“I’m here out of a mix of intrigue and frustration. And because I love Lego!”
The motivations for attending last night’s National Conversation event at The Creative Chapel all seemed to toe the same line, regardless of age, background, or political preference. Of course, the promise of exploring and expressing attitudes to the welfare state via the medium of Lego also proved a universal draw.
With this week being National Democracy Week, we teamed up with National Conversation to deliver an experiment in democracy as a prelude to tonight’s The York Conversation, which is to be chaired by Claire Fox, director of Institute of Ideas and familiar face on BBC Question Time.
Lead by cultural change agency Change The Conversation, the 16 participants (made up of local residents and students) engaged in a series of exercises, including “serious Lego play” to exchange views on their ‘ideal’ and ‘nightmare’ politicians and what the future of the welfare state might hold. The technique’s ability to activate hands and minds on very complex issues was immediately apparent, with some impressive models prompting deep, free-flowing discussions than would otherwise be expected amongst strangers.
York was seen as the optimal location to pilot a 21st century version of the National Conversation that accompanied the publishing of the Beveridge report 70 years ago: the city is geographically removed from the Westminster bubble; it has a vibrant civic culture, and it ties in nicely with the 800-year anniversary of York becoming a self-governing city.
That assumption rang true last night as the participants seemed thoroughly absorbed in the careful construction of their answers to the political prompts, with the resulting debates good-natured whilst thoroughly thought provoking. With the National Conversation due to report back to Parliament as to the best means of improving grassroots discussion of big issues, (as the pictures probably testify) this “building” experiment will likely be one of the forums that is adopted elsewhere as a means of encouraging democracy and extending the civic core. Everybody who attended can be proud they played their part in its inception!
*A York Conversation – an invitation-only talk chaired by Claire Fox, director of Institute of Ideas – will take place from 5:30pm at Gray’s Court tonight. We have a limited number of tickets to giveaway to readers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP!*