Jez Hall from Shared Future explains what participatory budgeting is, and how it’s going to work in North Lancashire. 

You may have watched Dragons’ Den on TV; it’s a reality show where some nervous entrepreneur sells their new idea to a sceptical group of successful business types. They then unpick it as a form of public entertainment. But what if you could be one of a community of dragons? Where the audience decides?

Enter participatory budgeting.

If you haven’t come across ‘Participatory Budgeting’, you might be a bit sceptical at first glance. But it’s not new. It’s been happening for over 20 years in the UK, and in that time we have learnt a lot about how to make it work well. We’ll be bringing some of this learning to North Lancashire where we will run a local participatory budget over four years to build a fairer and more regenerative food economy. 

The new participatory grant making is starting this summer as part of the Pots of Possibility funding process. It will complement the small community grants process run by the Closing Loops project, offering a way for everyone to get involved and learn about each other’s work. Think of it as a great big community gifting circle. 

Some of you may remember Lancaster Soup which ran for a couple of years. People made cash donations and received free soup provided by volunteers. Local projects pitched their idea to eaters, and eaters voted on where their donations should go. This is a bit like participatory budgeting.

There are many examples of participatory budgeting, in the UK and abroad. Probably one of the nicest processes I know happened a few years ago in Leeds, as part of a project to build locally managed community orchards. Big scale participatory budgeting events are happening right now in Scotland, where a million pounds has been handed to the community to decide on how to achieve net zero carbon targets. 

Our process in North Lancashire won’t be big, but it will be a long-term one. We will be giving out £40,000 each year for four years, in grants of up to £10,000. 

Local projects will be able to make a simple application. These will be checked by a verification panel to ensure they fit the overall aims and applicants will then be invited to present their idea at a community decision event. 

Anyone who is interested will be able to take part and make suggestions for which projects should get funded. Keep an eye on foodfutures.org.uk/pots-of-possibility for information on how you can apply and become a community dragon. 

Closing Loops Pots of Possibility logo

The Pots of Possibility ‘Your Pots’ fund is offering grants of between £5000 and £10,000 to social enterprises and organisations to develop regenerative ideas, scale up existing regenerative projects and help our communities and environment to flourish. Applications will be open from 4 September to 6 October 2023. 

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