Set Up Phase: The Floating Front Room

We have spent the start of 2020 doing things a little differently from setting up Impact Hub Birmingham, where we signed a lease and launched a crowdfunder, jumping out of the aeroplane and building the parachute on the way down. This meant we were on the back foot with HR, policies, processes, systems and the foundational building blocks of a strong organisation. Drawing on the governance project we did with Snook in 2018, we have been setting up the back end of the organisation as part of a heads down collective set up phase throughout February, and are already feeling the benefits of this within our capacity to organise and function really well as a team.

We would love to talk more about some of this with anyone who is interested in the following:

  • Notion, Slack and platforms / processes you are using to organise complex, large scale work
  • Why we spent months looking for new accountants who could come on this journey with us and why service designers x accountants Ashton McGill were our choice
  • HR experiments such as the evolving our test of the 4 day working week, holiday policies, flat salary structures for the founding team, how we are thinking about Living Wage, what it means to thrive or be well

Introducing The Front Room

As outlined in our previous blog, the key areas of CIVIC SQUARE over the next decade include a bold vision for re-imagining and building a physical public square, neighbourhood lab and participatory platform. This is a long term vision with many parts and partners to bring together over an extended period, but with some key stages of development, deep work, collective organising and extensive co-design, co-experimentation, co-dreaming and more in the neighbourhood over the first few years.

As a home to do this, the first phase of CIVIC SQUARE takes the form of The Front Room, the beginnings of an ambitious, long-term neighbourhood platform in Birmingham.

“We need a positive, good quality space to honour the community and reflect their worth.”

― Carol Booth Davies

+ Democracy Begins at Home

“The time has passed when a few influential people could gather in a room to decide what a city will be.
Instead, a city’s future is determined by hundreds of actions taken daily by thousands of people
based on what they believe about a city’s future and their role in it.”

―Carol Coletta, Kresge Foundation

The Front Room will operate as an initial prototype that will transition into the full CIVIC SQUARE proposal. It will seek to be a physically-embedded example of the deeper, longer-term theory of change in practice. When we ask what a community-led, systemic, just, equitable and inclusive example of neighbourhood futures looks like in transitory and divided times, The Front Room should start to tackle these questions boldly and head on. The Front Room begins from the neighbourhood up; from a place of courage, action, wisdom and learnings from across the world.

The Front Room will sit alongside the phasing in of the larger platform sat at the heart of the new and existing neighbourhood. The Front Room will test, learn and grow smaller examples of each of the areas of CIVIC SQUARE, building upon the learning, participation and the changing context. It will work to ensure CIVIC SQUARE as a platform is designed, grown, and co-owned by the neighbourhood. It will seek to encourage citizens and residents to prototype, experiment, dream, co-design, co-create
and co-build a long-term neighbourhood platform together.

“I’m really looking forward to taking some of the big theories like Doughnut Economics into a neighbourhood setting and exploring how best to use regenerative economics as a tool build stronger, more resilient communities.” —Andy Reeve, Director of Regenerative Economics

+ Part of the Furniture

“There’s a term you don’t hear these days, one you used to hear all the time when the 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 recognize it in them too.”

―Eric Klinenberg, Palaces for the People

The front room held a significant place in the home for so many cultures and communities, particularly those who immigrated to the UK in the 60s and 70s. From local savings groups to co-operative childcare, the front room is the place where families and communities have organised, shared joy, grieved together and grown collective resilience across a backdrop of challenging times. The front room is a noble environment to receive guests, to welcome and be welcomed, and became a sacred place to express, share and preserve social and cultural values.

What does such a space look like in our neighbourhoods and commons? How could it be designed, built and stewarded collectively? What inspiration can be taken from the way our front rooms operate(d) in order to design networked spaces in our places?

“I want to create a space where people feel authentically welcome and hosted well; a space that is like a home from home. This is really important to me, and in order to do this we need to keep building our multi-faceted, ever-evolving understanding of how communities can love and work well together.” —Indi Kaur, Director of Operations + People

+ Make Yourself, At Home

A city is not so much a place — a fixed point on a map — as it is a performance, and 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

The participatory brand development of The Front Room takes heartfelt inspiration from home and heritage, continually recognising the multitude of stories, associations and histories associated with this concept whilst expanding ideas such as nobility, protection, processing, conviviality, privacy and more to discuss and share our current realities and help unlock and develop the creative fabric and dream matter of people and place, through a safe, noble, open-hearted, open-minded process.

The ongoing design process will be one that prioritises the meaningful development of embedded relationships, and we will act slowly, respectfully and at the speed of trust, building on assets and individual and collective agency for many people to lead, be able to work, change and feel at home, hopeful and thriving at The Front Room.

The Front Room is demonstrating a culture of being part of a network of spaces large and small, formal and informal across the neighbourhood. It is not to be considered just a single physical base, but pays direct homage to existing residents and families in the local area as well as creating a contemporary destination that is part of a network of affordable, informal welcoming spaces for residents across the area.

“I’m excited to craft personable, useful, creative, participatory platforms and communication streams by, with and for the neighbourhood over the next decade. We’re here to listen, to share and to grow something beautiful together.” —Louise Byng, Creative Director

The Floating Front Room

CIVIC SQUARE is not just about physical buildings, but they are a huge part of the future. Being on site has been something we have looked forward to for a long time as we know this marks the start of the journey ahead. We have been busy working to open the doors of our current home on The Barge at South Loop Park, Port Loop, and learning lots about hands on canal life from a new perspective on Birmingham’s famous waterways.

As a precursor to The Front Room space, we can’t wait to invite you to come aboard and pop in for tea, breakfast, lunch or dinner on what we are affectionately referring to as The Floating Front Room, as well as a range of creative and participatory programming to be designed out for The Floating Front Room the surrounding park, and with working, supporting and hosting across wider neighbourhood contexts too.

Update: We are currently AFB (away from boat) until further notice due to COVID-19 social distancing measures to look after our team, families, the NHS and the many communities we’re honoured to work alongside as best we can, but will look forward to announcing more about hosting, welcoming and playing out together when it is safe to do so.

As we were so close to activating these initial hosting moments on site which now need to be placed on pause indefinitely, April will see us accelerating the design and launch of online platform and exploring ways to stay connected, have conversations and explore openly with those in the neighbourhood as well as further afield using virtual hosting where appropriate. Check back for updates as we have them for when The Front Room will be ready to receive guests in the coming weeks.

The physical buildings of CIVIC SQUARE are pending a range of property deals that are currently in progress, and not yet finalised. As we look to the decade ahead, our intention is to share, spread and continue to openly tell this story, so we can continue to learn together and give thanks for your collective contribution in the last decade. Over the next 2 years we will be raising £10 million of patient regenerative capital to repurpose old industrial buildings for the multi-phase construction of CIVIC SQUARE, so if you would like to discuss our plans in more detail then please get in touch.