First off, an apology from the Fact Totem team for going so digitally quiet on you all with this project. It’s been a complicated few months.
As some of you will have noticed the prototype Totem is now no longer on Devonshire Green. This is in the large part due to two factors. Firstly, we have received a bill from Sheffield City Council rates department threatening court action unless we paid just under £1,000 in business rates, despite having not charged anyone for any of the services we have delivered. Having now paid this bill in an effort to avoid court action and consequent bad credit issues, the not-for-profit, non-incorporated body that is Fact Totem is heavily in the minus figures. Naturally we’re dismayed at this aggressive reaction from the Council rates department to a community enterprise which aims to help independent traders, community groups and charities by offering free poster space on a pilot display unit on Devonshire Green.
Our second reason is slightly more complicated. Our planning permission was coming to an end in January 2014 and a new JC Decaux cylinder has been placed within 20 metres of the Totem, which leads us to believe that a re-application for planning permission would have been denied outright by the planning department. Again at this we are dismayed at the seeming indifference to community projects over corporate commercial enterprises.
In better news, we have now managed, after over a year of asking, to meet the planning department and some of those in the Council who are responsible for external outdoor advertising. We are told that a 20-year exclusivity deal signed with JC Decaux on outdoor advertising is now coming to an end and that this year a tender will be released, allowing businesses to compete to provide outdoor advertising in Sheffield. We are told that we may too compete for this tender.
We asked whether they would be considering third sector and socially beneficial projects for this tender, they said yes, but that they were also tasked with obtaining large amounts of revenue from outdoor advertising. We asked how they would be balancing social impact with financial value. They unfortunately did not know the answer, but have said they will find out and let us know. We wait with baited breath.
And so we enter a kind of limbo period. Support for Fact Totem has been universal across independent traders, community groups, charities and all those members of the Council who are fortunately not in position to offer anything but comment and positive encouragement. We are told that they appreciate the values of the project and that it fits in with their city-wide strategy to support independent trade and social cohesion. Let’s hope that these sentiments so commonly expressed translate into action. Let’s hope that the tender process for outdoor advertising isn’t handed off to the nearest corporate in an effort to raise more money for a broke local government. Let’s hope that the council is able to appreciate the long game just long enough to help us all to help ourselves.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the Fact Totem project or helping out, please drop us an email on email@example.com