by | Sep 16, 2020

Shelter explores what power sharing looks like in the housing movement

Shelter held an internal event to present SMK’s Power Sharing Project. Last month I held a webinar on power sharing with my colleagues in Shelter – and I’m feeling pretty energised. Imagine this. You know over 100 people have accepted an invitation to a Zoom meeting you’ve been planning for weeks – with no idea who’s going to show up and how the tech is going to go.  

But, I’m pleased to say that over 50 people across the organisation showed up to hear about the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK)’s Power Sharing Project, and what it means for us as an organisation that has committed to contributing to the housing movement through various strands of work including a new Community Organising and Activism Team.  

And for an event that’s slap bang in the middle of holiday season, and just days before the eviction ban is lifted – that’s an excellent turn out. 

As a member of the Core Learning Group in the Power Sharing Project, I’m keen to bring the conversations we have, back into Shelter, so we can learn from the insights and lessons learned along the way. Here’s why it’s so important. 

Building and supporting a movement 

Shelter is going through a period of change – a step change to be precise. A core part of our strategy is all about recognising that the housing emergency is at the point where we need to go beyond targeted interventions, policy change, and promises from politicians that can too easily be broken. 

We know that we need nothing less than a national movement to fight the injustice that is causing widespread homelessness, the sky-high rents that are pushing families into poverty, and to support the thousands upon thousands of people reaching out to us for help – especially during the COVID pandemic. 

We’ve got ambitious and exciting plans around movement-building – and a central part of that is recognising that there are countless individuals, unions, communities and organisations up and down the country who, like us, are fighting on the front lines, on the streets, in the board rooms of decision makers, and on the phones to desperate people who need help. 

The movement has already begun. And we can do more to support our allies. 

The Power Sharing Project in Shelter 

As we move forward with our plans of working with local communities, and joining forces with other organisations, we’re taking the time to reflect. We’re interrogating how we can use our own power and resource to build the capacity of others we share the space with. We are part of a wider eco system and we’re building connections with new and inspiring individuals and groups that require us to adopt a different way of working. 

SMK’s Power Sharing Project has provided the perfect opportunity for us to think more deeply about how much engagement we’ve had with such groups. To ask – are we all on the same page about what power means and how is it shared well? How can we divert resource in a way that is needed and wanted, and avoid making those clumsy mistakes of tokenism, virtue signalling, and extractive participation? 

The online event today was really inspiring, and an opportunity to bring into Shelter the insights gained from the first stage of the project, which focused on exploring how we want to work with and learn from the Community of Practice (individuals across civil society with direct experience of the issues they’re campaigning on). 

We used this as a starting point to ask ourselves what we can do, or what we can learn from other examples of how power has been shared well – and what not to do!  

What’s next? 

Based on conversations with various grassroots groups, individuals, other colleagues in the sector and the needs we’re seeing come through from our work in London, Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham, we’re working on a whole raft of concrete things we will implement as an organisation to support smaller organisations and groups.  

Some of the proposals were always part of the plan, such as setting up a Small Community Grants fund, providing hands-on support and training on campaigning and housing rights, to sending feet on the ground at community events and campaign actions. But we’ve also got a lot more to think about thanks to the contributions shared in our webinar! 

The bigger picture 

And what’s more, the work we’re doing on working with others fits into a wider framework. There are inspiring plans being developed all over Shelter.  

We’re looking at how we can turn our advice hubs and our network of charity shops into hubs of activism, all over the country. We’ve also set up an Anti-Racism Steering Group who are looking at ways in which Shelter can learn from and challenge ourselves to be an actively anti-racist organisation, from the inside out. The values and principles we want to work by are being interrogated and redefined.  

It’s an exciting time to be part of this journey in Shelter, and with the Power Sharing Project. We give our thanks to SMK for inviting us to be part of it. 

If you’re keen to find out more about our current campaigns, check out our website here 

Zoom image from online meeting with Shelter

Sophie Wills-Virk
Sophie is the Activism Officer at Shelter.

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