Ordsall creativity celebrated at University of Salford event

An event celebrating the fantastic achievements accomplished by those involved in the University of Salford led ‘Ideas4Ordsall’ initiative was held at the University’s Old Fire Station on Saturday 12th September 2015.

group  Here is the Ideas4Ordsall group celebrating at the event with Salford’s Ceremonial Mayor Cllr Peter Dobbs (centre).

Ideas4Ordsall, which supports the Ordsall community of Salford to develop cultural and creative activities, launched in January 2015 and the event was created to acknowledge its early success.

Local people from Ordsall and Islington were awarded certificates at the event by one of the Guests of Honour, Salford’s Ceremonial Mayor Cllr Peter Dobbs, which recognised their achievements in developing their ideas into community activities.

The University of Salford’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Nigel Mellors and the City Mayor of Salford, Ian Stewart also made guest appearances. Mr Stewart gave a rousing speech which highlighted how the local people had worked creatively in their community to realise their ideas and ambitions.

ianThe University of Salford’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Nigel Mellors (left) and the City Mayor of Salford, Ian Stewart (right).

Local ideas range from Rosemary Swift’s idea for an Ordsall Social History play to Shannon Randall’s dog walking service, from Ronnie Crowther’s Ordsall Art Collective to David Winston’s research into WW1 nurse heroine, Edith Cavell.

Ideas4Ordsall is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and is led by Dr Jessica Symons and Dr Beth Perry from the University of Salford’s Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures (SURF)  group in the School of Built Environment (SoBE).

It is part of a four-year project on cultural intermediaries in the creative city with partners at the Universities of Birmingham, Birmingham City and City University.

Ideas4Ordsall has supported over 20 local residents to carry out community festivals, art collectives, bee hive installations, craft clubs and local history plays, to name but a few. The initiative takes local residents ideas and turns them into reality through the provision of much needed financial and practical support.

Named the ‘Ordsall Creatives’, residents have also received support from a range of local organisations including Let’s Go Global, Chapel Street Community Arts, Ordsall Community Arts and local Salford artist, Amber Sanchez.

Speaking at the event, Nigel Mellors, PVC Research and Enterprise at the University of Salford, said: “It was great to be able to welcome the Ordsall community onto the campus and celebrate their creativity.

nigelProfessor Nigel Mellors discussing the initiative with a member of the Ideas4Ordsall initiative.

“Ideas4Ordsall illustrates the high commitment to working with local people that the University wants to support.

“SoBE’s SURF team have done a fantastic job”

Dr Beth Perry, Director of UPRISE/Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures in SoBE, from the University of Salford, said: “There is so much energy and creativity in Ordsall that we wanted to give people a chance to develop their own ideas.

bethSalford’s Ceremonial Mayor Cllr Peter Dobbs (centre) and Dr Beth Perry, Director of UPRISE Research Centre looking at Ideas4Ordsall’s ideas.

“Local cultural organisations and artists have played a vital role in supporting residents to make their ideas happen.

“We wanted to have an event to celebrate all the wonderful people that have participated in this research.”

Research Fellow Dr Jess Symons spent time in Ordsall getting to know people and then developed ‘Ideas4Ordsall’ to give local people’s ideas a boost.

One of the ideas supported is the Ordsall Art Collective. Local resident Ronnie Crowther, a 44-year old father of two who works night-shifts at Sainsbury’s, brought the collective together. They have had a pop-up shop at the Lowry Outlet Mall and will be exhibiting at the Royal Exchange Theatre between 7-27 September 2015.

Ronnie said: “There is a lot of artistic talent in Ordsall that goes completely unnoticed and it was my idea to create a platform to get that talent recognised.

“The work of the Collective is of a very high standard and we wanted somewhere to say ‘we are here and look at what we can do’.

“These people should be making a proper living out of their work and hopefully this can help them take the next step.”

Laura Kendall is a local resident whose volunteering with Ordsall Community Arts has changed her life. Ideas4Ordsall supported Laura to work with Ordsall Community Arts and develop her idea of a community billboard. The billboard is now displayed on Ordsall Community Allotments to let local people know about all the activities taking part in the neighbourhood.

Laura said “With the right support I’ve learned how to cope in social situations, I have become so much stronger in myself and I am now very active in my community.

“There is so much going on in Ordsall but a huge majority of people just don’t know about it.

“I thought of having a noticeboard where I know it will be seen by so many people walking by to school, the shops, the doctors, and the dentist.”

A full list of creative activities undertaken as part of the project can be found on the Ideas4Ordsall website.


Place, people and plants………….

Its been really satisfying going back to people who were involved in the Square Mile project over 5 years ago and finding out what impact that had on their lives. Square Mile worked with local people, local artists and environmental scientists to “map” their immediate neighbourhood through art – photography, storytelling, dance etc and to look at the people that lived their and their lives; the environment – bio diversity, waste etc and the cultural environment.  Five years on people had strong memories of the programme – what worked, the new relationships built and some of the challenges in doing this work.

The project took place in 6 cities in the UK and also in: Johannesburg; Delhi; Karachi; Dakar; Tehran; Toronto and all the projects were linked on line.  The ambition to have a global conversation was a bit ambitious as the technology, even six years ago, was not really up to it.

The key learning from reflection was that it is important to give time and listen to the natural rhythm to the work.  Not easy when their are funding cycles involved. That building trust is a slow and intense process; that people have remarkable solutions to problems and fresh approaches to local challenges if the time and circumstances are there to listen.

The report has been written as part of the cultural intermediaries project.

Summer’s over, but festival season is just starting!


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As the new academic year begins here at University of Salford the grinding of gears can almost be heard on campus as green areas and buildings are being smartened up in anticipation of new and returning student cohorts.

I’ve just come back to the grey and rainy North from a weekend spent camping at End of the Road festival, which has been one of the last reliably sunny outdoor music festivals of the season for the last ten English summers, but to balance the sadness at the thought of no more nights under canvas until next summer, the season for urban indoor-based events is picking up. In fact, autumn looks set to be the festival highlight of the year!

Right now there’s a national month-long festival of independent and repertory cinema underway, thanks to the organisers of Scalarama, now in its fifth year and still growing.


This year independent screening groups, film clubs and cinema enthusiasts in a number of cities formed festival sub-hubs to collectively co-ordinate their programme contributions.

This has been a brilliant and (in Leeds) unprecedented way to bring a disparate group of film exhibitors with very different aims and practices around a table regularly to meet each other, start a dialogue and share knowledge. New partnerships and future plans have emerged from this process and as we look forward to Leeds International Film Festival in November, there is a sense that this year, when the festival closes, there will still be plenty going on in the city to sustain a truly independent film culture year-round.

I’ve contributed two documentary films to the Scalarama programme this year. On Wednesday 16th September there’s another screening of the 2013 documantary Manakamana to raise money to send to a Nepal rebuilding project. The documentary, directed by Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez, was made in the Manakamana temple area by a group of ethnographic filmmakers who are part of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University. The work of this practice-as-research centre is characteristically immersive and this film is no exception: a 16mm camera was placed in a cable car that transports worshippers up and down a mountain to a remote temple. It is a journey that prior to the development of the cable car service took many days and the people caught in the intense gaze of the film reflect on this and other things during their journeys.


The film makers set up a crowd funding campaign earlier this year to send assistance to the village where they were based during filming after the terrible earthquakes and with the help of the film’s UK distributor Dogwoof, some colleagues and I have been able to screen this film several times this year to send the door money to the film’s participant community via that fund.

Then on Thursday 24th September I’m joining in with a simultaneous screening across 6 UK venues with two films that look closely at protest, direct action and freedom of speech in the UK. One is a short documentary by Nick Broomfield about six Greenpeace protesters who in 2008 were tried and acquitted for shutting down Kingsnorth power station in the UK, the other is Franny Armstrong’s film McLibel which is rarely screened but is a remarkable story about two protestors who were charged with libel by McDonalds after leafletting outside one of their shops, with surprising consequences. five cops

This second film is also part of the #directedbywomen strand within Scalarama this year, drawing attention to the achievements of women in film, while women are still under-represented in most areas of film making practice.

The Radical Film Network have facilitated this second event and this group have been an important discovery during my PhD research that has helped me to put a critical frame of reference around a set cultural activities which I attempt to describe in my thesis as constitutive of a discursive public sphere. This is a lightweight, international network of film makers, exhibitors and academics which emerged from the Bristol Radical Film Festival (BRFF), it is the festival’s 4th edition this year, with all screenings taking place at the Arnolfini in October.

logo BRFF

The 2015 festival is formally very different to the last one.
Last year the BRFF festival organisers set up some of their political film screenings in community centres, taking their message to areas beyond city’s usual centre of cultural consumption. This year the festival celebrates the 40th anniversary of The First Festival of British Independent Cinema, a landmark event in the history of alternative film in Britain, which was organised by the filmmaker, writer, curator and dramatist, David Hopkins (1940-2004) at the Arnolfini. The 1975 festival screened overtly political film alongside avant-garde and experimental work on 35mm and super-8mm formats. In true radical film tradition, a speaker from the festival will be at the screening to lead the discussions afterwards.

Inspired by the work I have encountered in my research, I have been able to bring many events from the BRFF and other festivals to Leeds through my own events series and my connections with the Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF). This year there will be a programme exchange between LIFF and BRFF, they have suggested a rarely screened, collectively-made film from 1974 which puts into practice the tenets of feminist film theory, however the title can’t be revealed yet! The LIFF programme launch is on Light Night, Friday 9th October at Leeds Town Hall.

Being Human festival logoA film festival event in November that I can announce is a collaboration with Dr. Emily Zobel Marshall, a researcher at Leeds Beckett University. We have placed a film screening simultaneously in both LIFF and the national Being Human festival of the humanities, all Being Human events are between12 and 22 November 2015.

La Rue Cases-Nègres (Black Shack Alley) is the title of a book by well-known Martinican writer Joseph Zobel, the story was made into a film in 1983, directed by Euzhan Palcy. In the year of its release the film was awarded Silver Lion award at the 1983 Venice Film Festival and the director won a César Award for Best First Feature Film, making 25 year old Euzhan Palcy the first black female director of a Hollywood film.

The film transports viewers to 1930s Martinique, an island under French colonial rule, when poor rural black children can hope for little more than a life of back-breaking working in the sugar cane fields, working for the wealthy white béké, or boss. Young Jose escapes this fate and gains an education through the many sacrifices of his extraordinary Grandmother.

Rue Cases Negres Film PosterThe film will be introduced by Joseph Zobel’s daughter, Jenny Zobel, and granddaughter, Emily Marshall, a researcher in literature and post-colonial studies who suggested the title to me.

The screening and its contextualisation through the introduction and discussion will hopefully start a conversation about colonialism, oppression, resistance and the importance of education. The Being Human festival is one of a number of festivals organised by universities which I’ve become aware of through my research that are committed to showing the strength of humanities research and teaching at a time when the study of humanities subjects is being politically undermined.

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Helen Malarky and Professor Berthold Schoene manage a ‘festival of the humanities’, held in Manchester, called Humanities in Public, which started in 2013 as a year-long public engagement initiative aiming to reach people with no experience of higher education but who may be interested in what higher education can offer. In this guest blog for the Being Human festival, they explain: “we didn’t want our public engagement efforts to be seen as a way of ‘saving’ the humanities. As far as we were concerned, the humanities did not need saving. They already had what it took.” They celebrate the work being done at MMU and want their staff to share it with the public.

The HiP festival is made up of themes, each of which involves a short series of events ranging from evening talks, exhibitions and interdisciplinary seminars to off-campus activities such as city walks or tours of buildings, pub quizzes and film screenings. The university has developed many new cultural partnerships through this festival and researchers at Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science have produced vast amounts of original work. The faculty recently took on the former Cornerhouse facilities nearby, where some of the events will be happening and it all kicks off next month.

So with such a range of events I’m going to have plenty to keep me busy in the evenings, my days are now filled with writing writing writing as the three years of PhD are nearly up! I hope this post has given a flavour of the sorts of cultural events I’ve been studying and why they matter, now to make sense of everything I’ve encountered along the way.


What an adventure we have had in Ordsall

The project is reaching a crescendo this month with a Celebration Event at the Old Fire Station in the University of Salford campus.

We are pleased to welcome the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Enterprise at the University of Salford, Professor Nigel Mellors together with the Civic Mayor of Salford, Ian Stewart and the Ceremonial Mayor of Salford, Councillor Pete Dobbs who also happens to be Councillor for the Ordsall Ward. The other councillors for Ordsall, Cllr Ray Mashita (who is Chair of Planning and Regulatory Panel at the council) and Cllr Tanya Birch are also going to be attending.

All these grand people are coming to applaud the hard work of the Ideas4Ordsall cohort – 20 local people who were supported by the Cultural Intermediation project to develop ideas that they have for the local area.  These ideas have ranged from beehives in the Ordsall Community Allotments to a Social History play at the Salford Lads Club, to photo/craft/bike workshops to the Islington Community Festival. We have learned about World War 1 nurse Edith Cavell, a war heroine who was shot by the Germans for helping wounded soldiers escape Belgium from one enthusiast who is now giving regular talks across the city region about this remarkable woman.

You can find out more about these great ideas on the Ideas4Ordsall website

Creative Commissions in Balsall Heath

It’s been a busy few months in Balsall Heath with Arshad and our community commissioning panel members running organising different events.  Here are some of the highlights.

Back in June the first of the West Indian cultural group events took place, with an evening of music and conversation held at Balsall Heath’s Printworks.  Derek filmed bits of the evening’s activities, including this blues jam featuring Cornelius on bass:

Derek has been doing a lot of filming for the group and we roped him in to help with our second Poetic Transect.  He and Chris Jam have been out and about in Balsall Heath, talking to people about the neighbourhood, collecting stories and verse.  A new film will be online soon.


Meanwhile the new “Balsall Heath travel agency” has organised two major trips.  A few weeks ago the group took a couple of coaches down to London to give people a chance to visit the South Kensington Museums (and to disappear off to Hyde Park to go on the paddle boats in the Serpentine!).


The intercultural tour of the V&A looking at Islamic arts went down particularly well with group members exploring their heritage.

Last weekend Arshad & I had a day trip up to the Lake District to visit the group who were staying at the Priestley Centre near Coniston.  This was a women-and-children-only trip and was the first time in the Lake District for many of the group.


The Priestley Centre offers lots of outdoor activities and it was great seeing all the fun the kids were having swinging through the trees.  The group who went out on Lake Coniston in a canoe came back very enthused about the history of the area wanting to find out more about the Bluebird as well as visit Brandtwood, John Ruskin’s house overlooking the water.

In other news, the football tournament will be starting in a couple of weekends’ time. Naseem, who has been organising this, was showing off the newly arrived kit when we went to see him at his shop yesterday.


It’s been a really exciting time watching this all come together through the hard work and dedication of commissioning panel members.  And there’s still more activities to go over the next few months in Balsall Heath…

Ideas4Ordsall Highlights: Laura’s Billboard

Laura is a local parent and worker at Ordsall Community Arts. She used to think that there was ‘nothing going on’ in Ordsall but after getting involved in the project she changed her mind.

The University of Salford project team commissioned Ordsall Community Arts to find out about cultural activities in the local area and OCA recruited 6 local people to spend time in the community talking to people and finding out what’s on. As they asked questions, looked at adverts and posters in windows, on noticeboards and online and listened via ‘word-of-mouth’, the community researchers realised that there was ‘loads going on’ in the area.

Laura was one of the community researchers and she got really excited about sharing and communicating ‘what’s on’ to her friends and neighbours. As a local parent, she is always out and about in the community anyway so it is easy for her to let people know. She started talking to people about their activities and set up a Facebook Group called On in Ordsall which now has 555 members (as of 3rd Sept 2015).

When the project funding came available to support the development of local people’s ideas, Laura proposed a public billboard in the Ordsall Park area for posters and info about local activities and events. After a number of false starts and waiting for people to get back to her, she was delighted when the Ordsall Community Allotments agreed she could put up a board on their fences.  Laura worked with local artist, Marie (another Ideas Person who has put beehives in the allotments), to create a fabulous board that can be updated regularly.

Laura’s launch of the billboard was featured on Salford Online.

Lots of people thank Laura for sharing info about events and activities that they otherwise wouldn’t realise were happening. People stop and read the Billboard regularly and also stop and chat to Laura about what they are doing.

Cultural activities only work if people know about them! Laura’s billboard and Facebook group is making sure that happens in Ordsall… Well done Laura 🙂

New Book: Creative Economies, Creative Communities

Saskia and I were delighted last week to receive the first copies of our latest edited book, published by Ashgate.  Creative Economies, Creative Communities came out of a conference session that we organised at the Royal Geographical Society in August 2013 called ‘New Frontiers of connecting communities in the creative economy’ (we blogged about this at the time).

The subtitle of the book is ‘rethinking place, policy and practice’ and is our attempt to think through the way that space and place can have a major impact on the way that the creative economy is experienced and how communities can become engaged in creative practice.  As an edited collection it has contributors from a number of different fields, including professional practitioners from Birmingham City Council.  It also contains a piece by Cultural Intermediation’s very own Dave O’Brien looking at practices of participant-led evaluation within the Some Cities photography project, which was co-funded by CI as part of our pilot of community-led commissioning.

The full contents list and contributors is below.  It’s quite an expensive book to buy. but you can get in touch with the individual authors directly to see if they’ll supply you with a pre-publication version of their chapter.

Warren S & Jones P eds. (2015) Creative economies, creative communities: rethinking place, policy & practice.  Ashgate, Farnham

  1. Introduction. Saskia Warren and Phil Jones

Section one: Creative Practice, Creating Communities

  1. Producing people: the socio-materialities of African beadwork. Shari Daya
  1. People, place and fish: Exploring the cultural ecosystem services of inshore fishing through photography. Tim G. Acott and Julie Urquhart
  1. Evaluation, photography and intermediation: connecting Birmingham’s communities. Dave O’Brien
  1. Creative place-making: where legal geography meets legal consciousness. Antonia Layard and Jane Milling

Section 2: Policy connections, creative practice

  1. Bridging gaps and localising neighbourhood provision: reflections on cultural co-design and co-production. Ginnie Wollaston and Roxanna Collins
  1. The everyday realities of digital provision and practice for rural creative economies. Liz Roberts and Leanne Townsend
  1. Libraries and museums as breeding grounds of social capital and creativity: potential and challenges in the post-socialist context. Monika Murzyn-Kupisz and Jarek Działek
  1. Cross Intermediation? Policy, creative industries and cultures across the EU. Paul Long and Steve Harding
  1. Conclusion: the place of creative policy? Phil Jones and Saskia Warren

Guest post: Cultural Commissioning in Balsall Heath



Participants in Balsall Heath are currently developing their projects.  In this guest post two of our panel members, Fouzia and Tahira, reflect on their involvement with the project and what they would like to achieve.

We are part of a group panel, which consists of 14 females and one male participant. The ladies are from a diverse background with different levels of education and occupations. Being part of the cultural project has been a fascinating experience. We have gained more knowledge around this project, which has an impact on our professional development, ranging from what mobile interviews are and how they are conducted. In addition, we were able to gain insights from participants about their perceptions on being involved in the planning of cultural activities for the community.

This project has created opportunities for the participants to be involved in something new, different and far from what they have done before. Also, it has provided the opportunity for participants to develop new skills at all levels. The learners have learnt time management and note taking skills, as well as gaining confidence in using their English speaking skills amongst the group members. Moreover, this has provoked them to reflect on any previous and existing cultural activities they have taken part in and discussing the long term benefits such as keeping artefacts and photographs to show generations to come.

Amongst other exciting activities taking place, the Lake District is the most popular and inspirational as it involves an overnight stay without their spouses. Looking deeply into the insights of the participants reveals that neither of the group members have visited the Lake District. During this journey we are focussing to capture key elements of the visit taking place, via using disposable cameras, which will be provided for each individual.  The idea of sharing the photographs with friends, family and teachers could encourage the new coming generation to participate in similar activities.

We are interested in creating new opportunities for Asian women and understanding the obstacles which limit women of Balsall Heath to access different types of cultural activities.  This raises questions of whether this is due to any cultural barriers, which restrict Asian women from seeking and exploring cultural activities.

Fouzia Choudhry and Tahira Hussain

Co-operatives and the Cultural Industries


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Co-operatives and the Cultural Industries was a round-table discussion organised on 1st of April 2015 by Marisol Sandoval and Jo Littler at Creative Industries Department, City University, London. Four speakers had roughly 20 minutes each to talk about co-ops, followed by time for questions, comments and discussions.

To set the scene for this discussion, it is important to consider the following:

Around 50,000 design and creative arts graduates come onto the labour market each year. They face entering the workforce as part of the new precariat, what Guy Standing has labelled the ‘New Dangerous Class’, which means they are likely to be “relegated to a bits-and-pieces life, in and out of casual flexible jobs, without being able to build an occupational career or identity” (Standing 2011).

The four speakers had very different experiences of co-operation as a business practice, but their presentations addressed these problems:

1) Unpaid work and internships are endemic, even axiomatic, in creative and cultural sectors and permanent jobs are hard to come by.
2) Although ‘entrepreneurship’ and business skills are taught as part of creative arts degrees as a matter of course, the co-operative model of business organisation is often marginalised as an option.

This event was convened by two senior lecturers to encourage a discussion of the potentials and limits of worker co-operatives as a way of organizing cultural work, but I went because I have a personal interest in these issues too: when two friends and I started a small clubwear business after graduating in the late 1990s we had a number of problems, but being a worker’s co-operative wasn’t one of them. The solidarity, sense of common purpose or what one speaker here described as ‘sweat equity’ (working your equal share despite not getting paid) that united us in a brave attempt to create and manage our own experience of working for a living was readily cemented by a legal and ethical contract, the common ownership worker’s co-operative business model, that made sense of our shared ambitions and more importantly, shared risk. There are some ideas here that could also be applicable to the kinds of grassroots projects and community organisations currently involved in Connected Communities research.

Economist Robin Murray started by explaining the economic context in which co-ops assert their difference from other forms of production within organised capitalism. He has been Director of Industry at the Greater London Council in the 1980s, and a Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies, so he knows a thing or two about the world of macro-business. He used a flipchart to explain how when production became more complex and specialised, the necessary socialisation of its workforce increased, which was how Marx understood the development of industrial capitalism. Robin then introduced the Dunbar model for the number of stable relationships that humans can comfortably maintain, which is no more than 150, making the point that labour organises itself more easily in non-complex activities. In Robin’s opinion, the Dunbar model limits a co-ops’ ability to manage really complex business operations and so capitalism became the default format as a system for organisation for mega-business, especially in our highly specialised late-modern economy in the UK. Capitalists have the ability to manage the co-ordination of complexity and combine it with hierarchical socialisation, making them able to operate effectively at economies of scale.

The first great wave of worker co-ops in the mid to late 19th century followed the Rochdale pioneers’ example, which was a model for how the proletariat could react to the development of national industrial capitalism and build resilience by organising purchasing and retail operations in small groups. He calls it “consumer co-operation of the industrial working class” (Murray 2012), they were, after all, the dispossessed workers of their age. It led to the formation of hundreds of retail co-ops, a wholesale society, factories, farms, shipping lines, insurance and banks that, if taken as a single network, was at the time the largest corporate organisation in the world. What Robin suggests that co-ops can do to take back ownership of complex economic processes or to form businesses that need to operate at a larger scale is to combine separate co-operative ‘Dunbar cells’, as the first UK Co-op movement did, to become a huge cell network.

Rhiannon Colvin founded co-operative advocacy organisation AltGen to support 18-29 year olds to set up workers co-operatives. Rhiannon says she founded AltGen after applying for endless graduate jobs and unpaid internships herself without success and decided that young people could create something better if they started working together. She decided to reverse the blame for her own struggle to find work and wanted to help other young people understand that that the problem is not them, it is the economy. They are inheriting an economic reality in which they have no control over their time, no economic security, are forced into accepting low-income, poor quality and temporary jobs and are unable to accumulate any kind of capital at all. AltGen aims to help them find ways into a sustainable working future and contribute to a more stable economy through co-operation. “We need to stop fighting each other for work, especially unpaid work” she said. Putting together minds and skills to empower young graduates to take control of their own employment, AltGen can help them to understand and solve the employment crisis they face. The organisation is now looking into setting up a freelancers’ co-operative. Being employed brings rights that self-employed people don’t have, like holiday and sick pay, protection against discrimination and unfair dismissal, redundancy pay and trade unions. This next action will try and find ways to ameliorate an isolating situation that makes self-employed people more vulnerable to being treated as a disposable workforce.

Printer and pro-co-op activist Siôn Whellens shared his own story, which in some ways was similar to Rhiannon’s. He trained as a printer but the recession in 1981 made finding a ‘proper’ job impossible. Living in London, he joined a community press organisation and started from there instead. He is now a member of Calverts, a communications design and printing co-operative, based in Bethnal Green. Founded in 1977, it is a worker co-operative with 12 members that can produce all manner of printed items from leaflets and menus to art books and multimedia products, it also creates websites and develops all kinds of interesting communication projects. Under ‘environmental initiatives’ their website mentions the company’s commitment to utilising the latest technology that reduces their impact on the environment in many ways, such as computer-to-plate technology which dispenses with film, as well as the obvious choices such as vegetable oil based inks. Siôn is also a business advisor at institutions including City University, where he advises on the nature and benefits of co-operative approaches to work and creative life. He has written about the precarious generation of creative workers on his blog suggesting that as the cultural sector has grown “workers have responded by developing agile, collaborative and creative approaches not just to work, but to the necessities of life including accommodation, leisure and social support”. He writes that despite “the primacy of individual genius and effort” that go with the territory of the creative industries and its rhetoric, collaborative practice is something that is “familiar and normal for many students and graduates”.

Tara Mulqueen is a PhD student in the Law Department at Birkbeck, University of London and her dissertation title is presently ‘Co-operation and Social economy in Critical perspective: History, Politics and Law’. Tara also has direct experience of being part of a co-operative as she worked at the community owned and volunteer run People’s Supermarket in central London, famously used by David Cameron to make a ‘Big Society’ speech in 2011.

She is interrogating the tensions or even conflicting aims of co-operative businesses to understand the difficulties of balancing social transformation with commercial sustainability, to consider whether becoming a market entity has a depoliticising effect on their practice and to locate them within the broader history of working class movements. Law is a “key terrain” (Mulqueen 2012) in which social groups and corporate bodies are defined. Co-operatives as corporate entities were brought within the state and its legal framework when they were formally recognised as a legitimate form of business in 1852. At this time joint-stock companies, trusts and friendly societies were already in use, now a number of different legal forms could also be co-operatives. It is a ‘protected category’ in law, which means that in theory, a capitalist business cannot use the word co-operative, but in practice it is the Government’s business secretary that has the final decision on this. One thing a co-op can never be is a charity, in fact it is the opposite of a charity. Trustees may not benefit from a charity. The market has therefore become the very terrain of a co-operative’s existence in which it is possibleto see them as a category of middle-class reformism, they are also limited by their recognition by the state, something that the trade unions resisted to preserve greater freedom of organisation. It is interesting that Tara’s own experiences of self-organised and ethical work included unintentionally becoming entangled with the state idea of a Big Society, a “dubious program” (Mulqueen 2012) to expand the voluntary sector as an alternative to state-funded services. Dilemmas over principles will continue to trouble the development of a social economy – one important question being is it acceptable to survive and prosper? Community groups and budding partnerships interested in producing and selling goods need to ask themselves this question. If they are considering adopting a co-operative model, would ‘business’ as the legal form of association actually obscure their political project and social goals? Or alternatively does the co-operative model limit their ability to operate within the mainstream economy?

In my experience, the common ownership worker’s co-operative model was, of the four options listed in the Princes Trust ‘starting a business’ guide, by far the most logical choice for us as a group of friends, yet being involved in conversations about the values of co-operative business did, over time, have the effect of making our business into an ethical and political concern. Becoming a co-op inadvertently developed and promoted a political project that I hadn’t understood would be an effect of running a business and started a chain of events which has ultimately brought me here – to the Cultural Intermediation project and the Centre for Sustainable and Regional Futures (SURF).

Mulqueen, T. 2012. When a business isn’t a business: law and the political in the history of the United Kingdom’s co-operative movement
Murray, R. 2012. A different way of doing things.
Standing, G. 2011. Stirrings of the New Dangerous Class

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Community Commissioning in Balsall Heath

We had a fantastic meeting last night where the Balsall Heath community commissioning panel got together to consider proposals for arts and cultural projects in the neighbourhood and decide which to fund.

This meeting was the culmination of two months of running around by Arshad, who has been working closely with all the subgroups since the panel was formally brought together in early January, to help them take ideas and form them into deliverable projects. The main outcome of the meeting is that all of the projects proposed were approved by the panel (subject to some negotiation over details in one or two cases):

  • Beginner’s pottery sessions in the Sun Dragon Studio
  • West Indian debating society and events
  • Football tournament and CV checking sessions for 16-22 year olds
  • An oral history ten years on from the Balsall Heath tornado
  • Museum visits in London, including the V&A
  • Balsall Heath Heroes campaign
  • Residential trip to the Lake District including photography and sculpture
  • Balsall Eat food festival

Now that the projects and the budgets have been agreed, the next stage is for panel members to actually make these events happen. Some will be fairly straightforward, working with existing cultural intermediaries in Balsall Heath and Birmingham to deliver the projects, with panel members determining how the projects should run and who is targeted. Others will involve more work from the panel members to shape and organise the activities. The debating society is exceedingly exciting in this regard as panel members will be putting together their own schedule of talks and activities.

Of course this brings up lots of questions about new skills to be learned. None of the panel members who presented project proposals last night had ever done anything like this before – pitching their ideas to a group of people. The presenters did a great job and it was a really supportive environment, with lots of enthusiasm for the ideas, even where other panel members had questions about aspects of what was being proposed. As the projects develop there’ll be other new skills people will need to pick up such as organising publicity, managing a budget and thinking about how the projects’ success will be evaluated. This brings interesting comparisons to what Birmingham City Council have been doing in their cultural co-commissioning pilot where a lot of the energy of the intermediaries involved has been on upskilling the communities being worked with – the kind of work that organisations like Reel Access and individuals like Matt Daniels have been doing for years. It will be really interesting to compare our approaches as we go through this phase of the research.

It’s going to be a busy few months, but we’ve got a great team of people working on the projects, so I’m more excited than scared about how things are going to go.