How many sectors does it take to change the world (or at least change Camden)?

How many sectors does it take to change the world (or at least change Camden)?

How many sectors does it take to change the world (or at least change Camden)? 1920 976 WeMakeCamden

As part of our community events this week, we’re hosting guest blogs from selected organisations. Natasha Friend from Camden Giving shares some insights into the various roles necessary to effect change in Camden.

Q: How many sectors does it take to change the world (or at least change Camden)?

A: All of them, but here’s why…

At Camden Giving we’re three months into a partnership with Camden Council, Camden businesses and Camden citizens to fund and support great ideas that will achieve the Camden Renewal missions. We’re working with a group of 12 Camden citizens who have a unique insight on inequality in Camden. Together they are choosing over a hundred projects a year that will receive funding from them to run anything from food banks to greening projects. And unlike other funders, Camden residents can and are applying to receive funds to run projects themselves. The funding for this first year has come from Camden Council, but we hope going forward more organisations, including businesses, will play a role in funding this work and supporting citizen-led change in Camden.

Different sectors and people are wearing different ‘hats’ in this partnership.* Some of these hats are well worn – the people wearing them have worn them for generations – but in other cases, people are trying on new hats. None of these hats will be optional if we want to bring about systemic change within a decade, so I’ve outlined these below and why they are each so important.

*With due warning that this blog contains some slightly stretched comparisons between communities and outfits.

The specialist hat

This hat is sitting firmly on the heads of the community panel who are awarding grants. They are a group of 12 people who know the strength, love and community that exists in Camden, but they also know first-hand that Camden is a challenging place, be that because of disability, gender, ethnicity, age or other/multiple barriers. They have a deep knowledge that you’ll never find in a consultation document or a set of statistics, and for that reason they are the best placed people to identify which community projects should receive funding.

These people have always held this specialist knowledge, but traditional philanthropic systems don’t value that knowledge, so for some of them it is the first time they’ve worn this hat. As one community panellist said: “I want to be in a photo of this panel, because I want others to see that people like me are holding power.” They are taking off a beneficiary hat and because of this we all benefit from the powerful knowledge they’ve always held. Their work isn’t easy, and that’s why they need assistants.

“[Specialists] have a deep knowledge that you’ll never find in a consultation document or a set of statistics, and for that reason they are the best placed people to identify which community projects should receive funding.”

The assistants-to-the-specialist hat

That’s us at Camden Giving. We view our role as being the ones available to sort out whatever the panel need to make the most of their knowledge. We book their meetings, we do due diligence checks on those who are applying for funding, we run software that makes it simple for people to apply, we get them laptops so they can take part, we compensate them for their time, we introduce them to people who can widen their knowledge, and we take care of all the little bits to free them up to focus on applying their knowledge.

We’ve been wearing this hat at Camden Giving for four years, but the vast majority of UK foundations wear the specialists hat and have done so for centuries. We’re adjusting to wearing this hat alongside our fundraising outfit. It’s a challenge to remind donors that their knowledge isn’t as important as that of the community panellists. But more UK foundations should be comfortable in the assistant-to-the-specialists hat. They hold enormous wealth, giving more than £2.6 billion a year rarely informed by lived experience of the issues being faced. In most cases, it’s foundation trustees making the decisions on grants, 98% of whom are white, more than half men and the average age 65, with no known data on other protected characteristics. This partnership provides an opportunity to break beyond that outdated norm and bring new and valuable decision-makers into philanthropy.

A large group of people stand in a line for a photo, in a park

The creative hat

The people wearing creative hats are wildly creative, don’t underestimate it. If you’re reading this as a Camden citizen, then we invite you to wear this hat. The creatives are the people who will lead projects that will achieve the four Camden missions. Even though we’re at the early stage of this work, the creativity of ideas that are coming forward have taken our breath away. Everything from music workshops, to edible bus stops, to support groups for those going through menopause. We’re aiming to give more than 100 grants this year, so that the variety of ideas taking place across the borough will be felt far and wide. All these projects will help to make lives better in Camden. Some will really take off and we hope they’ll come back to Camden Giving for more funding to scale up great ideas.

The creative hat isn’t new to Camden citizens. The amazing mutual aid that has existed for a long time within many marginalised communities, and at a larger scale during lockdown, shows that to be the case. The creativity of citizens is one of Camden’s greatest assets, but bureaucracy and systemic inequality too often stand in the way of that creativity having the full impact on communities that it could. To overcome this we’re providing insurance, banking, safeguarding support and connections in to Camden Council and local businesses to help make Camden citizen’s ideas become a reality. As we’re moving along, it’s clear that the support citizens need is as varied as the ideas they have, so we’re keeping support flexible. If there’s something someone needs, we want to try to get it for them.

“The creativity of citizens is one of Camden’s greatest assets

The good neighbour hat

Camden’s businesses are wearing this hat, and like all good neighbours, they’re sharing what they’ve got, be that by their staff designing a leaflet to raise awareness of a women’s group that a Camden citizen is running, or by hosting a group of young people to run a project in their building. Some are giving some of the money they are making directly in to the fund so that Camden citizens benefit from having thriving businesses on their doorstep.

Most businesses want to be good neighbours. The challenge often lies in them doing so individually. This partnership goes beyond that by setting high ambitions that can only be achieved collectively.

The good neighbours hat isn’t optional – this work isn’t sustainable without businesses. This is because of the opportunities they can offer towards missions like ‘diversity in positions of power’, because their financial success in Camden and beyond should be reflected in Camden citizens thriving, and because the thousands of people working in Camden’s businesses are telling us they don’t want to stand outside of making these missions a reality.

A group of people in an office decorated with ballons and Christmas decorations raise that hands and smile

The enabler hat

This hat sits on the heads of decision-makers at Camden Council. They’re providing the initial funding to make this programme run and are working to ensure that funding is available to make this project sustainable. They’re creating a culture where the creative and specialist citizens are the stars of this borough.

There’s a fine balance between relinquishing responsibility to achieve these missions versus enabling those who are well-placed to take the lead. It’s clear to see the effort being made at the Council to get this balance right, but I’m sure that there will be points along the way when we’ll need to rebalance it. The enabler hat suits Camden Council well, but they can’t take off their service delivery hat. There aren’t a great deal of outfits that go with two hats, not in my wardrobe anyway. It’s brave to wear both and them doing so is what will eventually mean that in 2030 we’ve met the renewal missions.

It’s worth pointing out that some people take off one of these hats and put another one on. That’s what makes communities exciting places.

As this works moves along, we’re really excited to keep changing how we work and what we do.

We’d love to hear feedback and we’re always around for a coffee.

Find out more

If you’re a Camden citizen with an idea for making a difference to your community, this is your moment to make it happen. Find out more about the support and funding you can get through the We Make Camden Kit, and chat to Camden Giving about your idea.

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