Rural Project has been one of the South West community businesses involved in a Community Business Leadership Programme with the RSA, Power to Change and Real Ideas Organisation to understand more closely the needs of community businesses and what resources we would need to extend our reach and impact. What it really gives, agreed by the other nine members spreading from Falmouth, to Plymouth, Buckfastleigh to Salisbury, is the network, the shared experiences, learning from our peers trials and wins.
One of the inspiring visits we had recently was to the Frome, the mecca for grassroots transformational economic planning that reinvigorated community responsibility for decision making and employment possibilities. The previous mayor Peter MacFadyen, the author of Flat Pack Democracy and pioneer, spoke of his experience encouraging and willing a different way to lead and govern a market town.
What is prescient are the conditions that led to this bright innovation in leadership that enabled enterprise, local produce, values and collectivism to flourish, independently. Academia, civil rights and media attention celebrated the Independent Frome movement, held up by infrastructure such as Forward Space and the market. An aesthetic city with good transport links to London, the profile was raised and the town could afford to reimagine itself.
One such unique example and one I was keen to visit and hear more about, was Edventure. Edventure is based in the Welsh Mill Hub, a workspace they manage too in a residential part of the town along the river. Inside, they house a number of workshops, a community ‘toolbox', an indoor greenhouse, and the deskspace room-hire model. There is much correlation with the Rural Project on project learning, skill, team and self development. Their purpose is anchored in education: "Progressing young adults to a livelihood that matters to them."
So, how do they achieve this? Collectively, local challenges are identified around a multi stakeholder meeting that welcomes suggestions around local needs that affect us globally: housing, nutrition, isolation, intergenerational interaction, fair opportunities… These conversations are held in the hub with a considered guest list, for example a recent campaign for Fair Housing Frome, included architects, councillors, planners, estate agents - a multistakeholder approach. The community has the idea, the students are given the autonomy within that frame to manifest it how they choose.
With solutions they find, they prepare the ground for a start-up and recruit students who are willing to collaborate, co-design and make whilst acknowledging the team development that is well facilitated throughout the process. For example in cultural sensitivities in workstyle approach, in working closely together, in communication styles. They use action based learning with the final week spent in the natural world on a vision quest to set an intention for the next six months after they leave. Almost like an incubator, they help other social enterprises launch but the IP of those enterprises still belongs to Edventure. "People just get it straight away" - that was a key quote for me, when I get lost in trying to explain, justifying the reason why my project is important.
Under the umbrella of Edventure, there is Elderventure - the intergeneration aspect that helps older people be more resourceful for young people. I was impressed with their partnerships, with the job centre in guiding people to a different way to upskill yourself. The courses are free, commitment and value can be an issue, but the participant has to raise their own funds to resource the idea and materials.
It does sound a little too good to be true and looking at the range and number of funders and supporters, I questioned the financial sustainability. Three quarters of their trading arms are profit making and the balance is delicately held between loss making activity and income making ones. Something I am well versed in.
What I took away was the clarity of how they express their impact and measure that. I guess practical solutions are what they do well. Their use of graphics and measurements makes you trust them, and with authenticity that they are serious about change. Since then, we have met and look forward to working more closely once i’m up and running.