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May 12

Connecting to our common humanity

Assets, Collaboration, Enterprise, Innovation, Social action

Locality is all about peer networks in the UK, but we also have the privilege of being on the board of the International Federation of Settlements which includes networks similar to Locality in France, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, USA, Australia and many other countries around the world.

IFS event Vancouver

The IFS bi-annual international conference was last week hosted by the Association of Neighbourhood Houses in British Columbia, Canada, where we were reminded of the clear link between the first settlements in the UK and the first neighbourhood houses in the 19th century.

In today’s Vancouver, there are about 15 centres covering very distinct neighbourhoods. They range from a small, informal social food drop-in, a place to start conversations and help people feel like they belong (a tough job in Downtown Eastside, a notoriously underprivileged and broken community), to medium-sized buildings owned by the local authority and animated by 60-100 charity staff running government programmes (some staff have ‘welcoming and mentoring’ as their job title!)

Most of these community trusts receive a mix of funding from federal, provincial and local government, as well as trusts/foundations grants. One of these major funders is United Way – who interestingly get most of their funds from unionised subscriptions. We also heard about the strings attached with the funding, and the targets which put barriers in the way of innovative, flexible and truly community led responses to complex problems. We face such problems in the UK too of course…

A strong conference theme was supporting local people to design their own services and deliver them. We heard the CEO of a large charity say she employs childcare staff for their in-depth community knowledge first, then supports them to get social work qualifications (and pay increases as a result).

It is fair to say the UK is still ahead worldwide with the scale of our social enterprise sector, and thinking beyond traditional delivery programmes such as consortium development – but there is a national support programme in Canada and we heard, for example, about a new community sector shipping container refurbishment initiative in Toronto called Business in a Box which connects entrepreneurs with subsidised space (i.e. the shipping containers), advice on loans and other services and a prime street-level location to sell their products.

Canada’s approach was exemplified in the mood of the conference: it was personable, touching, and extremely welcoming. It was acknowledged by many speakers that we were on the land of the aboriginal Coast Salish people, who do not believe in land ownership but instead see this beautiful land as available for everyone passing through (and treating it and its people with respect). First Nations elders actually offered prayers and shared their stories of personal growth and reconciliation, of brotherhood and joy at our coming together to care for each other. Sharing stories was seen as a tool to open up and reach out to others if we want to help them. Young university students also reported back on such positive messages in a fun-filled interactive closing plenary, proving that the next generation is passionate about carrying the neighbourhood-working approach as it makes total sense to them.

This conference was called Inspire 2014. What inspired me is the power of people taking the time to connect to each other, for that is a key ingredient to supporting individuals and communities, all over the world – united in our common humanity. As an aside, it was also good to hear so many people complementing Locality for our movement’s ambitious attitude to asset ownership and self-determination through enterprise.

One comment

  1. Renate Wilkening

    Posted 13/05/14 at 2:06 pm  |  Permalink

    Thanks for this interesting report. I’m deeply impressioned.


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