People having a conversation about community building collaboration

Community Building Collaboration For Gloucester

At Barnwood Trust we have been developing a Community Building team, which was learning the methods of Asset Based Community Development, often called ABCD, which is all about how you learn to connect people who live in a place around what they care about, what they love doing, and their natural point of connection.

So we’ve been developing a team for two or three years who have been learning the methods of ABCD Community Building, and so the Police and the City Council decided to second, in the case of the Police three Police Community Support Officers – PCSOs – and from the City Council somebody from their engagement team, into Barnwood Trust to learn the methods alongside our team.

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Anne: I think, for us certainly the project jointly between ourselves and the Police to second a group of PCSOs and then Verona our Community Builder working together, free from organisational constraints, that was a pivotal moment in terms of understanding how it worked and the impact and the results it has.

Tim: For me within a policing context I can see an awful lot that would be useful from what I was learning around ABCD that would enable us to move to that much wider concept of neighbourhood safety, where everybody is involved in creating a safe community.

Sally: So to do this project we formed a strong relationship between the three organisations and we signed a Partnership Agreement to make sure that each of us could get what we needed from the project. For Barnwood Trust what we wanted to get out of it was to ensure that communities in Gloucester were welcoming and inclusive of everybody who lived there, especially people with disabilities and mental health challenges.

Verona: Working with the City Council, we were really at the beginning of learning and developing the community building, or asset-based way of working. So being taken out of that environment and into an environment whereby it’s more of a what’s strong way of thinking actually helped me to develop.

Louise: The biggest change I think for me was that with the Police you are always dealing with negative, so the incidents that we get, but with Barnwood Trust it’s very much what’s great, what’s good, what works, so having the Community Builders in one room sharing the same stories, sharing our work ethic, was what worked for me completely.

HOW DID THE SECONDEES APPLY ABCD TO THEIR COMMUNITY BUILDING?

Sally: What they had to learn was how do you connect with people who you don’t know and have never met, and begin a conversation to find out what somebody really cares about where they live, what they love doing, and what they’d like to get engaged in. That’s not as easy as it sounds, it’s a real art if you’re going to do it really effectively.

Louise: Sometimes I didn’t think I was doing anything, and then I’d come back and I’d say ‘oh this happened today, and this lady never comes out of her house’, and you’d say ‘well that’s amazing, that story, what do you mean she never comes out of her house, and now she’s going to the coffee shop once a week?’ Sometimes what we do is an everyday thing.

WHAT WAS THE BENEFIT OF WORKING WITH BARNWOOD TRUST?

Verona: You’ve asked me questions that have made me think, is that the best option, or is there another way of doing it? Why are you doing that? It’s been a space where I can be challenged safely.

Louise: You would question what your intentions were when you’re out in the community, and that one-on-one mentoring was what made me grow and become a better Community Builder, because it was just being able to understand the work more.

Philip: And those conversations, I loved them as well because there was so much learning for both of us in that as well.

Verona: You actually learned from me?

Philip: Yes, loads! And about myself as well. It’s been really a great journey, so thank you very much.

Verona: And thank you, Philip.

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE KEY LEARNINGS?

Anne: Trusting in communities and individuals to do things and achieving impact and stepping back, not over-organising but trusting that things will happen, which I think for a public servant – you know we call ourselves public servants – is quite difficult.

Verona: I’ve learned so many things about the way organisations work, whether they support residents to do more for themselves, or whether they still continue the culture of we know what’s best for you. And I’ve learned so much about communities and people and where they live and what they want for themselves, for their family, for their neighbours. And I’ve learned so much about myself as well, more importantly.

Philip: Yes.

Louise: It took me a long time to understand that it’s not about my story, it’s about their story. I always thought with the Police that I had to have a something to show and case study, and that was one of my big stories, like ‘no I helped support it, this is mine!’ But it was nothing about me, it was the conversations I had with the residents to keep them going, and that took a long time.

WHAT NEXT?

Sally: So the project finished at the end of 2018 and we looked at the results of the evaluation then and found that they were really strong for building really much more connected and inclusive communities, which was a really exciting find.

Verona: The plans for 2019 are to go back to the City Council and support my colleagues essentially to provide more space for communities to get more involved in where they live.

Anne: I guess it is always going back and helping people to sort things for themselves where they can do that, and it’s surprising how much individuals and communities can do for themselves.

Verona: We’re at the very early stages of a Community Interest Company.

Philip: To focus on Community Building?

Verona: To focus on Community Building, because the vision is to have a Community Builder in every ward of Gloucester.

Tim: Gloucester City Council at the moment are developing a 10 year plan around community building, and at this point we have said that we’re invested in that 10 year plan. We want to invest PCSOs into benefitting from the experience of being part of that and going through that over the period of 10 years.

Anne: And I think it’s a shift of how we as a Council work with our communities away from paternalism to supporting individuals and communities to reach their own potential.

Louise: We’ve just done a three day immersion course with PCSOs that are already doing great community work, and I’m going to be going out into an area to support two PCSOs regarding the Community Building work to see what they do good already.

Philip: So did you ever think you’d be running a three day training course?

Louise: Never, but once I get going I’m so passionate about this work.

Anne: We think it’s good for our communities and it means that we’re creating sustainable society change and helping support people to do more for themselves and to take control of their lives in a very different way. So I’m really excited about this work.

Sally: It’s enabled us to be what we aim to be: A catalyst for lasting change, to enable other people to keep building inclusive and welcoming communities.