As well as working on our own plan to make MFO completely self sustaining by 2014, and doing all we can to get justice on the UK pilot of the Organisation Workshop for Marsh Farm, as 'community organisation facilitators' we do all we can to help good people in the community kick start not for private profit project ideas, events, campaigns and other stuff.
Some (but not all) of the activities we are currently either developing or supporting are:
A newly forming social enterprise Go Kart track with 12 Go Karts (adult and children). The project plan we are supporting was created by and for young people on the estate, and involves the setting up of a sustainable business charging affordable prices for taking part in a town wide Go Kart race, touring the town's school car parks for 'heats' using a mobile track, ending up with each schools fastest drivers competing in a town centre finale. This could create jobs and training opportunities as well as access to an affordable Go Karting experience for the town's youngsters.
Community Environmental Improvements
Residents are happy to put their elbows to work turning an open space used for dumping rubbish into an enclosed communal garden. It sounds great so we've supported it but turns out its much easier said than done when the council are putting up the money for the materials! So as Sam Cooke would say "its been a lo-o-ong, a long time comin, but we kno-o-o-ow that fence will come, oh yes it will". Our council are good folks but the systems are crazy so hopefully we can use the experience of this bloddy fence to make sure the next group of residents who are willing to get their hands dirty to make the place better are treated in a much better way and dont grow old waiting for the change to come .
A soon to be starting up local internet radio with music, chat and an 8 line phone in facility for stimulating unafraid community debates around important local (RevoLutonary) and national issues. Exciting stuff, gonna be based at our Marsh House HQ…tune in soon!
Urban Literacy Classes
A unique learning experience designed for young people who don't learn easily or well in the traditional classroom setting. By intelligent combination of the widespread attraction among young people to Hip Hop and rap lyrics, with informal peer to peer learning in the community, this course will be designed and delivered by the countries leading, most intelligent and conscious rap artists Life and Nappa, The course will engage young people who would probably otherwise never go within a mile of formal education into an enjoyable, and productive for the young people, learning environment.
BUD (Bottom Up Development) Courses
5 day course sharing 'by the people, for the people' community building techniques, approaches, lessons, strategies and experiences designed BY residents of so called 'deprived areas' FOR residents of similar estates throughout the UK. The course encourageses learners (BUD'ists ) to think of ways and means they can work with their neighbours to build a more healthy local democracy, to measure their local economy, to understand power locally and how it can be used (and abused), measure local skills and assets and to get organised!
A game designed to share some of the strategies, approaches and techniques we and others have learned during our 21 years experience of community building 'from the bottom up'. Based on the standard Monopoly format for ease of use by lots of people, MFOpoly is not really a game, but a learning tool designed to share concepts and strategies with other people living in our situation and who want, like we do, to stand up for our rights and to make positive change in our communities.
Justice for Leon Campaign
When a much loved and respected local man Leon Briggs was killed in police custody a few weeks ago, a campaign group was launched by a number of passionate, principled local people driven by the need for justice and support for the family at a terrible time. We are humbly honoured to do all we can to help the family and the campaign group (J4L) so we are making office space, a meeting room and logistical/moral support available as and whenever its needed
North Luton Community Builders
A social enterprise aiming to provide top quality, cost effective building services across North Luton. The project is being designed in partnership with local people and good local training agencies to make sure the organisation is ready and able to deliver some of the building works which will soon be carried out locally (see below) via local labour clauses etc.
Marsh Farm Central Area Development Plans
MFO have been actively working with other local determined people on the steering group for the redevelopment of the Central Area in Marsh Farm, to make sure to the best of our ability that it genuinely becomes what local people want it to be. After a few years of working together with these residents, local councillors, shopkeepers and planners the final plan has now received planning permission – and the money to fund it is in the bag too we're told. This means Marsh Farm will be getting a brand new shopping centre AND more than 130 brand new COUNCIL homes! The biggest single build of council homes in this town for decades!
Catering Co-operative and Cafe Restaurant
As part of our plans to transform our formerly derelict Marsh House HQ into a family visitors centre we have secured planning permission to do this including 'The Iceni Cafe/Restaurant'. To help build up a customer base and promote the new project idea we will be supporting a team of locals who want to run a mobile catering van at the Marsh House site and from a few other pitches in the town. This can create catering jobs for local people who are in need of some work and at the same time promote the Iceni Cafe, and provide nice hot and cold food for the public and those who are working on the Marsh House redevelopment.
Just Change Teas and Spices
'Just Change' is a revolutionary alternative trading system that links local communities in India and the UK together in a direct trading relartionship, enabling the growers to control the terms on which they trade and the way profits are distributed. JC challenges the injustices of the global market and helps communities to build a new economy based on principles of justice and co-operation.
We are blessed to be UK distributors of JC teas and spices, and to have received a visit to Marsh farm from some of our Adivasi brothers and sisters who pick the tea in India. After a long wait we are about to put our plan to boost tea sales locally into action by: introducing a door to door delivery service in Marsh Farm to test this approach (delivered by 'tea boys and girls on bikes like paper boys and girls), persuading conscious cafes and restaurants of the virtues of JC and placing tea and spices stands in local supermarkets.
Marsh House Family Visitors Centre
Our Marsh House base is one of Luton's oldest farmhouses which was home to generations of tenant farmers who worked the farmland at Marsh Farm long before there was a council estate built there. After the building was closed to save costs, it fell into disrepair and risk of collapse due to a serious case of dry rot which affected the whole first floor and adjoining walls.
MFO provided volunteer labour from within our team and from the estate to rescue the building, in a deal with the council who are after all caretakers of the building on behalf of the public. the deal was we would mobilise the labour if council paid for materials and dry rot trreatment. After months of voluntary work (valued by surveyors at £105,000) the building has been brought back into use and now planning permission has been granted it will be developed to the next stage.
This will see Marsh House turned into a family visitors centre with a hands on history room, music studio, cafe restaurant, office space, a DJ Mixing Academy, a Go Kart track, horse riding paddock, BMX track and office space for newly forming co-operative businesses.
As part of our work to support the move towards a much better, more participative democracy in Marsh Farm, where the views of local people are heard not ignored and service providers are better held to account, we are working with residents who want to make this change by building a network of 'street mobilisers' across the estate.
To road test and develop the model we are about to start working with volunteer mobilisers in 10 streets. The plan is for all street mobilisers (we would like to achieve one in every 40 households) to provide their 39 immediate neighbours with a 'peoples post box' service, whereby any project ideas, requests for help, job interest forms, offers to help etc can be posted into the box located on the mobilisers garden and forwarded to our community centre to be actioned.
Mobilisers will be connected to each other by broadband, but also attend quarterly peoples assembly events (not boring, standard format 'meetings' – yaaaawn – but a social night out doing productive things in an enjoyable way. So service providers can be held to proper account by taking part in Question Time style forums, project ideas can be presented and scored using short films made by our film co-op, any funds generated by our community centre can be allocated using scorepads and presentations, all in amongst local musicians, comedians and other artists and entertainers.