A Compendium For The Civic Economy 

Book cover of the book: Compendium For The Civic Economy

Nesta has been carrying out many activities to help innovate and bring about change in our society and economy. One such activity has been the production of a book in 2011 that Nesta calls, A Compendium for the Civic Economy. In producing this book, Nesta believes that it brings together case studies of a civic economy that is rooted in ancient traditions of the economy but that also innovates by using new organisation and connecting and investing approaches. The book puts itself into context by explaining that it was developed in the wake of the global economic downturn, and with rising social issues that need to be resolved. As people began to understand what had really happened in the economic financial crisis at least some have started to question the way that we were operating before and have looked towards more sustainable approaches.

The book attempts to achieve three main aims. The first is to demonstrate that the civic economy is already part of society and it helps provide resilience in the community. The second is to show practically how leaders in local communities work to improve places and their economies, regardless of whether they are public or private. The third is to show the potential of the civic economy to regenerate places and improve lives. According to Nesta the civic economy has been in existence for many years, at the outset mainly in the form of cooperatives, but that now, more than 100 years on, the civic economy is again rising in precedence. This change is grounded in the fact that there is a need for a different economic development model. It is thought that the civic economy serves to provide real progress to problems, and that it also demonstrates how people should communicate and collaborate.

The civic economy has the ability to transform the shaping of places, looking beyond bricks and mortar to other ways in which regeneration needs to occur. There is a need, to produce a more sustainable recovery, and this is challenging with scarce resources. This leads Nesta to argue that:

 “All those working to improve localities across the UK can be, and need to be, civic entrepreneurs.”

They go on to explain that everyone needs to take a part in making sure that ventures like those described in the compendium are able to emerge and thrive. But what are those ventures? Well, here are some examples:

Arcola Theatre – this is described as an “open house for new ideas” in London. The initiative has been run through the help of many volunteers. It has an audience that its 60% local, from Hackney and Islington. The project combines acting and environmental engineering to upskill young people and help migrant groups as well as creating a community asset at the same time. Through its work it improves eco-awareness. The organisation is now comprised of three interdependent components – a theatre, a charity that offers community and training programmes and an energy company. It achieved all that it did through inclusive programming, outreach and entrepreneurship.

Brixton Village – this was an initiative to re-start a social market in London. In Brixton Village, one in five shops were vacant prior to December 2009. At that point 20 vacant shops were revitalised. Previous efforts to regenerate the market had failed, but the introduction of Space Makers Agency, which is a social enterprise managed to turn this around. The organisation did this through the use of a personal network, clear goals and excellence in social media. All of this helped to develop a new market place for local people (and others) to enjoy. Lessons learned from this were that by getting people participating and re-using existing assets that still had potential a lot could be achieved.

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company – in this example a tutoring centre was created on the high street in New York behind a store that sells superhero outfits. During 2009/2010 2,077 students were helped. There are 800 volunteers, and the organisation published 90 books in 2009/10. From this project lessons learned were that creating an atmosphere of magic potential (the non-profit organisation named 826NYC helping young people with their writing skills was hidden behind a “trick bookshelf) can remove barriers to joining in. Additionally by using collective capacity the organisation was able to grow and co-produce tangible products.