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As I suggested yesterday, thinking about conversation does seem to improve it. I had some fascinating exchanges in Sheffield and Leeds yesterday and also met up with other bloggers, including Rob Greenland who has already blogged about last night’s Fellows evening.

As I suggested yesterday, thinking about conversation does seem to improve it. I had some fascinating exchanges in Sheffield and Leeds yesterday and also met up with other bloggers, including Rob Greenland who has already blogged about last night’s Fellows evening.

 

Rob and I spoke last night about the role social businesses might play in responding to the deepening recession. He wasn’t sure the sector would in itself be able to make much impact. But I was able to share with him the conversation I had earlier in the day with William Perrin.

 

I first met William when I was an advisor and he a civil servant in Number Ten and our paths have kept crossing since then. Now I am working with William in my new role as interim Chair of UK Online Centres Foundation. He is developing a new venture to provide training and support to people setting up community websites.

 

Some of these sites are fantastic but they tend to be reliant on the unpaid dedication of heroic individuals. Many other people have sites that make much less impact than they could with a bit of guidance. Among William’s many ideas is to establish a national network of community website authors.

 

Given my interest in how to energise untapped capacity within communities, I am really excited by William’s idea (in fact I tried to float something similar here at the RSA last year!). It is not just that community websites can be an effective way of mobilising local people, for example against unwelcome planning applications,  I believe they can evolve into powerful channels of collective self help and innovation. How about a community website organising people to make wholesale orders for basic fresh foods, perhaps buying them direct from local farms? We have been exploring an idea a bit like this in Scotland. Once the market is created through the website it might be enough to sustain a small social business taking and delivering orders around the neighbourhood.

 

In the difficult years to come we need many ideas like this to develop new economic activity and to protect those who face hard times. Sadly, the Government has chosen to channel the overwhelming majority of is economic stimulus spending through national programmes with virtually no extra money getting down to local or neighbourhood level. There is a big agenda here for the RSA as we develop more and more city and town groups. (Imagine the difference a bit of mentoring or expertise from a Fellow could make to someone setting up their own community website.)

 

Judging by the mood in Leeds last night, and the quality of the people who came along, Fellows are up for the challenge.

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