Category Archives: Social Productivity

Whither libraries?

Too old, too big…too little used?

Article update: 28.10.2017  – A really sound article on the utility of libraries by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett –  No one needs libraries any more? What rubbish  from The Guardian of Thursday, 26th October, 2017.

In it Cosslet takes to task the political pundit Andre Walker, for his omnipotent vision of the library service in the UK. Namely that no-one visits them anymore and they should all be closed down and the books given to schools.

Is there something Presidential in this decimation of the library service by Twitter?

Rhiannon goes on to thread her story with her use of the public library when young – developing intellectual curiosity, cultural awareness, knowledge of the world and taking up the rich opportunity public libraries offer to graze the landscape of the word, six books at a  time.

We recommend the article to our readers.


Original text: In the Spring of 2015 the Adam Smith Institute published an article entitled ‘The End of Local Authority Libraries‘. As the economic ice age of Osbornian austerity descended upon us, the Press was full of cultural turbulence about the closure and operational rigidity of our national literacy assets.

Although the general  Press attention has diminished, it is telling that the dilution of the library service has continued unabated, albeit with increasingly diminished media currency, as we have been further overwhelmed by matters of political moment in and about Europe, perhaps.

View, print or download the full report here…pdf

Central government, arguably, remains enthusiastic and espouses a positive vison for the library service. The recent report Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021 from the Libraries Taskforce, is almost entirely upbeat about the half decade ahead. They offer a vision of a multiplicity of supported delivery systems for a local library in section 6.3 of the report.

The website Public Libraries News, in July, declared that now ‘there are at least five hundred libraries that are staffed, if not entirely run by volunteers’. On the one hand, this is a sign, we would argue, that there is profound suport for the local library at grassroots level. But it is also a sign, looking at the plethora of continual changes and negative reviews of library services across the country on the website, that there is no clear, effective and equally profound form of new governance emerging for libraries.

One that, at once taps into localism, yet satisfies the need for an eclectic and near universal access to knowledge and leisure, free at the point of delivery for those who need it most.

The trade union Unison are to hold a National SOS Day on the 19th of October, 2017. Save our Services is designed to show that ‘...libraries are a hub and a haven in our communities. They offer a place for people to work, relax, discover and think.They are a source of local knowledge and history and give everyone access to books, DVDs, music and more, for free or at a very low cost.

But libraries also do a lot more than lend books. Many hold events, anything from story time for children to yoga classes for adults. Library workers help people look for work, advise on using IT, organise talks by authors and so much more‘.

Source: https://www.unison.org.uk/blogs/2017/08/sos-day-17/

The debate, then, continues to have currency. The Adam Smith Institute argued, in its article by Eamonn Butler, that the free market was the solution to the ‘library deficit’ issue, as to be expected. That exemplars of library innovation, in the shape of American organisations such as Library Systems and Services, were to be the saviours of a moribund library market.

However, research shows that the accession of LSSI to the pinnacle of library stewardship has not been entirely successful in the USA. An earlier article in the New York Times shows how both library staff and users, even in the more affluent cities where LSSI has obtained contracts, have been happy to lead protests. Dissenting voices to the ending of  unionised services, diminution of book stocks and antagonism towards the ethics of ‘libraries for profit’.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/business/27libraries.html

The City Library, Birmingham

The Butler argument, from the Adam Smith Institute, saw the then new Birmingham City Library building as an example of ossification of service. The £188 million building began to operate on a ‘self-funded’ basis for events, for example, in the context of author events or arts activity. Both previously seen as draws to footfall for the library service. Indeed key activities in a wider cultural obligation for libraries, we would argue.

However, debate about the capital cost of a building in austere times is one thing, but the Institute author’s position somewhat fails to recognise that it is free market policies which have led to the very fiscal landscape that has so diminished the library service.

If a library is battered by exogenous fiscal policy upheaval, it is somewhat unfair to blame the librarian for lack of service, or diversity in activity, surely?

Is there hope for change? We think so.

We were pleased to see that there is widening acceptance by Councils that the community should have control of libraries as a community resource. At the beginning of August, for example, Derby City Council declared for the cessation of control of ten libraries, which will see ‘…the loss of at least 39 library assistants’ jobs and two library managers, of almost 100 staff who work for the authority. Community groups will get £17,500 a year each to fund their own managed libraries until 2022…’

Source: http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/derby-news/attempt-stop-biggest-ever-shake-265614

What is concerning, in this case, is the timetable and the level of grant in aid ceded to the community organisations in the City, to effectively manage the transfer and creation of a new community organisation to deliver the service.

More positively again, Bury Council this month have approved a new community asset transfer plan. ‘The new policy means applications from groups to buy community assets from the council will be considered against ‘key tests’ designed to ensure a deal which is best for the council and residents‘. The landscape of community opportunity grows!

Source: http://www.thisislancashire.co.uk/news/15439093.New_policy_hopes_to_make_it_easier_for_groups_to_take_ownership_of_council_buildings/

However, it is entirely possible, we would argue, to imagine the creation of community libraries as Social Enterprises, where the not for profit governance model delivers a mix of volunteer and employee led services, bolstered by an admixture of social business services to support and maintain the core library provision.

A community cafe, a learning centre, a gardening or horticultural project…the list could easily be imaginatively extended by a dynamic, active community. The whole focused upon the creation of ‘…a place for people to work, relax, discover and think‘, to remind us of the Unison observation.

If the trade union are having an SOS Day, why do we not start a new think-tank movement, LASER – Libraries as Social Enterprise Renewal.

Write to conversationsEAST if you are interested in social enterprise, passionate about libraries and learning and keen to develop governance-sound, community led, not for profit library buildings.

We’ll publish a web site, host a meeting and give the idea traction?


Additional narrative – 20.08.2017

Read more here…

We have just come across a recent article in Wired by Susan Crawford, where she argues for a resurgence in phiilanthropy to revitalise the library service.

In the text, in response to a recent tweet by Jeff Bezos asking for suggestions about a new shape for his giving, she argues for an Amazon/Bezos programme of giving to libraries.

Developing Jeff Bezos’s current long term view of his ‘social investments’ towards, arguably, a philanthropic delivery that would cater for the short and the long term. Mr. Bezos describes his search for a new intitiative ‘…to help people in the here and now’. Our new library programme, as described, would do that, but also cater for the long term too.

Namely a series of Amazon Memorial Libraries, or Bezos Community Cultural Centres, would benefit the communities they were placed in, but they would also create new readers and enhance human capital in the hinterland of their sites, as well as delivering a major philosophical boost to the image of Amazon as a socially beneficial company.

You can read Susan Crawford’s piece on the pages of Wired here.

We understand Jeff Bezos reads every email sent directly to him. We’ll write to Mr. Bezos and make a suggestion supporting a new philanthropic venture into the British library landscape, and explore the models that might be created.

We would argue that history has been kind to the Carnegie model of library establishment, why should not future generations look as kindly upon Jeff Bezos?

Watch this space for an update, even if we don’t get a reply!


Useful links to accompany this article:

Library over-watch!

http://www.publiclibrariesnews.com/

Use it or lose it! – The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/16/library-use-in-england-fell-dramatically-over-last-decade-figures-show

City Library Birmingham: Image by Gareth Williams - Creative Commons

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Swarm all over apprenticeships
this festive season!

 

We think there is a new energy abroad in education and training, sweeping the landscape to create new opportunities and outcome for a range of young people. Discover a couple of examples of this new delivery below…the horizon may have just go a bit nearer for young people who don’t seem to quite ‘fit the traditional bill’.

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Robert Ashton FRSA drives forward his Swarm Apprenticeships, in conjunction with Chris Perry, to deliver a new sort of enterprise encouragement and training.

Swarm can offer young people Level 2, 3 and 4 apprenticeship framework options, with the added zest of ‘…innovative enterprise training workshops which develop the mindset and commercial awareness of apprentices’.

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You can discover a comprehensive list of the integrated Swarm developmental workshops here. This impressive cast list is designed to sensitise and energise apprentices into an entrepreneurial, developmental and goals achieving mindset.

The Swarm team’s key focus qualification is the Level 3 Diploma in Enterprising Skills in a Business Environment, although the company does offer other opportunities too.

What we liked most is how this entrepreneurial flavour and admixture is seamlessly blended into the training programme for the individual, combining both the needs of the apprentice to perform well to his or her employer’s satisfaction, whilst at the same time creating the building blocks for a mind-changing mentality about what it is possible to achieve.

You can see how the next generation of mainstream Oxbridge business and political leaders are seeking to develop a social good from their careers, for example, in the 80,000 Hours programme. This Ashton led initiative caters for bright young people, we think, who may have fallen through the educational cracks or who are seeking a very practical, resource driven approach to learning and skills uptake to the benefit of business, society and the individual.

We highly commend the Swarm Apprenticeship approach to our readers. See more here.

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The second tranche of new activity that seems to be stirring in the East is the nascent Careers and Enterprise Company. This national umbrella movement, itself sheltering under the wing of Local Enterprise Partnerships for its delivery, is beginning to recruit Enterprise Advisers across Norfolk and Suffolk.

This new, innovative scheme seeks to engage schools and suitably qualified businesses in a new form of partnership, where the school benefits from the insights and experience of the employer in a ‘… network to create powerful, lasting connections between local businesses and the schools and colleges in an area‘.

It is an idea designed to see businesses helping school senior management teams to develop strategies which link the world of work to the curriculum and energetic adaptability of schools, maximising their local contacts and accelerating the context of their educational outcomes to the benefit of both pupils and employers.

Lord Young has described the Adviser role in this way…

I propose that Enterprise Advisers would advise head teachers and teachers on the ways employers can engage with the school, drawing on advice from key local partners, including those that offer careers advice. I would envisage that the Advisers are drawn from all sectors of the economy and not only restricted to entrepreneurs‘.

Whatever your sector or size of organisation, if you believe in the programme of connecting schools and enterprise, then a visit to the Careers and Enterprise Company web site will reap rewards, we are sure.

Connections and conclusions:

teachinggroupIcon6-copyHere at conversationsEAST we are keen to support changes in the educational landscape. We sponsor the Inequality in Education movement and tender them a web presence, and are establishing a Cambridge group to make the IETT a nationwide intitiative.

Similarly, we know that Fellows, like Robert Ashton and others are actively working with schools in the East of England too.

What we would argue for is a synergetic relationship between all these programmes of work, where employer recruitment, in the Ashton/Swarm model is also part of the options for employers in the Enterprise Adviser network, for example.

The one is not designed to swamp the other, but to add a richer texture to the offer of all. RSA Fellows can also add a powerful contribution to the development of the Enterprise Adviser network too, we are sure.

In simple marketing and recruitment terms, if I’m building a trusted network or list of individuals dedicated to social good, then lets share some of that trust and fellowship with others in the public sector, striving for the same aim.

Now that would be a Happy New Year!

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Making Space for people and technology

Benedict Dellot of The RSA has recently authored a new report on the growing phenomenom of Maker Spaces. There’s one near you…did you know?

The report defines MakerSpaces as ‘…open access workshops, hosting a variety of tools, from 3D printers and laser cutters through to sewing machines and soldering irons’.

These unique spaces attract hackers, roboticists, traditional engineering and technical enthusiasts, along with a variety of arts and craft specialists. There is something of a William Morris, Arts and Crafts revolutionary aspect to their public face. Offering as they do, spaces for making and experimentation in a collaborative and supportive atmosphere.

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See more here…pdf

Morris would have it that you should ‘…have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. Perhaps in the 21st Century, in a MakerSpace context, their motto should be ‘…beautiful, useful and technically collaborative’. (…great sign over every MakerSpace door?…Ed.)

As part of the RSA report (Ours to Master…)a survey finds that people, when asked, express an interest in Maker philosophy and practice, and would be interested in accessing such facilities. The survey found…

  • 26 percent of people regularly make things for their own use, 49 percent fix things that are broken and 21 percent modify products to better suit their own needs
  • 57 percent would like to learn how to make more things they and their families could use
  • 61 percent would like to have a better understanding of how the things they use work
  • 78 percent think our society is too materialistic and our economy too dependent on consumption
  • 43 percent often feel confused by the pace of technological change and struggle to keep up
  • 24 percent would be interested in using a makerspace in the future

You can read more about MakerSpaces on the pages of The RSA. here. (The report is freely accessible to all).

Maker Spaces in the East of England?

Ipswich Makerspace:

‘Ipswich Makerspace is a Suffolk based group of like minded makers who get together to learn, build and experiment with a huge variety of hardware, software, and technology in general’.      (Source: Ipswich Makerspace, December 2015)   See more here.

Chelmsford Makerspace:

‘Chelmsford Makerspace is a non-profit, community of makers in Chelmsford. We are a group of makers and hackers that get together to share tools and knowledge’. (Source: Chelmsford Makerspace, December 2015). See more here…

Colchester Makerspace:

‘We are developing a maker workshop offering affordable access to basic equipment such as workbenches, pillar drills, soldering irons, sewing machines and saws etc’. (Source: Colchester Makerspace, December 2015). See more here…

Cambridge Makespace:

‘Makespace is a community workshop in Cambridge for making and fixing things, meeting people, working on projects and sharing skills’. (Source: Cambridge Makespace, Decembre 2015). See more here…

Hitchin Hackspace:

‘Hitchin Hackspace is a community organisation devoted to providing everyone with a place to explore all kinds of creative technologies and crafts’. (Source: Hitchin Hacspace, December 2015). See more here…


Thank you to Benedict Dellot for another interesting and cutting edge report. It is interesting to see old concepts of craft and sharing being developed in contemporary communities, to deliver accessible, technology related products and learning. ‘Social engineering’ in its purest form perhaps?

We are surprised, in our brief survey of MakerSpaces in the East, to find no representative group for Norwich. If you know of one, use our contact form and let us know. We’ll run a supplementary piece to spread the word about them, if we missed an opportunity to do so here. Happy making! Ed.

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Never retiring?

We are living longer, even despite social and economic disparities in society. We are retiring later and some individuals are not seeking to retire at all. A trend to longer, healthier lives means that there is more experience and energy that older people can offer than ever before. (You can see an Office of National Statistics report on retirement age from 2012 here…Ed.)

As a society do we value the mature contributor? Do we capitalise on the learning and earning capacity of this age cohort? Jonathan Collie thinks not. He is looking to raise enough funds to hold a conference on ‘The Age of No Retirement‘ on the 1st to the 6th October, 2014.

‘…‘The Age of No Retirement?’ is Britain’s first ever national conference to debate & revalue our opportunities in retirement. Gathering experts, policy makers, key stakeholders and the public we will explore retirement and the opportunities we can provide in an ageing, technological and engaged society’.

It is planned that the first two days of the proposed conference will look at, debate and construct visual outputs and nascent policy proposals around some key themes…

  • Work & employment
  • Ageism & prejudice
  • Health & well-being
  • Technology & communication
  • The plus-50 consumer
  • Self, family & society
  • Knowledge & education

After a closed day of consolidation and publication there will be a public, three day open event for the review of, and a wider consultative approach to, the work and its outcomes.

 Give to this project on KickStarter Help fund this important event on ageing here…

The Collie manifesto on ageing has it’s own practical outcome too. Jonathan founded, and has gained wide support for, a new social business called Trading Times.

The project connects local employers with mature workers who are often retired, single parents or carers. They may not need a full-time job, but can offer a wide range of skills to interested employers.

interneticon  You can discover how Trading Times works here

We think this is an important debate. Not only because the conversationsEAST office is a ‘no-retirement’ zone, but because the potential contribution of this section of society is untapped. Trading Times is not the only player in town, but could provide an economic model that works well for the mature employed.

Why not a Trading Times hub in every RSA region? (It’s not immediately obvious from the web site, but we suspect that TT is a London centric initiative at present…Ed.)

In conclusion, the Age of No Retirement constitutes a move to an important new social shift. Support it, whatever your age, as the outcomes may condition the whole life contribution you can make. Wherever you are on your journey now.

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Is yours a socially productive place?

Today sees the launch of a new RSA report, generously sponsored and in collaboration with British LandSocially productive places – Learning from what works: lessons from British Land – born out of an earlier RSA conference.

Social productivity is the additional social value that can be created through better relationships between citizens, society, business and public services…

The report is a long letter to developers, communities and planners, essentially pleading the case that ‘…long term property value is driven by the long term economic relevance of an asset’.

sociallyproductiveplacescoverpic-mA socially productive place would build community capacity to benefit from and drive growth, and increase resilience to shocks and give an ability to adapt to new circumstances. This is not a new idea. The evidence in the report tracks community development progressive initiatives from early EU regional funding to the New Deal for Communities.

What is new, perhaps, is the tight focus on new skill acquisition by all partners and a fresh focus on method and delivery for impact. The same refocus is taking place in the community finance sector, where the ‘impact investor’ and how outcomes are mapped and delivered is a priority for funders, project planners and community partnerships. The report exercises this viewpoint well.

pdfIcon4   Download a complete copy of this report here…

(As an example of this new social finance mode of delivery see how Social Enterprise East Midlands worked in collaboration with Big Society Capital to deliver an informative and effective mapping session for politicians, social bankers and financial intermediaries in this new sector. See more here…Ed.).

The RSA Report also shows how private capital is developing both it’s land bank and its ideas with impact in mind. The report references brands such as Asda ‘... adopting a ‘community venturing’ approach, forming partnerships with charities and public services‘.

Discover more about shopping for shared value and community venturing in a recent edition of Matthew Taylor’s blog – read more here.

Planning should be thought of as a front-line service.

The success of a development should be judged by its impact on those who use it and its ability to contribute to a broader set of social and economic outcomes, the report declares. Building high quality public realm is expensive, but, says the report, privatising public space is not the answer.

Accessible public realm is an important feature of social productivity places – places designed to support social and economic connectivity. When built, the people must come.

To achieve the above, then there are a number of often new issues to wrangle with for key players in the development process. Investing in community relationships, by any mature, established corporate entitity requires agility and commitment. The report focuses on three key elements…

  • Successful community investment takes time and effort by developers, including long term consistent representation, engagement by senior executives and dedicated staff.
  • Local political support is essential, site specific planning frameworks are not.
  • The results for developers can be profitable as quality of public realm drives rents, and local consent for density allows greater floorspace yield from a site.

The Cambridge sub-region:

One of our own sub-regional cities features in the report too. Cambridge, which quietly broke out of green-belt constraints in the 1990’s, created new communities and growth areas. These well designed and built communites, although having offered an increase in take up of local services were less successful, the report indicates, in increasing employment in those new communities. They have, however, increased pressure on transport links.

As universities become ever increasing drivers of economic development, then local areas should increasingly consider graduate retention as an important part of their
social and economic development thinking, the report highlights.  Working with both universities and developers to pursue this goal should be a strategic priority for the future. Certainly a key development driver for Cambridge, being the world class research nexus that it is.

Finally, the report gives readers examples of non-linear, non -traditional development models which utilise public spaces for community benefit in innovative ways.

One such featured is Incredible Edible – whose growth has been achieved by by-passing bureaucratic processes, ‘…which rely on a narrow account of how value is created and maintained’.

interneticon  Discover the Incredible Edible Network here – just one of the great things to come out of Yorkshire…

In summary, this is an important paper, which whilst containing no ravishing new insights or philosophy, should score very, very highly with the community development sector in the way that it brings together, in a new meld, a variety of distinct skill sets to map a new way forward  for developers, planners, politicians and community groups.

You can still find the content of the original conference, and the papers presented by a list of distinguished speakers here, on The RSA web site.

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