This machine works

by Charlotte Kirin


There’s something about the intricacy of communities that make them able to change, adapt, respond. They can be contradictory and disruptive, and there they are at the end of the day, still a community.

There’s something about institutions that makes it hard for them to change course. They are the place where things are measured, written down, checked and processed. It’s hard for them to adapt, even when they really really want to.

We’ve been asked by the institution to try being properly part of the community led by the people of Soham and managing ourselves. The institution has taken the brave and unusual step of asking us to move out of the structure it has created and has trusted us to do the right thing. We’ve been delighted to do so. We’ve never taken for granted how lucky we are to be in this position. We’re committed and determined and passionate about being the best we can be.

One of the people we’ve been able to get to know expressed what we do by saying “this machine works”. I picture it as a very steam punk machine, made up of found things, and tended and maintained by all who come across it, tinkering, oiling, testing, adding functions. It’s very much a community machine. It can make coffee and find carpenters, it can sort out overgrown gardens and transport people around the town. It can negotiate getting emergency support in place without going through brokerage. It can walk dogs, find venues for meetings, take steps to safeguard people at risk. It can provide toast and sing happy birthday. It can welcome students and develop social workers. If it sputters or smokes, we know where the tools are kept and we know people who can fix it.

This particular  machine wouldn’t necessarily work in another town. The elements that have created it are local and known and trusted, and it needs to be tended by the people who built it. But there are other machines waiting to be fired up in other communities.

I believe that the institution wants to be more community, more adaptable and responsive. Maybe what we’ve learnt is that what feels like a big step, from institution to community, is actually a series of small steps, component parts to create a type of machine that can change, adapt, respond, change, adapt, respond…


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