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Meeting summary

February 2021 Camden Renewal Commission Meeting Summary

Our third whole Commission meeting, held over Zoom on the 11th of Feb 2021, took a different approach to previous sessions. Aiming to dig deeper into the Commissioners’ expertise and knowledge, most of the meeting was spent in small breakout groups, each focused on one of the four missions.  

The aim was to generate insights that will be used to develop mission roadmaps that begin to specify the sectors, actors, and projects that could contribute to achieving each mission. 

We asked Commissioners to share inspiring and relevant work happening in their organisations or sectors and encouraged them to reflect on the practical steps that could turn each mission into reality. This blog recaps some highlights from the discussions in each of the breakout groups. 

By 2030, everyone eats well every day with nutritious, affordable, sustainable food.  

The participants in this group spoke passionately about the importance of empowering local communities and organisations to lead change in this space, with a focus on entrepreneurship and the potential for young people to lead some of this change. The group talked about the promise of youth-led initiatives, such as a Click and Collect App for a food bank being developed by a group of young people in Camden. This was just one example mentioned regarding the value in handing over power to young people to put their energy and ideas related to food poverty into practice. 

The group also shared examples of existing work to tackle food poverty in the borough such as the Food Poverty Alliance, a network of organisations who come together regularly to share ideas, expertise, and work through challenges together. Another example is work led by Camden Council in collaboration with Time to Spare to set up digital infrastructure to enable people to find local food provision easily and link bottom-up activities to respond to food poverty. 

Image: Find Food Support in Camden website, developed by the Council in collaboration with Time to Spare 

The discussion also spoke about the importance of deep systemic change: our collective ambition to prevent food insecurity for everyone in the borough and build resilient food supply systems with minimal waste. 

By 2025, every young person has access to economic opportunity that enables them to be safe and secure.  

A key theme in this discussion was the importance of having young people in Camden deeply involved in shaping and delivering this mission (alongside their important inputs into the set of missions more broadly). Various participants spoke about the need to really listen to our youth, even when what they have to say might be challenging or uncomfortable to hear. 

Another big area of discussion was around equalising access to social capital and the opportunities that exist in the borough. Participants spoke about the ambition to support our young people to be fearless through more equal access to skills and opportunities. An important part of this is sharing information about opportunities more broadly and fairly. For example, there are many vacancies with tech companies in Camden, but many young people and their parents don’t know about these opportunities or how to access them. 

Relatedly, the group talked about using social media networks more creatively and effectively to unlock opportunities for Camden’s young people. 

By 2030, Camden’s estates and streets are creative and sustainable.  

A key focus for this group was what it looks like to create neighbourhoods and living spaces that people love to live in. Participants mentioned the importance of air quality, beautiful and accessible community spaces, opportunities for intergenerational interaction, and using existing space like car parks in new and creative ways.  

A central aspiration under this mission was to bring services to places where people already live, for example creating health care hubs on estates or bringing employment support into neighbourhoods, like through Camden’s Job Hubs. In this vein, the concept of a 15-minute neighbourhood, where amenities, jobs, entertainment are all available within walking distance was repeatedly mentioned.  

The group also discussed the importance of environmental sustainability in this mission, talking for example about Camden’s ambition to retrofit many of its estate and street properties, a massive investment which will generate jobs and long-term savings. 

By 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden are as diverse as our community – and the next generation is ready to follow.  

In this breakout group, the participants spoke a lot about redesigning positions of power – on school boards, in businesses etc – so they are more accessible and inclusive to people from a wide range of backgrounds. Could we, for example, prototype modern and inclusive leadership spaces, removing traditional barriers to entry? Providing optional bursaries or stipends for serving in a leadership role in a volunteer capacity was mentioned as one promising mechanism to support diversity in positions of power. 

The group also talked about the importance of embedding young people into leadership spaces directly rather than creating parallel spaces such as youth boards. Similarly, there was wide agreement that supporting our communities to design their own solutions to achieve this mission is key for devolving decision-making power right from the start.  

There was also wide agreement that defining clear and ambitious targets for this mission is key to its success, although it was acknowledged that landing on the most appropriate metrics would be complex and challenging. 

Next steps 

We’re synthesising these rich discussions now, and next we will: 

  • Translate these conversations into a high-level roadmap for each mission that describes how we might achieve the mission 
  • Begin to mobilise people around the projects to deliver then 

Get in touch 

Do you have an idea you would like to collaborate on? Get in touch with us here. 

By Yelena Bide, Inclusive Economy Project Officer at London Borough of Camden

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Why this matters: renewal not recovery

Before COVID-19 struck, despite high overall employment, many of Camden’s citizens were not benefitting from the growth they saw around them. We had high levels of in-work poverty and insecure work, a gap in the rate of employment between those with a health condition or disability and those without, and a lower employment rate for residents from Black, Asian, and other ethnic backgrounds.

Structural economic challenges have fed into the borough’s wider social challenges too, with a child poverty rate of 43%, compared to a London rate of 37%, and 1 in 4 Camden children claiming free school meals.

It has exposed many of these structural problems and intensified them. It has shown the true cost of an unequal society and economy.

Yet it has also shown the power of community and their ability to come together and lead change.

The Camden Renewal Commission brings together the talent and energy of the many people and organisations that make up Camden to tackle inequality at its source. The core idea behind the Commission is that by working together on ambitious missions (more about what they are later) we can create radical change and that we need to renew, not simply recover.

To help kickstart this work, the Council and UCL’s Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP) invited a dynamic and diverse group of people who live and or work in Camden to bring their expertise to tackle bringing place-based renewal to an area with significant social and economic inequalities, whilst supporting the transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2030. They are working with the Camden community, through a wide programme of social action, to develop a policy platform and practical solutions that create a fair, sustainable economy.

It is recognised that this is a bold and complex ambition that will take time and collective commitment. And to succeed, it needs to be rooted in the principles of citizen-voice, community action and mission-led innovation; one that will both be guided by, and help to define, policy and the systems that create change in the borough.  

Citizen voice

The Camden community has demonstrated ingenuity and resilience in the face of COVID-19 and have shown time and again that they have the knowledge and energy to mobilise real change. 

Lasting, purposeful change happens when people with varied expertise, backgrounds and perspectives come together to chart a new way forward. The public sector can’t do this on its own – and we’ve seen the power of working in close partnership with our community.  

Take Camden’s pop-up Think & Do community space for climate and eco action, for example. It encourages and empowers people in Camden to take part and run activities that tackle the climate crisis. The Commission aims to help build on the strengths of this approach, going further to collaborate across our community, in pursuit of achieving ambitious missions together.

Image of the Think & Do community space for climate and eco-action in Kentish Town, a pop up space in a shop. 

Already, we have been listening to resident stories and organisations working with those most affected by the Covid crisis – we have heard challenging stories of loneliness and food poverty, but also of human compassion and mutual aid. These stories form part of the robust evidence base that we’re collecting: from data on income and jobs, to the state of the environment, to health and wellbeing in the borough.

Mission-led innovation

Radical change needs original ideas and new methods of working. The Commission is using a missions-based approach to innovation, and we are fortunate to work in partnership with the IIPP at UCL as experts in this field to help galvanise our efforts.

The thinking goes like this: society’s grand challenges are by their nature big, bold, difficult and complex. To achieve them, they need to be broken down into pragmatic steps or ‘missions’ that frame the stimuli needed for innovation.

It shifts the focus away from sectors and on to the problems that matter to all. Missions purposely don’t stipulate how to achieve success, given one person or group can’t hold the answers to such complex challenges on their own.

We hope it will also help broaden leadership to our partners, democratise decision-making and mobilise activity across the borough – with residents, voluntary and community groups, and the business community.

Our draft missions are:

  • By 2030, those holding positions of power in Camden are as diverse as our community
  • 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

Radical change is not only about the new

It’s an old cliché, but ‘not reinventing the wheel’ is less about resisting new ideas, and more about reminding us to maximise the existing knowledge, partnerships and work that is already underway.

The Commission has reinvigorated many of our existing programmes, such as testing policy on Universal Basic Services on digital and transport, the Camden Climate Action Plan, the Good Work Camden programme and a High Streets Taskforce.

The Council’s Inclusive Economy team were already co-designing services to create an economy in which people have access to good work and growth, in step with a commitment to de-carbonise by 2030. Inclusive economy means rethinking the purpose of economic development to further involve citizens and capture the benefits of growth.

And there’s some compelling examples of delivery too.

Good Work Camden – a new programme that supports more residents into good work and drive long-term reform – was a response to what we heard from residents. It’s creating ways of delivering employment support rooted in neighbourhoods, and as a result, over a thousand residents are projected to be supported into good work in the next couple of years.

The hyperlocal Good Work Camden Job Hubs, for example, take the time to build relationships and trust with residents seeking work, and provide holistic support that is so often missing.

This whole approach is anchored in the Council’s commitment to early intervention and prevention, recognising that getting people into work that is right for them can be instrumental in achieving other outcomes around health, wellbeing and happiness.

The Commission missions are designed to capitalise on what’s working. Through renewal, new systems can combine with existing ones to shape an economy that is inclusive and sustainable.

It’s a radical vision for a borough ready to take on the challenge of renewal.  

Do you have an idea you would like to collaborate on? Get in touch with us here.

By Nick Kimber, Director of Corporate Strategy and Policy Design at London Borough of Camden

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Meeting summary

November 2020 Camden Renewal Commission Meeting Summary

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 2020, 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.

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 Camden Renewal Commission wants to help catalyse this energy by helping people across the borough come together to achieve some bold, ambitious missions.

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