RSA Journal – 25 June 2007

Speakers’ Corner: Promoting free speech,
open debate and active citizenship

Background: The original Speakers’ Corner, in London’s Hyde Park, has long been a potent symbol of Britain’s tradition of free speech. More recently, Euan Edworthy, a young British businessman living in Prague, decided to contribute to the civil life of the newly democratic nation by replicating the concept in the Czech capital.

With the help of Peter Bradley, then MP for The Wrekin, the Prague Speakers’ Corner was inaugurated in November 2004. Its success and the interest it has stimulated, both in the UK and overseas, has prompted Edworthy and Bradley to establish the Speakers’ Corner Trust (SCT) to undertake similar initiatives in the UK and in emerging democracies abroad.

Aims: With public engagement in civil society in this country at an all-time low, the SCT is establishing a UK programme, which aims to work with the public, private and voluntary sectors and local communities to:

  • Help restore public and political commitment to the principle and constructive practice of free speech
  • Promote open debate and the free, face-to face exchange of ideas and opinions about society, politics and other issues
  • Strengthen relationships between citizens
  • Encourage politicians and other opinion-formers and decision-makers to engage more directly with the public
  • Encourage citizens to play a more active part in civil life and governance.

As well as designating specific public spaces as Speakers’ Corners where appropriate, the SCT will form local committees to organise schedules of public events, which will be supported by educational programmes. The UK programme will be piloted with three contrasting projects: one in a major city, one in a small town and one in a rural setting.

SCT director Peter Bradley says: “We want to encourage and enable people from all backgrounds and all parts of the country to share their ideas and opinions in spontaneous, face-to-face discussion and debate. Listening to others and expressing one’s own views is an enriching experience, and helps to restore the basis for tolerant, active and participative community life.

“Identifying the right people to lead local initiatives will be the key to our success, and we believe that RSA Fellows will want to take up the challenge.”

Get involved

  • If you would like to develop a Speakers’ Corner initiative in your area, you could set the wheels in motion by hosting a Coffeehouse Challenge discussion on the subject in your local community
  • Or you could hold a Challenge to discuss other ways to promote free expression, public debate and active citizenship
  • For more information on the Speakers’ Corner Trust and how to help establish a local initiative, contact Peter Bradley at [email protected]

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