Are we doing the right stuff?
There is “a strong sense that this is the time: a time that demands action” so goes one of Rob Hopkin’s closing thoughts in The Power of Just Doing Stuff. A sentiment that I guess we hear everywhere at the moment, from governments across the world, from councils and faith groups, from communities under pressure.
The difference between Rob’s book and so many of those voices is that he’s talking about a movement that across the world has already “done stuff”, paved the way, proved the little people DO have the power. I wonder though, is it making a difference here?
Last night with my councillor hat on I attended a council briefing on Regeneration in the district: a briefing prefaced by the warning that in the autumn we are facing budget cuts. There follows a long and impressive list of what will imminently be happening. There are plans for 400 houses per year; the Port is about to be expanded; a new motorway link is to be built; the local castle plans to become a boutique hotel and national attraction; our seaside area has an Action plan that will provide new infrastructure for business; a new retail development will come to an underused area of town; the university has revived its science Park plan; much student accommodation has replaced retail and empty plots in the town; the market has finally been sold… Our senior officer praises us for our “vision”, for creating a hopeful future for the district.
So why do I come out feeling deeply depressed? Yes some of it is questionable – the millions coming off the county council budget to fund the government shortfall in the costs of the road building has to be indefensible in a time of cutbacks - as a city council that is not our responsibility. But there seems to be money flowing in, promise of development right left and centre. Is it only my “typical greeny against all new development” objections to more concrete and cars? All across the country, as the economy appears to gain a little confidence, towns, cities and rural areas will be hearing the same sort of plans in their council chambers and local newspapers.
In The Power of Just Doing Stuff Rob puts his finger on the problem. All those developments reflect investment in our district but most of the investment is extractive – like the Canal corridor town retail area where a development company will put money in with the sole intention of moving it out again to shareholders and investors, or inward investment where money is intended to stimulate economic growth without reference to strengthening the local community resilience. Where we as a council provide inward investment it is largely in terms of remodelling roads and creating situations that make it easier for the extractive investment to occur. Everything the council does is based on the desire to do its best to create a vibrant local economy – why should it not be? Yet what’s happening seems to me to be mainly “more of the same” in terms of money flowing out of our area and increased dependence rather than resilience.
Is there anything good to be gained here? Well, in half an hour I am off to the Scotch Quarry Project which features on pages 90/91 of the book. Since the book was written we have developed our links with local schools and groups so the Brownies have planted in our new raised beds and today the local high school is sending a class to spend a morning weeding, litterpicking and nettle bashing. Yesterday I got a local chef to agree to come and visit to tell us what could be cooked with some of our more unusual produce and this autumn we hope he will do an outdoor “Ready, Steady, Cook!” with some of the Yr 6 pupils from the junior school down the road. We’ll get it filmed and then as well as Youtube we will show the DVD in schools. That buzz, that confidence Rob Hopkins describes in projects all over the world is with us, alive and kicking and getting those young people involved this morning is sowing the seeds for them to take the same “let’s just do it” attitude on into school and their futures.
How to do it, I don’t know, but next time we have a briefing on “Regeneration” in our district I want the councillors to be hearing about the internal investment of local people and about the many local community projects under way, from growing to community energy investment and for them to be praised for having the vision to support and further the amazing power of “just doing stuff”.
Picture: Lancaster Council chamber, Scotch Quarry Launch (Caroline Jackson)