Pop-up communities: here to stay?

Saturday 20 October, 5.15pm until 6.30pm, Frobisher Auditorium 2

The UK riots of last summer had a certain unreality about them. They took the nation by horrible surprise as youths trashed their own neighbourhoods, reviving talk of a ‘broken society’. Yet in their immediate aftermath, as the ‘clean-up’ campaigns got to work, our faith in the future of community was apparently restored. ‘Pop-up’ groups of residents appeared unprompted on the streets almost before the smoke had cleared, armed with brooms to clean up the mess (although they went their separate ways almost as quickly as the rioters). Even if we don’t know our neighbours, we can at least do a bit of neighbourhood networking with a view to ‘shoring up community resilience’, said one organiser of the clean-up. But surely we need something more than this if communities are to deal with or even prevent the kind of breakdown witnessed in London, Birmingham and Manchester last summer? So is the much-derided Big Society a match for the problems highlighted by the riots?

Communities secretary Eric Pickles affirmed the government’s desire to shift from a ‘Whitehall-dictated’ approach to one of putting ‘neighbourhoods in control’. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, wants to see citizens who are ‘more engaged, and more self-reliant’. But like most advocates of such a shift, Taylor believes it is up to the state to foster this new, engaged and active citizen. One RSA programme, working with a local authority, is seeking to modify people’s behaviour, making them less anti-social and drug-dependent, and encouraging them to recycle and grow their own vegetables. But even if we reject such a top-down approach, do the riots suggest the Big Society has to mean more than just letting us get on with it? Tottenham MP David Lammy caused something of a stir by suggesting government interference in how parents raise their children had been a factor in the riots: people ‘no longer feel sovereign in their own homes’, he complained. How do we make a reality of the notion of autonomous individuals taking control of their communities, when even their ability to take care of their own families is in question? How do we build a sense of community that lasts longer than it took for the riots to happen and for the shell-shocked residents to put away their brooms?

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Tessy Britton
director, Social Spaces; editor, Hand Made: portraits of emergent new community culture

Dave Clements
adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.

Hugh Flouch
founder, Networked Neighbourhoods

Caroline Macfarland
managing director, ResPublica Trust; co-author, Clubbing Together: The hidden wealth of communities

Dr Simon Knight
senior youth work practitioner; vice chair, Play Scotland

Produced by
Dave Clements adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.
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