Inspiration: The Open Works Project, Lambeth

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In thinking about what kinds of work we could do with the community as St Katharine’s enters into a new phase, we have been doing some work on other inspiring projects that we will start to share here.

First on the list is the work of Civic Systems Lab. In 2014, they worked with Lambeth Council to create Open Works, opening a shop front on the main street in West Norwood, South London. Here they invited local people to just come in and talk about projects they wanted to start or things that needed doing in the community.

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For projects where enough people were interested and that seemed viable, Open Works provided different levels of training and support, connected people to others in the local community interested in the same things and a growing network for additional space, resources and specialist knowledge and helped them set up a project they could run themselves.

These are some of the big-picture questions about how we can build a better community that Civic Systems Lab hoped to answer with this bottom-up strategy of growing networks through collective work on projects:

  • Can we connect with each other more, through everyday activities…?

  • Can we do this as an intergenerational community of peers, working together not as consumers, but as creative and open citizens?

  • Can we design new types of inclusive and generative local projects that have multiple effects – working to improve individual and collective health, education, safety, employment, wellbeing … ?

  • Can we create more equality of opportunity for people to grow their ideas, whether for community projects or to start a business … or even invent new livelihoods which might be a mixture of both?

These seem to be the right questions to us here at St Katharine’s, especially as we now look to build deep and lasting relationships in our community as we work together to help change it for the better. So we are hoping to do something similar through the Community and Wellbeing Hub. This is a look at their model in pictures:

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What Open Works has been able to achieve is so inspiring, we are eager to start up and see what our neighbours are interested in doing, and just how much we can do here.

Over the course of a year, 650 people had come together (among thousands that participated at some level) to form 16 projects. What do these projects look like?

  • The Stitch is a regular meet up of people who want to knit, sew, tailor, upholster and craft together. A chance to share and learn skills, swap tips and get inspiration for your next creation.

  • The Great Cook – batch cooking together

  • The Open Orchard project encourages planting fruit trees in public spaces.

  • The Norwood Bzz Garage – Creating bee-friendly habitats and shared growing spaces

  • The Trade School — an open learning space that runs on barter. Anyone can teach something they are skilled at, or passionate about. Pay for class with a barter item (like food, supplies, or advice) that your teacher requests.

  • Play Streets create an opportunity for children to play safely and actively outside, and for neighbours to meet and chat. By temporarily stopping traffic for a while, and inviting everyone out, we can enjoy our common living areas together.

  • Rock Paper Scissors is a makers collective creating new opportunities on the high street to trade, make and learn together.

  • Public Office is a network of freelancers and home workers who meet to co-work for a couple of hours around creative, tech or enterprise in different local spaces. Just turn up, meet people and work!

  • The Library of Things — so that we can all borrow the things that we don’t need everyday – whether that’s camping stuff, a toolset, even the odd tea urn. Do you have rarely used items that you could lend or donate? What do you want to come and borrow?

There is a community newspaper with more details on their work that can be downloaded here, and a longer document looking at these efforts and evaluating them here.They have been collecting stories of the wonderful work that is happening all around the world, so we’ll be returning to the participatory city website, and the wonderful Community Lover’s Guides.

If these inspire you please do get in touch and join a discussion of what is possible here in our corner of the East End!

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