Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Launch of The Young Foundation

Last night I went to the launch of The Young Foundation. Short speeches from contributors to Porcupines in Winter included Richard Sennett on the importance of Michael Young's work on simply listening to ordinary people's understanding of their own lives, and Kate Gavron (co-author of The New East End, forthcoming) on the stories by which the old white working class live and the enduring importance for them - still - of the [Second World] War and the perceived golden age of the 1950s.

Philip Dodd, by contrast, warned against romanticising the idea of community (Dodd is a native of Grimethorpe, foverever associated in cliche with brassbands and mining). The very word was often used with a disciplinarian intent, or at least the wish of it, and idea that there were once happy communities could become endlessly regressive, he said. One should go back to Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native: "given a choice the poor will chose luxury over culture".

For all that, Alessandra Buonfino and Geoff Mulgan's essay, extracted in today's Guardian, still makes persuasive reading. For example," the austere solidarity of the war years - a time when, perhaps more than ever before or since, much of the population [in Britain] had felt useful, respected and engaged in a common project" cannot - as the authors say - be recaptured but it should be taken into account when facing the multiple future challenges of future "Britishness" (or "brutishness" as a mischievous letter pointed out was the spellcheck version of Gordon Brown's concept). The point is reinforced for me by the contrast with my girlfriend's home country of Spain, where the national narrative is so different.

I admire Geoff Mulgan's past work and trajectory (see for example here and here) and it looks like he has a great team. It was good, for example, to see at the launch two people I've worked with at different times and who hadn't previously met coming together for what could prove to be some really useful future work.

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