Communities of imagination

Joanna Norton

Joanna Norton is a creative educator, thinker & designer

Science is boring, irrelevant even. Indeed, to argue the contrary fails to acknowledge disparities between the beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries of science. When large tech organisations for example, claim that 75% of all future jobs will require a knowledge of STEM, there is an element of vagueness about what these jobs will consist of, and more importantly, who exactly is going to do them? At community level however, the stark reality that such jobs are aimed at certain communities as opposed to others, is an unspoken understanding. Luton High Town where I live, is one of the most deprived wards in the UK and is beset by multiple challenges. Ironically, solutions to some of these challenges lie within science.

I propose building Communities of Imagination that seek to develop agency with the aim of facilitating honest and open dialogue between multiple stakeholders. Community residents including: teachers, users of food banks, engineers, the homeless, creative thinkers, the underemployed, the local media, those in the gig economy, CEOs etc., will engage with the science community to address the challenges preventing us from moving forward.

Communities of Imagination is a bottom-up approach designed to finds ways of working in partnership with science to improve the life chances of all citizens. Food poverty is a growing challenge in Luton High Town. The number of families accessing Luton Food Bank has increased by 25% in 2016, while stagnant wages along with higher food prices is negatively impacting working families. How can we access science to feed our community more effectively?

Dialogue from a grassroots’ perspective would take the following format:

1. Start a discussion with business leaders to explore business models and distribution channels.

2. The inclusion of relevant scientists at our meeting will add clarity on how we can move this project forward. Such questions that require answers concern the following:

– water usage
– sustainability
– use of chemicals
– food requirements
– health & safety
– immunisation
– food stock etc.

3. Partnerships with the local food bank, church groups, community and training centres as well as schools will provide distribution and dissemination services at community level.

4. Marjorie’s, a creative hub and coffee house in High Town, will offer free food to the homeless and other community members while encouraging other science-driven innovations, such as new production models like urban fish farming and aquaponics.

Let me give another example of science in the community. Luton High Town is served by a laundrette that acts as a focal point for up to 500 people every week. The woman who manages this service has worked there for over 20 years, and while she may be less eloquent when talking about science as opposed to a science communicator, she is aware that the detergent she uses negatively affects the quality of the wash. She is also concerned that the spin cycle needs to work more effectively and she is trying to find out how the machines can become more environmentally friendly. A gregarious, social individual, she does not feel comfortable talking to people who use complicated language and so the irrelevance of science remains intact.

Now, when we multiply this experience by the numbers of people who deem ‘formal’ science irrelevant, it’s clear that a bottom-up, community-led initiative is needed if people are going to feel connected with science.

Joanna Norton is a creative educator, thinker & designer who explores creativity at community level in order to give a voice to the voiceless.  She aims to remove barriers between schools and their communities to allow for the free movement of learning.  You can find out more about her work at: https://www.joannanorton.com or follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/joannapnorton

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