Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Practivist of the Week - Mark Walton

Well - here it is - the first pracitivist feature!  He's answered my "Practivism Questionnaire" and here are the responses.

Mark Walton

Practivism Questionnaire

Name:  Mark Walton

How old are you, if you don’t mind?

I’m 41 – and even if I did mind there wouldn’t be much I could do about that.

What is the main focus of your practivism at this time and how does that manifest?

The main focus of my practivism is currently The Waterways Project @ CIVA. It’s a new project that I set up with a friend in August this year to explore the potential for the development of community assets and social enterprise on and around Britain’s canal system.

British Waterways, the public body that manages the 2,200 miles of canals in Britain, is about to be transformed into a charity. We want to ensure that as many communities as possible benefit from this change. We believe that the canal system, as well as being a magnificent piece of industrial heritage, also has the potential to be the biggest piece of sustainable infrastructure in the UK. Think about New York’s 1.5 mile High Line then multiply by about 1,500...

What route did you take to get here?

When the government first started to publicly consult on the idea of turning British Waterways into a charitable body, my mind started racing with ideas at how this could open up opportunities for communities living on and around the canals. But the canals have a long history and some long-standing user groups and so there was also a fear that only those people already interested would get involved in thinking about this new opportunity.

I racked my brains for someone to talk to about it and thought of my friend Ben Metz. We used to work together in community recycling organisations many moons ago and we get fired up about the same kind of issues. We met up for beers a few times over a number of months and our excitement grew. We sketched out an idea for a big conference to bring people together and went to a funder to ask them to back it. They liked our idea but sent us away and told us to come back with a bigger project. So we did.

The Waterways Project will run for about six months. We have two paid part-time workers, a couple of interns and we are busy seeking pro bono help and approaching business schools to see if we can get some of their students working on projects for us.

The transformation of British Waterways into a charity was confirmed by the government in the last couple of weeks and we only have a few months to influence how it happens, what it ends up looking like, and to excite a whole load of new people into thinking differently about our waterways.

We believe there are opportunities to develop new social enterprises in the fields of housing, energy generation, food growing and a range of other sectors that could provide new income for the charity as well as jobs and other benefits for local communities. We’ve created an online map so that local canal users can get involved by suggesting ideas in their area. More generally we are also developing a business case for each of the sectors we are exploring.

What makes this practivism?

The government in the UK is currently looking to offload a whole range of assets from public into private / charity / community ownership. We could have just thrown our hands up in horror and complained about it. We could have never taken it beyond the pub, or Twitter, or Facebook.

Instead we looked at what was happening and asked ourselves how we could turn this to the advantage of social entrepreneurs and communities. We looked at our own knowledge and connections and skills and decided how we could best use them. Then we convinced someone else that it was worth funding us to do it. 

From here, where?

Who knows? This project is focused on one particular case of an asset being moved from the public sector into charitable ownership. But there will be others.  We are looking to see where we can apply the lessons we are learning in this project and how we can develop our approach to create genuine new opportunities to involve communities in the management of our commonly held assets.

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