Making communities stronger through collaboration and sharing

By Sophia de Sousa

For some time, The Glass-House has been interested in the concept of the collaborative economy and exploring it through our action research and events. In very simple terms, a collaborative, or sharing economy, emerges when people pool their skills, assets and resources to address shared concerns, or to create new opportunities. It is based on the premises that by working together, we can achieve more than we would alone. It is also deeply rooted in the knowledge that we all have assets that we do not use all the time, or have more than we need, that we could share with and make useful to others.

The dramatic global pandemic of Covid-19 has asked all of us to think and behave differently, and one of the most interesting things that has occurred is the collaborative economies that are emerging. 

Cross-sectoral volunteers helping to support the health service


Very early on in the crisis, localised mutual support groups started popping up all over the country. People quickly formed a series of hyperlocal networks of volunteers to support those who were self-isolating. They connected with each other using social media, and leafleted their neighbourhoods saying simply, we are here to help. They have become a vital resource to those who are self-isolating, and struggling to get the supplies and support that they need, particularly those who live alone and do not have a local network of family and friends.

At a national level, we are seeing this occur in a number of ways. When the government put out a call for volunteers to help the NHS, they hoped to achieve a figure of 20,000. Instead, in the first 24 hours, 500,000 people volunteered in an extraordinary demonstration of people’s willingness to come together and help each other. As it became clear that we would not have the ventilators or protective gear required by hospitals to treat the growing number of patients infected with the virus, manufacturers and skilled individuals in the UK and abroad that had the assets (machinery, technology and workforce) required to respond to that need, have switched their production line and volunteered to provide these vital items. 

Left: Street Space CIC’s community noticeboard prototype (@street_space_ on Twitter). Right: COVID 19 community support flyers


Of course, collaborative economies are not only visible or present in times of crisis. At a most basic level, when a friend or grandparent picks up a child from school while that child’s parents are at work, this is a form of collaborative economy. When we car-pool to work, we travel more  efficiently, and help our environment. When we organise a pot-luck party, and ask everyone to bring a dish, this too invites people to pool their resources to achieve a better outcome for all. We share experience, skills and confidence through peer mentoring and support programmes.

In placemaking terms, the growing trend of shared workspaces and hotdesking is another example, as are some fantastic schemes which share tools, through makerspaces, allotments  and community gardening. There is also a growing movement to shift power and production in home-building through co-operatives and co-housing projects.

The potential for what we can achieve through a collaborative economy approach is staggering. As we navigate through this crisis, let’s further develop and celebrate the power of the collective. When emerging from  the other side, let’s think more strategically about how we might apply this approach to placemaking. How might collaborative economies across sectors help us revitalise our high streets? How can more collaborative approaches to housebuilding produce better homes? How might we work together to produce, maintain and integrate better physical, economic and social infrastructure?

At The Glass-House we will continue to explore the role that collaborative design processes can play in this. If you would like to explore some of the work we have already done in this field, have a look at the following examples:

Scaling up Co-Design

As part of this action research project in collaboration with Open University and a number of higher education and small not-for-profit organisations, we explored how bringing our skills and resources together with partners could enhance the quality of our work and extend our impact and reach. 

Scaling up Co-design research project summary
Scaling up design champions through partnership working

Cross-pollination workshops

This model for a facilitated workshop to support collaborative economies emerged from the Scaling Up Co-design project, and The Glass-House has adapted it to a number of different contexts. Here is an example of one of our workshops for housing providers, from our blog:

Collaboration for Innovation in Place – a breakfast workshop

Knowledge exchange workshop on community-led housing

This workshop in partnership with the London Community Neighbourhood Co-operative brought together different sectors and disciplines to explore what we could all do to help make it easier to develop community-led housing in urban areas.

Delivering Homes Differently: Understanding community-led housing in high demand urban areas

Reconfiguring Place

In our recent event series, we brought together a range of people to co-design ideas for how we can improve how we shape our places. The ideas that emerged were overwhelmingly focused on creating opportunities for people to bring their skills, experiences and resources together through collaborative economy projects and approaches. You can read about these events and the ideas co-designed by participants in these stories from our blog:  

WE design in Glasgow: ‘I’ll talk to my neighbours more!’
WE design in Blackpool: seeking places to connect
WE design in Manchester: the power to belong to a place

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