One of the key ideals we have in the Village Hub is to do things with not for our community. We want to develop a community that is “co led and co nnected” by the widest participant base possible and not just a few.
We felt the danger of a small group making all the decisions, or insisting their view represented the majority and wanted to avoid this at all costs as we set up our new community led, self managed organisation.
However, like all ideals, the practicalities of how they outwork have caused a lot of head scratching.
The intention is that this thinking, questioning, considering work that we are doing together (pretty much every time we talk) can be documented. We certainly aren’t going to provide all the answers for the How to run a communal organisation Guide, but writing the blog might help us think through some issues, and it might be helpful for others considering similar points.
One topic we do feel we are getting on top of is Ownership in community. Ownership is an important topic – it provokes strong political opinions, communism, capitalism, individualism all focus around who owns what. What can we do as a Community espousing a shed load of different ideologies when we think about how we tackle ownership? How on earth do we consider owning stuff communally like a building or the local park if we have so many different ideas on how ownership works? And if decision making is part of ownership, how does this work in a group that wants to include all our voices?
Our answer is to start very small, and to start in humility by confessing our mistakes. Here is one we made earlier!
THE STUFF DISASTER
The building we use as the Village Hub is pretty small, meaning that keeping on top of stuff is really important. It is very easy for our space to resemble a teenager’s bedroom. And like many times, one of our team (me!) defaulted to classic mum behaviour when confronted with mess, charging in clearing and sorting, muttering that no one does this but me, and, true to form, chucking to get rid of some of the excess clutter, in a flurry of activity that stopped me thinking perhaps someone wanted the stuff. One of the bags I decided wasn’t important included the working clothes of a colleague’s Dad who had been helping do some building work. I had thought the bag was an unwanted donation. My colleague and their Dad felt the force of being considered rubbish and no amount of apologising has managed to bring them back into the community.
Ownership, I learnt, is a powerful emotion as well as being an act.
It has taken us some time and thought, but we have managed to put together some systems to help see ownership in our shared space. We now have (a lot!) of labels, storage boxes and shelves to mark those many projects that are works in progress. And storage and tidiness are written into our thinking on a whole new level.
Taking this concept further, Rachel, on loan to us from Take A Part has developed the idea of ownership to include looking after things outside our building. If we “own” something it is imbued with value and importance. And by owning things we are also given a sense of importance. Perhaps you remember being given your first pen knife as a child? If we change the terms slightly and talk about responsibility and a sense of belonging rather than ownership, we can think about how it feels to hold your newborn child, or if that’s a bit overwhelming, how it feels to look after a patch of garden, or a pet, or the place I call home.
Since I have been litter picking my area I have noticed a definite increase in my sense of belonging and degree of responsibility.
Many people in our community, for lots of reasons, bad experiences or traumas have lost their sense of belonging and ownership. They feel responsibility as overwhelming or unfulfilled. We often hear, “I just don’t care anymore!”
Developing ownership may have many benefits that are as yet undocumented. Have a look at Rachel’s thinking below and come back and see what we have done in a few years time to see if anything has changed. We may not have decided how to run our community or make the big decisions, but we are establishing a principle that ownership depends on care, responsibility and a sense of belonging. We are starting very small, but we think the foundation is solid.