Building a Participatory Ecosystem in Barking and Dagenham

Every One Every Day

Every One Every Day is the largest participatory project in the world and a brilliant example of what can be achieved when you harness the skills present in a community. Helene Schulze speaks to their Programmes Manager Iris Schönherr to find out more.

What would a world look like in which we were all regularly and meaningfully participating in public life? What would our relationships with our neighbours and local environment look like? How might it affect our identity as individuals and communities? How would it change the feel of our neighbourhoods, cities and regions?

These are some of the questions Participatory City’s Every One Every Day programme explores. I spoke to their Programmes Manager, Iris Schönherr, who told me that currently only 3% of the UK population is involved in neighbourhood projects whilst 60% say they would like to be. Participating in local life can foster a greater sense of belonging and connection to other locals, it can build our skillset and our confidence and foster more caring and inclusive communities. Our streets can become safer places for everyone, but in particular children and vulnerable people. Participation can help us distribute skills and resources. Participatory City argues that ‘participatory culture’ is a vital part of building sustainable, resilient urban neighbourhoods, equipped for the future with local people at the heart.

Iris tells me that Every One Every Day’s mission is to make practical participation fully inclusive and accessible, to get as many people as possible stuck in to building more caring, just and joyful neighbourhoods and communities. It is the largest participatory project in the world, and has taken Barking and Dagenham, one of London’s most deprived boroughs, as the site in which to build the first large-scale, practical Participatory Ecosystem.

Two years into the programme and the results are already incredible. The network consists of thousands of local residents who have developed hundreds of projects to benefit the community, each co-designed. How does it work? Every One Every Day have built four shops, located on high streets and other places with high foot fall across the borough. They’re called ‘shops’ but no monetary exchange happens in there, they’re more like a community living room, with makerspaces and kitchens in the back. They are welcoming, bright spaces, where, upon entrance you’re invited for a cup of tea and a chat. It’s a space to share your ideas for what you’d like to see in your neighbourhood and what help you need to get it up and running.

Every One Every Day, Ripple Road

The design team help you draw up ideas which align with the principles for an inclusive participatory ecosystem to ensure these are as accessible and sustainable as possible. These include that they are no or low cost, require low time and commitment and are completely open to all who want to join in.

Every One Every Day has the resources, facilities and equipment to bring these projects to life. And the outcome is immense. If you flick through their newspaper available in all of the shops and online, you get a sense of the range and scale of what’s on offer: hundreds of events, multiple every day of the week, hosted by local residents for local residents. From knitting workshops to batch cooking to collective growing and shared childcare. Some are one-off events, others are weekly get-togethers.

It’s a breath-taking example of harnessing community assets: elevating the skills already present in the community and creating a space where these can be celebrated and easily shared.

“You learn a lot of things from people that actually have certain skills in the area,” said one local resident, “Everyone has skills, everyone. It’s just for you to bring it out, you need confidence, sometimes you need a boost from others.”  

A project example is Great Cook, one of 13 cooking projects. Here local residents meet in one of the shops to batch cook a meal. The host is a local resident who offers to share a recipe, and everyone brings an ingredient to contribute. All take home enough portions for the week. It’s a space to try out foods from all around the world, learn to cook and simply gather to tell stories. Other food projects include a public fridge where local residents can share their surplus food, or community food growing initiatives to help transform un(der)used land.

Every One Every Day

Alongside the shops, Every One Every Day runs the Warehouse, the largest makerspace in the UK. It is full of equipment, facilities and support, from a ceramics studio to an industrial kitchen to a wood workshop, to help you try out your ideas. Some of these might be turned into small businesses, for which advice and mentoring is at hand.

The beauty in Every One Every Day for me is the way it so skilfully celebrates and amplifies what already exists in our neighbourhoods: talent, creativity and willingness to get stuck in to building more joyful and engaging neighbourhoods. We all have a lot to offer, in terms of ideas, expertise and new approaches, sometimes we just need a gentle push to help us see this.

A culture where we share what we have and what we know with our peers and come up with ideas together is a resilient one, it makes it easier for us to collectively meet our needs for purpose, community and belonging. It is a culture of care, where we can look out for the most vulnerable members of our communities. We are more able to respond to the great problems facing us and are empowered to create the neighbourhoods (and world) we want to see.

It is no small change Every One Every Day is striving towards. It is a fundamental shift in how we engage with public life. But by working with the residents of Barking and Dagenham every step of the way, this shift is enacted through thousands of every day activities, each of which is creating a more participatory world. They are only halfway through their 5-year project, I can’t wait to see what’s still in store.