#ParticipatoryScotland is the development of a series of initiatives which are based on the Every One, Every Day model in Barking and Dagenham. They offer people living and working in Scottish towns and cities a simple and effective way to create better local places, while encouraging their passions, interests, and skills. Based from agenda-free shop front spaces and a linked workshop, they provide places for people to try out ideas and projects together, and where relevant, develop and test collaborative business ideas.
At the beginning of February, I was preparing for a Participatory Scotland (initiatives based on the ‘Every One, Every Day’ model in Barking and Dagenham) residential that would bring together a range of partners to explore the development of community participation initiatives in towns and cities across Scotland. In between figuring out logistics and working on content, I was following a news story unfolding from another city, Wuhan. I remember reading a lockdown diary from a young single woman living there. I wondered briefly, with the benefit of ignorance of the future, how we might cope if anything like that ever happened in Scotland.
Less than six weeks later, it did.
At first it seemed to me, during the initial shock of lockdown, that it was going to be impossible for partners to collectively develop Participatory Scotland initiatives during a time of social isolation.
Then I realised, this time with the benefit of insight, that perhaps now was precisely the time to think about, if not undertake, how we work alongside communities so they can become more connected, more involved and better resourced in ways that work locally.
Perhaps it was being at the centre of multiple perspectives on what was happening – my Mum works in a care home that lost fifteen residents in the span of a week. My sister is shielding due to complex health issues. A good friend of mine is a nurse who has been working on the Covid-19 wards at the local hospital, and my next-door neighbour has been drafted back into the NHS to work on the public health response.
I work for an organisation which has addressed issues that families and communities are facing by refocusing its funding activity and working with partners to understand the challenges. I have colleagues whose day-to-day job is to get alongside communities and support change to happen. I have regular contact with local authorities who are having to swiftly adjust to supporting people through challenges caused by or made worse by a situation none of us could have predicted six months ago.
So as we move through the initial period of crisis response and into recovery and renewal, those interested in developing Participatory Scotland have set up an informal but consistent Community of Practice to discuss some of the issues that are affecting us now, and to consider how we might move forward. Some of this is personal, some professional, and we intend to share what we can of the process.
There has been significant loss through this time which should not be underplayed. But perhaps that is why, for those of us with resources of any kind, that now and together, using collective experience, listening with compassion to stories from different perspectives and developing a shared sense of purpose, we should work alongside one another to build a better future.