I wanted to share a short part of the interview I did with Ben Szobody for my Beyond Work project. Some of his projects are picking up the pieces of failed policies on both sides of the political fence. It is essential work for some of the most vulnerable people in society, especially in Brighton and Hove.
First off, the fact we need people doing this kind of work means there is a failure in society to look after the many. Second, it's bloody amazing that someone like Ben, and many others do this work. But we are going to need a thousand Ben's to deal with what looks like a continuation of a Tory government on Friday, and that means there will be an even greater need for us all to do this kind of work in our communities.
"My name is Ben, Benjamin Paul Szobody. I live in a terraced house in Hollingdean in Brighton, UK, with six children, a wife and a lovely housemate.
The organisation I work for is called One Church; it's a bit unconventional, it's a bit Brighton. One Church is a church, and the people of faith meet as a church in one of the buildings. One Church is also larger and more inclusive than this; One Church is a registered charity and a community of people, not all of whom are religious, who are oriented around social projects aimed at the most vulnerable people in Brighton.
My main job consists of three main pieces, I run a farmers market where you can buy quality local produce, I manage a building in central Brighton where we do loads of stuff for vulnerable people, and I support a farm project where we grow food alongside people that need to get out of the city and who need help.
Some of the projects in the building One Church run include a homeless shelter through the winter months on Wednesday evenings, a project called Chomp that tries to deal with food poverty during the school holidays when people miss their free school meals, a project called know my neighbour, that is attempting to get at the root of social isolation by encouraging people to do the simplest of things, which is to be aware of who their neighbour is and we also run a barista training project, and that's one of mine that I manage and run. We offer unemployed young people top shelf barista training.
One of the central struggles of my life is to balance the day to day sprinting around which ultimately is what sharing a building requires, with that grand vision. The whole reason I was attracted here was the vision of making a profound difference in the city. It's not so different from the journalistic impulse, which is 'I want to change society for the better'. I might be able to do that as an investigative journalist, or I might be able to do that as a hub in Brighton that flips the paradigm on its head as often as possible in favour of vulnerable people. If we are a building where a certain type of music is known to be played, if we are a building where food waste is being harnessed and being put to use for the poor, if we are a place where the most brilliant ideas can go to be nourished and grown, if we're a centre where social projects find their feet and brilliant food and drink is knitting people together, that's the vision. When you look at how big this building is, when you look at what's possible, then you think we're not half-way there yet."
I am about to embark on a new phase of Beyond Work. I've discovered over the years of working on this project, that the most important question for me is 'how do we end up doing what we do?', and this comes back to something very personal and I think it's at the heart of this project for me.
It comes back to me wondering how I have come from a small post-war council estate on the outskirts of Brighton called Bristol Estate, leaving school with no qualifications and yet somehow I have managed to 'work' in fulfilling or interesting jobs for most of my life.
It makes me wonder what tiny moments, luck, conditions, people, chance, timing, skills I've had in my life that have brought me to this place in time. It makes me question the examples of work I grew up with that have maybe influenced the path I have taken.
How I have ended up here is still a bit of a mystery to me, but I have some hunches. A few things happened in my childhood that changed my path. I went from being a failing GCSE student to setting up radio stations, signing record deals, having music played by John Peel on Radio 1 and managing global music radio projects in the space of a few years.
It is possible those things would not have happened if a school teacher had not shown a real interest in supporting me outside of school. He mentored my twin brother and me, and this lead to us receiving a Princes Trust grant. There were a couple of other mentors along the way that helped, but that teacher was key.
So I want to create an intervention that would have helped the 15-year-old me.
The next phase of Beyond Work will see me going back to the place that I grew up to observe, photograph and unearth the needs of people there now. I want to see what it is like to be embarking in the world of work, to be looking for work or be in a job in a place that’s been unfairly stigmatised over the years. It turns out that if you are a man living in Whitehawk, your life expectancy drops by seven years compared to the average in Brighton. That needs to change.
Once I have done my observing and research, I am going to set up an alternative Job Centre. The alternative Job Centre will be very different to the one you find in the back alleys of the UK right now. It will take a long-term approach to work life instead of just being interested in getting people off benefits.
It will look to unearth latent talent in people and support them to make the most of that talent, and it will consider well-being, fulfilment, health, family life, dreams and other things outside of work.
It will look at all the new possibilities in the world of work that at the moment might be reserved for people with different backgrounds. And it will bring together a bunch of artists, mentors and teachers to inspire and make this happen.
I know it sounds slightly utopian at the moment, and it is early days for the project, but it is important for me to use the kind of work I do for good and to make some changes in areas that need it. Work and life are better when there is diversity, it opens up perspectives, challenges pre-conceived ideas and creates opportunities for amazing new things to happen.
I'd like to ask the business community in Brighton to support this project. There is a multitude of ways this could happen, the obvious one is with cash. But, what I am most interested in is the knowledge, strategy, design and overall cleverness in Brighton that could be utilised to make this project the best thing I've ever worked on.
Please message me if you'd like to get involved. firstname.lastname@example.org