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Having a seat at the Stronger Things table!

Our gathering at London’s Guildhall was truly extraordinary, a unique coming together of community voices, creativity and collaboration.

Imagine this: an mysterious underground crypt, transformed with eleven tables adorned with 'dinner plates'—not for dining, but for brainstorming and scribbling down ideas, or ‘ingredients’. Each table was hosted by a community innovator, each sharing their story of bold ambition, hurdles and successes, with unfiltered honesty. As Footwork hosted its first peer-led workshop, we could feel the magic in the air.

Image: Workshop in full swing at West Crypt, Guildhall

We were invited to be a part of New Local's Stronger Things 2024 event. Aptly titled ‘A seat at the table: sharing ingredients for great places,’ the aim was to platform the stories of community innovators doing the difficult work of neighbourhood transformation. Seventeen community innovators came together from all over the UK— from Exeter to Cardiff, Coalville to Bath, Sheffield to Lewisham. 

Their mission? To share and inspire with their story of local ingenuity, enabling others to learn and benefit. ‘Others’  in this case consisted of local authority employees, with a sprinkling of funders, community groups, researchers, social scientists, educators, and changemakers. The benefits were two-way, creating a rich recipe of insights and solutions for locally-led neighbourhood transformation.

The workshop was a true 'feast' of ideas with, at its heart, a shared commitment to explore and enhance the ways in which communities can shape their own futures. Engaging in lively discussion and collaborative brainstorming, attendees shared real-life examples of neighbourhood projects that have spurred positive change. From innovative methods to amplify community voices to strategies for unlocking and transforming community assets, the stories offered valuable lessons for others facing similar challenges.

Image: Discussions at Pete's dinner table, from Bath Methodist Church

Setting the table

The community innovators began by telling their tables about their activities to bring about a positive transformation in their own neighbourhood . Those listening were encouraged to think about the 'ingredients' necessary for successful placemaking and to jot them down. These included  ‘inclusive decision-making,’ ‘create strong local networks,’ ‘learning continuously from local experience’ and ‘ensure access to physical assets’. Judging by the response, the culinary metaphor of 'ingredients' resonated throughout the room. Tables then moved on to discuss local challenges faced both by the innovators and by attendees. 

Recipe making

The next ‘course’ was for smaller groups to brainstorm ideas to resolve those challenges, with sticky notes in abundance! This proved particularly interesting since community innovators often faced difficulties in dealing with their local authority and here they were face-to-face with council officers prepared to listen and respond.

Image: A 'dinner plate' from the workshop

Sharing recipes

As the workshop concluded, we asked everyone to make a pledge to take  something from what they had heard into their own work. These ranged from practical tips, leaving with a new perspective, eagerness to continue the conversation, or ways to amplify community voices.  Most even wrote them down! We were inspired by pledges such as ‘Be more relational,’ ‘Conversations as opposed to consultations,’ and ‘listen out for the quiet voices.’ 

The energy, friendliness and open mindedness so evident at the workshop was testament to the power of collaboration and the transformative potential of sharing ideas with ‘unlikely allies.’ We look forward to seeing how these seeds grow.

Video: Displaying selected pledges from workshop attendees


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