What is the role of communities, and community organisations, in building a new economy after the pandemic?
This was the question on lots of minds at the Locality "Unconvention" this week, the annual two-day event for community organisations which moved online because of the pandemic. It was inspiring to hear stories of community organisations that have kept their doors, hearts and minds open during 2020 to distribute food, support those who are struggling and ask awkward questions of the economic and political structures that produce inequality and racism.
Many Locality members provide services at the most local level, working with the grain of their neighbourhoods, listening and responding in ways that the private and public sectors just can't. They provide housing, run libraries, community centres, and cafes; provide employment, support single parents, and run food banks; and offer a challenge to mainstream enterprises and service provision.
That challenge is about accountability and ownership. To whom are the services provided in your community accountable? Who benefits from their work? In a neighbourhood based organisation, the answers are "the local community" in both cases. Profit generated is re-cycled back into the neighbourhood. Local people govern the organisation and are accountable for it.
As we consider how best to structure our economy in the light of 2020's events, it is surely long overdue to think about where and how services are best provided. Time to promote local, collectively owned enterprise. Time to encourage local cooperation and collaboration. Community must be at the heart of "building back better".
"Who can you help to get where they want to go? Who can you lay down the ladder to? Use your privilege to be an ally and help those around you" - Kim Shutler, the Cellar Trust