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Weston Park

Civic Action Labs 

About the project

A Civic Action Lab is a welcoming, inclusive and accessible space embedded within a neighbourhood or community. It is oriented around the idea that change happens at the speed of our relationships with one another. 


It acts as a participatory focal point for persistent engagement with citizens and communities who want to explore how we respond systemically and upstream to the cost of living crisis. It curates and engages with inquiries and imaginings that are themselves co-created with community members and citizens from the area. 


It is a space which brings people together both in person and digitally to explore the themes that lie beneath the cost of living crisis, including isolation and connectivity and to explore how we might respond systemically and upstream to them in ways that are appropriate, proportionate and aligned with the people and place in which the lab is located. 


Potential Themes:

  • What's strong 

  • A way of living crisis 

  • Inequality and intersectionality 

  • Multiplicity of Poverties

  • Retrofitting 

  • Isolation and Connectivity 

  • What is good work?  

  • Community Energy

  • Relationship with green spaces 

  • Healing, care and peer to peer support

  • Legacy stories for our area

  • Our roles as future ancestors 

  • Borrowing Libraries / Time Banks (tools, food, care, clothes)

Civic Action Labs, would from the outset work collaboratively with existing local civil society groups and VCS organisations to develop shared aspirations for how the Labs can contribute to what is already strong in the area. They would also act as a link between wider city narratives such as the City Goals work and provide a place whereby experimentation and demonstration could be encountered and better understood by people in place. We would hope that the learning from a Civic Action Lab could be shared more widely through Welcome Spaces and with other community organisations and civil society groups. 

Context and Background 

Sheffield has experienced multiple crises in the last three years, from the pandemic though to the cost of living crisis. The experience of those crises has been unequal across communities. The city faces even larger challenges around our transitions to net-zero and the associative social, economic and environmental impacts of climate breakdown, uncertain geo-politics, and the increasing scarcity of energy, meaningful employment, and access to food and good quality housing. 


Like many cities in the UK, Sheffield is beginning to dive deeper to understand, not only what its goals as a city must be to meet these challenges inclusively, collaboratively and effectively, but also what new civic capabilities and capacities may be required in neighbourhoods, communities and across institutions to ensure that the city can respond to a distributed set of problems, which often express themselves differently (and unequally) in different places and communities in the city.  


The collaborative response between the voluntary and community sector and the local authority in the development of Welcome Spaces throughout the city is a strong example of how Sheffield can mobilise distributed, multi-stakeholder coalitions to meet and be reactive to needs, and signpost to services. 


However, it is also of critical importance that we invest in spaces in Sheffield which enable us to move from a reactive mode of operating to an upstream and systemic one. These spaces would enable us to explore longer term solutions to the cost of living crisis, and to engage in the collective imagining required with citizens and communities to begin to discover and co-create the kinds of responses which work for the people who live here. 


By necessity this space would be exploratory and inclusive, it is not there to provide answers from the outset, but instead to cultivate the conditions for working in and alongside communities to discover better questions together and to cultivate the conditions for response making which address problems at their root. A place where Sheffielders can come up with Sheffield’s answers to longer systemic change.

People working on this project

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Photo credit: Rachel Rae

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