A native of Co. Antrim, Laird’s first ‘proper’ jobs were in town planning: first in a Whitehall department, then with Stoke-on-Trent City Council. There he supported disadvantaged and overlooked communities in engaging more effectively with the council and other agencies – in one case, saving a mining village from certain demolition. As chief advisor to Stoke’s Elected Mayor, Laird delivered a ‘Green Papers’ initiative, enabling people from all backgrounds to make significant contributions to policy development on issues such as housing, sustainability and community safety.
Laird next took on equality and social inclusion roles in regional government, liaising with public, private and voluntary sector leaders in the West Midlands and North West to agree a series of accords on fair working practices, access to employment and social wellbeing. He then worked for a time as CEO of a large multicultural organisation.
Laird’s current workload is more varied than ever. He designs planning modules for distance learning degree courses at CEM, Reading; is a qualified ESOL teacher, specialising in students with low literacy skills; provides consultancy support for the WEA’s community learning programmes; and is a trustee of a faith-based charity that promotes sustainable lifestyles among vulnerable communities. As a co-director of the NCIA, which exists to defend voluntary services from cuts and marketisation, Laird has written and presented research papers on outsourcing. He also edits the LocalismWatch site on the Open Democracy network, helping grassroots communities make sense of the government’s localism agenda – and challenge it.