Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Practivist of the Week - Update on Mark Walton

It was  exactly eleven months ago when I started featuring Practivists on my blog. I have pretty much taken the summer off, but decided I really missed this feature. What better way to start it back up than by going back to our first ever Practivist - Mark Walton? He's had quite an amazing time of it...

Mark at POPse!
I"ve asked him a new set of questions - here's a link to his original interview if you want to catch up!

In the time since you filled out your Practivist Questionnaire, what goals have you reached or surpassed?

The first phase of The Waterways Project was completed in May 2011 when we submitted our response to the government’s public consultation on the new waterways charity.

Whilst many aspects of the original project plan were changed I think we can say that we achieved our primary objectives. These were: to rapidly establish The Waterways Project as a key player in the consultation with the ability to influence both British Waterways and the government and, to ensure that the voices of social enterprises and community organisations were brought into the consultation process.

We have now seen the Government’s response to the consultation and there have been some significant changes, including the explicit recognition of the need for the new charity to deliver benefits to the communities that live on and around the waterways. We have also seen the first moves by British Waterways to explore the possibility of supporting the development of a new social enterprise to manage and develop some of their assets.

The project has attracted significant interest from other public bodies, charities and community organisations who are interested in increasing community use of other environmental assets such as woodlands and green spaces.

What obstacles - expected or unexpected - did you encounter and overcome to get here?

For various reasons outside of our control the work took longer than our funding would cover so the last couple of months were undertaken on a wing a prayer. Other than that, however, there were no real obstacles. Ben and I decided early on that we would take an emergent approach to the work – never trying to see beyond the next step and meeting regularly to reflect and assess our progress and decide our next move. This was not always a comfortable way to work – the temptation is to try and plan ahead – but it worked well for us and enabled us to use our limited resources to best effect.

A totally unexpected development was that during the course of this work British Waterways proposed a change to the rules relating to where residential boats could moor in London and for how long. As I live on a boat in the area this impacted on me directly and posed a significant threat to the community that I live in. In addition to my role as a ‘practivist’, working alongside British Waterways, I also became a community activist campaigning against one of their policies. This obviously created tensions both in my professional relationship with them and with other members of my community. Whilst this was deeply uncomfortable at times I think it is significant that not only did organised opposition force British Waterways to withdraw their proposals but they are now discussing with the London boating community how they can set up a social enterprise in order to manage and develop new moorings and facilities.

How have you been surprised or delighted in the process of pursuing your Practivism?

I have been surprised at how quickly The Waterways Project gained real traction, not only with British Waterways and the Government but with local community organisations and with other organisations managing environmental assets.

I’ve been delighted by the fact that the work has been picked up by other people working on other environmental assets and is seen by them as exciting and transferable to their situation. In May I took part in POPse!, the world’s first pop-up social enterprise think tank, and had an exhilarating week of really testing and discussing our ideas with others in the wider social enterprise sector. I emerged from POPse! certain that our work has the potential to deliver significant social change.

What's next?

We are in the process of applying for further funding for The Waterways Project and have the full commitment of British Waterways and the emerging new waterways charity. Our proposals are for a two year project to support the development of three new community led social enterprise activities on the waterways.

We are also in the process of founding a new non-profit organisation, Shared Assets. Shared Assets will share the learning from The Waterways Project and start to work with others undertaking similar work in relation to woodlands and other environmental assets. Our vision is the creation of a 21st century commons, ensuring that communities have the right to use land and waterways, whoever may own them, in order to deliver sustainable public benefits such as food, low impact housing and renewable energy.

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