There is another way: POP Brixton is proving it

POP Brixton is fulfilling its promise of creating a sustainable and community minded business park, and in the process helping Lambeth move community benefit from Corporate social responsibility to core business. 

At the heart of the POP Brixton experiment is our desire to create and encourage a socially driven business community which sees itself as part of the wider Brixton community. Onsite the more commercial operators subsidise rents for the 13 start up and social enterprise tenants who pay between 20% and 50% of full rent; all tenants were chosen on the basis of being local (over 70% are from Lambeth), diverse (over 50% are from BAME backgrounds) and whether they paid the London living wage (over 70%).

The event space is offered to local community groups and voluntary sector organisations at a discounted rate or free for at least 25% of the time and has already been delivering some fantastic opportunities for local groups. Inspiring butterflies have delivered personal development and wellbeing support for local young women, Bounceback did a work day for ex-offenders and tedxbrixton hosted a discussion day on Brixton, as well as work experience events and school trips starting with 350 young people from Sudbourne Primary school doing the 1st school art installation. There are more examples here.

Indeed this activity has gone someway in satisfying sceptics to the extent that “‘Another Lambeth is possible”, a collection of anti gentrification groups (some of whom have been highly critical of POP Brixton as a symbol of gentrification) will be enjoying the space for a discussion and debate about The topic on November 28th.

Every business at POP Brixton has to volunteer time as part of their lease

If those things have been about how we can shape a supportive business community on site, the next stage will see POP Brixton really start to deliver out in the community. We are partnering with Brixton£ to deliver the ongoing community give back from businesses which was an original expectation of POP. All tenants signed up to giving an hour per week to support this and I am hugely excited about how we can encourage a cultural shift amongst the business community, that being involved in the community is not just an add on or a good corporate PR story, but that being part of a healthy community is also good for business. Enlightened self interest if you will.

I meet businesses all the time across the borough who want to be able to give back to their communities or be more involved. There are barriers like time, capacity and organisation but the appetite to deliver work experience, training, provide for local jobs or partner will local community groups is huge. It is a massive resource we can tap into.

So POP as an experiment for us in the Council is key to practicing and testing the things that we want to see done in a small way, so we can learn the lessons to do it bigger and better across the borough. The jobs and social value that a postage stamp of land is delivering on POP Brixton is already surpassing some of our expectations but the potential for embedding business in the heart of the community is huge.

If every business community in the borough were engaged to deliver social value in the same way then many of the challenges our residents face could be tackled much more effectively. We need all hands on deck as the Tories seek to divide and destroy our communities and local businesses must play their part. I am confident they will with a little help from their friends in the public and community sectors.

Notes on the project

A three month timeframe is anticipated to get the project up and running with a steering group being formed to determine which applications get to use of the free space at POP. A public workshop to help shape the project will be held on the 3rd of December from 6pm to 8pm at POP Brixton. Applications for involvement should be submitted to Tom@brixtonpound.org by the 11th of December with the final group being confirmed just before Christmas.

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When helping vulnerable people into work, local works best

Lambeth has been working in partnership with Southwark and Lewisham to help those with complex needs into work, and getting much better results than the programmes commissioned centrally by Government, all without the need for punitive coercion. We need that budget and responsiblity devolved down to the local level so our vulnerable residents get the support and opportunities they need. 

Lambeth enjoys an employment rate above the London average which is great for the majority, but which also masks some worrying trends. Too many people are languishing on low paid or insecure jobs. Unemployment, particularly amongst certain hard to reach groups, remains high and because of the Tories’ punitive regime, many of our residents are simply not appearing in their statistics. We however know they still need support to get into work.
As usual the Tories’ rhetoric doesn’t match up to the reality. Their claims to be creating a high wage, high skills economy is laughable when they are busy cutting the tax credits of the lowest paid. Over 15,000 families in Lambeth will be affected. A low earning single parent with a child could be up to £1,000 per year worse off. We all know the deficit has to come down, but targeting the least well off is perverse.

They are failing people who are out of work too. Behind the headlines, long term unemployment remains stubbornly high. It is worst amongst ‘hard to reach groups’. The Government’s Work Programme is producing poor results for these people, a failing identified by the Commons Public Accounts Committee: “those in greatest need are not getting the help they need… and are instead being parked by providers because their case is deemed just too hard.”

Of course there is no easy solution, but the success of a joint Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark scheme called “Pathways to Employment” shows that the Government could do worse than look to Labour local authorities for examples of what works. Pathways focuses on four “hardest to help” groups; those aged 18-24, aged 50+, single parents and people with low level mental health needs. Cllr Joe Dromey has also written about his take on it from Lewisham here.

Last week it was praised in a report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Welfare to Work, which noted the “very good” early results. Around 20% of participants had entered paid employment and this figure is expected to rise to 30% by the end of the year-long pilot in November 2015. By contrast, barely 4% of ESA claimants achieved three months of work after a year on the Work Programme.
Giving evidence before the Committee, Roby Fairman, Lambeth’s Lead identified integration with local services as being key. All job seekers are assigned a key worker and that person helps identify and address issues normally outside the scope of the Job Centre. That could be problems with debt, health issues or, most commonly, housing. One woman helped through the scheme had been out of work for several years and had accumulated significant debt. Her caseworker referred her to a debt agency who helped her structure a realistic re-payment plan. She was then supported to prepare a CV, and, with careful support, eventually found work as an Admin Support Officer at a care agency.

At a local level we are better able to remove barriers, usually across a range of partners which only a local authority is able to pull together effectively; we are able to ensure that local community and voluntary sector partners are able to provide and that other providers with whom our clients engage get the right training and signposting they need so all agencies deal with the individual as a real person, not a statistic.

There are dozens of such success stories and the potential for many more if the Government makes the right call. As we bang the drum for further devolution from Whitehall alongside expected independent think tanks such as the Insitute for Government did in a recent report here, smart, locally designed programmes, sensitive to local needs like Pathways to Employment, are a great example of what can be achieved. So Government, give us the budget, local knows best.