Hello Folks! Another episode is up! And for this particular Coworking Values Podcast episode, we welcome one of our old friends from Stir to Action, Stephanie Gamauf who is the Co-Founder and producer for the coworking community called Ourspaceprojects in Brixton. She is a passionate community organizer.
Stephanie will be talking about social entrepreneurship and all about the incoming Stir To Action Festival wherein she will be speaking in about Exploring Authentic Community Engagement. The Stir To Action Festival will be happening on September 1-3.
What is Social Entrepreneurship?
I think social entrepreneurship is so much part of the work that we’re doing. Ended up doing.
I love social entrepreneurship and I feel like it’s, it’s what will shape a future in the long run.
Probably difference might be social entrepreneurship can be such a broad term.
And it doesn’t necessarily talk about the setup and the legal and governance setup of a business.
Whereas, the work that we’re involved in which direction that I’m really interested in.
Best refer to my freelance work is democratic business and cooperatives and the idea that there is no necessarily any hierarchy at all in an organization.
What can you tell us about the Stir To Action workshops?
So one of the things that said we’re actually going to run the “New Economy” program, which is a brilliant training program where basically people who are involved in initiatives, under the umbrella term of the “New Economy”, facilitate training.
And we have usually that was face to face for the workshops, one of them is the workshop that I lead in our spaces for on coworking spaces and inclusion, that Bernie came to, but we also had workshops happening on community finance on decolonizing economics and various topics when Covid happened, we put this program online.
And, yeah, I personally am involved as a syndicator, and the latest workshop that I ran was on community engagement and finding ways to move out of this crisis by really engaging a broad range of different people and organize outside of our usual suspect bubbles.
Bernie J Mitchel 0:03
Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this week’s amazing episode of the Coworking Values Podcast. The sweetest smelling coworking podcast in Europe at the moment.
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:14
For the second time in the intro of the episode, you’re telling people how we smell. So this is an audio podcast what do they care about how we smell?
Bernie J Mitchel 0:27
Because that’s what Robin Williams used to say in Good Morning Vietnam…
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:39
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Bernie J Mitchel 1:13
So, this week’s guest is Stephanie, who is from the Impact Brixton Organization and Stephanie, do correct me if I’m wrong, Stephanie. Stephanie and I met when she ran a workshop with Stir to Action at Space4 in Finsbury Park, about building a community coworking space, is that right?
That is right Bernie. It feels like ages ago, doesn’t it?
Bernie J Mitchel 1:40
That might have been as much as three years ago and I love Stir to Action and the magazine, and I was delighted to come along to that. I was delighted to find Stir to Action doing something about local coworking communities in my favourite Finsbury Park coworking space, Space4. So, one of the things is like, what are you up to now and say a bit about the conference coming up with Stir to Action in September so we can frame it for people. And then we’ll dive into how all the work you were already doing is even more applicable to the situation we’re in now in the world.
Thank you, Bernie. So, I would describe myself as a community organizer and coworking activist. I work for myself, but my background is very much Impact Brixton, a coworking space in Brixton, with a strong community focus. That’s where I learn everything about coworking, really. And also about its relevance for the local community, not just for the freelancing community in general or as a whole, but really for a local community and people who want to get involved in entrepreneurship. And I see that as one of the real potentials of coworking also right now in this crisis that we’re facing – Happy to talk about that in a bit. And the other thing I’m involved in is Stir to Action, another organizational family of mine, Worker Co-op that is aiming to build a better, fairer economy for all, and doing this through educational work, different projects, different trainings, and also a quarterly magazine, that’s actually just come out. Welcome everyone to check it out on stirtoaction.com. And also, if you want to write for it, you’re very welcome to get in touch as well. If you have a great idea about a piece of work that you do that you feel like is worth spreading.
Bernie J Mitchel 3:41
What are the main topics on Stir to Action?
Anything that falls within the remit of alternative economics and the new economy. So, does it help?
Bernie J Mitchel 3:56
Definitely helps. That’s what’s very exciting about it, is that it’s a very well thought out way of explaining how we don’t have to buy into mindless consumer society and that we can contribute to our local community, and that’s how it occurs for me. Is that an accurate representation of the publication?
Absolutely. It’s the nail on the… what’s the saying? Help me out…
Zeljko Crnjaković 4:27
On the head, but for the people listening in maybe, Bernie’s encompassing interpretation of what it is about isn’t enough. So can you give us a couple of examples of topics.
So for example, we would publish articles on community wealth building initiatives. We would publish examples on local councils running a citizen’s assembly and really involving local people in decision making. And we would run trainings on initiatives where the community is coming together and buy shares. So they could purchase a community building and save it from demolition. And so it always comes back to this idea of bottom up organizing of really inclusive community led economics and shifting power from the few to the many.
Zeljko Crnjaković 5:51
I don’t know if it correlates. I know we have a phrase here locally. I don’t know if it correlates in in English, like social entrepreneurship. Is that correct?
It is, and social entrepreneurship is so much part of the work that we’re doing and that I’m doing. I love social entrepreneurship, and I feel like it’s what will shape a future in the long run. Probably the difference might be that social entrepreneurship can be such a broad term. And it doesn’t necessarily talk about the set-up and the legal and government setup of a business. Whereas the work that we’re involved in at Stir to Action, and I’m really interested in as well for my freelance work is democratic business, and cooperatives and the idea that there is not necessarily any hierarchy at all In an organization.
Zeljko Crnjaković 7:03
Stir to Action is a publication right?
Stir to Action is a worker cooperative and Stir Magazine is the publication. It comes out on a quarterly basis.
Zeljko Crnjaković 7:14
Bernie mentioned something about some workshops. So, what is within that?
So one of the things that Stir to Action does is run the new economy program, which is a brilliant training program where basically people who are involved in different initiatives under the umbrella term of the new economy, facilitate trainings. And usually that was face-to-face for their workshops. One of them is the workshop that I lead in Space4 on Coworking Spaces and Inclusion, that Bernie came to, but we also had workshops happening on Community Finance, on Decolonizing Economics and various topics. When COVID happened, we put this program online. And I personally am involved as a facilitator and our latest workshop that I ran was on Community Engagement and finding ways to move out of this crisis by really engaging a broad range of different people and organize outside of our usual suspect bubbles.
Zeljko Crnjaković 8:28
And did you see any kind of a change when you took the workshops online? So, the change in interest, the change in the audience, the change in effect, that the workshops deliver, so as many organizations needed to take their activities online. So what positive or negative effects did you notice?
It was all in all, an incredibly positive experience. One of the biggest advantages was that we were now able to offer these workshops at a much lower rate, which meant that X’s increased significantly. And also, before that when we were running the full day workshops, people had to travel. These travel costs are not necessary anymore. And it just meant that we got the more diverse audience and we’re able to reach out and engage new people that we might not have been able to. It’s definitely not the same sense of connection. But I sometimes wonder whether that actually happens in a full day workshop. I feel like to really build deeper relationships in such a way that collaborations and support might happen long after a workshop, you almost need several training days. But I feel this instant sharing of best practice and an inspiration and finding out what else is happening, that really can be done online, and I’m almost happy and glad that COVID forced us to figure that out.
Zeljko Crnjaković 10:38
That’s fantastic, because a lot of people took their activities online felt it’s not just adapting to the online environment, it’s about also audience engagement. So because a lot of audiences needed that online change to and adapt to the activity that are remote, But right now we’re seeing a lot of people just being saturated with a lot of online activities. And I don’t know if it’s the summer or if it’s just a situation, but a lot of people are staying off and waiting to see if other possibilities of real life events are going to happen. So, you’re being able to keep up with the interest of the audience.
Yeah, absolutely. And I definitely feel that too, I don’t think that our online work can ever replace the offline work. And as everyone, I absolutely hope that we will be able to share a workshop space again in the future. But I think it teaches us the lesson of that there is this opportunity as well, and to really figure out when is it necessary to be in a room together and to build connections in such a way that we can look at each other’s eyes and share a meal in the same room. And when is it actually okay to exchange and connect and work together remotely.
Zeljko Crnjaković 12:25
I want to spin off a bit on something you said at the beginning and I love your title that you gave yourself ‘coworking activists’. What is a co working activists actually?
I really gave that to myself. Today! I usually would describe myself as a community organizer, and so much of my work happened in coworking spaces, so it just makes sense to have that as part of the title. Well, for me, the idea is that there is a lot of potential in coworking space that is not necessarily harnessed. And I feel like ‘activist’ describes the idea of changing something into something more radical. So, I’ve used that term because I feel like often the senses that coworking spaces are a desk space for freelancers. And that’s it. And in my experience, I have seen coworking spaces becoming almost like spaces for citizens assemblies, spaces for real local decision making, and prototyping.
I’ve seen our local coworking space be the innovation place where people from across the bar, food activists and food growers and anyone, working on local food distribution and growing came together to think through how to improve our local food systems. And the thing that they came out with and through this energy that is entrepreneurial energy that our coworking space has, the thing that they come up with is a community fringe that is now centrally located in Brixton, a place for surplus food where different shops and supermarkets put any food in that will go to waste, and the local community has access to it. I mean, that’s a brilliant product that came out of a coworking space that managed to also be more than just space and really integrate itself into what’s happening locally.
Bernie J Mitchel 14:52
Something I was going to ask you about, in terms of online versus offline Steph, and a big part of Impact Hub culture and what you folks have done down in Brixton, is that open project night… Can you say a little bit about what that is? Because I’ve seen so many good things come from that over the years like particularly radical childcare in Impact Birmingham, but what is Open Project Night and how are you handling that? Is it just online now and that is just so important. How are you dealing with that?
Yes, it is online now, actually. And so, maybe just to describe what it actually is. It used to be -BC before COVID – it was a space for local groups, volunteers, residents, curious minds to just pop their head into a coworking space on a Monday night. Every Monday night, we would run Open Project Night. People can come in, we have some food, there is some people chatting to each other figuring out who they are. And then a facilitator would allow them to break into groups, figure out the different topics that they want to discuss or work on. And people could also flow between the different meetings that are happening. But it’s really like this idea of opening the coworking space up to local organizing and just all the things that I described before. And one of the main things in order for that to happen was the space because that’s literally what local groups were lacking an affordable or actually free space for them to meet to have a discussion, especially volunteering groups, or newly set up social enterprises that just don’t have the income to pay for hiring costs.
So, when COVID happened, it was a big question of – okay, how do we keep Open Project Nights still going because the groups might as well set up their own Zoom calls? They don’t actually need a facilitator that puts them into breakout rooms. It’s just not the same situation. So Open Project Nights was stripped back to its absolute essence which was bringing people together to figure out what’s happening locally, and what we need to do. So we just ran our second Open Project Night this week on Monday evening. Another topic, Build Back Fairer and Better and Greener, and we were bringing together the business improvement district members of the council, Different local organizers and community groups to talk about potential strategies for economic recovery in Brixton. So, yes, Open Project Night is back. It’s happening. And I have no idea where it’s going to go. And, what’s going to happen. It’s just been absolutely fascinating to be part of this process of realizing, Oh, yeah, that’s the essence of it, that’s what’s needed right now. And we’re coming together under this brand, which was quite beautiful to see.
Bernie J Mitchel 18:36
So what’s always intrigued me about that Open Project Night and Open Space, which is your other project. You do the same thing, isn’t it?
Well, yeah, pretty much and it’s called Our Space and the idea was to bring this idea of Open Project Night to other community centres. And I didn’t want to call it Open Project Night because I didn’t want to just import an already made project, but much rather build capacity in different community centres for them to figure out what kind of event, process, project, program it is that they want to run. And that allows them to have these conversations and that activity taking place in their space. Hence, the change of name to Our Space.
Bernie J Mitchel 19:36
There’s something about the idea of – personally I think it’s more to do with the amount of marketing budget available to some organizations, coworking – when I ask people; do you know what coworking is? They go, oh, do you mean like WeWork or, before WeWork, they go oh, that’s for start-up people, like blokes doing start-ups and it’s not. It can be. there’s nothing wrong with doing that, But there’s this kind of it’s a place for entrepreneurs in a cool member’s club, rather than it’s a space in the community where people doing anything can come and get started and running businesses like MainYard, the space I’m in has, IT support companies for local primary schools, people making clothes, people writing, there’s a publishing company and there is a Nigerian publishing company based in our space. There’s a doctor who does teach to other doctors how to do marketing. And it’s a lot of businesses and there are people who are starting stuff, like in the book Rework, they’re starters, not Alan Sugar and Richard Branson type wannabes. So how do you pull that essence out of a local community so people see themselves as people who can earn a living and be independent economic agents rather than, going to Harvard and getting an MBA to be a business person. Did you know that was a bit of a rant? Sorry, but you know what I mean?
It’s difficult to answer that, I feel like maybe COVID is actually going to force us into the direction even more because people will realize that they have to be their own economic agents.
Bernie J Mitchel 21:36
That is what I’m hoping for that this this this is available. It’s like, democratize starting your own project is, is what I would hope would come out of here.
And also the necessity for local space. Now that people won’t be commuting anymore to that extent. People still need to work from a different place than just their own their own homes.
Bernie J Mitchel 22:09
Just before we got into this podcast, I was talking to David Brown, who’s in our next podcast, and he’s opened A Good Space, which he deliberately calls a Neighbourhood Space. And that is in Queen’s Park. I can’t remember the exact figure, but he’s had enough for us all on the call to go, oh my goodness, that’s a lot of new members, and they live locally. And previously they would have gotten on a train and gone into town. And now they’re looking for somewhere to work locally. As much as we love our families, being in the same space for so long, by the time of this recording is probably four months. For a lot of people it’s a lot to take, and also they feel the need for the commute has been forced out of us. And now we can think; so we don’t need to open the same computer at home, pack it up, and take it to work, open it again, do some work and come back. And there’s all these arguments, you need to be near people. I would hope that we find the need to be near people in our local area rather than commuting.
Bernie J Mitchel 23:27
So now I’m going to shift gears a little bit here after that little rant. How do you think people have been affected by this? The people who aren’t able to work remotely, the people that don’t depend on the internet for their service? And people who don’t bash the keyboard all day to earn a living. How are you finding they’ve been affected in local communities?
I think that the effects have been quite horrendous really. And either they’re working in frontline jobs like the NHS or delivery or in kitchens, or they actually might have seen the jobs cut, which is something that we’ve seen in Brixton happening. Especially because of the decline of the night time economy. Lots of people working in a night time economy I’ve seen, have lost their jobs. I think the gap in inequality between those who can afford to work remotely and those who are doing other kind of work is increasing immensely, which means that inequality locally is on the increase as well. And I think there is a lot of responsibility on the government well, and in a way on all of us who work in entrepreneurial ways to think how can we create work in such a way to ensure that this won’t be the most devastating unemployment crisis that we’ve seen in a very, very long time?
Bernie J Mitchel 25:34
Am I just being idealistic to think that people could have this space as we call it, like a coworking space or a collaborative workspace or community space where people go and do work, is that people would come together and start conversations with each other and regenerate the local environment. The people listening to this might think I’m being a bit ideal with that, but I’ve seen enough stuff as I hunt around over the last few weeks, where that is something that could happen, and someone who is in the trenches in Brixton working with people before doing that kind of thing beforehand. Do you feel like oh yeah, this could be the moment or is it like, Oh my god, this is just too much to deal with?
I really hope this is the moment. And I love your idealism. I think it’s so needed for us to have that right now. And always see opportunity in crisis, but I do also see some questions coming up. For example, if I think about the people, let’s use that example of the Brixton night time economy, nightclubs that have not reopened anymore, and people who used to work there as bouncers or as bar staff, and who just haven’t had the opportunity to return to work, how are we going to engage them in identifying new pathways out of this crisis – new economic pathways? We would need to come together physically at least. And I don’t think it’s going to be that straightforward. I think it’s going to take a long time. And we really need to be very creative in figuring out how we can have those conversations with as many people on the table as possible, Taking into consideration some of the technological gaps and the educational gaps. And I really think designing solutions in a human centered way in such a way that has people that have been most affected, at the heart of it.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:06
That’s great. Can you say a little bit about the Stir to Action event? Is it on the first of September?
First until the third. I’m not entirely wrong, but I think that’s what it is. It’s Stir to Action Festival which will happen online, we have an incredible line-up of speakers, and the festival program will actually be published this week. I definitely recommend everyone to come and join our sessions. You can just join for an hour or half an hour. There’s different activities happening and it really is a playground for the new economy. So also, if you’re new to this, if you’re just dipping your toes into community organizing and new economic thinking, that’s a great place to do that, and to learn from some of the organizers who have been involved in this work for decades.
Bernie J Mitchel 29:14
Exactly. And normally you’d have to go all the way to Somerset and live in a tent for three days and pay all that travel and everything, and the ticket price. And because it’s online, it’s only 10 pounds for three days’ worth of, I would say confidently some of the most interesting and progressive well thought out people in the UK at this moment in time, including Impact Hub, and the whole flat pack democracy guys and girls are there as well. So we’ll put a link in the show notes for that. I’ve noticed Stir to Action for ages and they’ve popped up in all the good places over the years. So, if you want to think outside the box, I’d recommend that – this is not a sponsored podcast – I’m just very enthusiastic about what you and Johnny do there. Anything to add before we hit the road, uncle Zeljko?
Zeljko Crnjaković 30:06
No. I’m listening carefully and overjoyed to see more and more stuff going online and without any actual negative effects that are not spilling over from the real life events to online events, just keeping the energy flowing and keeping the activities going.
Bernie J Mitchel 30:33
Ladies and gentlemen, as always, if you’re listening, well, you’re listening, because you heard me say that, go to coworkingassembly.eu and sign up for our email list where you get updates every week about our blogs and our podcasts. And we’re heading towards our own big online event, which will be a webinar with Antonin from Cutwork and Leticia who is a friend of ours, she writes about future of work and women in the workplace and feminism and stuff like that. And our working topic at the moment, and we’ll let it out as we go along is about the 15 Minute City, and how a lot of what we talked about in that podcast is being very locally focused with our coworking spaces, how to help people start businesses and how to grow our own coworking organization. Coworkingassembly.eu and don’t forget to subscribe in Apple, Google, Spotify, Overcast, wherever you get your podcasts from. Have a great day, stay safe and be excellent to each other. Thank you very much, folks.