Interview with Jake Barnes, ARTS Brighton researcher

Interview with Jake Barnes, ARTS Brighton researcher

Jake Barnes is one of the researchers for the ARTS Brighton team, having joined in September 2015. Having recently passed his PhD viva, I sat down with Jake to discuss his background and role within ARTS Brighton.

jake barnesWhat were you working on before joining the arts team?

Before joining the team I was studying how local community-led energy initiative’s attempt to integrate low carbon technologies, like solar PV and solid-wall, into their local communities. This was for my PhD based here, in SPRU. The project built on my existing connections to community action in Bristol and used four Bristol-based community initiatives as case studies. The project conceptualized core groups of community activists as intermediary actors, working between new technologies, local and national government actors and their policies, producers and of course, consumers. One of the interesting results was how important the connection between community activists and their wider community is, and yet, how this is often presumed rather than known and requires dedicated work to build up.

Why did you apply to become a researcher on the ARTS project?

Well, the ARTS project linked nicely with this previous research but also extended it. So whilst I had previously been concentrating on community energy projects, the ARTS project offered the potential to continue looking at local energy activity whilst also learning about water, food and mobility as well as biodiversity and resource management. Second, the ARTS project seeks to build on a growing body of work around Sustainability transitions, which my previous research had also utilized and built upon so it provided an opportunity to continue in the same theoretical area. Third, because the project is seeking to engage with local activity it was an opportunity to get ‘back out there’, to participate in change processes, which I had been doing before in Bristol but hadn’t been able to do so much of in the last few years.

What have you produced so far?

Me, or the overall project? So far I’ve mainly been trying to keep up the good work that had been done before I arrived!

Actually most of my work since September has been on the analysis side, so using the data that has already been collected and trying to identify, for example, common strategies used by initiatives to increase their impact or investigating how the multi-level governance context has influenced the development of local initiatives. In terms of the overall project, there have been a few key stages. Firstly, there was a mapping exercise of all initiatives in the city-region which produced a list of over a hundred. Then there was an exploration of the local governance context and mini in depth case studies of 11 local initiatives. From this Rachael Durrant, my colleague, produced a briefing document about one particular case, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership and how it is making an impact on the city but in an accessible and inclusive manner. There have also been lots of presentations and conference participation over the last few years but now the focus is really on turning the empirical material into journal articles.

What are the most exciting initiatives you’ve seen in Brighton?

I think, the one that stands out to me the most is probably, the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership. It occupies an unusual position however, being more of an umbrella organization or hub rather than a stand-alone initiative. I find it inspiring for the way that it brings together different initiatives, approaches the idea of sustainable food from multiple different angles – health, weight loss and pregnancy as well as the more normal cooking, growing and eating side of things. I also get excited by things like the Waste House and the Real Junk Food project, partly because they are so new to me but also because they seem to be pushing boundaries and accepted ways of doing things.

What one thing could the city do today to accelerate a transition to sustainability?

Oh. Well that’s a tricky one. I don’t think there is a ‘one thing’ as such and there probably aren’t any easy answers. It going to take a lot more hard work and experimentation. Besides there are some open questions as to whether it is possible for the city to reach a more sustainable place given how constrained it is by the wider UK context. In fact, its probably not possible for Brighton and Hove to achieve radical change if the rest of the UK doesn’t also move in that direction. But coming back to your question, possible strategies to accelerate the pace of change might include exploring opportunities and synergies between different initiatives. It will probably include finding ways to build upon and feed off ongoing changes in the city (like the creation of the Biosphere Partnership) and will definitely involve finding ways to embed new practices into the daily routines of local people, businesses and the council be that through new infrastructure, policies, business models etc.

Photo: Kee Seng Heng

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Miriam is a student at the University of Sussex in Brighton. She can be found at @ThatMiriam on twitter.

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