Concept and practice: Charlie Leadbeater and Peter Holbrook

I’m never at my finest on Mondays, but today was a really stimulating and interesting one which revolved around two very different individuals: one more conceptual, and one very practical. [apologies for length of post]

First up was Charlie Leadbeater at the Hub for breakfast (two coffees necessary before I could form sentences, needless to say), talking about the ideas and issues which inform and underly his book, We-Think. Leadbeater has been an innovator and ideas pioneer for many years (in 1997, for example, he wrote ‘The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur’ at the same time as the SSE was being founded). We-Think is about the rise of mass, creative collaboration, and how this is changing society, employment, and traditional systems.

Some interesting tidbits I took from his talk this morning were the five themes in the book:

– the move from marginal to mainstream can happen much more quickly these days
– creativity is a social and collaborative process
– the world is cloud / swamp-like; organisations are box-like….
– a different approach to ownership and control is emerging (sharing animates the economy….)
– these are old systems re-emerging in new incarnations (peer-to-peer, the commons etc.)

He also posed two key questions about this movement: How do you make money from it? (the financial q) and Can we be trusted with this stuff? (the political q). The discussion was interesting, particularly for me around how to make best use of a distinctive piece of intellectual property (don’t keep it in a darkened room…think counter-intuitively), about  the importance of relationships (could we see SSE through a lens of creating relationships that motivate, support, trade and inspire?) and the three principles of (self) governance in this area, which again seemed very much related to what we do:

– the need for these connected networked communities to have leadership that leads by values/purpose and tends to come from within that community
– the community needs motivation to contribute and left options to decide why and how they will do so
peer-to-peer becomes much more important for accountability, review, resources, credibility and so on

Much food for thought.


I was then straight off, via a swift clear-up of my desk (we’ve moved around in the office), to visit Sunlight Development Trust in Gillingham. Peter Holbrook, who founded the trust (the building was an old Sunlight laundry factory that they got the funding to renovate), is a social enterprise ambassador, and it’s been a pleasure to meet and work with him on that programme.

Sunlight is an inspiring place, and is growing really fast: a network of cafes is stretching through the Medway Towns in Kent, and, most recently, they won the contract to provide all the catering in the new Medway Council building: so there is a social enterprise serving up all the lunches, coffees etc in the heart of the local authority. The original Gillingham site is also piloting a range of other initiatives, including a music studio, a radio station, parenting workshops, community gardening and so on…..

It’s hugely impressive and a good kick up the arse for those who become occasionally jaded and cynical (this is my arse I’m kicking) about what these types of organisation can achieve. Whilst Peter and I agree that it is about the people, leadership, quality of service, transparency of operation etc that brings success, the CIC model clearly has brought Sunlight benefits; with freer governance, but also the badging / recognition that it brings.

Peter himself is one of those genuinely inspiring blokes; not only because of his energy and enthusiasm, but also because he is fired up and passionate about Sunlight being the best it can be, and about making a difference in what is a hard, tough business. It is a professional outfit, but also remains passionate and personal(ised)…which is a great achievement. Though he made me feel like he’d done more that morning than I had done in the past two weeks, I left inspired: take the concepts and thoughts, and start to deliver.

Charlie Leadbeater referred to a headteacher friend of his who labelled himself a ‘pragmatopian’, in that he had kept his utopian ideal of the power of education, but had had to do inspite of (and weaving through) the national curriculum, Keystages, league tables etc. It’s a horrible neologism, but I think Peter is one too: pragmatic and entrepreneurial, but with values written through everything he does.

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