The concept lends itself to a huge range of possibilities. Activities could incorporate cultural gatherings around food and music, Gift Circles (for sharing resources, ideas and equipment), educational programmes, spaces for collaboration and networking - and much more. Shared agreements and principles around such things as earth care and the ethical sourcing of resources could also be a creative part of the mix. (See mind map below for other ideas).
For local authorities who wish to collaborate on delivering community solutions to the social and climate emergencies, an Innovation Hub provides a tangible next step. It offers a focus for sustainable business incubation as well as for improving community resilience, all of which will go some way towards supporting local mitigation and adaptation to the climate emergency.
The CEC network have put together a template (the CEC Handbook) mapping out key steps from deciding what sort of building and setup is wanted, to undertaking community outreach and setting up a legal entity. (The Gathering Gates currently has the support of a local charity, the Norwich Contemplative Forum, providing an umbrella under which we can organise meetings and events, manage finances and apply for funding. In the longer term we may want to create our own legal body).
Some CECs have been working with an approach which it calls the ‘Business Model’, which involves first researching and identifying empty buildings. Next the landlord is approached with a proposal, and invited to form a partnership to negotiate with the Local Authority to seek up to 100% business rate relief. The understanding would be that the landlord then donates a percentage of their savings to develop the community hub. So, for example, a two-storey office block might pay rates of £70,000 and obtain 100% relief from the Council, with, say, 30% (£21,000) going to the project.
Aside from this model, there are other options to consider too such as obtaining a space through direct action, liberating or occupying a building, working with developers and/or the council, utilising existing social spaces, renting, setting up a coop or a Community Land Trust and buying a property for long-term community use.
The Business Model has been successfully pioneered by a number of groups, including one of the first CECs at Ilford in Essex, where they have converted an unoccupied building which was formerly the site of a Homebase store. With a two-year extendable lease, they have set up accommodation for a live-in caretaker and introduced a variety of projects and activities including a repair cafe, an exhibition space, a community cinema, a pop-up art gallery, and a library.
Below: some ideas from a brainstorming session (pictured with Abie's foot).