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Shifting Control

Mark Walton

In March this year Shared Assets was one of 40 organisations that co-hosted an event called  “CTRLShift: An Emergency Summit for Change”. Over 140 people came to Wigan for three days to participate. So what was it, why did we do it, and what happens next?

Back in January 2017 I shared a train home from the Oxford Real Farming Conference with Andy Goldring from the Permaculture Association. Occuring as it did 6 months or so after the 2016 EU referendum the conference had an unexpected sense of tentative optimism. Small agro ecological farmers have not been well served by the Common Agricultural Policy and so, despite a lot of misgivings about the causes and possible impacts of Brexit, there was also a sense of possibility. Perhaps if we could work together effectively there was the potential to drive positive change in our approach to food and farming.

Reflecting on the event Andy and I discussed the possibility that the disruption caused by the referendum could present an opportunity to “take back control” of power and resources in a way that offered communities more power and a fairer future.  

But we also shared some frustrations and concerns. Conferences often generate ideas and excitement but rarely the space for connection and collaboration to develop them. We were also aware that whilst there were people all over the country working on community led and collaborative approaches to issues such as energy, local currencies, and local democracy, with the same passion as those gathered in Oxford were working on food and farming, we don’t have a great track record of working outside our silos or in ways that engage others outside our own bubbles. Those seeking a more divisive, deregulated and unequal post Brexit future seemed a lot better organised and on the ascendancy.

How could we ensure that whatever the outcome of Brexit, the process of taking back control would create shared, social, economic and democratic opportunities that would leave communities across the country wealthier, fairer, and more sustainable?

From this conversation, and Andy’s energy and willingness to commit time and resources to making it happen, CTRLShift was born. It was a gradual process. Andy brought together a small group of like minded people who were sufficiently inspired or intrigued by the idea to form a steering group. Together we decided on a venue (Wigan), and developed a programme for an event running over two and half days.

This was not a conference. It was a facilitated process that invited those who attended to explore issues and opportunities presented by our current situation, and to develop proposals for shared action beyond the event itself.

On the first day we discussed issues such as access to land, power, wellbeing, finance and how we can more effectively work together. Of course we were particularly keen to get into the “land” working group!

On the second day we developed ideas for projects to take forward our shared agenda for change beyond the event itself. These included:

  • developing tools and strategies to join up activities at a local and regional level that would enable communities to take action towards resilience,
  • taking action to improve diversity and Inclusion within the CTRLShift network
  • developing an arts led narrative to inspire people to consider the possibilities of change
  • accessing capital to enable community projects and initiatives to scale quickly,
  • developing a local initiative in Wigan to support the development of cooperatives, and
  • developing the processes and structures to take CTRLShift forward as a broader network or movement for change.

You can read a great summary of the event from Rob Hopkins here, and check out Rob’s podcast to get a real flavour of what went on.

The event was by no means perfect. Future activities and events need to ensure inclusion is both wide and deep from the outset. They need to allow for the expression of difference, and feel welcoming, safe and empowering for all participants. Whilst we might to some extent share an analysis, values and a sense of what the future needs to look like, none of these things can be taken for granted and do not themselves mean collaboration will be straightforward. We each come with different experiences and attitudes that might mean we are bringing optimism, anger, despair, trauma, hope, or specific experience of oppression or privilege. These different starting points will make diving straight into collaboration difficult. We need the space to listen, and to properly hear and see each other before we can understand how we can work together to create new futures.

CTRLShift was always envisaged as more than a single event. The social, economic and environmental challenges we face are enormous and the uncertainties of Brexit bring risks of further hardship, damage and division if those of us working for a fairer and more sustainable future fail to act effectively.

We need a movement, a network and a process for change. Wigan was always intended to be a beginning not an end. So what happens next?

There is already a commitment to hold another event in 2019 and in the meantime the working groups are actively developing their own plans and ideas.

One thing is for sure, CTRLShift has already grown from an idea, to a conversation, to a small group of committed individuals, to a pulsing moment of change in Wigan. It will continue to develop and grow.

So join the Facebook page to stay in touch and look out for regional or local meetings, arts events, and workshops that start to talk about the need for a CRTLShift.

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