Tough talks, important decisions, conversations that bring people together. The most important of these can happen around the kitchen table, not necessarily the boardroom. This comment from a facilitator, at a recent Corra shared learning event, deeply resonated with me and captured beautifully, the importance of space in community development.
Agenda-free spaces can be indoor or outdoor. They need to be big enough for people to gather, in an environment which is welcoming, comfortable and is a natural place for get togethers. The idea is that external agendas are put to one side in favour of ‘kitchen table’ chats, and Scotland boasts many fine examples: –
- The Resource Centre in Dunterlie, East Renfrewshire, is a ‘kitchen table’ space which has been brought back into use and is now flourishing.
- The local library, in Blacklands North Ayrshire, is where people congregate for family fun days, children’s book bugs, chair-based exercise and more. Welcoming, relational staff, convenient opening times, free Wi-Fi, and a constant flow of tea and biscuits make these spaces inclusive, and great community assets.
- Cumbernauld FM, in North Lanarkshire takes this idea to the internet with a community run radio station. This was set up as a platform for people to create and share content about the issues that affect them, such as; intergenerational stories, mental health, and the environment.
- The community gardens of CLEAR (Community-Led Environmental Action for Regeneration) have been creating green space in Buckhaven and Methil for many years, bringing people together in the outdoors.
Of course, establishing agenda-free community spaces is not without challenge. Each of us has our own experiences and narratives, and the way we communicate sometimes means that common ground is difficult to find. Some people don’t travel outside their immediate area as they don’t feel that other parts of the community are their space. Physical places matter too – primary schools, churches and community centres can indeed bring people together, but they also have potential to divide.
Unsurprisingly, funding and the affordability of space can often be a significant factor and some spaces struggle to stay open all year round. While communities can potentially organise to fill the gaps, often this is only possible when people have the resources and time to do this voluntarily.
Sadly, recent years have seen the loss of many ‘kitchen table’ spaces. At Corra we’re continually learning that spaces are critical, and that without them conversations, energy, ideas, and the capacity to self-organise are all greatly hindered. As it is, every place has its own narrative and history and there’s no one-size fits all approach – ideas and expertise about what is needed locally must come from the people who live there.
Corra is committed to sharing learning and asking questions about how to best support communities. Some of the questions we’re curious about include:
- What is already available in communities? Mapping is important, and critical to help us understand the changing environment and nature of the spaces.
- Do we have a shared understanding of what ‘agenda-free’ space is, and how do we promote this as a concept?
- How can space be made available to those who need it? Financial pressures can make it difficult to sustain available space. Asset transfers can be a great opportunity, but also put strain on communities to try and keep spaces available.
- What other things help people feel welcome in a space?
What do you think about space in your own community? We would love to start an agenda-free conversation and find out more about your own ‘kitchen table’ experiences… please get in touch on Twitter (@corrascot) or by emailing email@example.com for a chat, and even a cuppa.