The Speakers’ Corner project aims to promote freedom of speech, public debate and active citizenship as a means of revitalising civil society in the UK and supporting its development in emerging democracies.
In order to pursue these aims, SCT has both a UK and an international programme and has adopted a prospectus for an educational programme which it proposes to develop with the University of Leeds.
Developing a UK Speakers’ Corner Network…
SCT believes that in the current climate of political disengagement, reasserting the importance of citizens’ rights which we take for granted has become a pressing priority. There is an urgent need to promote open discussion and debate in a way which involves communities as well as politicians and enables citizens to express their views and strengthen their influence on the decision-making process.
SCT’s emphasis on face-to-face engagement distinguishes it from a range of initiatives promoting participation online. The internet has given us unparalleled access to information and to each other. It can educate, enlighten and enfranchise. But it has limitations too. As well as engaging people in genuine interaction, it can also detach them from it. So while the internet will continue to play an important role in communications, relationships and debate, SCT believes that it is important to promote face-to-face dialogue and to encourage communities to come together to exchange information, ideas and opinions.
That experience can be not only empowering and enjoyable but, in SCT’s view, is also the best way to develop the mutual respect, cooperation and sense of common cause which underpin active and successful communities.
…and Supporting Emerging Democracies
Freedom of expression and the right of assembly lie at the heart of all civil liberties. They are the aspiration of those who strive for freedom and the prize for those who have achieved it. They provide the democratic basis for relations among citizens and between them and their governments. Through the rights to dissent and debate which they guarantee, they are the means by which societies develop and progress.
The original Speakers’ Corner in London was born out of the struggle for citizens’ rights in nineteenth century Britain and while it remains a unique and distinctive exemplar of British democracy, it is also a potent symbol both for those who aspire to the freedoms which we have long enjoyed and to those who are already building democratic institutions of their own.
Through its international programme, SCT aims to work with civil society in emerging democracies to support the efforts of Governments and others to create strong and sustainable citizens’ rights and civil institutions and to provide new opportunities for citizens to express their opinions, hold their public servants to account and influence and participate in their own governance.
Education and Training
Today Speakers’ Corner is so much a part of Britain’s heritage that many take it and the rights it represents for granted. Do we value our citizens’ rights and democratic freedoms? Do we know enough about them and how and why they were won? Do we, and those in emerging democracies, understand how to use them and that by doing so we can improve the quality of our lives and those of our neighbours? Do we have the confidence and skills to express our ideas and opinions in public?
SCT proposes to develop a range of educational resources, principally for schools, which emphasise the importance of active and vocal citizenship. SCT also seeks to help build community capacity by providing practical training, for example, in the techniques of basic public speaking. On the basis that everyone has good ideas and strong opinions but few have the confidence or experience to communicate them to others, wherever SCT works, it seeks the support of local theatres in running workshops to coach members of the public in the skills required to speak in public. It has also produced, with the Southbank Centre, a download by the film maker Sam Lawton entitled Speaking Out.
In May 2012, SCT’s partnership with the University of Leeds gave rise to the Youth Amplified website which provides a range of accessible, attractive and free-to-use resources to support the teaching and learning of speaking and listening skills among 11-18 year-olds.
SCT is also working with the Workers Educational Association which has developed a course to help adults acquire effective speaking annd listening skills to complement local Speakers’ Corner projects.
* ©Tfl from the London Transport Museum collection