By Emma Harwood

Sixty one people from around the borough, many of whom have previously faced barriers to employment, have come together at the Observer Building (OB) in Cambridge Road as part of an innovative project taking place over the next four weeks.

Observer building 
PICTURE: John Cole

Called the Organisation Workshop (OW), the ground-breaking initiative aims to enable people who have been marginalised to develop the organisational awareness, confidence, management and vocational skills necessary for creating and running their own enterprises – ultimately changing their livelihoods while transforming a derelict space.

The group has been set the overall task of designing and building from scratch 12 work spaces within the building, which has stood empty for 34 years before being bought in February for redevelopment by White Rock Neighbourhood Ventures. They will also be asked to provide catering for the workforce, and to document the four-week project.

As part of the initiative, led by Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust with funding from Power to Change and Lankelly Chase, the participants will be offered work contracts by the organisers or ‘facilitators enterprise’. Once some of the group have agreed to form a ‘participants enterprise’ and
take up a contract, they will be provided with tools, materials and expert mentoring in order to achieve their objectives.

OW director, Ivan Labra
PICTURE: John Cole

However, the workers face one key challenge: they do not have a boss. Instead the key principles of the OW are self-organisation and activity-based learning. 

The method was pioneered in Brazil in the 1960s by sociologist Clodomir Santos de Morais, who said: “What gets things moving is not money.  What gets things done is not technology. What makes things happen is not project planning and management.  But things do get done by men and women who are adequately organised.  Once organised, they will find the money, they will find the technology, they will find the projects.”

Similar workshops have seen success in countries across South America and Southern Africa. 

The OW was first introduced in the UK in 2015 on Marsh Farm  Estate, Luton where it created more positive outcomes for participants than any other scheme seeking to get people into employment, training or social activity.

Outcomes can range from workers going on to full-time employment within other companies or continuing or starting their own enterprises. One group started a successful café called Fidel Gastro in Luton as a result of participating in the Marsh Farm Estate project.

OW Director, Chilean social psychologist Ivan Labra, who has overseen many similar workshops across the world, says there is a tremendous positive psychological impact on those taking part in the workshops, resulting from the experience of working together to achieve an objective.

Señor Labra will be in Hastings for the duration of the project and will be providing lectures on organisational theory to assist the group as they progress. 

“They will develop organisational skills in order to do the task because we do not intervene,” he explains. “We are there to see if they ask for our help and, if they ask, we will assist with technical advice, but not before they ask.”

A spokesman for Heart of Hastings said he hoped the OW would be the first of many: “Heart of Hastings believes in the power of communities to find solutions to the problems that they face. The Organisation Workshop model fits our ethos perfectly. Given the right resources and the freedom to get organised, people can achieve incredible things.”

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