Living Under One Sun (LUOS) is a not-for-profit organisation with the aim of ‘actively creating places for communities to meet, access services, share skills and ideas and shape their neighbourhoods’ as well as ‘to inspire across generations and cultures taking responsibility to build, protect, share and celebrate a positive neighbourhood and environment both locally and globally’ (LUOS, 2014). Since it was created in 2005 by ‘mothers of many cultures and ages to tell their stories through meet, cook and eat sessions in a corner of Tottenham’ the activities it undertakes have gradually expanded and evolved over time from its original focus on strengthening social cohesion to include a focus on enhancing the social mobility of residents through a wide range of events, projects, training programmes and courses (LUOS, 2014). The work of LUOS is community-led, combining participatory grassroots and strategic partnership approaches across public, private and third sectors to address ‘issues of equality of access and opportunity’ facing its local communities. The organisation is proud of its inclusive, intergenerational and intercultural approach and the fact that it involves, and indeed is led, by a range of local people who reflect the diversity of Haringey. Its work bringing together diversity positively to ‘create community-led well-being and healthy connected neighbourhoods’ has been recognised in a series of awards from University College London, Durham University, London School of Economics, ESRC Cities Research Group, London Borough of Haringey 40/20 Carbon Commission, The Fabian Society, and Capital Growth.
In its promotional material the activities undertaken by LUOS are grouped into six categories of: ‘supporting community development’; ‘developing green skills’; ‘providing sports and outdoor activities’; ‘promoting healthy food’; ‘promoting better budgeting’; and ‘volunteering opportunities’. Clearly this wide range of specific activities focuses its work on an equally wide range of different target audiences. Among the many project examples there are those which relate to anyone (such as ‘Haringey Collective Switching’ which supports people to reduce their fuel bills and ‘Blooming Beds and Bees’ which deals with horticulture, bee keeping and herbal medicine courses at the LUOS Community Allotment Project); those which target adults 50+ (such as ‘Home from Hospital’ which supports those returning home from hospital and ‘Neighbourhood Connectors Haringey’ which provides training, assistance and information about financial management, befriending schemes, volunteering and social capital building opportunities); and those which target children (such as ‘Cook, Learn and Eat’ which runs training courses on healthy eating in local schools) (LUOS, 2014). Given the length of time that it has been operating, and the number of projects it has created, the organisation itself would be best described as at an advanced stage of development, although the status of each individual activity such as the examples given above would vary greatly in this regard.
Living Under One Sun lists its supporters, partners and funders from the community, public and private sectors as including Haringey Council (Smarter Travel; Public Health; Adult Social Care; Leisure; Parks; and Environmental Resources); The Big Lottery; Community Development Foundation; Film London; University College London; Newlon Fusion; Church of England; Lee Valley Estates; La Salle Investment Management; as well as several schools. It therefore represents an example of just how effective partnership working can be if well organised and developed by grounded and authoritative local bodies.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
It is clear from speaking to the organiser, from observing some of the projects in action and also from the demographics of the area in which it operates that the bulk of LUOS’ activities are purposefully structured and operated in a manner which is intended to be welcoming and inclusive towards people from all backgrounds and walks of life. The organisation champions the notions of ‘community’ and ‘neighbourhood’ and, as such, the social interactions and skills training which they deliver benefits all within the diverse locality in which it operates.
Main factors influencing success or failure
The first, and arguably most significant factor affecting the success of LUOS as an organisation is the input from its particularly passionate and enthusiastic founder and coordinator who acts as the catalyst for much of the projects undertaken and the positive mentality that has led to the organisation expanding its activities so broadly and winning numerous awards. Our interviewee stressed the success of the community-led and neighbourhood focused nature of the work of LUOS and the importance of building on the sense of belonging which exists within local communities. They also emphasised that the work of LUOS, in engaging and involving such a diverse range of users and volunteers, had demonstrated that it was important to challenge the notion of BME groups as representing ‘hard to reach communities’ but rather emphasised the ‘hard to reach nature of services’.
The second is the support that the organisation receives from (and the investment it makes in) its volunteers. LUOS provides ‘training, support and pathways for community-based project ideas to flourish, and be managed by volunteers as routes to employment and further training…’ and offers ‘a range of opportunities to share skills, ideas and aspirations and gain experience and certification’ (LUOS, 2014). The organisation regularly trains local people to become community leaders and excels at transforming service users into volunteers who, in turn, develop, implement and manage new project ideas for the organisation to lead. A good example of this strategy can be found in the way it operates a flexible policy towards the fees for some of its training courses (which include ‘Developing Practical Gardening Skills’, ‘Beekeeping Course’, ‘Introduction to Practical Use of Herbal Medicine’, ‘Futureproof Money Connects’) whereby those unemployed or on low incomes are able to attend for free in return for in-kind volunteering. In several cases having developed new interests after attending courses run by LUOS previously unemployed course attendees have gained qualifications and later volunteering and work experience as a result of the confidence gained through their involvement, many have gone on to lead the same courses themselves to the next cohort.
The most interesting and innovative message to take from an assessment of LUOS is its focus on both the power of the individual and of people working together from diverse backgrounds to affect change within a diverse community, its reliance upon and support for its volunteers and its belief in the success of community-led and neighbourhood-focused initiatives. The work of LUOS is bigger than any one of the individual projects or initiatives which are run. What is unique and worth capturing rather is the collective approach and impact of the sum of the various aspects of the organisation’s activities.