Building communities – James Moriarty

Fairbeats exists to build communities: musical communities, diverse communities, welcoming
communities. Through our work we try to create space for young people from new communities
across London to feel accepted and valued. Music is the tool we employ to create these
communal connections, but rarely is it the end in itself.


Talking about identity in social terms is not denying individuality but viewing the very definition of
individuality as something that is part of the practices of specific communities.1


As outlined in the quote above, from educational theorist Étienne Wenger, individuality is
central to the formation of any community. When we work with a group, we are really
working with a series of individual people, each with their own personalities, preferences and
experiences. Our task is to bring these individuals together in order to create something
greater – a community. It is vital, however, to respect the individuality of each member of this
community if it is to gain an identity of its own. This respect for individuality is, I believe,
central to the work of Fairbeats.


But how does one foster this respect? How, even, does one find individuals who might form a
supportive community in the first place? Fairbeats do not claim to have the answers to these
questions, but they work with those who might. Long-term relationships with grassroots
organisations are a hallmark of Fairbeats’ approach to community building. These partner
organisations provide a bridge between the musical experience of Fairbeats and the
individuals who could most benefit from this experience. One ends up with a three-part model:
individual – grassroots organisation – Fairbeats, with every part contributing to the creation of
a new community.


These partner organisations are often working in fluid situations. The inconsistencies of support
for refugees and asylum seekers mean that these organisations often face a precarious
existence whilst trying to support others whose lives are already marginalised. Working in
such settings is a far cry from working in schools, for instance, with their clear hierarchies,
guaranteed funding and strict behaviour policies. In the contexts we find ourselves in,
cooperation, rather than coercion, is the order of the day.


But how do you go about making a ‘community of practice’ when your practice is making
communities? To return to Wenger:


Being alive as human beings means that we are constantly engaged in the pursuit of enterprises of all
kinds, from ensuring our physical survival to seeking the most lofty pleasures. As we define these
enterprises and engage in their pursuit together, we interact with each other and with the world and we
tune our relations with each other and with the world accordingly. In other words, we learn.
Over time this collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our
enterprises and the attendant social relations. These practices are thus the property of a kind of
community created over time by the sustained pursuit of a shared enterprise. It makes sense, therefore,
to call these kinds of communities communities of practice.2


What is essential, then, is a shared enterprise, a common goal or activity to which you all
contribute. In our work this primarily takes the form of music. Music, however, is a vast field
that can be explored in a great many ways and our challenge is to create a map which those
we work with have a role in designing. The approach we use could be called ‘co-creative’.3
Our aim is to understand what the individuals we work with would like to achieve and
facilitate the creation of a consensus, whereby every member of the group understands what
we are trying to do and what their role is. This process is an ongoing one; there is never an
end-state when it comes to communities. What we hope to do is create work that emerges
from the people we work with, and in which you can find traces of all of those people.


This is how I understand the work of Fairbeats, how I conceptualise the processes and values
that make our work unique. The influence of this upon my own practice is enormous, but one of
the most profound lessons I’ve learnt is how to respect and value every individual I work with. I
no longer seek to be in complete control of a creative process but rather to cede control to
others and allow them to enrich this process. Not only is this more ethical, it is also more
effective. People care more about a process in which they have become the creators; people
are moved more by that which they care about. Music contains more life when it contains more
perspectives. Perhaps this should be the new Fairbeats mantra?

1 Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, And Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1998).
2 Wenger., 45.