Framework sections highlighted: Action, Change, Leadership, Power

Marsh Farm Organisation Workshop

22nd July 2016

“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.”

Clodomir Santos de Morais, Brazilian sociologist who originated the Organisation Workshop



In March 2015, residents on Marsh Farm estate, Luton, set up an innovative project to engage with some of the most marginalized, long-term unemployed people in their community.

They piloted an Organisation Workshop – based on a Brazilian method, adopted across South America and in many parts of Africa over the past 40 years, but never before used in the UK.  It was the first Organisation Workshop ever to be initiated and led by local residents!

Marsh Farm Outreach, a grassroots community group made up of local volunteers, had worked for many years to strengthen community involvement in the improvement of their estate and they had been trying to pilot the OW approach, without success, for more than fifteen years.

Identifying a project – a 5-acre derelict field on the edge of the estate, which they planned to transform into a community farm – the idea was to turn the field into a project that could be used for educational as well as recreational purposes, and also, on a small scale, for food production.

In November 2014, the Cabinet Office, Office for Civil Society funded the Marsh Farm project as part of the Community Organisers Social Action Fund programme – to support community initiatives linked to the national Community Organisers Programme.

Marsh Farm Outreach negotiated with Luton Council for access to the land and got the Council’s support for the overall aims of the project. The Job Centre helped with recruitment and to provide a training allowance to participants for the duration of the project. The team began to acquire the tools and materials needed for the task, and to identify experts who could provide advice and mentoring support to participants, such as Luton Adult Learning.

Marsh Farm Outreach also made arrangements for Chilean social psychologist Ivan Labra – an expert in OW – to come to Luton for four months as overall director of the project; setting up a steering group that included members of the Outreach team and people from the main external partner agencies.

As part of the Organisation Workshop, all of the tools, equipment, and expert support needed to set up new co-operative businesses is provided, including up to 9 months of support from the Job Centre in the form of payment of a Training Allowance for 3 months, and New Enterprise Allowance for a further 6 months, plus all other benefits while you learn to operate the new businesses. No more signing on and job searching – instead you get a payment equivalent to Job Seekers whilst starting up the new businesses!
Glenn Jenkins, Marsh Farm Outreach community organiser

An OW brings together large groups of people to develop the organisational awareness and skills necessary to change the participants’ lives, their livelihoods, and their communities. It is based on ‘large-group psychology’ and principles of self-organising, self-discovery and learning by doing.

Participants form what is known as the Participants Enterprise, and are tasked with delivering a project that is of benefit to the community. They are supported in a non-directive manner by a small team, the Facilitators Enterprise who provide the tools and materials needed to undertake the project, which participants must deliver on time (usually within 4-6 weeks) and within budget.

The OW creates a sort-of ‘pressure cooker’ in which participants must determine how to go about the task and organise themselves to deliver it. At its core, an OW aims to trigger a profound change in the participants, in terms of their confidence, their relationships, their organisational and other skills, and their capacity to change their lives for the better.

Click here to read the full Marsh Farm OW Evaluation Report

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