John Pearce

Community Development and Social Enterprise Thinker and Activist;

Born: March 23rd, 1942
Died: December 12th, 2011John_Pearce_Portrait.jpg

John Pearce, who died from cancer aged just 69, was a major and influential force in community development and in particular was a pioneer in community enterprise - the precursor to social enterprise. For nearly fifty years, John's ideas, inspiration and exceptional talent for clear thinking were a driving force behind people-centred development and especially around the principles and practice of collective and community enterprise.

John brought a rare vision to community development that encompassed the simple idea that people who are disadvantaged for whatever reason can engage directly with economic solutions that will create jobs and services in their own communities and so take steps towards improving their quality of life. He was a thinker who managed to turn theories into practice and directly helped the development of communities in Scotland, the UK and wider afield.

John was Cornish and grew up in Truro where his father was an accountant and Methodist lay-preacher. He won a scholarship to Truro School and then went on to St Catharine's College, Cambridge where he studied mediaeval French and German – to the astonishment of many who knew him in later life!

After Cambridge he was a VSO volunteer teaching in Nigeria. On his return to the UK in 1964 he studied for a diploma in Social Administration at the London School of Economics. Two years prior to this, the foundations had been laid for ground-breaking work in Nepal through a chance encounter with the Dalai Lama's sister at a Pestolozzi Children's project. With two other friends he spent nearly two years working with Tibetan refugees helping to found a village settlement near Pokhara in eastern Nepal which was completed in 1967 and named by the Dalai Lama as Tashi Ling or "Happy Place". John maintained links with Tibet and Tibetans throughout his life.

He went on to work for the Young Volunteer Force Foundation in Bideford, Devon and was part of the Community Development Programme setting up community development projects in post-industrial west Cumbria from 1972 - 1977. John in those days cut a flamboyant figure with long hair and an extravagant moustache disguising an innovative approach and steely determination. Following the end of the West Cumbria CDP and the family moved to Harburn in West Lothian.

From around this time John was deeply involved in the Industrial Common Ownership Movement and chaired its lending committee ICOF. He helped to found the Scottish Co-operative Development Committee and established the Local Enterprise Advisory Project (LEAP) working with people living in disadvantaged urban housing schemes in the west of Scotland. In the early 1980s Strathclyde Community Business (SCB) grew out of LEAP and saw staff numbers and work load both grow, becoming a model for publicly funded community enterprise development units which in the 1980s covered most of the Scottish regions.

John edged towards retiring but never got there. For the last twenty years of his life he worked freelance. There are countless reports and research documents that bear his name and six books – perhaps the most celebrated being 'Social Enterprise in Anytown' published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 2003. He also developed the ideas, policies and practices of social accounting and audit which enables organisations with a social purpose to account and demonstrate their true social value to society.

He was a founder member of Community Business Scotland, the Social Audit Network, the Scottish Community Enterprise Investment Fund and the West Calder Workspace Group of Community Companies. His energy, clarity of thought and the ability to gather people around ideas extended John' influence out across the UK and to Europe through the European Network for Economic Self-help and Local Development and to India, Australia and New Zealand through COMMACT (now the Commonwealth Association for People Centred Development).

In Harburn, John had a small holding and was central to much local community action. He raised pigs for many years, grew vegetables and planted thousands of trees. His friends recall him as stubborn, not always patient, was at times peremptory, generous, cooked a great fish pie, practical, organised but with a curious tendency to collect stuff. He was a great walker who twice covered the 250 mile coastal path around Cornwall.

John_Pearce.jpgJohn's contribution to the development of social enterprise and community development in its most practical and truest form will be remembered by many. Throughout John's life he kept a library of papers and documents and he has made a major archive contribution to the Social Enterprise Collection at Glasgow Caledonian University as well as donating an archive to the exiled Tibetan government in Dharamsala.

John led a truly remarkable life that managed in a simple and straightforward way to live and contribute locally while at the same time extend his ideas and thinking globally. He was active on the local community council in Harburn and at the same time maintained working relationships with community development NGOs in India.

He is survived by Joanna, Matthew and William, their partners Vic and Hope, his grandchildren Jack and Pirran and his brother Philip.

Alan Kay and Alan Tuffs - long-time friends and colleagues

Personal Tribute To John Pearce - Alan Kay

Alan Kay has written a Personal Tribute that may reflect the experience of many of John's friends and colleagues....

"John Pearce was a close friend, a colleague and a source of inspiration. I shall miss his patience, his humour and his wisdom. He strode through life...with original ideas that he put into practice...with a strong sense of values and social justice...and with an ability to include and support the most vulnerable in society.

He had little patience with misguided authority and self-justifying power structures. He was always on the side of the common folk.

I first met John in 1988 when I applied for a job with Community Business Scotland (CBS) and we went out for a coffee at the People's Palace in Glasgow. I think he wanted to check me out. After the coffee we went on a visit to the hard-pressed Ferguslie Park housing estate in Paisley and he explained that what was lamentable was not that places like Ferguslie Park existed, but that they seemed to be allowed to continue to exist...

He converted me to a form of community development based on the need for local people to take charge of their own economic activity. By helping local communities to do this, we are empowering them.

John has inspired and influenced many people thoughout his life. He was an activist in the Community Development Programme in the early 1970s in Cumbria. He then worked tirelessly on promoting and developing community businesses in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. He established and ran Strathclyde Community Business which was the first development unit supporting the growing community business movement in Scotland. That led to the founding of Community Business Scotland in the early 1980s and the Scottish Community Enterprise Investment Fund.

After leaving SCB in the early 1990s be became self-employed and worked on ways community enterprise could account for their social purpose. This led to the development of social accounting and audit and work with the New Economics Foundation and others.

He had an agile mind coupled with a curiosity and sense of fairness which impressed nearly everyone he came into contact with. He truly was a social entrepreneur but with an understanding that lasting community change would only be achieved if it involved collective action – people working with each other for the common good.

Over the years he and I worked closely together - in odd places from Shetland to Wales, from Newcastle to Liverpool; and with the occasional trip abroad on European research projects.

I learnt a lot from John as he always behaved with integrity and showed me ways in which we can help others, maintain a set of values and do interesting work – all at the same time!

For me John is irreplaceable and I look back on the work we did together over the last fourteen years with affection. They are filled with good memories – too many to go through but ones that will stay with me and be remembered with fondness.

And so, if any of us in the future stop long enough in the lay-bys of life and contemplate the origins of social enterprise and social impact we shall stumble across the work of John Pearce – much more than a footnote in the history of the social economy.

I shall miss him – my friend, John Pearce."

Tributes from friends and colleagues

Since John's passing, SAN has received numerous other tributes, a selection from which is shown below:

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