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

25 Apr 2022

This blog is the first 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 3rd and 10th May. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic has impacted us in ways we could not have imagined two years ago. It is just one of an increasing number of global movements transforming our lives. We have experienced years of austerity following the global financial crash in 2008, we are facing the consequences of Brexit, a Climate Emergency, the COVID-19 Pandemic, the War in Ukraine, an energy crisis, and a new cost of living crisis in the UK. How might we live in these uncertain times?

In this series of blogs, I will set out a possible way for answering this question.  The first blog will set out context for our experiences of uncertainty and an approach that has become known as ‘Curating Spaces of Hope’. I will set out what this is, how it emerged from contexts of uncertainty, and what it might offer us now. I will then introduce the tools that have been produced as part of Spaces of Hope, intra-communities dialogue, and an approach to local leadership, which I will discuss further in blogs two and three, exploring the possibilities they open up for post-pandemic society.

Living in uncertain times:

The pandemic precipitated paralysis in people’s lives. Social isolation was imposed upon us. Emergency legislation limited our ability to leave our homes, see our friends and family and go to work. If we were lucky that was as bad as it got. Financial and food poverty were exacerbated, and what had been described as a mental health crisis was accelerated. We faced a silent and pervasive foe to which we had no resistance and to which we are only now considering how to live with it. We lived hybrid lives. 

Our digital lives offered both solace and a sad substitute for social connection. Loved ones died without anyone at their side. Weddings were cancelled. These experiences came hot on the heels of Brexit, which opened up and laid bare the divisions in the UK, across the nations in our union and locally where tribes of ‘brexiteers’ or a ‘remainers’ delineated differences about what and who we were for, and against. 

Always on the horizon is the global Climate Emergency. The COP26 climate conference brought hope of a climate sea change amongst the pandemic storm. The target of Net Zero has sparked activism and galvanised individuals to hold industries and institutions to account.  And now we see War in Europe. Whilst we do not have to face conflict directly ourselves, it is all too close. How we support those suffering is a live question. Ructions following sanctions on Russia, sets the stage for a cost of living crisis affecting our day to day lives.

As we emerge from lockdown, the ‘Living with COVID’ policy is hot off the press. Therein we are faced with three considerations. 1) life is uncertain and will not look like it did before. 2) legal limits are being lifted, but risks remain. 3) We are faced with adapting how we live in an uncertain world, becoming more resilient, beginning with taking personal responsibility. The time is now ripe to innovate and to determine for ourselves and collectively what life looks like in a post-pandemic society.

Curating Spaces of Hope

The response I am proposing is ‘Curating Spaces of Hope’. This has emerged from my own personal journey of suffering and sense making, catalysed by the 2008 global financial crash, austerity, unemployment, loneliness and isolation, abuse and discrimination. It was a journey traversing uncertain and complex issues, necessitating personal reflection and exploration of how the beliefs and values we hold relate to day to day life, work, social relationships, and our capacity to live and work in a healthy and hopeful way. From 2010-2020 this journey changed from a personal piece of reflection, to a social movement of over 900 people, all contributing, each from their own experiences, to the iterative development of a framework and way of working pertinent to producing fruit out of uncertain times.

Curating Spaces of Hope then is a response to the uncertain, uninvited and unexpected experiences that shape our lives. It is at once a personal response to the wide variety of difficulties that life presents us with and also a productive and pioneering paradigm that offers a means of mapping the content of our lives and coproducing nuanced and creative solutions to the shared problems we now face. What I am proposing, is to use Spaces of Hope to develop intra-communities dialogues, which will allow people to reflect on and map what has happened to them, and also to equip them to develop local leadership as a compass to guide us through the uncertainty in our lives.  In the next blog I will set out what I mean by intra-communities dialogues and what it might mean for us in post-pandemic society.

For more information contact Matthew at

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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