Connecting King’s Cross and Reinventing Democracy: Lessons from the Action-Takers
11 May 2018 - Impact Hub London

Welcome to another article from the ‘Inside Impact’ series here at Impact Hub King’s Cross. This article from our member, Andy Paice, details the learning and experience that a team of committed Hub members and other changemakers from the local area gained as part of a community cohesion project. Be sure to check out their Reinventing Democracy site for a more in depth understanding of how the project was delivered.


Also if you are interested in transforming democracy check out this insightful video from Andy.

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The U.lab project at Impact Hub Kings Cross (IHKC) was planned in the summer of 2016 in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum result. There was intense polarisation in society and a widespread dissatisfaction with democratic processes.


The project initially focussed on the idea of Reinventing Democracy which took us through a learning journey focusing on the area of Kings Cross. This led to the realisation that any project aiming to transform local democracy first requires greater local cohesion. Thus the Connecting King’s Cross project was born.


Here are the things we’ve learned in this project which developed in January 2017:


About the area of King’s Cross

london-3305569_1920There’s so much to learn about King’s Cross. It’s an extremely diverse area in terms of wealth, ethnicity and culture. It lies at the intersection of the boroughs of Camden and Islington which not long ago was synonymous with drugs, prostitution, poverty and vice. However, it has now been hugely regenerated with the new development, Eurostar, the arrival of Google, Kings Place and Granary square.


Yet there is a large population in social housing that doesn’t necessarily get to experience the benefits of this regeneration.


One huge characteristic of the area is transience. That is partly due to its nature as a rail and underground transport hub, and as a place in which many work but do not live.


The realisation is that there is little existing sense of interconnected community and that the high level of transience makes it a challenging place to build meaningful cohesion.

About building community in King’s Cross

One major takeaway (especially from our September 11th 2017 event) was that convening a space with a large amount of diversity creates transformational learning, important new insights, empathy and greater trust.


These are the qualities we noticed emerge in the shared space at the time of the event. We felt we had impacted people by helping them gain insights about their community that they could carry into their lives. Embedding these qualities in a local area and building mutual support and co-creation nevertheless requires continued outreach and iteration.


This outreach and iterated organising of events itself requires time and sufficient resources which we as a team were lacking and which led to the project coming to its conclusion.


(We did have offers of help in finding grants from our great hosts at IHKC however we didn’t have the time and capacity due to our work and life commitments.)


About convening a really diverse cross section of the community

It became clear from the amount of outreach required to ensure a well attended event with a cross-section of the community that convening power is a very important factor. As a relatively little known group of five individuals approaching various community groups, securing interest was challenging even if the result was worthwhile for the attendees.


Partnering with local councils and businesses would certainly make this easier.


Also providing incentives would be useful for people who do not recognise the value in meeting others from different perspectives or value systems. Local businesses offering attendees discount vouchers for their products and services could be one such way forward.


For anyone tempted to do a similar project one takeaway is the incredible good will that has been shown by the people we approached from all walks of life and the willingness to explore something with a potential for positive change.


What does this mean in terms of the original intention around the idea of Reinventing Democracy?

What was really clear throughout the process is that good group dynamic and internal relationships between us were necessary and had an effect on what we created. When we got too bogged down in logistics we saw the necessity for connection and fun!


The U.lab origins of the project enabled us to explore a wide range of facilitation methods to foster collaboration and cohesion across divides and to validate their worth. Processes such as Stakeholder Interviews, 4D Mapping and Deep Democracy are tools which can enrich democratic process in terms of getting a deeper understanding of a collective situation so that wiser, more effective decisions can be made. Our small successes felt significant and have given us confidence that democratic processes can be transformed by innovative ways of doing things.


What’s next?

In terms of building a local community, a seed has been planted. This looks as though it will continue to grow in the form of the local laboratories that the Alternative UK, a new political platform rooted in building non-partisan community rather than party political bias, have planned to be held at Impact Hub Kings Cross.


Alternative UK is also firmly rooted in the principles of facilitating unity in diversity and collaboration. Our hope is that this website can be a useful resource for their team to build on.


Our team members are continuing initiatives in the field of community building and i’ve now started to reach out to local councils to partner with them in projects designed to elicit the Voice of the Community.


We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our project. If you have any questions please get in touch!