Several weeks after we organised – with Free University Brighton – the event Cooperative Alternatives on 11th June, concerns were raised with us that some people ‘volunteering’ for or through the Synergy Centre are welfare claimants working under threat of sanction as part of the ‘workfare’ programme, especially through Brightoning Lives.
The Synergy Centre is a valuable venue for many community and activist groups in Brighton and many volunteers who work there find it worthwhile. However, Mutual Aid in Sussex and Free University Brighton do not agree with any kind of coerced volunteering. We also think people should receive a fair wage for any work outside of genuine volunteering.
Since the Brighton Benefits Campaign (BBC) initiated the boycott against the Synergy Centre, Brightoning Lives have agreed a plan with the Trades Council, the local Green Party, the People’s Assembly Brighton and the Synergy Centre. More details here on the Brightoning Lives Facebook page.
However this agreement does not address many of the issues raised by the Brighton Benefits Campaign. A response has been published by them, including a call for the Synergy Centre to sign up to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement, which has been signed by 644 other organisations.
We engaged with the Synergy Centre as well as trying to contact and meet Brighton Benefits Campaign.
We also spent many hours contacting and visiting other venues around the city, however we were unable to find anywhere else available or appropriate given the short notice, the size of the event and that two workshops will be happen simultaneously throughout the event.
We had a choice of whether to cancel the event or continue with it, but decided to go ahead after collectively spending hundreds of hours organising it and with the expenses already incurred. Ultimately there is a small group of people organising this event, and everyone is volunteering their time to make this happen.
This was a very difficult decision to make. We want to live in a more co-operative and equal world – because of this we decided to go ahead rather than cancel, which is the only other option at this stage.