From the very beginnings of my community development and activism roots, from the early days of A Way Out, to the setting up of I Love Stockton me, I’ve found, the next question you get asked when wanting to do something in your community, after “who are you and what is your identity?” is usually “Who’s permission or who’s authority do you have to do this?”
This is a significant barrier and hurdle to get across.
Lets get the first thing straight. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a good person. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be an active or good citizen and you do not need anyone’s permission or authority to start a community project or community activity. You are allowed, end of; in fact you not only allowed, you are needed. To really change our society, we actually need everyone to do their bit, to give a bit and to care a little more.
But not everyone is going to greet you and your idea with open arms. Usually, the people who will create the most barriers will be those who hold most power, have the greatest vested interest or have the most to lose in what you are wanting to do. One of Pete’s ideas is a community street art festival. He wants to take one of Stockton’s most run down estates and neglected landscapes and turn it into a canvass for beautiful visual art, a destination for street artists and musicians from all over the region to come and bring this area to life with creativity and culture. The project will leave a lasting legacy for the area, it could do for Stockton what Banksy did for Bristol. Art will be used to regenerate a run down area and like most major cities, it will probably as affective as the grand city regen schemes.
So who could be against it. Well, lots of people. Firstly, it will be someone’s job to plan arts activity for the town. They will have a vested interest in everything arts and culture that happens in the area. They will have a three year strategic plan, a budget and a team that they employ to help them achieve their objectives. A street art festival will not be in the plan. The regeneration team and environmental services will also have their plans for which Pete’s idea won’t be included either. Then there is the police and council events team and local councillors and youth work projects in the area. There are the other music and arts organisations that get paid to provide an arts and culture offer. All of these different vested interests could become either supporters or barriers for this type of project.
Over the last couple of years I supported or helped develop a few community festivals, Parklife, Stockton Pirate festival and Look A Teesside. I have also been a part of setting up or supporting the development of numerous other community projects, ideas and activities. And one thing has become apparent to me, even though people think you might need permission or authority, you don’t. No-one could actually stop the events, ideas or projects from happening. The other vested interests can do only two things, support the ideas and enable them to flourish or put barriers in the way that would stop these things being all that they could be.
I hope that for Pete, he will find the vested interests support him, they hopefully will, it’s a great idea. In my 14 years of being active in my community, just because something is a good idea, it doesn’t mean it will be supported though. I often wonder what would happen if the powerful bodies and the organisations and institutions around us, began to see themselves as enablers of new ideas, supporters of active citizenship and releasers instead of controllers of people with visions. I understand the fears and the risks of really active communities. The activities won’t always be as good as we would like them or even as safe as we might need them, but should this mean we stop people trying? In a time of austerity and decreasing council budgets, diminishing membership of institutions like churches and women’s groups, maybe we need to take a few more risks, maybe we need to just let people get on with things without needing our permission or authority. Maybe this is part of the ingredient for transformation of a place. For the transformation of Stockton?
Next week I’ll be talking about fear of failure and being allowed to get it wrong. This is another important lesson if we are going to find our own power. Please share this post if you think it is useful.