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Neighbourhoods and communities
Imagination infrastructures

Our New Constellations journey: a fair and flourishing future for York

In summer 2023 JRF supported a New Constellation journey in York, to bring people together and explore how they can contribute to York’s fair and flourishing future.

Written by:
Victoria Hughes
Date published:
Reading time:
4 minutes

Last year I wrote about an exciting new chapter of our work in York, working in collaboration with the team at New Constellations. With generous match funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, we supported a bespoke journey for people from different walks of life in York to explore how they can contribute to the city’s future through their own work and collective action.

Why did we do this work, and why in York?

York is Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s home city, the place where our work began. As a foundation we’ve been working to develop our role as an anchor institution, and think deeply about how we can support our mission here on home soil. We’ve been working across horizons, supporting those in immediate need whilst  nurturing those committed to fostering a shift towards a fairer and more equitable future. You can see more about our city-wide JRF work in this short video. JRF has an amazing heritage to draw inspiration from and we wanted to understand how we could rekindle Rowntree’s radicalism in York today. Joseph Rowntree recognised that our work as a Foundation must evolve to face the challenges of our times, in his words: occasions teach new duties.

Joseph Rowntree

We’re certainly living through challenging ‘occasions’; the complexity and scale of the crises we’re facing is unprecedented. Just as in other UK cities, communities in York are experiencing the effects of a web of interconnected global challenges, the symptoms of which we see played out at a local level: a cost of living crisis and rising inequality, unaffordable housing and increasingly obvious environmental impacts, such as rising flood waters.

The scale of these dilemmas is shaking the very foundations of our current political, economic and social systems, revealing the urgent need for ‘new duties’ which focus time and energy into building new social and economic models to speed up and support the transition to just and equitable futures.

Of course, it can be hard to see beyond the way things are now. We’ve been led to believe that systems and structures are fixed and that thinking of alternative models is unrealistic and somehow ‘utopian’. However, we know that if we’re trying to get to a new destination then we can’t just follow old routes. If we are to transition to more just and equitable futures then we need to forge new paths and fundamentally reimagine the ways we live and our relationship with each other, our resources and our planet.

So at this time of upheaval, more than ever we need the time and space to collectively lift our heads up and reflect on what we’re living through and how we can begin to respond to the challenges we face. There are different ways of doing this, but imagination practice provides a carefully held space and way to consider possibilities for change, helping to orient us toward different futures.

We partnered with New Constellations to support people in York from different walks of life to come together and imagine, and begin shaping, futures which turn away from fatalism to find new constellations of hope and possibility for our future. Throughout this journey (described below), we explored the challenges we face and examined this moment in York’s history. As a group, we explored and imagined a thriving future for the city, one in which all of its people and the natural world are able to flourish together, and asked ourselves the question, what would it take to get there?

As we set out in our original blog, JRF committed financial and practical support for the group to continue to work together and support each other in service of the city following the journey. As part of this commitment, we were lucky enough to recruit Kate McLaven as our ‘York Local Lead’, who has been pivotal in supporting the New Constellations journey and carrying the momentum of the group afterwards. In this reflection, Kate shares more detail about the New Constellations journey and her experiences supporting the York Crew.

A large allotment site in London next to flats

This reflection is part of the neighbourhoods and communities topic.

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