April 29, 2014, 8:19 a.m.
Sunday Soup at the Common Room www.thecommonroom.so

What People Want

Roman emperors thought people wanted bred and games. But that's because they didn't have caravans back then...


Yesterday night, we had soup at the Common Room in Norwich, a church which a group of individuals is invested in re-living as a community space, with the support of the Church Conservation Trust. The space is beautiful – the greenest grass ever around the church's grey stones outside, and high-ceilings and bright green signs inside, all of it sun-lit (that might not be the rule, though). The people were incredibly friendly, and the soup tasted great... but we'll get back to that.


Before that, we have been spotted around Cambridge sitting around a garden coffee with Elenor McKenny, editor of the Cambridge Community Lover's guide, who had invited @CamCropshare, Transition Cambridge YouCanBike2 and Make do and mend to meet up with us. It was fascinating how quickly the conversation went to core issues – how do you engage volunteers? How do you deal with the failure - or can we call it a natural end - of a project or initiative (yours, or one you believed in)? How do connections between initiatives in the same city happen, and where do they happen in the city's space?


Camcropshare was created when the local Transition Town Food group, looking to expend the scale of their food growing experience, met Paul, a local organic farmer who found himself lacking the ressource to cultivate most of his land. After a few punctual collaborations, they proceeded to exchange help on cultivating Paul's land against space on that land for their own cultivation.


Mental Health

Make, Do and Mend is an initiative Alice Webb started when she found herself unable to work due to a severe depression. She and a growing team of voluntaries now run creative workshops opened to anyone struggling with mental health issues. Her idea came out of the realization that being unable to make, to do, might well be the worst part of it.


It wasn't the first time we encountered the issue of mental health since the start of our trip. I think the first mention of it occured on day 0 in Birmingham, at the coffee place we came in the middle of a discussion about young people and social change organised by Uprising and the Civic Faundry, where school was pointed out as a possible factor of mental distress. I and Noël had joined in a group discussion with three young women, artists, activists or artivists, trying to come up with « one thing to create » and «one thing to fix » for young people in Birmingham. The first thing went down easy – young people (or any people?) need a physical space where they can find out about initiatives, places, people that they could meet to help them out, or to get involved with, talk to, volunteer for. It could be a giant board somewhere central, it could be an actual room with office hours for different initiatives, but it had to be physical.


The second thing? School, education, the current expected curriculum... « One size does not fit all – actually, one size does not fit most! » Issues around self-confidence and not learning to deal with rejection and keep moving forward were brought up, which seemed to resonate with not only young people. On day 2, this was the subject of some of the performances young artists @beatfreeks during #Futureshift Changemaker dinners, and lots of fingers clicked around the room as people showed their appreciation.


Food, space, learning opportunities, and connections

Where am I going with this? Why, straight back to the Common Room! After that delicious soup (and a talk about how food should be served at any meeting), I started wandering around the churchs space. On one wall, they had hang tarbs featuring several initiatives they felt inspired by from around the world. I looked at them thinking back at the two days spent at #Futureshift, which was dedicated to connecting initiatives and initiators and foster exchanges on good practices on how to put an idea out there and make it sustainable, and where we met a LOT (like, a lot!) of inspired and inspiring people/groups/initiatives, and to our stop in Cambridge a few hours earlier, and suddenly... I knew. What people want. I mean this very humbly and tongue-in-cheek, but also a bit seriously...


On the tarbs, I saw initiatives involving:

  1. food

  2. learning opportunities– in the form of book sharing, makerspace, tradeschools, networded learning in neighbourhoods...

  3. space

There's lots of different ways of going about those and each initiative we encountered was very different, I want to stress that. But they really did had one of these ingredients in common... So because I'm in a hurry, I'm gonna just go and spell it out now. People want (good) food, learning opportunities, and space, and romans emperors needed caravans. That's TEC_NWest lesson 1 for you :-).


Ps: someone was live-blogging from Futureshift. If you want to know what we heard Pam from @incredibledible say, or Megan, from tomorrowtoday.is , who was touring the U.S. for community space initiatives, or how WREN works on putting energy at the center of community life in Wadebridge (and why would you not?) - it's all over here!

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