Mark Walton takes a look back at a year like no other…..

We don’t usually publish a review of the year here at Shared Assets, but after the year we’ve all just experienced it feels important to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements. There is a separate blog about how our work has changed on a day-to-day basis but here I wanted to focus on how we’ve grown and developed over the year … despite everything.

Our main achievement this year has been not only to survive the disruption of the Covid pandemic but to grow and thrive. We already had in place systems and processes for working remotely and flexibly, and a strong ethos of self management, so the rapid shift to online working in March was undertaken smoothly.

We entered April with a thin cashflow and concerns that existing commercial consultancy contracts could be substantially delayed – and that procurement of new work by our largely public sector client-base might be suspended entirely as they focused on responding to the immediate crisis. As we were not eligible for Business Rate support we secured a small emergency grant from our local authority. We were also lucky to be offered a more substantial grant from a funder with whom we had an established relationship in order to support our Covid response, and to develop both a communications strategy and new narrative about land. We also gave up our office space, moving to a dispersed working model for the foreseeable future, and secured a Bounce Back Loan, a substantial chunk of which we have allocated to establish a cash reserve to provide a buffer against future uncertainty.

Despite our initial concerns we were able to continue all our existing work online – see this blog for more on the tools we’ve used to do this – and secure new commercial contracts with both public and private sector clients during the spring and early summer. This enabled us to confidently give up our office space, avoid having to furlough any staff, and to appoint Tom Carman as our new Consultancy Coordinator.

We engaged Cohere Partners to help us undertake an analysis of our existing land narrative and to develop a new organisational communications strategy. A report summarising the land narrative analysis work was published in November and we will be rolling out a new website and communications strategy in 2021.

We secured funding from the National Lottery Community Fund Emerging Futures programme to work with Cohere and and Land In Our Names (LION) to engage people from communities that are marginalised from the current land system and to work with them to explore the impacts of Covid on their relationships to land, and to start to develop a new narrative that is more inclusive and looks forward to building a fairer and more sustainable post-pandemic land system.

Alongside this work we have also been engaging with other organisations working on land issues in order to understand the impact of Covid on their members or sectors, and to ensure we were able to promote, share, and link up different activities across the sector. We have also been working to repurpose the Land Justice website to act as a directory of land justice organisations, and have been building relationships with other organisations and individuals working on land justice; including new land justice projects, organisations and activists that have emerged in response to the pandemic and to the resurgent Black Lives Matter movement. This work is ongoing and will be continued next year.

The pandemic highlighted not just the value of parks and green spaces to all of us but also the inequalities in who is able to access them. It also demonstrated the fragility of our food chains, our dependence on migrant labour and the resilience of local food growing projects that were able to meet huge increases in demand for their produce.

A key element of our work over the past year has been identifying the need to establish a Movement Building function, coordinated by Ọlá, to sit alongside our Consultancy and Research functions, coordinated respectively by Tom and Kim. This new function will be critical to enabling us to meet our objectives of initiating, influencing and amplifying systemic change.  The Movement Building has three core elements:

  • Mobilisation of individuals to increase the diversity of people getting involved with land based projects, work and activism.
  • Networking of practitioners, building stronger relationships, capacity and sharing knowledge between established common good land use organisations.
  • Coalition building between organisations who are advocating for changes to the land system and advocating for land as a social justice issue

The diagram below shows how we are now organising our work, including the main focuses of each function and the impacts we are aiming to achieve.

Alongside this internal work, and the narrative analysis and development projects outlined above, we were invited to participate in the Liverpool Land Commission, and are currently working with New Economics Foundation to explore the potential for a Land Commission for England.

In October we became a 4-day week organisation and in November we were also able to expand further to welcome our new Projects Officer, Louis Smith-Lassey to the team.

Despite everything – and with the generous support of our friends, funders, partners and colleagues – we are entering 2021 with a strong staff team and board, a fantastic portfolio of projects, a healthy balance sheet and a strategy and business plan that aims to chart a path through continuing uncertainty for our continued development to 2024.

Our plans for next year include launching a new communications strategy and website, and securing funding for our mobilisation and network building work and continuing to focus and grow our research and consultancy work.

We will also be developing and deepening key relationships with other advocacy organisations, think tanks, activist networks, commentators and influencers, to identify areas for potential collective action or joint working on projects that promote common good land use and recognise land as a social, economic and racial justice issue. If that’s you then we look forward to working with you!

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