Great Britain is often considered as one of the birthlands of the commons: the concept got structured more specifically during the medieval period around the forested areas and pastures, framed by the Carta Foresta, and then linked to struggles against the enclosure movement in the 16th century (which removes the possibility of making collective use of these large rural areas). Today it finds a new meaning : Great Britain remains largely marked by the privatizations of the Thatcher era then of its successors as well as by various forms of speculation, with a strong erosion of public services and spaces. However, this last decade, we witnessed new dynamics, driven by ‘progressive’ local governments (sic), which are building strategies to promote the emergence of commons on their territories, questioning ‘extractive’ economic models, re-inventing public services “in common” … From “community wealth building” to “public ownership”, through public-common partnerships, we are perhaps going towards a new age of local authorities?
Furthermore, Great Britain is also an emblematic breeding ground for particularly inspiring forms of activism, self-organization and citizen mobilizations, community organizing. How do these dynamics nourish forms of reappropriation of space and public action?
These are all of the topics that we wanted to explore for our sixth trip as part of the “Enacting the Commons” program.
Rise of a re-municipalization movement
Inspired by cities like Barcelona, a municipal movement is being organized across the country to rebuild public services on the basis of “public ownership”. Anchored within Labor, it nevertheless seems to gradually transcend political divisions. What are the strategies of cities, elected officials and administrations regarding the matter? How are communities organized locally? What forms of public-joint partnerships can arise from this? We will address these questions by crossing the experience of administrations of different London neighborhoods engaged in such approaches, of researchers – David Hall, Hilary Wainwright and Bertie Russell, contributors to the Transnational Institute, Matthew Laurence of Common Wealth, or even of Cat Hobbs who carries the “We own it” campaign. The objective will be to understand what is at stake in Great Britain in terms of public ownership, to approach and exchange around local examples of re-municipalization and to identify leverage strategies locally, translocally or nationally.
The community wealth building approach
How can we imagine a territorial economy “in common”, that is to say reorganize the economy locally so that wealth is not extracted from it but remains and circulates within the community? Among the strategies to implement this approach, cities like Manchester, Oldham, Preston, or even the Islington district in London, are experimenting with the development of hybrid property modes, community banks, new forms of public procurement, etc. In general, there is a growing rejection of the commodification of essential services. The alternative is not necessarily nationalization or municipalization. Public-joint partnerships are presented as a third way, bringing radical social transformations.
The city of Preston is emblematic of this movement. Formerly industrial and having suffered from severe budget cuts, this city near Manchester has reinvented itself on a virtuous model based on cooperation. Triggered by the inhabitants, tired to see imposed decisions taken hundreds of miles away, the emphasis was placed on empowering the inhabitants and on maintaining spending in the service of local economy. The city has launched a program to incubate worker-managed cooperatives and is experimenting a community bank. These reflections were carried out with the help of the CLES (Center for Local Economic Strategies), which is experimenting locally on new economic models and public services, or even in connection with the Common Wealth collective / think tank.
Another entry point to the commons that we have identified in Great Britain as structuring is that of “community organizing”. How are communities organizing locally to rethink the city? What power relationships exist between activism and the public actor? We have seen these recent decades the development of the concept of “Neighborhood planning”, which allows communities to have develop of tools to ensure they have a voice in local development projects. This concept was introduced by the 2011 Localism Act for decentralization and empowerment of local authorities on their territory. Even if it has been criticized, it shows a desire to evolve towards more local governance. Among other things, it establishes a number of community rights allowing citizens to organize local life such as the community right to build / to reclaim land / to challenge. Around these questions, we will discuss with Camden district agents and stakeholders from MAKE, a “story garden” dedicated to collaboration and social innovation in order to cross our experience on the anchoring of partnerships within the community.
Collectives support these dynamics and push them even further. Public Works, for example, is more specifically interested in public space and Participatory City supports local territory projects through the Every One Every Day program, carried out at Barking & Dagenham, on the outskirts of London.
Some inspiring links:
Preston’s model or how common sense returns to England, France Inter, Economic Stories (french)
Brutal cuts fight back Preston dragon’s den, The Guardian
New municipalism in London, CLES
Research report on the Participatory City project
Illustrated Guide to Participatory City