Team member Phil having a conversation on the a community event day.

Walking the talk & finding hidden treasures

As many will know, Barnwood Trust has been looking at how it can support building communities that welcome everyone. This has this led to investing in an Asset Based Community Development (or ABCD) approach to community building over the last three years; in particular supporting Community Builders and You’re Welcome Guides to work alongside residents in several neighbourhoods across the County.

Some Barnwood employees have long been very engaged in their communities, but not necessarily with that engagement being seen through an ABCD lens, while other employees have had less connection with their communities. Interesting questions arose early in this process; what does this approach mean for the Barnwood Trust team in our own communities? How can we know and understand this work unless we practice it for ourselves? What does it mean to connect in your street and how does it feel? Can we expect others to engage and understand if we are not doing it ourselves?

After some discussion and a flash of inspiration by Barnwood’s Chrissie Barker, an idea was developed for a project for the staff team to connect in some way with their neighbourhood; to uncover skills, gifts and hidden treasures. The team, which included all the staff (community builders, the finance and grants teams, communications staff and more), were all given three to six months to work on this, had the opportunity for 1-1 feedback and for those who wished, five hours could be taken out of work time (see invite below). Some of the feedback given demonstrated that in the first instance this had felt for some, like an insurmountable challenge, while for others it had brought out the competitive element. It was a real blurring of the lines between work and home and whilst impactful, also felt a little uncomfortable. Indeed for some the idea took quite some getting used to.

An activity illustration.

Nearly everyone took part in some way; some knocking on doors of neighbours for the first time, while others got more involved in planning events. One member of the team organised a street barbecue and put out invitations. He later commented; ‘I organised everything, should have included and encouraged more people to support and organise.’ Another staff member was struggling to know how to start then found herself talking to someone at her gym, only to discover she was a neighbour: this led to neighbours coming together for cake and more.

One of the challenges for myself was to learn to step out of the organiser role of our roads’ street party. It can be hard to take a different role when that’s how people have come to see you. I fully participated in the preparation meetings but found myself posing new questions about how we can ensure all feel welcomed at the party – and this time it was others who wrote the letters and visited neighbours. One meeting I was unable to attend, and was delighted to see that the group managed totally without me.

Another challenge for me was, and still is, about energy. I work for the Trust three days a week and am fortunate this allows a balance and time for me to engage in projects in my own community. Yet there are still times when I can’t face seeing another person and other times when my family don’t want to go to town with me as I’ll stop and talk to so many people. The comments from the team afterwards showed a wide range of interesting reflections on connecting with our own neighbourhoods. Here are some examples:

•  I have gained an understanding that it takes time and a lot of yourself. I also feel much safer as I know who is in my street.

•  It has prompted quite an interesting and reflective process, which I have welcomed.

•  It was a blurring of the lines, quite challenging

•  I seem to bump into my neighbours more. I care about them, we are all part of a community. I am thinking for the first time of sending Christmas cards to everyone.

•  Important that everyone works at their own pace and in a way that is comfortable for them

•  It doesn’t always have to be a connection with someone that you don’t know

•  It is important to maintain a healthy balance as it also impacts on family

The invitation had a significant impact across the team and resonated in different ways over many months. The learning for everyone, both personally and professionally, had an unexpected ‘ripple’ effect, to the extent that we evolved our recruitment process. As part of the interview process, candidates are now asked to talk with us about their community/street and where they might find a hidden treasure. Many of the candidates have shared that this has been a huge learning and a reflective process for themselves. It has also led to us having a much richer understanding of applicants and consequently an improved interview process.

We could never have imagined that this one invitation would create such an impact. Since this ‘exercise’ last year we have all continued to connect with our communities in different ways but also have a deeper understanding of what this work can involve – an understanding that we continue to build on. As George Bernard Shaw, Shakespeare and indeed many others have suggested, ‘talking’ is itself an ineffectual alternative to ‘walking’. There is much to be gained by walking our talk.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Become the change you wish to see in the world.” And, it will happen.