Wednesday, 03 February 2010

Eyesore gardens: vermin inside and a bin in the hall Just caught up with this article by Allegra Stratton on 'eyesore front gardens' in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, in last week's Guardian Society. These are 1930s estates and the houses are largely rented, through which short-term tenants flow in and out, chucking away the previous tenants' soft furnishings. The area is now remarkable for its inside-out properties: two or three mattresses, three-piece suites and rolls of carpets in front gardens, while wildlife takes over indoors – with rats, pigeons nesting in the eaves, and moss thriving on carpets. "If the mattresses outside aren't enough," says the leader of the local council, Liam Smith, "then look for the pigeons sitting on the roof. It means vermin living up there." The council tries to work proactively with residents to clear up, but if they fail to, the team shows up with a rubbish truck and oversees the clear-up of the garden, charging the landlord for the work. The effect will be to help establish a sense of order and overcome feelings of lack of efficacy in the nieghbourhood. Apparently the council has rarely had to take legal action so far, and they support the initiative with a mobile "tool library", from which, on the presentation of a library membership card, residents can hire shovels, clippers or hoes to attack their front garden themselves. And I like this little story brought to the surface by the visit of local MP Jon Cruddas: Standing in the fog, watching a concrete yard being cleared of junk, Cruddas is approached by the son of an 80-year-old constituent who lives in a house along the road. "You won't remember, but you got her her first wheelie bin," he tells Cruddas. "Hers was the first in the street and she was worried sick it was going to get nicked." Did she chain it up? "Nah, she kept it in the hall."
Co-production is coming of age There's a tidy little cluster of examples of neighbourhood-based co-production just posted (anonymously, why?) on the NANM blog, claiming that people do just ‘get it’. So is the idea coming of age? Co-production or co-delivery of public services and benefit gets a mention in most of my presentations and I agree, most people do get it. Most of us don't expect our medics to produce our health for us, we don't expect teachers to have sole responsibility for educating our children, and the police are not the only people who produce safety on our streets. A lot of this thinking goes back to the late 1980s or early 90s, raising questions about how long it takes for the penny to drop in the official-bureaucratic mentality. I'm reminded of a meeting with a county police authority a couple of years ago, in which I made the above points and found myself faced with blank incomprehension, suggesting that few of them had reflected on the social context of their own practice. Co-production needs to be seen as a form of collective behaviour and its ultimate expression is sustainable lifestyles. We can see people's responses to the pressures of climate change ('we must do our bit') as the unlikely source of a post-Thatcherite resurgence in credibility for collective approaches. A little encouragement from our most influential media wouldn't go amiss. Another angle on this is the 'crowding-out' effect, the view that in the second half of the last century the welfare state overwhelmed citizens' readiness to help themselves or one another - hence the line that co-production is 'the biggest revolution in the shape of public services since Beveridge' (NESTA press release on their recent report). There's a strong (but I believe unproven) argument to suggest that in some areas of social support, and with some demographics, accusations of crowding-out may be valid. Which leaves us with the forces of economic recession, reducing expectations and the necessity of localism. It's sometimes tough growing up.

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