DetectorismJamLab NotesLearningRepairingSharing

Lab Notes #8 | November round up

These Lab notes offer observations and reflections on project activities during November 2017, and record who we have been sharing our approach and tactics with. They also offer a behind the scenes peek into Lab team work during the month, and end with a link to a great new resource from Shareable.


Trade School Dudley

We kicked off November with the fifth season of Trade School Dudley classes (as reported in Lab Notes #6) and the second Repair Cafe in Dudley.

In our Detectorism Insights (to be published in January 2018) we note that in participatory projects  the building of connections and bonds is often done through processes of sharing (e.g. sharing of materials, food, experience and skills) and doing together (e.g. art, craft, music, dance, cooking, growing, and learning). While there is a simplicity to these events of sharing and doing, they are all designed around principles of equity, and as this participant rightly notes, around trying to disrupt power imbalances:

“By sharing you break down barriers… you put someone on a level playing field and you are saying you are not better than me and I am not better than you. Then people start opening up. … people are more accepting here of people’s differences, not afraid of saying people are different and we are bringing the differences together whether that is skills or cultures or whatever.”

We’ve also seen that the shift to doing and self-belief is often aided by finding neighbours, new friends, and building networks with which to develop and collaborate:

“From doing Trade School and Do Fest it has expanded our network from the community side of things, getting involved in community projects, and because we know people better we feel more confident getting involved in those things. …You don’t always think I can be involved in this. … We feel a lot more confident getting involved in things, even starting our own things, we will give it a bash.”  

Trade School Dudley is growing, with 18 teachers having offered 21 classes this year from bread making to Spanish, art to upcycling, photography to poetry. 91 local people have engaged in this celebration of practical wisdom, mutual respect and the social nature of exchange in Dudley in 2017. If you’re curious about Trade School or would like to teach a class in spring 2018 you can sign up here to join us  on 17 January to find out more or plan your class.


Repair Cafe

Dudley’s second Repair Cafe was relaxed and friendly. Diane arrived in the morning with some broken headphones. Many of us hadn’t done any soldering for years, so when the soldering iron came out memories were shared and people in the coffee shop sat down to help Diane with her repair. Later on Joanne arrived with her strimmer and toolkit. The strimmer casing was stripped to repair the trigger which was stuck in the ‘on’ position. Again others in the coffee shop helped out. Joanne told us about her garden and DIY projects and showed us photos of her amazing creations and garden renovations.

A couple of weeks later Wendy got in touch on the CoLab Facebook Page to ask about upcoming Repair Cafe dates as she had a broken Christmas decoration. After a little exploration of possible repairs, Lab team member Guy joined the conversation to say:  “Maybe we don’t have time for a repair cafe, but what about a repair coffee?” Wendy took him up on this.

Behaviours I observed during the Repair Cafe included a nurturing of agency: the women with broken objects carried out the repairs themselves. Friendly suggestions, encouragement and access to tools and the workshop were provided. Curiosity and experimentation were key features, both for identifying the causes of problems and testing potential ways to fix them. And there was lots of sharing: of stories, ideas, photos and memories. I really love that the conversations and repairs start in the coffee shop space, creating an open invitation for others to have a look and even get involved.


Acoustic Night

Gather hosted another jam-packed acoustic night on 11 November. 55 local people gathered, some to perform, many to enjoy the local musical talent and convivial environment.

Lab team members Stu and Loraine had thoughtfully re-arranged furniture in the coffee shop, once again demonstrating the versatility of the space for all sorts of creative activities. Gather was buzzing with energy for the whole evening. Lab team members made gentle introductions made between people and the web of connectivity grew and strengthened.


Sharing our approach and tactics

During the month we met with colleagues from neighbouring voluntary sector infrastructure organisations WVSC and SCVO, who wanted to learn more about how we were working. We were approached by Grapevine Coventry in relation to some work they are planning, and Jo worked with them on ideas around Detectorism.  We were also contacted by Jon Gleek from Doncaster council and arranged a Zoom chat with him and his colleagues who are exploring opportunities to support an innovation lab in Doncaster.

In my capacity as an RSA Fellowship Councillor I am also been invited to sit on an advisory group for the RSA’s new Lab, and look forward to learning from this and sharing any useful experiences from our Lab in Dudley.

We were invited to give a Lightning Talk about CoLab Dudley at the Festival of Everyone hosted by Participatory City in Barking and Dagenham on 25 November. It was great to hear the other Lightning Talks, meet some of the team and pick up more ideas for our work in Dudley.

We were really pleased to meet and compare notes with Louise Armstrong at the Festival of Everyone. Louise is involved in the Civil Society Futures inquiry, we look forward to contributing to the inquiry in 2018 with insights from our experiments so far.

Closer to home, Dudley CVS has been supporting Age Concern Stourbridge and invited me to share ways they might use design approaches to develop their services, and social media to build connections and relationships. I also met Siobhan from Dudley council to explore her next steps in supporting Dudley Youth Council’s design approach following the Design Jam we ran with them.


Systems Practice

We are making gradual progress through the Omidyar Group Systems Practice Workbook activities, and have identified some of the forces which impact on life in Dudley town centre.


Detectorism Insights #1

Alongside all this activity, Lab team members have been working away intensely behind the scenes on Detectorism Insights #1.

Drawn together by Lab researcher Jo Orchard-Webb the insights which will be published in January are a story; a set of provocations; and a cultural portrait. The insights are the collective thoughts, observations, reflections and practice based evidence the Lab team and a much larger group of passionate citizens (doers, makers, encouragers and sharers). The insights have been framed and critically analysed to draw out core lessons for future design and practice, but also to take this moment in our journey to share our findings so far.

Lab team member Daniel Blyden has bought visual design magic to the report (and developed a visual identity for CoLab Dudley) and Vanessa Randle has worked with team members to generate ideas around an accompanying output which will take the form of a scrapbook. The team developed plans to co-create the scrapbook with active doers in December. This would also facilitate interaction with collective insights from the research that doers have contributed to so generously.


Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons

Ever on the look-out for great resources, we were excited about the publication of this great free publication from the generous team at Shareable


Notes by Lorna Prescott

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