Thursday, 17 March 2011

Your Square Mile? Why? There’s been lots of fluttering lately about the Your Square Mile initiative, which has attracted bags of funding to do, er, well, to behave like a branded top-down idea, as far as anyone can tell. Cathy Aitchison, David Wilcox and other good folk who make up the Our Society network have been trying to prise out information about it. The latest is that: The Big Lottery Fund is enabling Your Square Mile to build a digital platform – on PC’s, mobiles and public access screens – that will enable the interchange of ideas, advice, support and benefits to citizens throughout the UK. Explanation to follow, presumably? It sounds as if there is a basic assumption that one single platform will be appropriate for the communication needs of every definable neighbourhood in the country. There is a study to be done of the damage caused by highly persuasive people who seem to feel compelled to impose template social 'solutions' on others. I enjoyed Julian Dobson’s thorough posing of questions the other day. It got me wondering if the Your Square Mile idea - closely associated with another national policy-favoured empty catch-phrase idea the name of which escapes me for the moment - really deserves such painstaking attention. People are struggling to hold on to any goodwill towards the initiative, but are watching closely, probably for three related reasons – secrecy; the top-down approach and lack of values; and the fact that the project’s founder Paul Twivy has apparently attracted a great deal of money in scarce times, that might otherwise have gone into the community sector. I liked Alan MacDonald’s reaction: ‘My first set of questions is - why does an idea depending on voluntary effort require so much paid work and, I believe, generous expenses to initiate it? Why does an idea of the digital age communicate so badly? (My latest example is a tweet saying 'Join the debate' which led me to a web page where I couldn't leave a comment) Why does the web and social network presence of this idea require a big grant from the Lottery when all you need for a major website, Twitter and facebook feed is fifty quid, open source, skills and will power?’ The explanation came a few minutes later from Jeff Mowatt: I'll tell you Alan, as it was related to Indira Gandhi when her grandfather advised here that: "There are two kinds of people in the world. Those that do the work and those that take the credit. Try to stay in the first group, you'll find less competition." And finally, since comments on blogs are so easily missed, I want to reproduce these observations from Aidan Kelly on Julian Dobson’s post: ‘people can't be bought. Money can enable quick reactions but it rarely attracts the right people. Those people who are passionate about their community, don't want to be told what to do, or even paid by an external organisation to collect ideas. There is something that is almost...
Hurrah, the citizen voice is here Over on Our Society, Your Square Mile founder Paul Twivy has posted a response to questions posed by Julian Dobson. He includes a couple of rather odd statements. 'Our role is as the citizen voice.' What can this mean? Was it deliberately intended to sound so incredibly arrogant, or did it just come out wrongly? On what basis can you attract large-scale funding and head off into people's neighbourhoods proclaiming 'we're here, we're here at last, sorry you've been waiting sooooo long, and you with such needs...' (A citizen's voice: 'Well, welcome, nice to meet you. Er, who are you?' YSM: 'We're the citizen voice.' CV: 'Er, I already got one mate. Are you saying I'm not a proper citizen?')... Wait there's more: 'YSM is about enabling people to make the changes they want to see in their area in their way and not about us imposing ideas from the outside.' Really? So what are you doing there? Were you elected? Do you have taxpayers money to allocate to services? Were you invited in? And if so, by who? As with big society and coalition government, we're seeing an insensitive officer-class attitude towards ordinary people in their neighbourhoods - from telling them what to do, through savagely cutting their services in ways they can't defend against, to telling them that important people have come to help them make changes. And expecting to be applauded for this peculiar form of imperialist behaviour. I'm tempted to ask, do you have a flag? One wonders who's next for the Grand Tour for Saviours of Low-Income Neighbourhoods.

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