Curating Spaces of Hope: co-producing shared values and practices in uncertain times

The post-Elizabethan era is precipitating an existential shift unlike anything else, certainly since World War Two — maybe in UK history. The pandemic has left us more fragile, while the cost-of-living crisis bites, catalysed by Brexit. The climate crisis continues, exemplified by catastrophic floods in Pakistan and temperatures in the UK of over 40 degrees Celsius. The Ukraine war rages, displacing millions and rupturing the geopolitical terrain. These concerns are shaping our lives in different ways — personally, communally, societally, globally. With Her Majesty’s passing, we are reminded of what drove her to live as she did.

Speaking from Cape Town on her 21st birthday, on 21 April 1947, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The Queen and Faith (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001bytm) on 11 September, Professor Linda Woodhead noted: “The value of selfless service […] that ideal is one that has waned in the last 50 years […] young people don’t think in terms of service anymore. We have moved from a ‘give your life’ ethic, to a ‘live your life’ ethic.”

With this in mind, how do we live such that we can establish shared values for the common good in these most uncertain of times?

Curating Spaces of Hope

Curating Spaces of Hope is a means of mapping and mobilising responses to uncertain times. This paradigm is set out through my doctoral research at Goldsmiths, University of London, having emerged from 2010 to 2020, a decade bookended by the global financial crash and the global pandemic. Curating Spaces of Hope emerged initially from experiences of unemployment, poor mental health, social isolation, coercive and controlling behaviour, blackmail, abuse and discrimination.

In response to these social ills, a social movement emerged that drew in close to 1,000 people across 70+ organisations, engaging one another in dialogue (35 in 36 months) around lived experiences of hopelessness and finding solutions to help make life better. This included a dialogue network commissioned by a local authority in north-west England, specifically to respond to the impacts of austerity, divisions exposed by Brexit, unprecedented changes to public services and a growing epidemic in mental health.

The Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in England summarised Curating Spaces of Hope as bringing together innovative mixes of civil society actors — from professional community practitioners through to individual community activists — to ‘meaning-make’ as a response to experiences of pointlessness and emptiness in personal, community and professional life”.

Sixty-five per cent of respondents at the gatherings associated Curating Spaces of Hope with values of personal vulnerability, personal freedom and social connection. Forty per cent understood people’s suspicions and perceptions around different cultures and worldviews to be barriers. This intervention opened up scope for further values-based dialogues within this local authority area. One-third of respondents said that Curating Spaces of Hope had catalysed something new within their own work. Further, 90 per cent of respondents said that they valued the Spaces of Hope dialogues and would participate in them in the future.

To develop understanding of how values are produced, I explored how this dialogue, gathering and network methodology might relate to organisational contexts and open up new ways of co-producing shared values. I engaged in ethnographic research across three sites in north-west England, producing a matrix of six modalities and 18 characteristics that one might map within the spaces of uncertainty we are living in. These modalities are: types of relationships; leadership roles and responsibilities; sources of motivation; the interface with the public space; stories, prophecy and authenticity; and administrative and relational flows. The ‘sources of motivation’ modality comprises four characteristics that map the emergence, context, foundation and formation of values.

Each of the modalities are distinct and simultaneously interdependent, so any of the six modalities can emerge as a guiding influence on the others. Within contexts of uncertainty, it is possible for us to reimagine and coproduce the values that we are living by. In this way, Curating Spaces of Hope contributes to knowledge in the following ways:

· It offers a new organisational paradigm;

· It offers a new consultative methodology or means of co-production;

· It maps tools for a context of uncertainty; and

· It offers a new means of discerning different beliefs, values and worldviews.

This offers a polyphonic and productive means of mapping and co-producing operant values for uncertain times.

The dawn of the post-Elizabethan era is ushering in a paradigm shift in how we live in the UK. Within this, we are moving from a ‘give your life’ to ‘live your life’ outlook while being shrouded by increasing uncertainty. In response, as I have set out here, we need to talk to one another, draw on our different experiences and coproduce shared values, to guide how we live our lives in these uncertain times, for the common good of all.

Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell FRSA is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Liverpool Hope University and a Research Fellow at the William Temple Foundation

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