The perfect interviewee to fill these categories is David Floyd, an ex-volunteer for Exposure and the former editor of the magazine when he was my age (19). Now he is the managing director of a social enterprise in Walthamstow called Social Spider Community Interest Company.
John Bird, founder of the The Big Issue, defines social enterprise as: “a business solution to social problems.” David added to this more specifically with: “it’s trying to make the world a better place by selling stuff.”
David’s enterprise involves: “a mixture of research and consultancy on social investment, development of mental health-focused projects and publishing community newspapers.”
David and his friends, the forerunners of Social Spider, were: “motivated by the idea that as many people as possible should be able to understand how decisions that affect them are taken and have the opportunity and ability to make their voice count.”
And that is what sets apart his community publications from other local newspapers – they are built upon submissions and voluntary writers from around the area who feel passionate about getting their voices heard.
Where the private sector papers often deal with gritty local news, like stabbings and muggings for example, while local authority publications offer little more than propaganda and positive spin, the Waltham Forest Echo is more an “outlet for community organisations and campaigners to promote their work and communicate their views.”
With this paper already being published monthly since November 2015, David told me that he and his team were: “keen to see if our community newspaper model would work in another area.” From there sprung the Tottenham Community Press.
I asked David why he chose Tottenham for his latest community project. A big factor was Adjoa Wiredu. As a volunteer for The Echo, a Tottenham resident and a former Exposure volunteer, she wanted to edit a newspaper in her local area.
David, being a former editor for Exposure himself, had a lot to do with the Tottenham area. Speaking of this, he said: “There are big changes going on in Tottenham at the moment and we want to give local people a chance to have their say in an independent publication.”
Tottenham is an area still haunted with the shadow of the London Riots in 2011, yet it is one with a thriving community and a great deal of change and gentrification is taking place and this change is sure to affect its residents, for good or for ill.
David and his colleagues have embarked upon a noble cause in giving Tottenham and Waltham Forest residents a voice via media, especially with the amount of change being undertaken in these boroughs.
Like most writers in the modern age David runs a blog, his one under the name of Beanbags and Bullsh*t. I was intrigued to find out more about this, as blogs are one of the most popular platforms used by writers to get their work noticed.
David’s blog is: “A mixture of personal experiences in running a social enterprise and my reflections on policy developments in the world of social enterprise.” He then added that it is now “more focused on social investment – the market for repayable finance for charities and social enterprises.”
The motivation for the blog came about as a result of David being annoyed by the “hype” around social enterprise and investment: “Both cases seemed disconnected from the reality I was experiencing as someone running a social enterprise.”
This proves the importance of blogging in this age, as David believed that a field he has expertise in was being misconceived by many people and so he decided to act upon it. There are lessons in this for everyone, beyond writing.
If there is something you know a lot about, and you have a lot to say about it, there are many channels to use to get your point across; be it a blog, vlog or radio show.
I, however, am a writer (or an aspiring writer). When I told him this, David said: “I recommend you do lots of writing (alongside lots of reading). A blog is definitely one way to do it – although it depends a bit on what kind of writer you want to be – they’re definitely a good way to develop as a writer of opinions.”
“A blog is a useful thing to point out to them (employers, agents etc) that you know how to write.”
I myself am in the process of starting and naming a blog, which is proving tricky. I like to picture a blog as being a writer’s portfolio – a space for the world to get an insight into one’s beliefs and work.
“In terms of maintaining a blog,” David said, “you need to write about something that interests you enough to keep writing – and interests some other people enough for them to read it.”
Not only did I want to learn of David’s work in social enterprise and his life as a writer, I was also interested to find out about his time at Exposure and how it helped him.
“I started as a young volunteer in 1998. Then I was employed as editor between 2000 and 2003. I edited the magazine and also helped to run various other projects, including youth consultations and forums.”
“Exposure was probably the single biggest factor in sending me down the career route I’m on now, rather than a more conventional ‘go to university, apply for some jobs’ route. Taking on the job of editor when I was 19 gave me quite a lot of responsibility at a young age and dealing with Exposure’s partners – grant funders and the local council in particular – cured me of the illusion that old(er) people in power know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”
This “illusion” is certainly one I had until I entered the world of work. Eventually you realise that sometimes no one knows quite what they’re doing on this long, decaying road towards death, and sometimes you’ve just got to follow what you believe in instead of the elders. I was pleased that David mentioned this “illusion”.
He went on to say: “On a more personal level, as someone who loves reading, writing and finding things out, but didn’t enjoy conventional academic studying, I was a bit of a curiosity at school – so Exposure was the first place I really felt at home. Andy (who’s still around), Mirella and others were a bit like an extended family – and Andy’s Cypriot proverbs have been a major source of guidance for my later career (some more applicable than others).”
Lastly, I asked David what’s next for him and his organisation. “Maybe some more newspapers next year, along with some exciting digital stuff and lots more reports on social investment!”