Transforming communities

Transforming communities

Community ownership models; an evidence based approach to transformation.

Building operational models forms the backbone of work that needs to undertaken if we are to adapt to, and mitigate the impact of the ecological crisis that we are in the midst of. The first principles of these models builds from the question of the effectiveness and agility of the current systems and focuses specifically upon the operations of these systems within a county town in the South East of England, Lewes, East Sussex.

Setting the background:

We are seeing multiple breakdowns within our wider ecosystem and these are directly related to the failure of these current systems. Within Lewes, a population of 18,000 people, we are seeing many high street shops close down and sit stagnant for years on end, we have a gentrification effect due to escalating house prices and we have an over population of vehicles on the roads, with congestion clogging up the town and some high pollution areas due to this. Most shops within the town are now large chains and, as with most towns there is a constant questioning around places for young people to hang out, litter, parking, a lack of affordable public transport and houses and, as with all areas, increases in the number of families accessing food banks and all household feeling the cost of living crisis take firm hold.
The average house price in Lewes is currently around £472,000 (Rightmove) and with median UK salaries at just under £26,000 (ONS) that puts the average house price at just over 18 times the average UK salary. I have been a resident of Lewes since 2009, having grown up in the local area, but I have only one of my school friends that has been able to stay in the town. Everyone else I grew up with has been prices out of the town and now live in the surrounding villages and towns. The concern is one of a disparate community, gentrified, aging or second home owners.
Housing in the UK is operated for the purpose of profit, not for purpose. It is modeled to encourage individualism and ownership, placing the notion that everyone must work towards owning their property and incentivised through government policies that support first time buyers and shared ownership, not because either of these policies are enacted through a lens of nature, which would include humans, but they are enacted through a lens that creates demand, inflates prices and drives a dependency upon a flow of money from the individual to the bank and thereby to the shareholders.
The irony of these policies is that the government, through much of the support to public sector workers, are, through the councils and local authorities funding these employments and therefore are the origins of the money that is then paid to the banks and shareholders. You can almost see the shareholders rubbing their hands as the government announces they will support teachers to ‘get on the housing ladder’ by supporting the borrowing from a commercial lender. Whether shared ownership or social housing (right to buy scheme) the ultimate aim is achieved, that more and more housing stock disappears onto the market, out of the control of any kind of affordability and into the scarcity driven market which has, as we see now, inflated the average house price to 7.8 times the average wage.

The housing sector is not atypical but part of a systemic wicked problem that we find ourselves in. Each system, company, service, organisation, collective and, indeed most cooperatives, councils and authorities all play into the anthropocentric design of capitalism. Breaking away from this is not an easy undertaking but, it is, as has been so neatly demonstrated through its own success, an imperative.
Before we embark upon the new paradigm I would like to explore further the previous statement that all instruments are designed to support the destruction of our natural resources, as this is the main tenant of capitalism; capital output must exceed both labour natural resource input.
Let us dwell on the tools of capitalism first, primarily the tool we all know and use is money. This simple tender is much more nuanced than it first seems. Whether you are council or coop if you use money to operate services, you are simply fueling the capitalist machine to continue its hunt for more. Breaking this down, and of course I can hear outcries of conspiracy, our organisations are currently structured very unlike an ecosystem and instead of providing a balance, money flows through a Proof of Work concept. Once the work is done, an arbitrary amount of money is transferred to the individual. The amount of money transferred is based upon a few assumptions. One, how much money can be afforded to that individual and two, what are the current market parameters that might influence that amount; i.e. a simular role elsewhere or a lack of that role elsewhere.
So, one now questions what happens to that money once it has been transferred to the individual? In most cases it is spent on goods and services required (basic needs), once they have been met, entertainment and luxury items (leisure needs) and, if they are all met, money either accumulates within a bank account, of which the bank can make further profit from or it becomes invested into a project or venture that will provide a return on investment.
Philosophy of Ecological & Spiritual Education (PEASE)The basis of the imperative to realign humanity with the ecosystem that we are entwined. (Why)
Environmental Sustainable Consultancy (ESCape) The support service for these organisaitons and individuals to enable their positive change. This informs all operational service. (How)
Sustainable Environmental Wellbeing Network (SEWN) Network of organisations and individuals who want to be part of the regenerative civics program. (How)

The Peak Adventure; our service that supports the community to become immersed in the natural world; reconnecting through Discovery, Exploration, Conservation and Sharing our experience. (What)
Imaginarium; our education space at the heart of our community projects. Focusing on how we live, learn & grow together. (What)
Springing Kids Into Life; our physical activity programme that supports more kids to become more active more often. Focusing upon the connection we make through play, not the achievement but the act itself. (What)
Future Folk Sussex; a community led co-housing initiative that focuses upon the interconnections between home, purpose and planet. (What)

Enacting the United Nations Sustainable Development goals is a focus for us all to be working towards. Eroding or undermining these principles through current operational activities and waiting for the target deadline to arrive with some hope that overnight action might occur as the clock strikes the turn of day is both immoral and unethical.

Both focus and resource must been placed to level up wider inequalities experienced through disadvantage
(WHO, 2018.)

Our current system of schooling is the focus of this paper and it is with caution that we tread this line.

Only 7% variation in academic outcomes are a consequence of schooling, therefore a holistic focus upon wellbeing and community resilience, as part of a holistic education process, form the drive for equity and justice
(Lewis, 2006; Evans & Davis, 2010.)

If it is acknowledged that academic output is not the purpose of education then why do we still have a system that is measuring that output?
At age 25 years, 23.0% of free school meal (FSM) recipients who attended school in England had recorded earnings above the annualised full-time equivalent of the Living Wage in comparison with 43.5% of those that did not.
(Office for National Statistics, 2022.)

Education refocused:

Focusing upon establishments and institutions as providers supports a narrowed view of education, that it only occurs in these institutions. Education is, however, an iterative process, the process of learning never ends. This process does not distinguish between the establishment, the institution, the community or the environment; they all play a part in the social acculturation of individuals (Lawson, 1986) . Having a process that does not constantly critique, challenge and reform itself to meet the needs of its community, one that does not learn through research, is to reject education itself.

Young people are increasingly failed by a system that does not support or recognise self efficacy or children as agentic learners. It is based within a capitalist system and, therefore the symptomatic National Curriculum values some knowledge over others. The assumption that certain acquired knowledge is learned by a specific chronological point does not recognise the concept of developmentally appropriate nor does it recognise that inequality in wider society is not something that the current school system can somehow fix to ensure that all pupils will fit the mold that the school has been charged with.

‘teachers are still struggling with the consequences of the standards agenda
… the heightened neoliberalism after 2010, which has increased the
emphasis on performativity, accountability and achievement in schools, has
intensified their opposition to how standards have been implemented.’
(Williams-Brown & Jopling, 2021, p.238.)

The current system is unable to cater for the needs of increasingly growing disaffected groups and, as our institutions look to offer ‘alternative’ provisions, co-curriculums, to support and ‘re-engage’ young people within a system of learning, should we not be asking the question as to if the system itself is fit for purpose.

Within the realms of primary education, the entanglement of wellbeing and environment is something that must therefore take to the fore. Roberts et al (2020), citing Wilson (1984), posit that ‘biophilia’ is our innate attachment to our natural environment, and that our existence is entwined. It is our desire to project ourselves as masters of our universe, dissected by Foucault's critique of the human sciences invention of man as a focus of knowledge (Foucault, 2001), that may be credited for simplifying our existence. We have focused, through these human sciences, primarily upon our own priorities, humanist, dismissive of our place within the ecology of life, determined to be the ruler, the controller, the agent of our own destiny. But at what cost?

Indeed, research demonstrates that our natural environment plays many roles, beit physical health; cognitive function; spiritual development; psychological wellbeing or self-care (Roberts et al, 2020). Jordan (2009 in Roberts et al, 2020) suggests that the natural environment operates as a secure base for children, allowing them to mediate negative mood states and maintain more positive ones. Whilst valuable, these humanist positions are in danger of leading to a perception that we are somehow separate to nature, that ‘it’ (the natural environment) can in some way help ‘us’ (humans). Logically this leads to an objectification, with Clark & Mcphie (2014) expressing concern that this simplification of our relationship with the environment is part of the reason for the crisis we find ourselves in.

Post pandemic, questions have arisen as to the function of school. Increasing opportunities, made available through technological advances, enables access to a range of resources and knowledge online, that can be digested at any time. The purpose of school, and indeed the facility it operates within, therefore needs to refocus on the meaning and purpose of education, not as a simplistic tool for disseminating particular knowledge but as a bastion for engaging young people in a love of learning, instilling a value in their individuality while supporting their sense of belonging to and connection with their environment.

Recognising that resources are finite, that we are within the midst of a climate crisis, necessitates that we reevaluate our purpose and functions. The sustainable development of humankind is, and must be, considerate of the ecosystem we are part of and, therefore, in order to enable a flourishing and collaborative community, focus needs to be placed upon adaptation to support and nurture community resilience, while we work to mitigate against the consequences of climate change that are beginning to be felt.

A holistic approach to education, where do we start?

Playing and understanding how to play successfully with others is one of our first achievements. Our focus upon the tools that enable play is as much part of learning as the play itself. The value we place in the enactors that support and facilitate play is critical, therefore, in the process of Lawson’s social acculturation, the understanding of norms and accepted values within our environment. Play supports our understanding of the world around us, therefore the environment we play in and what we play with, shapes our values and ethos. Playing with others who denote destructive behaviours will, unless reinforced otherwise, support a perceived value upon destruction. It is therefore necessary to play with others who can shape our play positively with values they themselves learned through their developmental journey. During this co-constructed learning, being supported in play, we recognise and begin to understand emotions, through cause and effect, of how our own behaviours and actions impact others around us, not just humans but our whole environment. Play is the way we begin to see, recognise, understand and critique the world around us. If we are not able to critically reflect upon our play, we may never understand the consequences of our actions.

Placing focus upon the environment, how we develop within the ecosystem, and the consequences of our actions within that ecosystem, enables purposeful questioning through the consideration of those consequences. Learning to be compassionate and understanding of the profound impact that our lives have upon our ecosystem can only be nurtured over time. Education, in its holistic sense, places responsibility on enabling an understanding of the consequences of our actions, nurturing those who have not been afforded the opportunity to understand the implications through scaffolding learning with purposeful experiences. Therefore, being educated is not about being knowledgeable, but about the ability to process knowledge and critique actions with a critical consciousness, enabling socially just and equitable practices to result. Until we understand that our actions are causing hardship and destruction, until we recognise that they are inadvertently driving inequalities, why would we change?

Focus upon constantly becoming, not achieving.

It is interesting to understand that the notion of ‘conscious valuing’ (the internal value we place upon something) is often articulated through our language. Defining anything at a set point in time and deciding that that is its ‘forever’ definition in our minds is not mindful of development of either linear nor complexity.

Why communities need to become a focus for our institutions.

The notions of ‘living’ and ‘working’ have been separated in the modern age. ‘Live to work’ or ‘work to live’ or ‘work-life balance’ are often phrases thrown into social conversations. The idea that you live in a different place to your work is in itself divisive. It separates the two notions into a purely performative function, I ‘live’ here and work ‘there’, somehow divides the notion of work into something other than living ‘How is work going?’ or ‘How is Life?’ are not necessarily answered in the same question. But if we reflect upon what life is, a process, work is simply part of that process, not separated from it. If work is not considered as part of that process, that it somehow prevents us from being involved in life when we are working, it is clear to see how this might disengage people and be seen as something that just has to happen so that we can live.

If our connections with our environment, our wellbeing, are eroded through a misplaced notion of the purpose of work, would this not be considered as detrimental to health, to life itself. Is the value of what we do ultimately diminished if we do not feel that it is connected to the process, and therefore the development of life?

Communities are made people, if those who work in a community feel they need to leave it when ‘work’ hours are over, they are detaching themselves from that community, using it only for the purpose that suits them, typically it is the work that draws them but it also fractures the communities they are part of, through these transient behaviours.

As an education institution we aspire to build stronger community relationships through the work that we do, reaching out to our wider community, embracing and enabling a community voice while fostering and nurturing collaborative partnerships. Bring people together to work, live, share and flourish.

Inequality and social injustice can only be tackled through a holistic approach to education that encompases the whole community into the process. Not just through the learning process but all aspects of life. It is this wider inequality that we target, questioning how organisational behavioural change can work to build a more equitable society. With growing numbers of families on the cusp of a hand to mouth lifestyle, detached from the fabric of society and disengaged from the status quo, education must be reimagined and reconceptualised to meet its very purpose. Providing education for community, how we function, work and live together can only be driven through concerted effort to implement what is required, understanding that catering for these cultural, social, environmental and health needs is, in itself, an education.

Research learning network:

As part of our journey we will develop and forge a research learning community that supports and critiques the work we do and future work we need to focus upon. An organic education process, fluid in its thinking and working, will be adaptive to the needs of the community as they develop and change.

Transformation to align with community

The covid-19 pandemic has provided much insight into the need for communities to come together and support each other. Community resilience was acutely highlighted when individuals were afforded time to support each other. It was not the society structures that operated at the time of the lock downs that provided this resilience, it was newly formed structures, functions and processes that came about as a result of individuals having to isolate themselves and requiring support from the community around them.

This refound community resilience has abated as we return to the status quo, relying upon structures of old to support our daily functions. The question still remains around affording the opportunity for the entire community to access everyday services and if we are to look to bolster community resilience, should we not question those structures that so easily broke down. We find ourselves realising that the only institutions that could provide any support during this pandemic was the government and therefore by proxy, all public sector services, including, our schools. The question focus is therefore upon the critical role that our schools, and the services they offer from their facilities, can play to adapt, bolstering resilience, and mitigate, reduce the adverse impact, against the effects of climate change.

Why is community ownership integral to this?

Recent research has worked to highlight unethical and inequitable practices enabled through the out-sourcing of PE and Out-of-School-Hours (OOSH) activities operating in primary schools (Crichton, 2019; Gardiner, 2021) The outsourcing of these services meant that during the pandemic, with only key workers accessing school and as they reopened for the wider community, some of these services could not operate, as they were outside of the control of the school. The pandemic is understood to be an effect of climate change, as communities are marginalised and seek to exploit the natural resources available to them, inter-species transmission of communicable disease increases, Quote please.

The affordance of opportunity

The issue that outsourcing often fails to address is one that is rooted within community wealth; why do our institutions, set up for public service, not realise that they are simply fueling the climate crisis by enabling profit to be syphoned from operations, and therefore reduce resources that could be harness to develop those services. Gardiner’s research in 2021 leads us to question if it has yet become apparent that the procurement function within our education institutions has been untethered from the sustainability policy directives, UNSDGs, that these institutions operate by. There is a dichotomy emerging, on the one hand outsourcing, and on the other, sustainable practices and processes embedded within operational policy, statutory schooling for example is available for all in the UK but UNSDG 4; ensuring equitable education, is only currently applied as access to statutory provisions and does not assume that all organised opportunities afforded to young people are indeed part of their holistic education . In the face of the multiple crisis’s we are facing, should we not be looking at our wider functions of our institutions, their ability to act as well as say what they are doing to meet the UN SDGS.

Gardiner’s research considers the context and political environment that has enabled this outsourcing to become so prevalent and examines the outcomes that have resulted from this approach. It considers the All Party Parliamentary Group’s (For a Fit and Healthy Childhood) report in November 2020, titled, ‘The Primary PE and School Sport Premium’, (Crichton, 2020) and builds upon the questions asked around the lack of governance, due diligence and oversight of the spending of the Physical Education and School Sport funding that is allocated directly to primary schools.
This research, a case study in 2021, focuses particularly upon a research blind spot, previously not looked into: the profit generation and lack of regulation from the use of public facilities during the Out-Of-School-Hours (OOSH) period.
Gardiner reflected over a 20 year period upon the rise of the two tier education offer that has become so prevalent in mainstream primary schools and he highlights the potential root towards transformation within a case study of a school in Brighton, providing an account of how this school is now able to generate £250,000 per year from directly providing OOSH services for its community. One of the outcomes of this school's service is wrap-around childcare, but it is not the main or ultimate outcome. The school is able to implement services that enable and afford ALL children the opportunity to take part in a range of activities; ‘Play’, ‘Active’ or ‘Adventure’ during the OOSH periods; before school from 07:30 and after school until 18:00 and during school holiday periods. In addition, the school is able to enact additional support within their wider curriculum, due to their ability to harness income generated from OOSH, rather than it being syphoned into an external organisation’s profits.
The conclusion of his research has been to set up SEWN: A Sustainable Environmental Wellbeing Network. SEWN looks to ask further questions around the use of the school’s facility, questioning how this public asset could and should be used to enable greater community focussed activities, to mitigate and adapt in the face of crisis.
SEWN is now working to bring together academics, leaders in education, environmental experts, organisations and institutions to implement a change process that will support schools to enact the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through community outreach and support programmes that transform the school facility into a hub for community.

Community function:

A lack of funding along with increased performance pressures for academic output has squeezed every sinew of the schools function, leaving little head room or breathing space for consideration of anything other than statutory obligations. What has developed in this vacuum is a market driven, a product, commercial and exclusive world, inequitable and unethical.

When did the ‘What’ become more important than the ‘Why’ or the ‘How’?

The current service, the inclusive statutory school offer; 09:00 - 15:15, Monday - Friday for 39 weeks each year is not able to meet the needs of our pupils, our families or our communities. Furthermore, the opportunities afforded to children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are far diminished when compared to their counterparts. This vast difference in background cannot be addressed through our 09:00 – 15:15 service. It is the opportunities outside of this statutory provision which SEWN addresses, tackling some of the wider social inequalities within society.

A misunderstanding of education?

Covid-19 and the school closures saw many schools realising that their facilities were the only free, safe and available place for children to play. When schools did reopen, without the ability to fully offer OOSH childcare services, the knock on impact for the community was magnified. Even if parents wanted to return to full hours of work they could not rely upon the ‘childcare’ they accessed previously at the schools. Individuals were once again faced with the aged issue of affordable, accessible and appropriate childcare. When the system of schooling was asked to support operations during the pandemic, when they were called to support the essential functions of society and key workers, already stretched, juggling the need to return to work and the needs of their children, the system was unable due to its dependence upon outsourcing. As schools did what they could, already having to recreate themselves to cater for this pandemic, they were stretched beyond capacity. Private operations simply did not have the resources to operate, outsourcing has been well and truly highlighted as problematic.
If we concede that education is a function of government and of society, enabling the development of critical consciousness and understanding, therefore of socially just and equitable processes, should we not also concede that all interactions of those who have yet to become critically conscious are considered educational? What therefore is the difference between school and OOSH childcare provisions?

Why do children choose to be involved with OOSH activities and why do parents pay for those activities but not for schooling? More importantly, why do we have central funding for schooling but not OOSH? Is it that we have a system that is designed to drive further inequality simply by not affording the opportunity for all to access education?

Deconstruct, analyse, transform:

The lock down demonstrated that it is possible for us to mobilise and support each other, but it has also shone a light upon the fragility of current operations with the realisation that schools, the institution, plays a critical role for communities; the care and nurture of children, not just a place for learning but a place of support, a hub for wellbeing and an available, safe space to access .

If we are to transform, to reimagine a world that might recover from the tipping point we are heading towards, the social value; the services we can provide for communities and society, only forms part of the consideration of how we change. It is the environmental impact, the cultural erosion and the social acculturation; the actions we take, not just the words we say, that need careful attention. Philosophically, services that are both socially just, equitable and environmentally ethical, need to form the direction of transformation.
Schools and the facilities they operate from have inadvertently become drivers of social inequalities through their involvement with companies who have focussed exclusively upon certain groups over others while looking to generate profit from those who access these private services.

Do all services understand the implications of individualism? Do any? Have we not seen the impact yet? Has it not been realised that individual wealth and a focus upon capitalist gains is the one thing that has led us to this crisis point? I need more, to do more, to be more, must be challenged with a question of why? Why does an individual gain need to happen if it is at the cost of everything else?

MultiKite theory, Gardiner 2021, can be used here to examine the consequence of individual performance when it is not for greater good, when it is neither equitable nor just. If you consider the kite, flying high, without its connection with others around it, what is its purpose other than to itself? What is its purpose when it has become detached from all others, from the environment it operates? Does it recognise the balance of its gain compared to the needs of others? Does it change when others around it fall? Does it recognise that if its flight is the cause of others to fall, its purpose has become destructive?

My question is philosophical and underpins our purpose. Has a focus upon individualism, upon the performance of the kite, removed all notion of our imbrication within the fabric of life and has this ultimately negatively impacted our wellbeing, as our tethers have been torn from that fabric?

We have a choice to make; do we keep ploughing forwards or, now that we realise that it could be different, do we act like our house is on fire and start to radically transform, providing hope for the future and ensuring that when our future generations ask what we did to adapt and mitigate, we can say that we did everything possible.

MulitKite theory

Why is OOSH so important?

All children need to be afforded the opportunity to be involved in enrichment activities. Not only do these involvements enable further socialistion for participants, they enhance a sense of belonging, develop confidence, cater for passion, agency, self-efficacy, channel creativity and nurture curiosity and a critical consciousness. The idea that schools are able to cater for this entirety within their current pressures is a far-fetched notion with poor operational consideration, stemming from the introduction of the extended schools initiative of 2003.

If we are to adapt and mitigate to meet the needs of children and communities, our duty of care must consider that they are imbricated within the environment, not separate entities, we need to support communities' understanding of the principles of equity and justice through the provision of the best possible education. We therefore need to look at the community as a whole, and how each facet operates and interacts with each other, as a process, not as a system. We need to also take a holistic view of the child, not just as a pupil who attends school.

We understand that not all children have the same opportunities afforded to them and yet we are failing to look at, let alone address these variations. Our duty of care as professionals, tasked with governing the education afforded to pupils, is to provide all that we can to support their holistic development. When we consider that safe and creative spaces for our most vulnerable young people are havens, away from hardship, abuse, and criminality, we must ask how we reshape our facilities to accommodate and address these much wider social inequalities.

It is reasonably practical to look at changing the way in which services are offered to children. The system, in its rigidity, simply fails to cater for the changing demands society burdens upon children, families and communities.

It is this failure which could lead to questioning the capability of a sector to provide the service which it sets out to offer, education. Schools are not given the flexibility they need, they are scrutinised to the limit of their existence, and they are not funded sufficiently to implement what they are being limited to do.

Disenfranchised by this narrow view of education; that it is just about learning certain things at certain times, opinions of our institutions form. These bastions of community, enabled with purpose to support and enrich young people, have simply been cut off from the community they serve, ultimately an emphasis upon performance and profit has driven their purpose and value further from the needs of the community. The messaging being portrayed through the OOSH operational practises, the social acculturation, is simply reinforcing the notion that if you can neither afford or perform you cannot access these opportunities during these formative years; the OOSH period, the weekends and the school holidays, the school facilities and, therefore the institution is focussed upon exclusive groups, not for all. Individualism over collectivism is therefore the perceived value our institutions are eliciting.

If we take Gardiner’s (2021) Mutli-Kite Theory and consider the performance of the Kite, objectively measured by the system, enabled to fly higher during OOSH operations because it had already reached a certain performance, we have a system that is driving the education attainment gap, not narrowing it. Ofsted clearly state that schools with greater involvement of children within enrichment activities are among the highest achieving, unsurprisingly these are some of the more affluent areas, where OOSH providers operate because they can see opportunities for business, whereas in areas of lower socioeconomic status, schools achieve lower standards.

The cultural capital afforded to professionals and decision makers must not cloud judgements of what and how we should act, education is not predicated by individual belief systems but ultimately considers the ability to ask why we place energy in the directions we do. The value ascertained by that focus can only be intrinsically guided, therefore a philosophical question of why, needs to focus upon the wider implications and values of our actions. Focus needs to be placed upon addressing inequalities and this is not a question of individual belief, it is a question of doing everything possible to support levelling up, using available resources, ensuring that all young people are afforded the opportunity to understand that connection to community and environment nurtures wellbeing, that our institutions listen to the voice of those who have been disaffected or disenfranchised, and act to change, to transform, to reconnect those with a purpose and value that is much deeper than individual achievement.

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