Selby, August 2006

Participants from social centres across the UK held a productive meeting during the Camp for Climate Action in Selby in August. More than 30 people attended but nobody from rampART due to an action.

The meeting was called to inject momentum once again into the evolving social centre network. We had last met in January 2006 (see previous report at end) and had resolved to go away and do a number of things – set up a website working group, set up a process of resource and skill sharing, share tours, and meet again at the end of spring with a more sustained opportunity to talk about the politics behind what we are all doing. For various reasons, nothing had happened. The Climate Camp’s workshop programme offered those of us involved in social centres the chance to meet again within an ‘action- oriented’ environment. Also, the social centre connection to Climate Camp was strong as the Common Place was used as the office and storage space, plus Leeds- based info-point.

At the beginning, those present were asked to introduce themselves and update the network on news from their particular social centres. Here is a brief summary:

i. Existing

Nottingham Sumac

Still going strong, remains huge work effort, problem of volunteers

ASBO

Occupied community centre, been going for a year, resisted eviction; a new group has emerged in Nottingham up for getting a 3rd space

Bristol

Kebele been going 10 years; just paid mortgage; looking to switch from housing coop to community coop

Birmingham

Cottage

ex-council community centre, squatted in July, going well, got computer lab, benefit gigs café, following on from Nursey occupied social centre

Manchester

Basement

located in building of cheap rents, lease up in 2 years, took 6 months of hard work to get open, problems paying rent, looking for funding without being compromised

London

LARC

very extensive library, trying to get local community to use; still useful meeting space, only a few groups using it at moment; The Square diverted a lot of groups its way due to central space

Everything 4 Everyone

focal point for anti-gentrification struggle in Hackney; resisted eviction once; there is an emerging social centre of a Everyone sort in Kensington

Cardiff

PAD

had a number of squatted spaces/rented events; aim to do both; plan to look for squatted space, then do more of a resource centre, having monthly benefits in working man’s club

Leeds

Common Place

got off ground with G8 money, going 18 months, been a blast, lots of gigs, now got full club licence, rent is getting paid; heart of common place is the café, huge problem of regular volunteering, very stretched, seems social centres are dependent on tiny amounts of committed people; now asking – what are we going to do next, is it sustainable.

Bradford

1-in-12 club

novelty gone after 25 years; still going, peaks and troughs; paid/unpaid volunteers an issue, club had to employ people to do jobs that weren’t getting done, shit pay, jobs still aren’t always done, become nasty managers; regular benefit meals / gigs; put on plays, anarchist library, footy team, bar; small town, small collective; most got full-time jobs making volunteering hard; when it works, it works

Oxford

OARC

came out of squatted OCSET centres; used G8 money, rent room in community centre, now run the community centre, success but lots of problems, burn out happening

Lancaster

L-ARC

basement under café, thinking of setting up new place run by different political groups; learnt from experience of The Square that you need an idea b4 starting otherwise loses coherence and purpose

Discussion about volunteering

Recurring theme of meeting was issue of volunteers – all spaces struggling with workload, and attracting people to get involved with the work. Reasons for this discussed were:

– lack of responsibility – can be difficult to volunteer, barriers – lack of political commitment to social centres or lack of shared vision – people hate work, especially unpaid

Solutions discussed were:

– skill-sharing – breaking down the ‘production’ system into small, manageable jobs that anyone can DO e.g. café – a single menu, volunteers do a ‘part’ of the menu – call emergency meeting, say that the place will close, usually works – pay transport, even pay volunteers

There were mixed views about having paid workers. Creates a division, which becomes a producer / consumer divide, we become employers, disciplining staff (!) give in to wage labour system. breaks down self-organisation ethos. But some people cannot ‘afford’ to volunteer – at what point do you compromise to survive?

Sharing events / tours

The meeting heard proposals for a number of shared social centres tours / events:

– Rossport Solidarity Camp in Ireland, supporting local community against Shell pipeline, want to do a tour of UK social centres in November – Women from Russian G8 and German G8 mobilisation – September – Screeners network: social centres to volunteer to show films / have shared seasons

Long discussion was then had on ‘how’ social centres can share tours, put on joint events. One problem encountered was that there was no up to date list of current social centres with contact details of who / how to get in touch. This made contacting each other very difficult. Most people at the gathering weren’t even on the main social centres network list.

The meeting heard various proposals:

– have a dedicated person from each social centre dealing with social centre tours / shared stuff – have a database of contacts for tours, screenings, resource sharing – have a promoting group made up of people from different social centres who took on organising, promoting tours / book launches etc – book out a set day of the month per social centre when shared events can take place – set up a new email list for shared tours /events – set up / update an up to date website or holding page with all contacts / ways of getting in touch with different spaces . phone numbers essential.

It was argued that booking a regular specific time / date space for each social centre as part of a shared events initiative will not work for some social centres due to (a) huge booking demands (b) huge booking bureaucracy.

It was agreed: – to update existing e-list as first step: no new lists! [done] – put an up to date list of social centres and best way of contacting them online [ done – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ UK_Social_Centre_Network] – come back to next gathering with a more concrete system of sharing events

Website

At the last gathering, a website working group was formed to come up with proposed designs and specification for a shared website. For various reasons, not much has happened. Paul (common place) brought some designs for an interim website (see http://www.orangeideas.co.uk/ clients/scn/Design%202.htm) based on a portal idea. The home page would be a map of the UK and Eire. Each space – social centre, resource centre, radical café, autonomous community centre, info shop – would be located on the map and as the mouse rolled over any particular space, it would become larger, with a brief pop description and a link, taking you straight to the website of that particular space. The site would have a number of links to section about social centres, resources, links, history, and a newswire RSS feed from Indymedia Free Spaces.

Social centres booklet

Paul and Stu distributed a short overview essay they had written on social centres that will be published in a journal called City. This had been an offshoot of the social centre tour they completed in January as research for a chapter in the forthcoming popular education handbook by Trapese (www.trapese.org)

During that tour, they had done interviews, many recorded, with a dozen social centres and other similar spaces about their histories, ambitions, activities and had sent transcripts back to each social centre for their own use. There was strong interest among social centres for a booklet or pamphlet on social centres – Paul / Stu wanted to know what people wanted to do with the huge amounts of information they had gathered, how to proceed with a publication, who wanted to be involved, what kind of format etc. They mentioned their research project on autonomous spaces and that this could help finance the design, printing and distribution of the pamphlet.

The feedback was positive. Some ideas were discussed:

– practical pamphlet for social centres and interested people: contacts, short histories, explanations, location, how to get involved, tips / advice etc

Resource-sharing

Following Liverpool’s request for solidarity with the construction of their new social centre, we discussed how to share resources and help. It was agreed that some kind of database with info on who has: building skills, legal training, licensing, funding experience, actual resources, where to get things from like Zap coffee, coffee machines, cinema, techie skills etc. The idea of social centres combining a gathering with an invitation to come up and help out on a project in the social centre or as part of a wider political campaign, action, mobilisation was also mentioned again.

More gatherings

It was agreed that a gathering twice a year would be useful and necessary. It was hoped that each social centre would offer to host on a rotational basis and that it was preferred to keep meetings in the centre of the UK as much as possible.

Bradford 1 in 12 Club offered to host the next gathering in December as a symbolic end to their 25th anniversary year.

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