Work doesn’t have to feel so much like, well, work, does it? SevenStreets has come across a Liverpool enterprise determined to beat a different path. They only do work they love, are choosy about who they’ll do it with, don’t want to grow any bigger, are gloriously opinionated, and what’s more ‘won’t work Monday mornings and are always out walking on Fridays!’
‘We had this theory’ says Ronnie Hughes, one of the sense of place two, ‘that if we could find the things we loved to do, then they’d be the things we were best at. The things we could enjoy making our living from. Where work wouldn’t feel like we were really working at all. We thought that all sounded great, but were sceptical about whether it could work. Well that was seventeen years ago, seventeen years since the two of us set up a sense of place and left our jobs to test out our theory.’
And so ‘a sense of place’ was born. ‘A small, mobile, creative social enterprise that works with people and organisations who are, broadly, creating better places for people to live in and work in,’ as Ronnie describes it. “Sometimes we help people to change what’s already there, and sometimes we help people to go off and do something completely new.
‘And the things we’ve most loved doing have changed over the years’ says Sarah Horton, Ronnie’s partner (in work, and life). ‘We’ve always been about creativity. Of people making the best use of their own senses to change the place they live, or what their enterprise does. But how we do that has changed constantly, depending on what we’re interested in at the time.’
And the things they’ve loved doing over all these years can now be tracked on their website, which they turned into a (Blog North nominated) blog early this year (‘Because we thought having a static website was boring’). Ronnie’s now five episodes into writing their history, and already their early experiences has changed to literally much bigger canvases, where they’re creating large communal collaged-artworks about past stories and possible futures.
In the most recent episode they’ve just coincided with the beginnings of what will become the social enterprise movement of today, and are working with the Furniture Resource Centre here in Liverpool and the Big Issue in Manchester.
Future episodes, and we know because SevenStreets has asked them, will see them move into making films, as a more portable way of telling your stories and sharing your ideas. And much deeper into social enterprise. These days, for example, they’re into their third year of working with social enterprise bus company HCT, one of the biggest social enterprises working all round the country.
Their work demonstrates how social enterprise can be a ‘real enterprise’ too, while making sure you do some good in the world, ‘rather than feed all your profits to greedy shareholders’.
They have also become increasingly choosy about who they’ll work with. How? Simple: they imagine it’s the morning they’re due to go and do work with someone. And if they can’t imagine leaping out of bed with excitement then it’s a no.
They say they do have other, more systematic ways of judging work too, ‘Like the value of the work, as in how much it’s going to be good for the place or the people it’s about,’ explains Sarah, ‘But it absolutely has to pass the ‘Morning Test.’
So as they say openly on their site, they ‘won’t work with dull corporates or desk-dwelling drones waiting for their pensions. Life’s too short to waste it being bored.’ As we said earlier, they’re opinionated.
And they effectively work part time.
Which brings us to the Friday Walks, one of the most followed features of their blog. Every Friday morning they turn off their phones, pack their lunches and set off for a walk. Often exploring the coastline of the Wirral (‘A surprising number of Liverpool people have never been there’ Ronnie says. We’re not surprised, but we are saddened – especially when we know how glorious it is – see main pic), occasionally as far away as Anglesey, and sometimes one of their ‘Urban walks’ within Liverpool.
There’s ‘The Docker’s Steps’ and ‘Lost Liverpool’ (both fully illustrated on their blog). ‘And’ Ronnie explains, ‘The other week when the Hillsborough Report came out, there was ‘Liverpool and Everton.’ This one SevenStreets itself described at the time as ‘a pilgrimage’. Their walk circling the hills and valleys and empty streets around Everton and Anfield, eventually arriving at the Shankly Gates and the Hillsborough memorial:
‘While we are here others come and go silently, many leaving flowers, most in tears. This has been an emotional week for all of us in Liverpool.’
Talking of Liverpool,they’ve just had a film they’ve made of legendary music venue The Picket selected for a new permanent exhibition in the Museum of Liverpool. They’re also involved at the moment with the people living in the four remaining original streets of Granby. Trying to get all the empty homes brought back into use, rather than being demolished. Making films, running public meetings, photographing street markets, talking to potential developers. And writing about it all on their blog. All in an unusual day’s work for a sense of place.
Wesbite: a sense of place