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November Commission Meeting: A Recap

The Camden Renewal Commission is an initiative to rebuild our post-COVID economy in a way that is fairer, more inclusive, and more sustainable. Led by Camden Council and UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), and supported by community leaders, local organisations and residents, the Commission was launched in September 2020. 

On the 19th November we held our second whole Commission meeting over Zoom. This was a 1.5-hour session filled with rich conversation amongst our Commissioners, co-chairs, and community participants. The formal meeting followed weeks of iterative work in small groups of Commissioners to further develop our missions. We heard about Think & Do, a community space in Kentish Town dedicated to local climate activism, and their latest work and how they have adapted to the pandemic. 

We also heard from young citizen scientists involved in the Euston Prosperity and Wellbeing Index, a project examining what prosperity and inclusive regeneration mean to people living in Euston, on how to involve young people in developing the borough’s vision. 

The main aims of the session were to discuss the Commission’s ways of working, our developing missions, and next steps in the programme. This post recaps some of the key areas of discussion from the November meeting. 

Working with our community 

As a Commission, we aim to support our residents to lead inspiring initiatives across the borough. We want to provide opportunities for all residents and workers in the area to participate and shape a renewed economy in Camden.  

We heard about the work of Think & Do in the borough, and talked about the power of popups for encouraging and facilitating resident participation. Prior to the pandemic, the Kentish Town pop-up led around 80 in-person sessions on climate activism and supported residents in setting up their own projects.  

Since coronavirus restrictions came into place, Think & Do has run more than 40 inspiring webinars with over 800 participants. They are also running outdoor events, including a popup at Kentish Town City Farm and organised free tree giveaways over the Christmas period. The success of these virtual and in-person sessions shows the passion that local people have for making change.  

Image: Think and Do pop-up space

We also heard from two young citizen scientists working on the Euston Prosperity and Wellbeing Index. They spoke about how for young people, finding opportunities was often the result of existing networks – if you had been involved in one project, you would be invited to another, but without this connection you could be left out. When asked how to encourage participation from young people, their advice was clear: young people want their time and opinions to be valued as much as adults’, and financial incentives can make a huge difference.   

The role of Commissioners 

We talked about what it means to work as a 21st century Commission where different expertise from people and organisations across Camden, Commissioners and Council officers can come together to develop ideas and work together in an iterative and inclusive way. 

Looking ahead, we will facilitate this way of working through workshops, pop ups and community meetings where local people can share their ideas for renewal and workshop ideas together. 

The draft missions 

The Camden Renewal Commission’s work is built around missions: clear goals that if achieved would help build a more inclusive, sustainable borough. They are evidence-based and have been developed with Commissioners and the community. 

Our draft missions are: 

  • By 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden are as diverse as our community – and the next generation is ready to follow. 
  • By 2025, every young person has access to economic opportunity that enables them to be safe and secure. 
  • By 2030, everyone eats well every day with nutritious, affordable, sustainable food. 
  • By 2030, Camden’s estates and streets are creative and sustainable. 

These missions are work in progress and will develop further through conversations with the community, and further work by commissioners and officers. We will also begin to develop mission ‘roadmaps’ – projects and policies by people and organisations from across the borough that can help to achieve these missions. 

These missions are aiming for systemic change, but we also know that people want to see progress soon, so we need to break these missions down into near- and medium-term goals that work towards the bigger picture. 

These missions are also intended to inspire action and collaboration from across the borough – they can’t be achieved by one person or organisation alone.  

Next steps 

One key theme of discussion was how we can ensure that in working towards the missions, the experience and perspectives of Camden’s diverse community is at the centre, and how the community and organisations in the borough are critical in bringing these missions to life. 

Camden Council’s participation team has been developing conversations with community members around the missions and coproducing ways to unleash imaginations and creatively capture long-term visions. This includes collecting stories, art and experiences of the pandemic – some of which we showcased in COVID Stories: Resident Experiences of the Pandemic –  and hosting community conversations about what the missions might look like in practice. Expect to hear more on this soon. 

Image credit: Secret Artist NW5

If you are interested to learn more about the Renewal Commission, our About and Approach pages are a great place to start. For a deeper dive into the Commission’s research and methods, you can find our Call to ActionLeveraging Our Potential and Understanding the Evidence reports under Our Work.

By Tor Marie, Apprentice Project Support Officer at London Borough of Camden

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COVID Stories: Resident Experiences of the Pandemic

Coronavirus entered all our lives early this year and threw a harsh spotlight on the deep inequalities in our society. The pandemic exposed long-existing issues and in many cases exacerbated them.

The Renewal Commission was set up by Camden Council and UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) to explore practical solutions to some of our biggest societal challenges: inequality and the climate crisis.

This work is driven by residents’ and communities’ lived experiences. This summer, residents shared their experiences of the pandemic through stories, videos and art. We also heard stories told to other organisations in Camden, such as Ageing Better in Camden and forum+ , and stories collected by local residents from their neighbours, such as Isolating Together, a wonderful project by Camden resident Karishma Puri. These stories – alongside many others – have informed the focus areas for the Commission.

The disproportionate impact of Covid-19

Image credit: Normal Life, Kentish Town, 2020 by Secret Artist NW5

We know that some communities have been hit disproportionately hard during the pandemic.

One resident said that life on a large estate was unbearable during lockdown, describing the difficulty of isolation in a noisy, overcrowded building without outdoor space.

We heard stories of the digital divide: some residents found themselves cut off from the rest of the world when they were unable to access library computers. In many schools across Camden, we found that less than half of pupils had access to computers at home for online learning.

Hunger was another key issue, made more visible by unprecedented demand at food banks and the public call for the extension of free school meals, led powerfully by Marcus Rashford.

“Food poverty is all around us,” said Camden residents Dan and Juliet. “What I will really remember is the scandal of acute food poverty, and how its shameful prevalence could no longer be hidden.”

Social isolation

We heard stories of struggle with loneliness and social isolation, especially from residents who have been shielding through the last few months.

“The weeks pass by in loneliness,” Harriette wrote. “The radio stations spoke about nothing else but deaths and increase in the spread of the virus.”

“If it wasn’t for the Mutual Aid volunteers helping with food and shopping, and giving me a little bit of time here and there, I don’t think I would’ve got through it,” Lisa said. “The little conversations do a hell of a lot for somebody’s mind.”

Community action

Image credit: Keep Your Distance by Lena Burgess

We also read stories of solidarity and the very best that humanity has to offer. Many residents spoke about the kindness of neighbours and shared how they stepped up to help others.

Lena wrote about the virtual support she received from the Greenwood Centre:

“We were all so desperate during lockdown. Our mental health was deteriorating at a ridiculous rate without having our usual main support available in its usual form… I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Leon’s efforts and I’m not exaggerating. The same goes for many others at the centre.”

 “Lockdown has proved my belief that most people are fundamentally decent,” Sheila wrote.

“I know so many more people in the area,” CJ told us. After losing their job during lockdown, CJ volunteered with Swiss Cottage Mutual Aid and started shopping for a shielding neighbour every week. “We get on really well. It’s nice to have got in touch with someone locally, from a different generation.”

Hopes for the post-pandemic future

Image credit: I Hope We Can Save Our Planet by Aerynne (courtesy of Holborn Community Association Virtual Gallery)

While this crisis has exposed deep injustices in our society, it has also shown the power of community and the ability of ordinary people to lead change. The Renewal Commission wants to help catalyse this energy by helping people across the borough come together to achieve some bold, ambitious missions.

We know that everyone’s experience of the last few months has been different, and we value every resident’s story. Share your story here.

By Tor Marie, Apprentice Project Support Officer at London Borough of Camden.