities
  • communities shaping services delivered by others, whether these be public sector or civil society services
  • communities advocating and campaigning on their own behalf, with support if needed

Somehow that community ethos has gone from current plans (subject, of course, to what happens when Hub staff are in place).

At the moment this loss of community focus means that the community and social heart is missing from the various plans – and there is nothing to join them up in the interests of Londoners.

That’s an issue that led to the formation of Our Way Ahead, a network of local and pan-London networks promoting a more bottom-up and bottom-across approach, and the continuing work of Just Space as a voice for Londoners in planning strategies, [edit] and facilitating & amplifying each other’s voices.

It’s been the focus for Connecting Londoners and our Networked City exploration over the past year.

I guess this lack of joined up policy is what happens during times of organisational transition: unfortunately this is also a time of great social stress.

Although I’ve focussed here on the problem, there was also a lot of goodwill in the room at City Hall. People are frustrated – but also keen to collaborate on ways forward.

What’s needed is a convenor without a vested interested in a particular perspective.

I wonder whether Big Lottery Fund has a role? Their strategic framework says:

  • We believe people should be in the lead in improving their lives and communities. Our approach will focus on the skills, assets and energy that people can draw upon and the potential in their ideas.

  • We feel that strong, vibrant communities can be built and renewed by the people living in them – making them ready for anything in the face of future opportunities and challenges.

I worked with colleagues on a People Power Change exploration for BLF a few years back. I think our current ideas for a Community of Practice for connecting communities are relevant, together with the ideas on co-production I drafted for The Way Ahead working group on the topic.

We suggest that institutional plans and structures only go so far: what’s needed is a platform for change agents who use a mix of community building, technology, story telling and other methods to help connect people, networks and organise, and realise the assets in communities. Making pragmatic co-production real.

Currently Networked City, Connecting Londoners and Our Way Ahead are planning an event at the end of March to provide input to the Smart City initiative, with some mapping and comms work beforehand. Today’s discussion make me wonder whether there’s scope for a process and event to do something more substantial.


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