This project will have both a central hub and portable Speakers’ Corners for local community use to enable face-to-face exchange of ideas, information and opinions in a variety of localities. There are 15 similar projects in the UK including Brighton and Hove (a successful Catalyst recipient). Their success demonstrates the eagerness of citizens to participate in public discussions and indicates how it can lead to greater civic interaction.
The project will provide new opportunities for expression and engagement across the greater Reading community –particularly for those excluded from democratic processes. For instance, LSE’s study on “youth participation in democratic life” advocated free civic debating spaces to reduce youths’ social exclusion.
There will be a permanent Speakers’ Corner and portable Speakers’ Corner platforms – booked online. The latter will enable Reading’s community groups to stage their own local Corners. These will enable people of all backgrounds to discuss issues of common interest and engage in shared actions.
Partners include representatives of Reading’s community and political groups, including Reading Voluntary Action (RVA), with nearly 1,000 community groups. With their support, the organisation will coordinate two forms of speaking events. These include events held by groups, seeking to use Speakers’ Corner to communicate ideas and needs, and events stimulated by the Committee (e.g. through RVA networking and use of commemorative calendars).
The launch event in early May will be supported by a group of volunteers. An ongoing voluntary group will manage activities subsequently (supported by volunteers’ hot desks hired from RVA), managed by a paid part-time coordinator.
Speakers’ Corner Trust provided initial support, together with local partners. RSA Catalyst funds will enable the development of a sustained programme, including communicating with local community groups.
The project is already:
- Promised a start-up grant by the Co-operative
- Running a management committee (with Tony Hoskins FRSA as chair)
- Leveraging resources, e.g. Reading University to develop logos
- Working with Reading Voluntary Action to source volunteers and contact active local community groups
- Discussing the support of the major local newspaper
- Developing, with Annette Howarth’s pro bono contribution (FRSA and Catalyst recipient), a website with a Twitter account.
Reading’s ongoing costs include insurance, venue booking, replacement materials and volunteers’ expenses. These will be the subject of an ongoing funding campaign.
Once up and running, this project can be shared with other FRSA in South Central Region, such as Winchester, Oxford or Southampton.