Paul Twivy, chief executive of Your Square Mile, has responded to my blog post of last week with the following statement. Please add your own comments, experiences from workshops and any further questions - I hope this will be the beginning of a much more open conversation.
I would like to respond to Julian Dobson’s blog dated 14th March entitled “A few questions for Britain’s biggest mutual” and thereby clarify the current situation with regards to Your Square Mile for all Our Society users and others beyond.
I will answer Mr Dobson’s comments in the order in which they were raised.
I conceived the idea of Your Square Mile in February of last year: a mutual to which every citizen in the UK, probably over the age of 16, could join for as low an annual fee as possible.
In return, they would be not just a member of a “Union for Citizens” with an equal vote, but would also receive tangible benefits such as reduced Public Liability Insurance; speeded-up, better value CRB checks; an easy-to-use, local giving platform with which to donate and receive time, money and resources, to and from their local community; plus relevant offers from Local Authorities such as discounted or free use of local facilities and also from local or national businesses.
This mutual already has a draft constitution as an Industrial and Provident Society and aims to launch before the end of 2011, hopefully in the Autumn. The objective to gain 15 million members is a 10-year target and has clearly been quoted as such in all presentations. In other words, there is an objective to get 1.5 million members a year between launch and end 2021. If this is achieved, just under 1 in 4 members of the population will be members at the start of the next decade.
In an Omnibus survey conducted amongst 2020 adults in December 2010, responding to bald statements with none of the glossy marketing that Julian Dobson mistakenly believes is the essence of our modus operandi, 32% of adults said they were either “Very likely” or “Likely” to use Your Square Mile when told the likely annual cost of £5 and the basic services. This equates to 14.7 million people. This hopefully makes our ten-year target more than achievable but only time will tell.
At the moment, the Your Square Mile project is being run as a not-for-profit social enterprise in the form of a company limited by guarantee. To be absolutely clear, Your Square Mile is entirely separate from Big Society Network. I stepped down as CEO of Big Society Network in November of last year and it is now run by Steve Moore.
YSM is not affiliated to any political party but rather seeks to work with all political parties. It receives no money from the Government but is trying to work closely with Ministers and senior civil servants, notably from the Office of the Third Sector and the Department of Communities and Local Government, on voluntary sector and localism initiatives. Our role is as the citizen voice.
We hope that Your Square Mile areas will form a very helpful basis for the planned 5,000 Community Organisers, with one Community Organiser managing 1-2 YSM areas apiece. We are also interested in working with David Milliband on his plan for 10,000 organisers. We are working with Business in the Community on their Business Connectors programme with a similar aim. Our YSM areas largely overlap with practical areas of local government such as parish councils or wards in urban areas.
Your Square Mile has been funded to date by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Asda Foundation and a private individual who is funding the Scottish pilots in order to help the tough areas from which he came. If he is happy for his generosity to be revealed we would be very happy to disclose his name and will consult him on this matter. There will be another significant public announcement on our funding on March 25th by the Big Lottery Fund.
Let us now clarify the issue of the pilot areas. There are 16 of them not 17. No area has been chosen at the request of an MP. The areas have been very carefully chosen by not only looking at the demographic and social capital data available from expert partners such as Experian and LGIU, but in consultation with many of our 45 voluntary sector partners and local organisations.
The locations are geographically widespread: 2 apiece in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and 10 in England. 4 are rural and the rest are urban or suburban. The term “square mile” is meant colloquially and is usually understood to be so. In rural areas it equates to a village or group of hamlets/ villages and in urban areas it usually corresponds to a ward or couple of wards, although I would stress that the local citizens decide the boundaries themselves and they also name the areas.
All of the communities have tough social challenges. Some are amongst the poorest wards in the UK. We have consciously chosen to try and help many of those areas that are most affected by the cuts as well as by their on-going economic challenges. Some of these areas have been visited by 3 Prime Ministers and have had money poured into them in terms of infrastructure development, welfare benefits and voluntary sector help. Yet in many cases the residents still feel that life hasn’t essentially changed and their self-esteem is very low.
In each pilot area we start the process with a workshop. We invite a mixture of up to 75 people to attend. Numbers attending to date have ranged from 30 to 70 but have averaged a very healthy 40 to 50. We extend an open invitation to organisations already active in the area and encourage them to spread the word to other organisations that they know about. Our research partner Ipsos MORI also recruits a wide range of people who are not currently active in their community. This mixture of activists and those who are currently unengaged is deliberate and seems to work very well.
Each workshop and pilot has a local Chairperson. This is vital because YSM is about enabling people to make the changes they want to see in their area in their way and not about us imposing ideas from the outside. At the outset of the process we have only a limited knowledge of the local areas and we are there to learn and then help.
Everyone who attends is entitled to a small amount of cash to cover any expenses such as babysitting and to recognize the value of their time. It is incorrect to say that the Toxteth respondents were given £15 rather than £10. In some case people have chosen either not to take the money or to give it towards kick-starting the YSM projects.
Media Trust, the organisation behind Community Channel and many other community broadcast projects, film the entire workshop so that local people who can’t attend are able to see what happened. We are also putting an edited video of the highlights of the workshop on to the local software platform that SocialGo are designing for each area. The films, as we explain at the workshops, are there to help play back community views to the community and to inspire action.
Attendees work in groups to identify the things that they love and hate about their community, to map its assets and to identify the challenges that it faces. They then generate practical ideas that they would like to see happen in order to make the neighbourhood improve. These are presented and discussed by the whole group.
Everyone is given five votes that they can award to the ideas generated. The five ideas that have the most support are selected to be progressed. Attendees then join groups around the ideas that they feel most passionately about, to start working through an action plan that will make the ideas a reality. People nominate themselves as leaders of each project team and take responsibility to follow the action plan through.
We also use the workshop to get responses to some of the initiatives proposed as part of the Localism Bill as well as ideas that we have for Your Square Mile in the longer term.
After the workshops we revisit the communities and talk with the team leaders about their action plans. We help them organise a process and identify areas where they need help. We will point people in the direction of appropriate funding and provide introductions to other organisations and individuals who are able to help. As described above, we also provide each pilot area with a digital platform that they can use to drive forward the 5 projects, register and form groups, map events organisations and facilities in their community and store files and links that people in their area might find useful. We are then committed to help throughout the 6-month pilots.
Over the next few weeks we will continue with our remaining workshop kick-offs and continue to follow up on those already completed.
You have quoted some people who have found the workshops too controlling. The workshops are packed with stimulus and carefully structured but that is in order to maximise the productivity of the sessions. The vast majority of the 400 people who have attended to date have found the sessions extremely stimulating and productive.
In summary, we are preparing a UK-wide mutual for launch later this year that will be run on totally transparent lines with equality for all members and the help of prominent people from within the mutual sector. We are not forming local mutuals but if citizens wish to do this themselves, as they are doing all over the UK, we would see it as wholly positive but a matter for them.
Any partners of Your Square Mile will be asked to offer benefits to our members that are relevant and the basis of their involvement will be made clear.
We are trying to be inclusive in the way we are conducting our pilots and will continue to strive to be ever more inclusive. We believe that everyone is both vulnerable and capable and we need to act in a spirit of common humanity.
We are here to complement and strengthen the work of existing voluntary organisations not to duplicate them.
We are working very hard to strengthen communities, to do something about Big Society rather than just talk about it. If we fail, it won’t be for lack of trying. Better to be the bloodied boxer than the armchair critic.
Paul Twivy, Founder and CEO, Your Square Mile
I do admire the scale of your ambition, but i'd like to see your business plan. Such expansion at such a rate raises questions of its own, particularly around how you intend to organise and continue funding such a large organisation that presumably won't become cashflow positive until you achieve a degree of critical mass. (Never mind the pain of figuring out how to monetise your brand new model).
The fact that you came up with the idea a year or so ago, makes it look like a great idea, but hastily packaged and brought to market to achieve first-mover advantage. Fine in theory but you've created a pretty big rod for your back by raising expectations.
But good luck to you and yours. As you quite rightly say it's all to easy to be an armchair critic. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
So good luck and bon voyage!
I echo the sentiment - 'Godspeed'; YSM is worth the try.....but how does this differ from so much community development work over say the last 50+ years?
Fine - be the 'bloodied boxer'.....but you also need the 'critic'....not least to learn from past effort and not to re-invent.
PS - Ed, not David, Miliband!?)