As part of the announcement of a People Powered Change event this month, the Big Lottery Fund has confirmed that it will be funding the Your Square Mile initiative – currently part of Big Society Network – to build a UK-wide digital platform. It is part of a larger funding package that BIG will splash at the event in Salford on March 25.
The partners page says: ”There are 93,000 square miles in the UK. Most of the 62 million UK citizens live in 7,500 to 8,000 of those square miles. These square miles contain identifiable communities – villages or small urban areas – comprising several thousand people each. “Your Square Mile” is about encouraging citizens to identify, claim and then lead change in those neighbourhoods. This is currently being piloted in 16 diverse, challenged communities in the UK.
“The Big Lottery Fund is enabling Your Square Mile to build a digital platform – on PC’s, mobiles and public access screens – that will enable the interchange of ideas, advice, support and benefits to citizens throughout the UK”.
This is a big success for Paul Twivy, who has been working flat-out on the vision for more than a year. You can see an interview with Paul at the launch of Big Society Network and here. Big congratulations to Paul and managing director Jamie Cowen (subject to a slight caveat below).
From that it has emerged that SocialGo are working with Your Square Mile … also confirmed here. There’s some details about the development programme here on Cooperatives UK. The launch date is given as September 2011 “with a range of member benefits, driving large-scale membership via significant partners ranging from Boots and Asda to the W. I. and Mumsnet to NALC and the NHS.”
I’m looking forward to the People Powered Change event on March 25, when I’m sure we’ll hear more. The site says:
“Come along on Friday 25 March to find out about People Powered Change communities like yours, to share, learn and celebrate their work; to find out about what we are funding; to have your say and be part of a live grant-making experiment investing thousands of pounds in local community action”.
At present it is difficult to figure out from the invite and q and a on the web site just what People Power Change will amount to, beyond an understandable opportunity for BLF to demonstrate the wide range of very worthwhile projects that they support. Although the Government’s Big Society gets all the coverage (whether good or bad), it is Big Lottery who are funding a lot of small innovative projects on the ground – see for example the £200 million that will be going to 100-150 areas through the Big Local Trust.
Although it means a trip north for me and others based in London, all credit to BIG for moving away from the more usual breakfast launch at NESTA that rightly infuriates people who are faced with an overnight stay or a very costly rail trip. Still not much help, I guess, if you are deep in the west country, but maybe that comes next.
I should declare that I initially found it awkward to write this post on a couple of fronts**. First, as you can see from the above, it is very difficult to find out what is happening. Julian Dobson, another co-founder of Our Society, has written about this, asking Your Square Mile directly to explain more about their plans for a mutual, and urging them to be more transparent and inclusive. No reply so far.
Secondly, I have in the past worked for Paul and Big Society Network, and admire enormously the effort that he has put in … and really don’t wish to appear unfair or get anything wrong.
However, I am a reporter, and with others have lots of questions about the development approach YSM is taking, and how this relates to other networks. As many people have said about Big Society advocacy, there has been a rather arrogant disregard for all the good work that community groups have done in the past, and also conscious policy decisions to cut the funding of networks like CDX that have supported them in the past.
If Your Square Mile is now emerging as the main infrastructure to support local social action – funded by our lottery spend – then I think we need to know a lot more about what is going on.
In general, I suspect the problem is threefold. First, Big Society communications has been so appalling that anyone associated with projects fears a deluge of vitriol if they say anything that could be criticised. Second, this means there is far too little explanation and conversation, and people are in the dark and frustrated. Third, those organisations who do know something of what’s going on daren’t let on in case their tenuous hopes of funding are dashed.
In the case of Your Square Mile I gather Paul has a team of only a few people engaged in a very busy round of workshops, and so is probably cautious about opening up a debate which they can’t adequately handle. I hope they’ll find a moment to acknowledge people’s interest, indicate that they’ll be in touch soon, and offer slides that have been used at various events.
Your Square Mile could be a great project – if there were more engagement and learning from people who work in the field. BLF are very thoughtful funders with huge reach, expertise, and in Peter Wanless a chief executive who is prepared to use a blog to challenge critics.
So, despite, a bit of a grumble here, I’m hopeful that People Powered Change could give us a chance to celebrate the big/our/good society we are all creating, and YSM might be able to provide one channel to tell our stories.
** I posted an earlier version here, and have since confirmed the key points.
Update: I’ve found some village SocialGo sites funded by Big Lottery as part of their excellent VillageSOS programme, and blogged a piece over here because of ease of clipping stuff with Amplify. I’ll consolidate later. The question that’s jumping out at me is whether there will be any support and training for Your Square Mile SocialGo site owners. The VillageSOS sites aren’t very lively … though I guess that could change during the year.
Update: The Big Lottery Fund have now (Thursday 17th) removed the reference to ”enabling Your Square Mile” from the Partners page that I cited above. I’m sure that’s not because of any loss of commitment to funding, just that the original reference was probably a mistake. I gather those receiving funding have been told that news about the investments is embargoed until the event on the 25th.