NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge Reflection
And now, the end is here
364 days ago the Neighbourhood Challenge programme started in Newark (NG24 postcodes). The partners Holy Trinity Community & Partnership Centre and RE:generate had bold aspirations of animating, engaging and galvanising 1000 people to get involved with community building activities that would develop confidence, skills, leadership and potential to bring about changes and improvements that members of the Holy Trinity Parish, the Partnership and the wider neighbourhood both needed and wanted.
So, 363 days where are we in relation to this?
Well, we have:
- Met over 1000 people from across the NG24 postcode
- Supported the development of over 15 new projects that are supported by the wider network of people
- Trained 30+ people in the RSLM process
- Enabled the coming together and formation of 20+ neighbourhood groups and teams that engaged in a dialogue of action and reflection with regards to their community
So I guess we have… (at least got some of the way there!)
And in doing the listening we found out that:
TWO THIRDS of people felt that they did not have a say in how their communities are run
—— BUT ——
When challenged THREE QUARTERS of people wanted to have a say and pledged to get involved as Customers, Clients, Volunteers, Leaders, Entrepreneurs, Listeners and Voters!
By listening to over 1000 people, building trust, respect and relationships and supporting action at a neighbourhood level we have enabled local people to develop the skills, confidence and capacity to start to lead on the things that they want to do. It has reached deeply into the community to new people, to those who haven’t previously been engaged for whatever reason and it has a developed a conversation between local people, the Parish and the communities and neighbourhoods of NG24. It has encouraged new local leaders to emerge and as a consequence new people are now coming together in new ways to develop projects actions and initiatives
When people have come together to explore their dreams, hopes, visions and aspirations they have been supported to engage in a project development process designed to build on the things that they love about their communities and what they would like to see change. Newly identified project leaders have been prompted to use the listening process directly with their friends, family and neighbours to develop and identify a market for their ideas. By building connections and developing the market intelligence in this way individuals and groups have been able to assess whether there is a need for a project but also importantly if people are likely to sign up to use it.
Using this approach, the project has shown that greater success is achieved when compared to other traditional approaches of a project idea being held by an individual and then ‘sold’ to others through leafleting etc. due to the nature of it being based on personal contact and a good understanding of individuals’ needs and aspirations.
The Listening Ear, The Carlton Conversation and Family Fridays have all used this approach to develop their reach, networks and activities to engage with local people and have developed their activities in response to the strengths and identified needs of their respective communities.
Regrets, I’ve had a few
For RE:generate, our local partners, and the funders, this programme was about learning. It was about finding out whether or not, in a 12 month time frame RE:generate could introduce and deliver our RSLM process:
- in the context of a faith based community (to engage Parishioners in leading and developing activities that would benefit the Parish)
- with the wider community of Newark (to engage local people in community led action that would build on the strengths and assets of communities) and then,
- develop collaborative working between faith based groups and the local community to sustain activities going forward
What have we learnt then?
To us, it has shown very clearly that RE:generate’s RSLM process does work in a faith based community. In the current context and climate of policy changes and localism, we feel that churches and faith based organisations have a crucial role to play in enabling and supporting community led action. Of those Churches that we have engaged in Newark it is clear that they have a strong reach into their communities, that they have a committed membership and recognise and value the importance of developing, building and strengthening community. Each has wanted to and has been committed to supporting the aims, objectives and outcomes of the Neighbourhood Challenge process.
Although not encountered in this project, partly due to the leadership, vision and commitment of Fr. Michael O’Donoghue, for churches to be able to engage effectively with communities it does require the church to have an open agenda that is true to the RSLM process. It must not and cannot be about an agenda of increasing worshippers or indeed evangelisation.
As well as testing out and trialling the RSLM process in the context of a faith based organisation, it was the intention the project to develop, trial and test the use of social media to create virtual networks to reflect the face to face networks that develop on the ground. Local people would be encouraged to join an online network ‘We Love Newark’ [Wheel of Newark – THANK YOU @lloyddavis] to engage in dialogue and discussion around their place and local issues.
Despite input, being included in the RSLM conversation and being actively promoted the outcome has been a social network with a disappointing 70 – 80 members. Although it provides information about what is happening and therefore a tool for information dissemination locally it does not act as a discussion board or a vehicle for collaboration as initially intended. I think this is in part due to a the following reasons:
- Social Media is exactly that ‘SOCIAL’ ‘MEDIA’ a place where people can talk about the things that are personal to them such as whether they have been on a night out or where they went on a holiday. It is not, Social ACTION Media, a place for online discussion about neighbourhoods and for people to participate in a deep dialogue about developing community led action that can transform their neighbourhoods.
- The need for such a medium did not come through in the listening – people were not asking for this. People were keen to know what was going on – but not so keen on developing a forum for discussion and debate to reflect on their feelings about their neighbourhoods. Is an online forum too public a place for this?
- Successful web based action networks appear to be campaign or single issue focussed. Where people need to just ‘sign up’ to show their support. Do people feel this is a safer way to engage in the debate?
All of these questions, for me, remain unanswered. As we move forward in this project, and into the Neighbourhood Challenge legacy phase I will continue to act, reflect and seek input on these issues. I will continue to trial, test and develop the use of online media and develop collaborative partnerships with others who seek to achieve similar ambitions.
I planned each chartered course, each careful step along the byway
RSLM is a trellis that enables people to grow their actions, initiatives and ideas in a robust, organised and sustainable way. In practice therefore although the process is defined, the outcomes are emergent – led by communities themselves using the strengths, skills, talents and identified need. By sowing the seeds either through a conversation 1:1 on people’s doorsteps or through a dedicated training programme we can never predict what will happen, just use our experience to tell us what might happen.
NESTA’s support, and BIG Lottery Funding for the Neighbourhood Challenge programme, has enabled RE:generate’s work to flourish over the restricted time frame of the programme. The seeds have been sown, gently watered and are now starting to break through as shoots of real potential.
Projects like the North Muskham Youth Project, the emergent projects set up in the Parish such as ICT for the elderly or even the Lunches in Carlton – all have been developed through individuals being involved in the conversation that starts with, ‘What do you love about your community’. People have taken the process, applied it within the context of their own communities and set about creating the connections, actions and activities that have enabled these projects to grow.
From the outset we could not have predicted, nor defined what would happen, just created the conditions through a structured conversation and systematic approach that enable such outcomes to be achieved.
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew; When I bit off more than I could chew
As well as learning from the faith based context of which RSLM has been applied the project has also allowed RE:generate to adapt, develop and enhance the RSLM model – an organic, people powered programme of transformational change – to work to positive effect in tighter timeframes.
RE:generate’s model is usually developed over a 3 – 5 year period. The gentle nature of the work that starts with listening 1:1 and building trust, respect and relationships grows the networks and activity at the pace that people feel most comfortable. However, given the tight time frame of the project, and whilst this approach was still possible we had to look at how we could build momentum quicker utilising the existing assets to develop the RSLM model. In practice we started by training over 25 Parishioners to use the Listening process to grow the networks and to create a flurry of activity from the outset. A learning that will be explored and developed in future work should the partners and programme permit.
As well as developing the momentum to build the listening networks, we have had to condense the time frames which we would expect the usual outcomes to be started to be achieved such as project development and training for transformation programmes that focus on team building, network development and coproductive and collaborative working partnerships.
Whilst we have gained some strong quick wins – such as the Family Fridays, we have at times being conscious that the we have moved people from positions of interest, to project delivery and team building very rapidly in order to follow our outlined intentions in the delivery plan and milestones.
What is clear from this is that the whilst a time pressures and consequentially speed can give some momentum to the project and can help move things forward quickly it needs to be established as to whether people have felt rushed by this process and whether this will affect subsequent sustainability of their projects and activities.
After all, relationships cannot be rushed – they must be nurtured carefully.
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
So in conclusion, what do I feel about the Neighbourhood Challenge programme:
The Neighbourhood Challenge has created an opportunity to apply the RSLM system in a faith based context. It is allowed for us to develop and test out our systems within a tighter time frame and to look at how we can develop a model of community animation that can work with, and within, faith based organisations. We have successfully developed this, started to roll out this work into Neighbouring Parishes within the Sherwood Deanery and into the Diocese of Nottingham and taken our learnings back to Bath and North East Somerset to include Faith Based Organisations in our Partnership with the Authority.
It is allowed us to test out and trial digital methods for the RSLM strategy and to use digital communication strategies to share both what we are doing, and our reflections on it.
I have loved seeing new people emerge leading new projects and loved seeing the wide range of people that have got involved with these.
The programme was entered into with the understanding that the time frames were tight. The challenge has been to balance the relationship building and capacity building work of RE:generate in a reduced timescale.
As mentioned this has at times meant we have had to manage the dichotomy in effectively nurturing and maintain trusting relationships with those who we have met in favour of delivering the milestones that we outlined.
Going forward we are very excited to be hosting 5 Community Organisers as part of the National Government Community Organiser programme in Partnership with Holy Trinity. This will allows us to build on the work achieved to date as well as growing the work across the Sherwood Deanery and into the Parish of Bulwell. The 5 Organisers will enable the Holy Trinty and RE:generate partnership to
- listen to a further 3000 people
- continue to build trust, respect and relationships across and within the communities of Newark, Bulwell and the Sherwood Deanery , and to
- Support the development of community led action that will enable the formation of new neighbourhood groups and teams that can leave a lasting legacy across these communities.
We are also pleased to launch the Neighbourhood Challenge Legacy Fund which will be a small pot of money that will act as an enabler to support the emergent activities of the Root Solution Listening Matters process.
The next stages of the work in Newark prove to be an exciting venture. As we move into this stage we are hoping that we can develop a 3 – 5 year piece of work that will build on and develop the asset based model that we have started. This will can continue the capacity building work across the communities as well as developing relationships with services, public sector agencies and statutory bodies to develop a collaborative and coproductive set of relationships that can work with the emergent activities of RSLM to deliver better for the people of Newark, Bulwell and the Sherwood Deanery
To think [we] did all that…
The record shows [we] took the blows and did it [our] way!