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

10 May 2022

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:

  • incarnational; where the potential we have is made real by the things that we do.
  • negotiated in that we understand what can be done and develop this in conjunction with and with respect for others.
  • Including different roles and responsibilities. It might be that we are specialists in a given subject, or generalists in that we wear different hats. Both are needed. Both have value.
  • Both formal and informal. It might be that we are a local leader by profession; appointed within an organisation, or we might have been voted into office to represent the views of swaths of people. Or it might be that we are a local leader in a more informal sense bringing invaluable service through the things we do and the associations we have, whether we know it or not.

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:

  • Freedom: this is the potential we have within us and the ability we have to make that real and tangible. Put simply, taking responsibility within our circumstances and sharing the fullest possible expression of our personality.
  • Relationship: We are in relationship with everyone and everything around us, from the people we love to the places we live, to the rest of the world as we see it. The principle of relationship helps us to understand the freedom that we have positively, in terms of freedom for others, as opposed to freedom from others.
  • Service: the expression of freedom, in relationship with others is, service. Service is the incarnation of the potential that we each have and the expression of leadership in the multitude of different ways that this manifests itself.
  • 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.
  • 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 an outward question for others to answer about whether what we are doing is truly hopeful and hope filled.

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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