From Impact Hub Birmingham to CIVIC SQUARE

about the city; relating to municipal administration; the duties or activities of people in relation to their place.

a large open area traditionally found at the heart of a town; used for community gatherings; a place where people come together to meet; often home to markets, concerts, shops and cafés.

At the end of last year, we confirmed that at the end of 2019 Impact Hub Birmingham will be closing. Over the last 6 months we have been incredibly busy, plotting, planning and meeting lots of people as we developed out the CIVIC SQUARE strategy further. We have also been knee deep in producing our Best Year Ever, a campaign and philosophy to make this final year in our current space the most exciting period of time in the hub story so far, living our values as richly and as generously as we can, and actively welcoming as many people to prototype new ideas, make new connections, and refresh or re-energise their personal missions and dreams for the city.

Making the decision to close Impact Hub Birmingham has not been a simple one. We have a plethora of reasons as to why we think it’s the right next step which we explored a little more in our earlier post The FInal Year. Our deeper analysis of our finances also show that many £100,000s we have spent go straight to landlords based abroad with very little interest in what is happening in the city. Our conversations with so many of you have confirmed that it’s time to make a deeper, smarter and more long-term investment of our collective, time, energy and resources.

It is important for us to say that CIVIC SQUARE is a transition from Impact Hub Birmingham. It builds on all the learning, experimentation, movement building we have been part of over the last few years, and draws on the local / global inspiration we have celebrated and made connections with throughout our work. We have been developing the key elements of the future proposal over the last 18 months with many partners – local and global – but it isn’t a final idea; it will grow and iterate. From the early days of starting the Town Hall for the 21st Century enquiry, the CIVIC SQUARE in an upgrade, iteration, and an evolution of the mission. One of the key things we have learnt is that our mission is not a city centre one; we know we want to be where people live, deep in the heart of everyday community and neighbourhood, and be there for the long term.

The operating principles, values, and reality of CIVIC SQUARE is something we are currently developing in a range of different ways, taking a bold approach to visioning, building and investing in civic infrastructure for neighbourhoods of the future.

The following statements give you an overview of our exploration:

CIVIC SQUARE builds on Impact Hub Birmingham
We are taking a bold leap, moving forward with everything we’ve learnt and understood from the R&D work of Impact Hub Birmingham over the last 7 years about what 21st century community spaces need, how they’re funded, and what we’ll need to build upon in the future.

CIVIC SQUARE is Reimagining the Public Square
We are reimagining and putting into practice the public square, a place where people come together, communities, connect, share, agree and disagree, drawing upon an understanding of how you operate and finance this in the current and future climate.

CIVIC SQUARE works within the Neighbourhood Unit of Change
We are shifting focus away from the abundant centres of cities and onto neighbourhoods, being proximate to people and building from the ground up with communities who need it the most.

CIVIC SQUARE is an Everyday Extraordinary place
We are shaping an extraordinary place to work, make, be active, eat together, raise children and much more. This requires operating around the belief that everyone deserves world-class civic and social infrastructure, and glorious experiences where they feel safe, cared for, and have agency. This needs to be everyday normality, rather than a special occasion or rare example.

CIVIC SQUARE operates as a Regenerative Business
We are unapologetic in our focus on being a regenerative business, working within the sweet spot of social, financial, and environmental sustainability. This comes from a deeply-held belief that the 21st / 22nd century is going to need a different type of economics and we want to play that out in practice in a real context, rather than just in theory.

CIVIC SQUARE is committed to Designing Systemically
Building upon our open movements work, we are taking a systemic design lens to everything we do through a range of labs and processes. Accepting the challenges we face aren’t simple and cannot be solved by a silver bullet, we need to organise and deploy our resources systematically and contextually.

CIVIC SQUARE is nerdy about The Dark Matter
We are looking at the role of land, ownership and co-production in the deepest way possible, building something with people, for people that will eventually be owned by people.

CIVIC SQUARE acknowledges City Fault Lines
Communities in Birmingham are on the fault lines of massive regeneration and deep urban deprivation, which is a future many places face. Our work lies right in the heart of that and we understand there is a way to do this work more fairly, more justly and involving more people. We accept that the world is in a stage of massive transition, and that we need to be part of the transition team.

CIVIC SQUARE is making a Long Term Investment
We are investing for the long term, not just in a financial sense, but more deeply into human capital, a place; our home. We are not interested in building an exit strategy or designing for personal wealth.

CIVIC SQUARE is Designed to Spread
We are not looking to scale as a global franchise, but rather create a constant loop of open, shareable, spreadable principles, tools, resources and inspiration about how others can do this too.

From the start of 00, TEDxBrum and Impact Hub Birmingham, we have sought to build creative, lively, deep, eclectic coalitions, partnerships and relationships with people with a shared mission and welcome thoughts and conversations about our future direction. We’re more interested in the outcomes ahead than who gets credit, and lining up our shared missions with many others.

Over the coming months we aim to share lots of the context, thinking, experimentation and ideas behind CIVIC SQUARE from a detailed look at the theory of change and the wider context we find ourselves in, to the first ways to get involved.

Everyday Extraordinary

For a long time people have asked how we defined Impact Hub Birmingham. Is it a business, a charity, a community centre? Is it free, do you pay? Is it for businesses, is it for artists? Is it a space, or a movement? In a world of binaries people have looked for set answers to questions we weren’t trying to answer. Impact Hub Birmingham has been many things all at once, just like the place it calls home. It has spent the last 7 years discovering what the new spaces, communities, convening and movements for this age need to be.

CIVIC SQUARE builds on this. At its heart it is a place, a movement, a community and a lab, focused on unlocking the extraordinary capability of every single one us. As we move through major transition, CIVIC SQUARE wants to be bold in imagining, experimenting with and building our future places in an inclusive, inspiring way that is experienced as part of everyday. Ultimately though, as with Impact Hub Birmingham, what sits behind a deep mission of pursuing systemic change and Mission Birmingham. We hope for CIVIC SQUARE to an everyday extraordinary place and distributed, connected, caring, open and empathetic community.

CIVIC SQUARE will be a place to meet, create, make, play, connect, dream, imagine, think, live, find support, give support, learn, grow, build and experiment. It will trade money, skills and time. It will be regenerative, flexible, adaptable, open and sustainable. It will shine a light on what can be possible in reinventing our public squares and high streets. It will be local and rooted, whilst connected and global. It will be a place where we can agree, disagree, coexist and debate. It will be co-created, built and grown together; it will be owned together. It will build on values such as togetherness, generosity, reciprocity, gratitude, play, hope, respect, openness and authenticity. It will focus on the long term. It will be smart and generate revenue. It will think of value in bold new ways. It won’t be looking for an exit plan or scale, or personal wealth; instead collective ownership and spreading of ideas, principles and concepts. It will believe in the extraordinary power of people to shape their places, their lives, the world around them and their ability to solve complex problems. It will seek to be a light in an increasingly dark world.

Throughout Impact Hub Birmingham’s lifespan people have experienced and engaged with it in countless different ways. Some journeys begin first with the Coffee Shop and community events, seeking connection with others with others locally, whilst others engage with something like a systems design lab around one of our mission areas and may discover more about the space and community through that deep work. All entry points and interactions are meaningful, valid and connected to the wider mission, which can run deeply and deliberately through people’s reason for being there, or be found as more of an unexpected feeling – of worth and trust, of safety, of not being alone, of dignity, equality, creativity, possibility and hope. This is the kind of magic that can only be experienced when everyone involved deeply believes in what they’re doing, and operates around deeply held belief that everyone deserves to be a part of something extraordinary.

“There’s a term you don’t hear these days, one you used to hear all the time when Carnegie branches opened: Palaces for the People. The library really is a palace. It bestows nobility on people who can’t otherwise afford a shred of it. People need to have nobility and dignity in their lives. And, you know, they need other people to recognise it in them too. Serving tea doesn’t seem like that big a deal, but the truth is it’s one of the most important things I do.”

—Andrew (Librarian), Palaces for the People

Inspired by work across the city, country and abroad from being involved in, designing and growing 100s of projects across the team, to supporting and championing work of all scales around the world we want to dream big, think deeply, work with integrity, bravery and courage; but always making sure this starts right in our own back yard. This was recently exemplified so beautifully when our very own Daniel Blyden with a group of talented friends, many part of the Hub community, took starting in their own back yard literally through #CanWeUrbanFarm.

Regenerative, Networked & Open

In the ever-changing, uncertain and turbulent times where it is pretty hard to be certain about anything, one thing we know for sure is business as usual is not going to be enough. Whilst we balance the urgent needs of so many in crisis across the world, we also recognise that it would be irresponsible for us to build a platform that is extractive and not regenerative by default in every element. This will be a deep paradigm shift in every part of our mission and business case. Over the last 6 months we have been working with Kate Raworth to imagine what this might look like in practice, and how it can be co-created with many citizens together, from exploring deeply the idea of inclusive economics, land, sharing the value that created by civic infrastructure, often directly captured by the private sector, to the practical frameworks for designing a neighbourhood donuts, designing intentionally deeply regenerative loops that create many benefits and using biomimicry techniques to design buildings. We want to take the next step intentionally, to be regenerative by default, and to share and design openly. Ultimately though we feel committed to going beyond theory and into practice and experimentation.

We have been so blessed to work with 1000s of glorious projects, ideas, and people over the last 8 years in the city and we hope to only build on that in networked and open ways, reminding ourselves constantly no matter how hard it gets, or when ego creeps in that the shared missions and outcomes matter more than who gets the credit always, whilst ensuring labour isn’t erased. We hope to continue this in deep and interconnected ways. One such example has been working with MAIA Creatives on their stunning vision for Abuelos: Art Hotel, which you can read more about in their recent Black Ballad article by founder Amahra Spence.

“As an organisation centred on its principles and community, it is so difficult moving forward at a pace quick enough to compete with the private sector, while holding onto those values. I have long perceived collectivism as the antidote to some of the ills our society is currently shaped on.  In such urgent times, the movement for healthier futures takes all of us and it takes new ways of working together.

I’m proud to be building ABUELOS alongside CIVIC SQUARE – a dream for how we can imagine and create differently together. This is an exciting but necessary step, demonstrating how we can get things done, dream big together, collaborate, share resources and align values, while acknowledging our interdependence. I’m excited to be part of this movement: a rooted, longterm, regenerative commitment to the city and people.”

—Amahra Spence, MAIA

Transition Team

We have been busy building a broad coalition of partners, and want to talk to you if you are interested. As our friends at Impact Hub Berlin have said for many years, ‘the world is changing and we are on the transition team’. If you want to join the transition team, share thoughts on the transitory times we are in, get in touch to talk about The Great Transition, and what CIVIC SQUARE might mean to you. Here are some thoughts from a few of our team members:

“I can’t think of anything better than going back to the kind of neighbourhood many of us grew up in, and invest and commit for the long term. I remember the day the Stechford Cascades opened, I queued for hours at the end of my road, it bought me 1000s of hours of happy memories and was a short walk from my home. That was one of my earliest memories of my neighbourhood, a playful, happy, cheap, safe and everyday place for so many people from the local area and far beyond.”

— Immy Kaur

“I’m looking forward to building on the work we have started at Impact Hub Birmingham in the context of a neighbourhood, and experimenting with creative ways of nurturing the social and cultural fabric of a place. Birmingham is largely designed around the city centre and so it’s exciting to be a part of something that has a world class vision but with a focus on parts of the city that are often overlooked.”

— Daniel Blyden

“After many years of being at Impact Hub Birmingham, it feels like the right time to move on. I am so excited for the future, being part of engaging, building and co-designing for a neighbourhood, that will hopefully bring a community together. I am particularly looking forward to having a space where people from many different backgrounds come through the door to use in the space in different ways. It’s going to be a dreamy space to be in and I cannot wait. I’ll be spending some of my time baking in the community kitchen.”

— Inderjit Kaur

“For me the next phase of Impact Hub Birmingham is a feeling of excitement and hope. Excitement about what it means to engage with more people across the city and hope that it is spaces like Hub (or CS!) that will enable us to have more events where we feature speakers / host films / residencies which share not necessarily new ideas or stories, but ideas, stories and experiences that celebrate the richness of who we all are but also help foster a better understanding of what we, as a city, can truly be.”

— Nikki Bi

Save The Date

We aim to have a public town hall meeting in July, and begin the closing and moving festival of Impact Hub Birmingham starting on the Monday 28th October 2019, so please keep an eye on our updates and put the dates in your diaries.

The future for us is going back to the basics of why we started, asking for us to collectively imagine and build the kind of places, communities we want to live in, and how can we have most agency, resource, collective power to shape them.

“A city is not so much a place – a fixed point on a map – as it is a performance, an endless work in progress. A city is the immensely complex product of countless relationships among a constantly changing cast of residents, businesses, and visitors, who continually shape and reshape their physical and metaphorical world to fit their needs.”

– Joseph Margulies, Stanford Social Innovation Review