Just don’t call it ’empowering’ – Stella Duffy on Losing Control

Fun Palaces’ Stella Duffy explains what Losing Control means to her

There have been 1367 Fun Palaces made by approximately 32,800 local people with approximately 450,000 participants primarily in the UK.

This extraordinary success story is even more remarkable because of the decentralised, participatory methods Fun Palaces employs.

How does Stella Duffy fulfil her aim ‘not to become a big organisation even as we grow’?

What’s wrong with community organising today?

Most big organisations, museums or community initiatives take on volunteers and then train them in what the organisation needs them to know and do.

That is, they take on volunteers on the organisation’s terms to do what the organisation believes is of value.

Even if that may be intended for the benefit of that community, it is still according to the organisation’s own frame of value.

How does Fun Palaces organise?

Fun Palaces’ approach already assumes the volunteer has agency. We don’t distinguish between a volunteer and a beneficiary.

We don’t start from a position of assuming people need ’empowering’, we assume people have skills, have agency, and perhaps what they need is help to share that more widely and support in doing so.

We ask people what they want to do with and for their community, and then the training we offer (workshops, one-to-one support, support from Ambassadors in those areas) is to help them make this happen.

We offer them a form and a forum (and communications and support and network) to share THEIR already-existing agency.

Why is this approach fundamentally different?

It’s seeing people as already-skilled, already-able and acknowledging that the problem lies with a society that doesn’t recognise those people and their skills, not with the people themselves.

That means we’re not trying to ’empower’ people in a paternalistic way, but rather trying to help wider society see ALL people as the already-empowered, already-with-agency, already-capable human beings they are. Just not, perhaps, in traditional capitalist society’s terms …!

At Losing Control Stella will be joined by Emmie Kell, CEP of Cornwall Museums Partnership, who have been a partnership organisation in Fun Palaces’ Ambassador programme for the past two years, working with local people and communities across Cornwall. Get more info on their session ‘You Say Losing Control – We Say Letting Go’ and the rest of the programmehere