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Author Archives: Matthew Barber-Rowell

Advanced Campaigning and Advocacy for Interfaith Leaders

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The William Temple Foundation is very pleased to partner with Faith and Belief Forum in a pioneering six month training program aimed at nurturing and developing future leaders from a variety of different faith and belief backgrounds. The course ambition is to up-skill young leaders in the art of campaigning for social change and to develop policies to reflect those ambitions. At the end of the program there will be a presentation in Parliament on a campaign of the participants choice in June 2024.

The Foundation via Professor Chris Baker and Dr Saiyyidah Zaidi is providing input into the history of faith based campaigning around issues such as formation of the welfare state and how identity impacts self-leadership and advocacy. This allows us to draw upon historical resources such as William Temple’s thinking and leadership as well as contemporary sources and experiences such as narrative development, leadership skills, and communication. Future sessions being delivered by the Foundation are: ‘faith, justice, and welfare;’ ‘creating momentum for change and measuring human capabilities;’ and ‘belief, belonging and motivation.’

This project represents for the Foundation a new and exciting opportunity to facilitate dialogue among and between young people, youth-focussed organisations, faith-based organisations and decision-makers across the political landscape to explore how to address cross-community tensions.

For more information please contact: Professor Chris Baker chris@williamtemplefoundation.org.uk and Dr Saiyyidah Zaidi sz@saiyyidah.com

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New Research Fellowships Announced.

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The William Temple Foundation is delighted to announce the appointment of two new Fellows for 2024. Our Fellowship is designed to reflect and enhance the innovative and interdisciplinary scholarship and practice that we offer through our work across the UK. With this in mind it is our pleasure to welcome Dr Saiyyidah Zaidi and Natalie Law.

Dr Saiyyidah Zaidi joins us as a Senior Research Fellow. She enhances the Foundation through her pioneering approach to Practical Theology as the first Muslim in Britain to complete a PhD in the subject. The title of Saiyyidah’s thesis was “This is the sound of my soul: seeking belonging and inclusion in practical theology“. Her other professional interests draw on her background as an architect and her current practice coaching leadership with senior professionals. You can read more about Saiyyidah here.

Natalie Law joins us as a Research Fellow. Natalie is based at the University of London where she lecturers in Social Studies at Goldsmiths College and is completing her PhD at Southbank. Natialie’s work ensures the voices of marginalized and excluded community groups are heard. This work covers themes from, the faith based coping mechanisms of the Windrush generation, to Black female students exploring and negotiating intersectional and marginalised spiritual, religious and cultural identities within higher education and Community and Youth Work. You can read more about Natalie here.

William Temple Foundation Director, Prof. Chris Baker said, “I am delighted and privileged to be able to welcome Saiyyidah and Natalie to the Foundation. Both will enrich our output and presence through their innovative writing, extensive networking and progressive research agendas. It’s an excellent way to start 2024.

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William Temple Foundation curate a special issue of the Journal of Church and State

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We are delighted to announce the release of Issue 65 of the Journal of Church and State on William Temple and the Rebuilding of the Public Square in Post-Pandemic Britain. This special issue, explores the contributions of William Temple to the formation of a post-war Britain as exemplified by his seminal text Christianity and Social Order, and sets out a progressive and hopeful agenda for 2024 and beyond. The journal, co-edited by Rev Dr Yazid Said of Liverpool Hope University and a Trustee of William Temple Foundation, offers articles from Christian, Jewish and Muslim perspectives, critiquing the historical influence of Archbishop William Temple, and issuing a call to action to engage politically with the local and national concerns shaping our public squares in Britain today. 

The journal comprises a diversity of contributions from different worldviews and interdisciplinary perspectives including many scholars associated with the William Temple Foundation namely, Prof Chris Baker, Dr Ekaterina Braginskaia, Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell, Dr David Shaw and Dr Yazid Said. The journal also includes contributions from Nathan Eddy and Steve Williams  from the Council of Christians and Jews, as well as esteemed Islamic scholar and practitioner Prof Mohamed M Keshavjee. We are also deeply grateful to Rowan Williams and Tim Winter for offering engaged and expert responses to the diverse range of contributions, which authenticate and champion the agenda we are setting out. 

Regarding this publication, Prof Chris Baker Director of the William Temple Foundation said, We are deeply grateful to Dr Yazid Said for his vision and determination in bringing this conference and publication about, which recognises in fresh and contemporary ways the historical relevance of Temple’s thought to both the NorthWest of England and those from the Abrahamic traditions 

The Journal is available online: Volume 65 Issue 4 | Journal of Church and State | Oxford Academic (oup.com). In early 2024, we are planning to use ideas generated by this special edition to explore the theme of  Radical Hope ahead of an expected General Election. To join this conversation, sign up for our mailing list or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn

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A Book Review of “The Serendipity of Hope” 

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The Serendipity of Hope ed. Simon Lee and Ian Markham. Pickwick Publications. USA. English. 292 pages. ISBN 1666737062

“Serendipity of Hope offers a compelling vision of what our colleges and universities might look like if they rediscover, and honour in action, the founding values and legacies” (Gareth Jones, Theological Education Advisor to the Archbishop of Hong Kong). 

This quote from Jones from the back cover of the book, speaks to the value that can be found in this volume. With this review, I will seek to honour the spirit of story and peripheral experience at the heart of the book, to open up the opportunity that it presents for institutions today.

I first came across this edited volume in its very early stages of development in 2020. I had just moved to Liverpool, and I had just heard of Liverpool Hope University. The William Temple Foundation had just taken on a new research fellow, Dr Sanjee Perera, and it was via a tweet from Dr Perera that I became aware of this new project on “hope”. Hope is a theme in my work, and so I went digging and I managed to wangle an invite to a learning day, hosted by Professor Lee the former Rector at Hope, which was the basis for this book. I was allowed to listen in from the periphery, to a series of papers reflecting on “hope” at Hope over the previous 25 years. I was encouraged by the experience, and having recently submitted my PhD, I was left with the question, what about the next 25 years? Since attending this gathering, I’ve become an Honorary Fellow at Hope, where I have engaged in postdoctoral research both within the University and in the city of Liverpool. I have explored the question of whether we are Hope by name and “hope” by nature? There is a definite synergy between this volume; The Serendipity of Hope, and my work. I will publish on this synergy elsewhere. However with this in mind, I was lucky to attend the launch of the book at Lambeth Palace on 3rd November 2023. This gathering brought together authors from the book, and people with a fresh association with Liverpool Hope including myself, a recently minted PhD exploring faith-based universities in Ethiopia where Higher Education is otherwise secular in nature, and the new Vice Chancellor at Hope Professor Claire Ozanne. It was fitting that the volume was formulated and then launched in gatherings such as these, as it speaks to the sense of nurture, and journey which are at the centre of the book. 

In chapter 1, Professor Lee characterises this using the language of “alma mater” where mater translates as mother, but taken together, the translation has a broader sense of nurture. Lee argues that this sense is not just for the period of being on campus, or being within the institution, but something which can set people up for the future. There are clear examples throughout. In chapter 11, this theme was picked up in a chapter on motherhood. Dr Vicky Baker explores twin threads of present experience as a ‘home engineer’ (p169) where she cares for her son, and her experience of teaching at Hope. Baker recollects that she was attracted to Hope by the staff team (her PhD was supervised by Professor Ian Markham) and the ecumenical foundation the University has. However she was contending with being homesick. The chapter sets out the nurturing role that Markham and Lee offered Baker, which exemplified the nurture Lee speaks of, and enabled Baker to continue her professional life, whilst also overcoming her homesickness. Baker concludes with reference to her own role with her son today, to bring the account full circle and to symbolise the affect of nurture as part of motherhood. 

Articulating “hope” through lived experience is a key thread throughout. In chapter 6 Dr Perera highlights this in the contexts of crisis. A key example is from the Toxteth riots in the 1980s and the responses of Bishop David Shepherd and Archbishop Derek Worlock, who bought their friendship and vocation together to seek the common good in the city of Liverpool. Perera points to many other examples of what she terms as ‘pro-social responses’ from the social sciences, but highlights that the pursuit of hope, the inherent risk therein and the potential it offers, are often missing from these. We are directed instead to what she characterised as ‘pedagogies of hope’ which transcend secular constructions of social life within institutions and offer something more. This sense of something more flows through the volume and is found once again in chapter 9, via emphasis on journey, characterised as the Camino of Hope by Sean Gallagher. This chapter is the first publication for the now retired Director of Finance from Hope from Lee’s era in the early 2000s. An anecdote, which was shared at the launch, regarded Gallagher’s volunteering at the Liverpool Hope Internet café at the Albert Dock on the waterfront in Liverpool. As the Director of Finance, Sean spent his Sunday afternoon helping people at the cafe, which came to the attention of what turned out to be Dr Perera’s father. Sean’s volunteering and commitment at the periphery of the University stood out and was the basis for Sanjee being sent to study at Hope, her PhD at Hope, and nurturing relationships set out in the text that span over 25 years, and many more instances besides. There are many other chapters of great interest, which speak to the diversity, and pioneering nature of an institution, which is premised on bringing together and overcoming differences from the past to shape the present and offer hope for the future.

Chapter 19, the final chapter, is offered by the co-editor of the volume Ian Markham and Joe Thompson. As a former Head of Theology at Liverpool Hope, and current Dean and President of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS), Markham is well placed to honour the distinctiveness of how a University’s past relates to the way things are done in the present, and what they might bring to the future. He concludes the opening section with a quote from the writer of the book of James in the Bible, “be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only”, and characterises it as the ethos of Hope (p.268). In this way, this final chapter on reparations, highlights the way in which Hope inspired Markham and hints at how this flows through into the work he leads at VTS today. Whilst VTS is characterised in the chapter as “the strongest seminary or theological college, in the Anglican Communion” (p.268), it has also been complicit in the slave trade. The story of VTS can help understand reparations as not just a case of moving some statues and putting up some signs containing context of who and what continues to be honoured on campus, but rather as something much more embodied, pointing to how institutions should and could work. Markham offers a powerful and welcome challenge for faith based institutions and others contributing to public life, and one which gives my question regards the next 25 years, fresh emphasis and traction! 

How do we pick up the question of “hope” and sense of nurture, which prepare us for the crises that we experience along life’s journey? How do we do this in a way, which is realistic about what has gone before whilst putting things right which have gone wrong, and offering space for a new generation to pick up the baton? With these questions in mind, in the context of deep set institutional changes in the United Kingdom today and around the world, this volume has much to offer. 

Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell is an Honorary Postdoctoral Fellow at Liverpool Hope University, Research Fellow at the William Temple Foundation and Founder of Spaces of Hope.

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A New Face for Media and Communications at the Foundation: Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell

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It is with great pleasure that the Foundation can announce the appointment of Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell as its new Communications Officer. Matthew has a long association and knowledge of the work of the Foundation having been the first of our William Temple Scholars to achieve their doctorate back in 2021, and now currently one of our Research Fellows. Matthew is currently based in Liverpool with his wife Phoebe and his son Benjamin. Matthew has a varied portfolio of work which is focussed on developing local leadership that responds to global crises and explores approaches to building resilience. This portfolio includes Ecological Transformation with Diocese of Manchester including the launch of Eco Stepping Stones, postdoctoral research at Liverpool Hope University considering the role of faith in higher education, and consultancy work for example a recent piece with Liverpool Charity and Voluntary Services, co-creating a vision and strategy for eradicating poverty in the city.

Dr Barber-Rowell says, ‘I am delighted to be taking on this new role with the William Temple Foundation. I recognise the distinctive role the Foundation plays in shaping interdisciplinary engagement, dialogue, leadership and policy regards faith in public life in the UK. I relish the prospect of contributing to this by amplifying the great work of the Foundation, its fellows and partners, in my time here’.

Professor Chris Baker, Director of Research for the Foundation responds, ‘It is great to welcome Matthew into this role. Matthew will bring not only the technical aspects of this role, but also a deep understanding of public theology and policy based on his pioneering research and consultancy as the founder of Spaces of Hope. We are very privileged to have someone of his skills and experience undertaking this role’. 

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Curating Spaces of Hope: From a Community Iftar to Community Partnership in Uncertain Times

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In early 2022, I was the inaugural recipient of the William Temple Foundation Postdoctoral Award. Twelve months on, I am writing to share some of what has happened following the award. There are a number of strands to what is now an established postdoctoral agenda. Here I will share one strand, which covers work that is emerging with the Dialogue Society in Liverpool, beginning with a community Iftar in April.

The Fellows’ Award has been developed using a legacy from Len Collinson, former Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside, Honorary Professor of the University of Central Lancashire, and business leader in northwest England. Collinson recognised that enterprise and interdisciplinary partnerships were central tenets of a flourishing society. Prof. Simon Lee, Chair of the William Temple Foundation, said of the award:

“A core part of the Foundation’s work has been supporting William Temple Scholars as they pursue their doctoral studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Trustees have now committed to encouraging Scholars, once they have been awarded their PhD, to apply their research in society.”

In this spirit, I have begun to utilise the award to explore how dialogue can inform leadership and shared values in Liverpool, in uncertain times. The full project is set out in three blogs, the first of which can be found here. Following a call for participation, a connection with the Dialogue Society was established, which then connected me with volunteers who had recently moved to Liverpool.

For those who have not heard of it, the Dialogue Society is an international network that supports local Branches to establish associations in cities and to gather interested parties together to share. This is often done over food using an Iftar as a basis for a gathering. The Dialogue Society has drawn on the inspiration of the Hizmet Movement, a Turkish Muslim inspired approach to dialogue. Where a Branch is present it will convene meetings outside of the Iftar. In Liverpool there is not a Branch at present, but there is interest in establishing one.

In May 2022, I convened a dialogue in Liverpool. We met using Zoom, attracting attendance from Turkish muslim asylum seekers who had moved to Liverpool during the pandemic.  The dialogue lasted for two hours and we explored questions of hope, barriers to hope and what might be done to overcome these barriers in the city. In response, themes included the safety and education of their children, loss of loved ones, the limitations created by a language barrier, and the stress and insecurity of being in an unknown city in an unknown country. 

One respondent noted that this was the first time they had been offered space to reflect on their journeys and the difficulties they faced. One attendee noted that they would want to say a great deal more than their English could allow them too. They asked for the opportunity to write down their feelings and their experiences and to share these with those gathered with the hope that it could develop an opportunity for further reflection. Those gathered expressed a deep resilience to overcome barriers and to connect with people in the new communities they were part of. The small actions of others, a phone call from a friend in turkey, a cup of tea from a fellow community member in the city they have moved to were significant. 

What had become clear is that through the transition into the UK the group gathered had found a new appreciation for the role social connection plays in their lives. They noted that they had lost work (in business and science and education) but gained a sense of togetherness and common humanity.  This offered the basis for gatherings to continue, exploring a common humanity with others in the city to which they have just moved, not limited by their own preconceptions and worldviews per se, but finding common and shared ground with those communities that had welcomed them in to contribute to the place in which they now live. 

This dialogue has become the basis for further gatherings that are taking place in 2023. The first of these is on the 12th April, when Dialogue Society and Spaces of Hope will convene a community Iftar at the Pal Multicultural Centre in Liverpool. We will continue to develop the dialogue we began in 2022, exploring the theme of hope and whether it would be a fruitful thing to do to establish a Branch of the Dialogue Society in Liverpool. Our focus on hope is a response to the many uncertainties we live with today. These include the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis, the pandemic, climate change, and many more. The goal is to facilitate resilience in the city, with people from across different communities, with different beliefs, values, and worldviews in curating a more hopeful place to live. 

If you are in Liverpool and wish to attend the gathering, you are welcome to RSVP to Matthew at matthew@spacesofhope.co.uk by 31st March 2023. 

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Review of ‘The Christian Left’ by Anthony A. J. Williams

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Anthony A.J. Williams, The Christian Left: An Introduction to Radical and Socialist Christian Thought (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2022), 211 pages ; 23 cm; ISBN: 9781509542819.

Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell, Research Fellow of the William Temple Foundation

As a Temple scholar and research fellow, my position is informed by and shaped by the Temple Tradition, that is, the deployment of Temple’s ‘consultative methodology’ as a means of brokering across difference (Spencer, 2017). So my view is not limited only to the historical references made by Williams. This is a blessing in terms of drawing on the wisdom and prophetic impact of a giant of the 20th-Century, but also a hindrance, in that Temple offers us only one way to examine the relationship between Christianity and politics. With this consideration in mind, I am grateful to Anthony A. J. Williams for his survey of 150 years of the Christian Left, which takes us on a journey from the Guild of Saint Matthew in Bethnal Green (1877), through the emergence of Christian socialism in the early 20th-Century, through an exploration of the different political and theological facets to the contemporary Christian Left and the challenge going forward.

The opening pages challenge us to consider how contemporary politics is related to Christianity. An image is used of Donald Trump holding a Bible whilst appealing to his political base in the United States. Although a few years old now, this image speaks to the zeitgeist in terms of polarisation, extremism and division, often inspired by, some claim to Christian faith. Is this coercive and controlling behaviour characteristic of Christianity? Williams does not think so. And if not, is there a coherent alternative on offer? This is the challenge Williams sets out, and which he seeks to find answers in The Christian Left.

There is, Williams’ suggests, no one single tradition that can be categorised as the Christian Left. Rather, there are multiple different influences on a movement characterised by concepts of brotherhood, justice, liberty, equality and cooperation.  Of these, I found the concept of brotherhood to be most prominent. The foundational influence of the brotherhood of F. D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley and John Ludlow (1848 onwards) on Christian Socialism, was set out at the beginning of Chapter One. With the final words being given to brothers from Balliol College, R, H. Tawney, and William Temple (culminating in 1944). The influence of Stewart Headlam, the founder of the Guild of St Matthew, is used to good affect.

Although, I did not know of his impact, Headlam is given credit for carrying the message of Maurice et. al., and influencing those who shaped the vision for the post-war Labour Government. Through Headlam’s activism, the concept of brotherhood becomes rooted in both a high Anglo-Catholic Christian, and a Socialist worldview. William’s analysis is helpful in understanding that whilst Headlam and his contemporaries are a driving force, they are also deemed to be somewhat esoteric in their approach. It appears that the Christian Social Union (CSU) was set up by Scott Holland and Charles Gore in part at least to avoid Headlam.  These details are interesting historically, and become pertinent later in the book, as part of the overarching challenge facing the Christian Left. How are differences dealt with and what does this mean for the Christian Left as a whole? I am left with the understanding that the concept of brotherhood underpins, but this does not mean that it is easy to adhere to.

Williams’ develops his account by exploring the oscillation between questioning of what the Christian Left is and the context of ideological milieu. Following the impact of the post-war Labour Government, building on the vision of Temple and Tawney, groups within the Labour Party and the Christian Left took divergent paths. Different groups later emerged: Christian Socialist Movement (now Christian on the Left), William Temple Foundation, Ekklesia, Jubilee, and latterly Blue Labour and others. Williams account suggests that the boundaries between these groups had been blurred. On the one hand this allowed for the movement of prominent leaders between the groups, which galvanised support, but on the other hand led to confusion around what it meant to be on the Christian Left and indeed a Christian on the left.

The chapters that follow share informed accounts of the different camps that we can understand as being part of the Christian Left, from the Social Gospel, to Catholic Social Teaching, to Lutheran, Reformed or Methodist traditions, to a plethora of liberation theologies, including Black, Womanist, LGBT+, Feminist, and others. There is not space here to engage with these in a way that does them justice, so do pick up a copy for Williams chapters on these topics. However, I will flag the helpful theological question mark that Williams offers in the final chapter. In terms of the positions that different parts of the Christian Left take up, and in terms of the views that underpin those positions. Does the worldview inform the theology or the theology inform the worldview? This question is present in the early movement, highlighted by the focus on Headlam and returns as a constituent theme throughout the movement.

Foundational to the Christian Left and therefore to this volume is the concept of brotherhood. Williams makes clear that brotherhood is contested at least in terms of its foundations, its grammar, and therefore its universalism. Williams’ use of the term allows for exploration of the Christian Left historically and ideologically and also allows for recognition of the imperfections of the movement. However, Williams’ conclusion leaves me with mixed feelings. This is not due to Williams’ writing, but rather his realistic critique of the Christian Left as things stand: the Christian Left is in danger of experiencing alienation from others within the Christian faith and, it appears, also from other none Christian actors on the left.  I hope this does not transpire, but Williams volume leaves me with an understanding of how and why it could.

The Trumpian imagery used to open the volume shows that there is a challenge that the Christian Left can meet. The political trajectory in the UK in 2023 indicates the rise of the Labour Party – the removal of the Labour Party from special measures by the EHRC is the latest sign of this. The danger presented by Williams is that the Christian Left might maintain the milieu and it’s alienation from itself in a way that hastens the hopeless descent heralded by Trump. We may hope instead is that the Christian Left can manoeuvre itself into an altogether more hopeful movement characterised by lucid clarity seen previously on the Christian Left. Time will tell. With this in mind Williams’ work has helped to set out the precedence that exists for this oscillation toward opportunity.

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Curating Spaces of Hope: Embodying Leadership in Uncertain Times

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The Queen is dead. Long live the King

A post-Elizabethan era begins, and with it an existential shift unlike anything experienced, certainly since World War Two, maybe in our history. When the pandemic hit, Her Majesty said that ‘we will meet again’ and so it was, but in so doing we note the depths of uncertainty surrounding us.

Something has changed; deep, intangible, fundamental. Life is more fragile than it was. The cost-of-living crisis bites, catalysed by Brexit. The Climate Crisis continues, exemplified by catastrophic floods in Pakistan and temperatures in the UK over 40degrees for the first time. The war in Ukraine rages, displacing millions and rupturing the geopolitical terrain. These concerns are shaping our lives in different ways at personal, communal, societal, and global levels.

With Her Majesty’s passing, tributes centred on her leadership, noting the depth of commitment she offered:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

(Speech on her 21st birthday, April 21, 1947, broadcast on the radio from Cape Town)

In hearing this and in seeing the global response to this profound loss, I was challenged to ask, how might we all embody leadership for uncertain times?

In my paper to the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology, conference on 13th July 2022, I explored this question, which has now been given fresh significance and momentum, by looking through the lens of Curating Spaces of Hope.  Curating Spaces of Hope emerged from lived experience of contexts of uncertainty from 2010-2020, a decade bookended by the global financial crash and the global pandemic. It was rooted in experiences of unemployment, poor mental health, social isolation, coercive and controlling behaviour, blackmail, abuse and discrimination. As time moved on, it was shaped by a social movement, public dialogues, and ethnographic research into organisational approaches, physically engaging circa 1000 people in urban spaces in north west England.

In terms of what emerged, the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in England described Curating Spaces of Hope as:

“bringing together innovative mixes of civil society actors – from professional community practitioners through to individual community activists – to ‘meaning-make’ as a response to experiences of pointlessness and emptiness in personal, community and professional life.”

Through doctoral research at Goldsmiths University of London, Curating Spaces of Hope has been defined as a new paradigm and consultative methodology for faith-based organisation (Barber-Rowell, 2021). What is generally meant by Curating Spaces of Hope is, a means of mapping and mobilising responses to lived experiences of uncertainty, which are more than the sum of their parts.

This process begins with each of us. Curating Spaces of Hope is the task of leaders, committed to their context and drawing on all that they have, to offer to others what they can, to make the world a better place. Five principles have emerged from the Curating Spaces of Hope journey to date and are here for you to consider:

  1. Freedom: the potential we have within us and the ability we have to make that real and tangible. Put another way, taking responsibility, and sharing the fullest possible expression of our personality.

  2. Relationship: We are in relationship with everyone and everything, from the people we love to the places we live, to the rest of the world as we see it. Relationships help us to understand the freedom that we have positively, in terms of freedom for others, as opposed to freedom from others.

  3. Service: expressing freedom, in relationship with others is service; the incarnation of our potential as expressions of leadership in the multitude of different ways that this manifests itself.

  4. Affect: Expressions of service can come in a wide variety of forms, each can be both subtle and significant and are simultaneously synonymous with hope. The principle of affect is a guide to be aware of and sensitive to everything around us. As the pandemic has taught us, the smallest of sources can bring hope.

  5. Authenticity: Finally, we should consider if the freedom we are sharing through relationship with others and expressing through service that is affective and affected by what is around us, fits within our wider story. This is not an inward sense of authenticity that we decide upon for ourselves, but rather an outward question for others to answer about whether what we are doing is truly hopeful and hope filled.

With the death of Her Majesty, we have lost a giant in history, who has exhibited for us what it means to embody leadership in uncertain times. As this era of uncertainty continues, it is over to all of us to respond. My invitation that I wish to extend will be to explore these principles for yourself and consider what embodying leadership means for you.

Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Master of Environmental Politics, Founder and Director of Spaces of Hope, and a former William Temple Scholar. Matthew has spent the last ten years working in urban contexts in the northwest of England, engaging with issues of loneliness, isolation and social connection, and applying grounded and assemblage theories to produce interventions that combat health inequalities. Matthew specialises in gathering stories, surfacing motivations, beliefs, values and worldviews and contextualising their role in shaping spaces, places and the wider environment.

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Curating Spaces of Hope: Coproducing Local Leadership for a Post-Pandemic Society

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This blog is the third of three produced by Research Fellow Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell, as part of our Fellows Fund Programme. In this series, Dr Barber-Rowell sets out the potential role for intra-communities dialogue and local leadership for Curating Spaces of Hope in a post-pandemic society.  

In this final blog, I set out local leadership based on characteristics drawn from stories and contributions from over 900 people who have shaped Spaces of Hope. My contention is that these characteristics can provide us with a map of our local leadership potential, which we can make real and concrete by ‘curating’ them, using five principles: freedom, relationship, service, affect, and authenticity.

My argument in this blog is that if we can map our different and creative potential, we can then use these principles as the compass to guide us through uncertainty, using the characteristics as way marks on the map. I will turn to this now and then conclude this series by issuing a call to action to sojourn and then journey on together.

Local Leadership:

Spaces of Hope has been coproduced by a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse experiences, ranging from refugees and homeless communities, to senior religious leaders, to differently abled volunteers, to chief executives, from community workers to academics, from local authority officers, to foodbank users. Examples of local leadership have emerged from anyone and anywhere.  We all possess that potential.

Spaces of Hope research has found that local leadership can be characterised as:

These characteristics of local leadership are best understood in relationship with things that offer context to that leadership. Relationships with the place we live and work, the service that we offer and the potential that relationships themselves bring for transformation to take place in our lives. What motivates us, the beliefs, values and worldviews that emerge from the context we are in, the foundations we build our lives upon, and the values that we form together. The things we do when we interface with others, the way we communicate with others, offer welcome and care, and how what we do relates to voluntary work and professional services and systems, alike.

Local leadership is also steeped in the prophetic and authentic stories which set out how we have dealt with things in our lives and how they might inform a vision for the future. Local leadership is also at its most effective when it finds the flow of what is happening in the world around us, working with others in networks and partnership to create movements that can both count the cost of change and embrace it, together.  

These characteristics and relationships are both underpinning the way local leadership can be understood and are formational for the Spaces of Hope approach that I am offering here. The most pertinent of these for you will emerge from intra-communities dialogues, but they will all have their part to play in the urgent task of mobilising local leadership for post-pandemic society.

I have addressed how we might map our uncertain terrain and the characteristics of local leadership. Now I turn to our compass to guide the way.

Principles for Local Leadership

Spaces of Hope has drawn on a wide variety of inspirations and influences since it emerged in 2016. These sources include: the leadership by experience of people in the north west of England; the work of public intellectuals e.g. William Temple, who offered guiding principles for people to participate in society; interdisciplinary scholarly work from theology to philosophy to sociology, to social policy to urban geography. With these in mind, the five principles that have emerged are:

Intra-communities dialogue, set out in blog two, helps us to map the characteristics and relationships that flow through the spaces we are in. Applying these principles to them offers us a compass for guiding local leadership. What I am proposing is that we now explore together. Journeying on to discover how we might better talk to one another about what has happened to us, identifying the things that we care about and taking them forward. I am proposing that we engage in intra-communities dialogue and curate the different and creative potential characteristics and relationships that make up the spaces we inhabit to form concrete and hope filled local leadership for post-pandemic society.

I am seeking spaces to explore this further. This process will leave you with the outcomes to take forward yourself and also feed into the understanding of what it means to Curate Spaces of Hope. This is an invitation to join a journey that can take us forward for years to come.

For more information contact Matthew at matthew@spacesofhope.co.uk

Biography: Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell has been working in activism and academia in the north west of England for the past 10 years during which time he developed Spaces of Hope. Matthew is a Research Fellow with the William Temple Foundation and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. During the pandemic Matthew supported local food provision; packing and delivering food parcels in his local community, acted as a trustee of his local church and was a team member delivering UK wide COVID research. Matthew has led work scoping responses to Net Zero in the north west, and is continuing this work through ecological change projects within churches in the north west.  Matthew completed his PhD at Goldsmiths University of London, which discerned and defined Spaces of Hope, offering the basis for new work developing intra – communities dialogue and local leadership. 

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Curating Spaces of Hope: Intra-Communities Dialogue and Post-Pandemic Society

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This blog is the second of three produced by Research Fellow Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell, as part of our Fellows Fund Programme. In this series, Dr Barber-Rowell sets out the potential role for intra-communities dialogue and local leadership for Curating Spaces of Hope in a post-pandemic society. This will be followed by blogs published on the 10th of May. 

In my first blog, I set out the uncertain context we are living in, prompted by the pandemic, climate emergency, Brexit, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. I posed the question of how we might respond to this uncertainty. I introduced Curating Spaces of Hope and proposed that this is an overarching approach I believe offers potential for the development of intra-communities dialogue and local leadership, in a post-pandemic society.

Spaces of Hope Dialogues

In this blog, I turn to intra-communities dialogue (ICD) and its significance to this new proposed agenda.  Dialogue has been formational for Spaces of Hope.  In 2017 I was commissioned by a local authority in northwest England to develop networked gatherings across the borough. I used dialogue to support the faith, community and voluntary sector to respond to the impacts of austerity, divisions exposed by Brexit campaigning, unprecedented changes to public services and a growing epidemic in mental health largely caused by social isolation and loneliness. This commission followed on from Vanguard work exploring Health as a Social Movement, led by the Royal Society of Arts, of which Spaces of Hope played a small part.  The issues faced struck right at the heart of civil society, impacting personal resilience and the community resources change to public services relied on.

The Spaces of Hope dialogues took place at different community hubs across the borough, engaging nearly 170 people across 9 gatherings from 70+ community organisations, who brought nearly 300 perspectives on what Spaces of Hope meant to them and their perceived barriers to realising those Spaces of Hope in their lives. A case study for the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in England summarised these dialogues as

“bringing together innovative mixes of civil society actors – from professional community practitioners through to individual community activists – to ‘meaning-make’ as a response to experiences of pointlessness and emptiness in personal, community and professional life.”

 A Local Authority Officer said whilst reflecting on the dialogues

“In the past we have had a situation where the policy team has been the policy team … and [use] this kind of council speak … talking in the language of hope or hearts [feelings] over the last relatively short period of time [has exhibited] a shift.”

65% of respondents associated Spaces of Hope with personal vulnerability, personal freedom and social connection and 40% understood people’s suspicions and perceptions around different cultures and worldviews to be barriers to Spaces of Hope. This intervention opened up scope for values based dialogues within this locality.  In terms of impact, a senior advisor within Public Health in Greater Manchester said

“[Spaces of Hope] delivers both added value in existing work and produces new projects and networks across neighbourhoods and localities.”

1/3 of respondents said that the Spaces of Hope dialogues had catalysed something new within their own work. Further, 90% of respondents said that they valued the Spaces of Hope dialogues and would participate in them in the future. Spaces of Hope gatherings continued. All told, 35 dialogues took place in 36 months from October 2016-2019.

The Spaces of Hope dialogues were not without interruptions. For example the Beast from the East cancelled one gathering at short notice. Inconvenient yes, but nothing compared to how we experience things now.  The pandemic struck in March 2020 and lockdown ensued. UK wide research was conducted into the response, including the role of faith groups during the pandemic. This work found that whilst conditions of uncertainty have been accelerated, there was an affinity between local authorities and groups with different beliefs values and worldviews, who had stepped up during the pandemic. Local authorities wanted to capture and preserve this for the future. The report noted,

“Almost every local authority in the study endorses a commitment to build on this and to deepen relationships supporting long-term policy interventions and partnerships in ways that are different to the current practice and norms.”

This was followed up with parliamentary debate in Feb 2021, which suggests a need for networked and values based dialogues is only growing in response to the uncertainties we are facing.

Intra-communities Dialogue

The uncertainty of the last 2 years has forced us to reconsider where we find hope. Face masks have become a symbol of hope. Baking bread between Zoom calls brought hope to our work day, whilst we reconciled ourselves to the stress of the nowhere office. Our morning walk became both acts of obedience; adhering to laws prescribing one piece of exercise per day, and an act of defiance against the virus, glimpsing forgotten freedom, before returning to our COVID induced confines. New frontlines emerged through pop up hubs packing and delivering parcels of hope. Street level organising and WhatsApp groups nurtured new networked responses to the chaos of COVID and opened up spaces of connection within a changed and uncertain landscape, catalysing alliances and empowering local communities, making the case for a new modus operandi.

With this in mind, the question becomes, how are we going to do it? How do we hold together these diverse experiences and discern the leadership we need? Last year the Journal of Dialogue Studies published an article where I set out intra-communities dialogue as mapping and listening to shared matters of concern, of those with different beliefs values and worldviews, sharing and shaping public spaces together. I have given examples of how listening and mapping of this kind can take place.  Intra-communities dialogues is a development and a deepening of the Spaces of Hope approach that succeeded pre-pandemic. I have shown how we might proceed, through networked gatherings and dialogues. With this in mind, I am proposing that we use intra-communities dialogues within new learning communities made up of those who responded to the pandemic in their local community, to reflect on and discern how we Curate Spaces of Hope within post-pandemic society.

In my final blog I will set out what I mean by ‘Curating’ and its implications for local leadership for post pandemic society.

For more information contact Matthew at matthew@spacesofhope.co.uk

Biography: Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell has been working in activism and academia in the north west of England for the past 10 years during which time he developed Spaces of Hope. Matthew is a Research Fellow with the William Temple Foundation and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. During the pandemic Matthew supported local food provision; packing and delivering food parcels in his local community, acted as a trustee of his local church and was a team member delivering UK wide COVID research. Matthew has led work scoping responses to Net Zero in the north west, and is continuing this work through ecological change projects within churches in the north west.  Matthew completed his PhD at Goldsmiths University of London, which discerned and defined Spaces of Hope, offering the basis for new work developing intra – communities dialogue and local leadership. 

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