Missions, models, money

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Speirs Locks in Glasgow is an emerging creative hub for small businesses and new communities of all sorts. The plan for change in this part of the city is incremental and open ended: it is an organic process, that unfolds by conversation and people doing things together.

Daniel Burnham, Chicago city designer and visionary in an age of big government. ‘Make no small plans’ he famously said, ‘they have no magic to stir men’s blood’. Today what stirs people’s blood is nothing happening in our urban places, where the dynamic of change, what it is and how it is managed is less clear and harder to achieve than any time in our recent history. The lessons of history tell us that big ideas inspire. Small incremental actions galvanise, because they are about making things happen. Take this notion for example: part of the challenge for the recent Birmingham Big City plan was to look at how to make public transport the most civilised mode of travel in the city. How do you re-invent the image and perception of something that already exists? Reframing the identity, purpose and use of what we have requires vision. It requires stirring emotion and initiating action. It requires new missions by collaborators, new models of thinking, new ways of thinking about money. This is the vision for the emerging creative hub of Speirs Locks in Glasgow.

Recognising the potential of a well placed location in the city of Glasgow, with good links, a canal and a wealth of cultural industries collectives are forming to exploit the potential of the site as a place of creative entrepreneurship. This is, simply, business with purpose achieved by working collaboratively. This is part of the principle of Jane Jacob’s vision of the rich tapestry of city making, of Richard Florida’s creative city according to Gary Watt of the Glasgow Canal Partnership, who are leading the development of Speirs Locks.

The purpose of collaborative working is sometimes commercial, sometimes social, sometimes community and environmental. The businesses form and prosper through collaboration, people doing things together. Simple idea, but not one that is always the basis of business formation in Scotland. Since the Business Birthrate Enquiry identified a lesser level of business formation and scaling in Scotland, there have been many attempts at righting this challenge. Why is this, what can be done? Perhaps at the simplest level one thing is to build the conditions for people to do things together: it can be lonely as an entrepreneur, taking risks and burden on your own. Sharing the jouney with others seems to work better. Examples like the Hub in London, or The Melting Pot in Edinburgh show that it can work, it does work. It works as a model because people start to form different collaborations, enabled by sharing, local purchasing, mentoring and socialising: community building. This collaborative way of supporting place based business requires us to look again at models of placebuilding, models of how we see and value transactions commercial and social, how we value to input of others, how we build sustainable social collectives that support people and ideas. This is the mission for Speirs Locks. It is about innovation, social innovation.

Tackling the mission is about first sharing understanding of what works, and looking anew at the potential of what already exists. The Whisky Bond in Speirs Locks for example is a large building which will soon be colonised by artist collaborators and creative businesses says David Watt from the Glasgow Sculpture Studios. A new community of creating and practice will form here, based on shared values, shared use of space and skills. This sharing and collaboration creates new relationships, and new businesses, such as the Community Interest Company at the Glue Factory, or the spin out small business Atelier supporting the cultural industries on site, or the scaling up of a local micro brewery. The model for how this place works is emerging through enthusiasm and conversation, conversations which are participative, and pragmatic.

Change is all about moments, moments in time where some action is translated into practices. Indy Johar, co founder of the Hub says that we are at an interesting moment. This is a moment where there is new thinking about collaboration, re-valuing skills, open source sharing of ideas, time and resources. Money as a means of enabling transactions, as a means of enabling action can be thought of in many ways, from many sources. If we think micro massive, the build up of lots of small elements to make new ecologies of funding and investment where purpose drives the incentive to invest and collaborate, we start to see new potential in new models. The challenge is to explore further, collaborate more, engage. This generates the magic that compels individuals to act. Visionary planning in a period of uncertainty may be about creative re-thinking of what we have to build networks of possibilities. This is different. Making it tangible requires conversation, sharing ideas, sharing space, sharing time. The potential though is huge.

See Indy Johar share his opinions on how Speirs Locks’s urban regeneration could engender a vibrant economic ecology.

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