Two Communiversities in North West of England - Revd. (Dr) Tony Bradley

The UK is a deeply unequal society, not only in terms of rich and poor, old and young, healthy and sick (life expectancies are falling for the first time in more than a century), but between London/ South-East and the North of England (and the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland).

There is much talk of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’, focused on better transport infrastructure, but this is likely to reinforce inequalities, by making access to London/ SE labour markets even more streamlined. As automation, AI, the impact of learning machines (automatic society) bites deeper, the North could be further ‘left behind’, in labour market terms, with all the implications for social division, the rise of political populism and marginalization that the UK has experienced as a result of Brexit (which is only beginning). As such, one of the key imbalances we face is to mobilise local communities, awakening their consciousness and developing new social innovations to address some of the impacts of these imbalances and deep social inequalities. We need to build on their strengths, in culture and social economies.

Communiversity Liverpool

The Clocktower Neighbourhood Society Ltd is engaged in securing funds to renovate 106 London Road, Liverpool, an iconic Victorian former bank and business centre, in Liverpool’s “Fabric District”, close to the city centre, in a forgotten quarter. We are close to securing the leasehold on the property for c £400,000 and are about to appoint the second architect’s firm to work with us, as well as the range of contractors to renovate the property. In the Northern Realm developing a Communiversity is down to bringing together a skilled team of professionals, both to lead the innovation and to work on its actualization, with very significant funds, working to detailed plans over many months. We expect that Communiversity Liverpool will be properly open for business in c18 months, 3 years after the initial vision-casting.

Initial Vision

  • A community of creative practitioners, collaborating and co-operating to achieve social change.
  • A co-working space for professional freelancers and social start-ups in the creative, arts, food, digital, community development and built environment sectors.
  • A café, library, event space and R&D hub – open to all – to support those striving to achieve social change in their communities, through the built environment.
  • A programme of workshops, career education, work experience, mentoring and enterprise support, to inspire people, especially young people, to work in the arts, hospitality and built environment sectors.
  • A hub place to prototype new ideas, legitimate, civically accountable, collaborative. A safe, open, local space for researchers, activists, policy makers, the public, everyone, to come together and collaborate to help create the Liverpool of the future, connecting to other Northern communities.

Local Context

Liverpool’s Inclusive Growth Plan has an ambitious vision for a strong a growing city built on fairness with:

  • new quality homes in thriving neighbourhoods,
  • a strong and inclusive economy and
  • a connected and accessible city with quality infrastructure.

These ambitions will create new opportunities for a new form of economic growth in Liverpool, but they will also create new challenges in communities undergoing major and fast-moving change.

Communiversity Liverpool will support freelancers and start-ups in the social, arts and creative sectors to benefit from these opportunities, build community wealth, and strengthen the social safety net.

We also want Communiversity Liverpool to help empower communities to take control of their own future by shaping their own prospects for wealth creation and delivering change for themselves.

Navigating the Communiversity

There is a developing movement of Communiversities worldwide. These share certain common characteristics, recognising that the employment of self and communities, in the 21st century, will be dominated by knowledge workers:

  • Communiversities activate Communal Learning – through story-telling, community arts, shared projects and discovering neighbourhoods (including the history of the local built environment) afresh.
  • Communiversities awaken Consciousness – of common values, history, local culture, crafts, art and spirituality, through a mutual journey (Pilgrimium).
  • Communiversities emancipate Research – liberating women and BME networks for utilising technologies, applying systems, models and science to technical innovation, within a city-regional focus.
  • Communiversities embody Development – creating co-laboratory spaces, where innovations diffuse culturally relevant knowledge and generate enterprise, mutual working and communal employment.

Through these processes, Communiversities are activating Communities, to awaken local people to share in a common venture of culturally appropriate research-to-innovation.

This is not, necessarily, the type of research that academic institutions thrive on – although some will be – but will involve more participative action research (PAR), and co-operative inquiry (CI), in which many more people can be involved, innovating for change, in locally relevant ways, that navigate a way towards new, sustainable enterprises.

Incorporating Look & Feel

  • Communiversity Liverpool will acquire 106 London Road, as a social and community enterprise. It will act to generate a meso-scale grassroots economy hub, with meeting rooms, arts and performance studios, writers-artists hub, a research space (RAiSE), event and installation spaces, a community café-restaurant and family/ children’s crèche facilities.
  • It will bring together freelancers in the sector along with the public, supporting them to collaborate and grow, create content and programmes, to inspire young people especially, to work in new careers and support communities, to achieve social change embedded in their economic growth model.
  • Communiversity Liverpool is based on the aim of GENErating 500 new community social businesses. It will enshrine a commitment to the social growth of the city region. Communiversity Liverpool represents a real aspiration to further develop the culture-based economy of the city-region, for and from the people, taking all its communities on a journey of regeneration, together.

Communiversity Wigan

The Old Courts Wigan, Royal Court Theatre, Grant Hotel and, most recently, the historic Wigan Pier Complex (cf George Orwell and all that) have been secured by Arts at the Mill (trading company) and Wigan Arts Community Heritage Trust (charity, which I chair). These buildings have been secured at the cost of several £M (precise details are confidential), through a mix of grants, equity-funding, loans and leasehold agreements. Together they represent a major transformation of the arts, culture and heritage scene in this Northern town, famed for its Rugby League club, known as “the pie-eaters”! The Old Courts has run more than 2,000 arts events for each of the past three years, mainly appealing to local street-level culture, focused on popular music, children’s events, pantomimes, comedy stand-up and profiling a wealth of local talent, most of which is semi-professional. The capacity of The Wigan Pier Complex is to offer a much wider range of ‘higher art’, trading on the renovation of this waterfront centre, with its historic associations to George Orwell and a rich slice of English 20th century culture. We open the new centre, theatres, restaurants, food hall and artisan craft workshops in June-July 2020, as part of the Orwell centenary.

This is what we say to the local Wigan community

  • Wigan is such a special place. Who doesn’t love stories about the theatres of the 30’s, the music of the 90’s
  • …but everywhere you look, there are the scars of hard times gone by. Boarded up theatres. “No-go” areas. People with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
  • After years of cutbacks, closures and challenges, it’s time to wake, shake, and open things up.
  • The Trust is here to animate this town, using art, culture and heritage to bring it back to life.
  • Doing it the Wigan way, by reviving tired but much loved spaces and filling them with things to engage and inspire you and your loved ones.
  • The Trust is doing it to put Wigan back on the map and prove the naysayers wrong. To awaken our sleeping culture and heritage. To celebrate our community’s amazing talents.
  • To ensure Wigan is a great place for our children to grow up in, live and work.
  • It’s the least we all deserve. And failure isn’t an option.

Our own developing Vision – Wigan Arts Trust for Culture & Heritage (WATCH)

The Outward public perception of our vision and that shared with our funders will be an amalgamated vision of WATCH, with each CIC delivering a pre-defined role in the eco-system of WATCH.

  • Evaluation Framework will be developed for each CIC to feed into the broader Evaluation for WATCH.
  • PR, Marketing & Audience Development will be both WATCH and Individual Sites where best reach is the catalyst for each strategy.
  • WATCH will have a PR& Marketing plan separate to each individual site feeding into an overall plan.
  • As with Communiversity Liverpool a huge amount of work goes into legalities, infrastructure funding, bidding processes and developing professional relationships. This is the Northern way! This has taken several £Ms.

What will Wigan Communiversity do…

  • Grow audiences amongst less engaged communities
  • Provide opportunities to participate in new things and in new ways
  • Give equal opportunities to the highest number of people
  • Ensure there is always a way for anyone to get involved
  • Continually provide meaningful experiences to individuals and groups
  • Facilitate connections and collaborations between people
  • Create a Foundations Programme for 25-50 young people (launch Oct 2020), in the performing arts, jointly with Liverpool Hope University’s Creative Campus – developing skills and keeping talent locally.
  • Institute a local Research Academy – evaluating the impact of culture-led education on the aspirations, life-changes and personal trajectories of Wigan young people.

What will be the change for Wigan?

  • 10,000 people from low-engaged communities take part each year
  • 300,000 people take part each year (as many people as there are in Wigan!)
  • Activities are relevant & resonant with our community groups
  • Wigan’s evolving cultural landscape is represented across our activity
  • Established artists are more involved in activities across our sites
  • Borough-wide collaborations are stronger and better supported
  • Wigan keeps its young people and it becomes a creative arts hub for the North (even more than now!)

 Lessons from the Two Communiversities – North

  • In the North, things take time, lots of money and require painstaking work with teams of professionals – it’s the Northern way.
  • When they happen, they become major institutions with longevity that can be measured in decades.
  • It is possible to generate Research Academies that operate in a space between formal Universities and local community ventures, seeking to bring each closer.
  • There is a need for some sorts of formal recognition, if not accreditation, for participating in programmes.
  • The possibilities are enormous, the spin-offs considerable and the precise direction of travel…completely unknown.

That is what makes it so exciting!

Revd. Dr Tony Bradley – Professional Tutor in Business Liverpool Hope Business School and Associate Director, SEED.