Posted by: Neighbourhood Challenge | July 30, 2011

reflections on personal, local and wider society impacts and influences

London seems a long way from Newark, but the Holy Trinity Community and Partnership has been very much in my mind while I’ve been in meetings, conversations and discussions in the capital city, and other parts of the country!

So what’s been going well this month from my perspective?

Firstly, the work on the ground is fantastic and the community is getting more and more involved at all levels. Parishioners are getting involved, getting trained as listeners, blogging – and discovering the impact of deep dialogue that triggers people to get up and walk the walk of community leadership and responsible action. Two local people have been employed as local Animators and are now busy building and extending trust and relational networks into the wider community. Secondly, relationships with local residents and local organisations are developing and there is a growing interest in exploring how people and groups can work together to benefit the broader neighbourhood community and communities within it. Local strategic partners are getting interested in the approach as they see the potential for good outcomes and a different way of working.

As for the challenges – apart from the physical distances travelled, and the impossibility of being physically present in more than one place at a time. Challenges are part and parcel of the work of community development and organising. Managing time, keeping focussed on the important – not just reacting to the urgent or being distracted by the interesting. Balancing demands, being present to people and their perspective, naming the nub of a problem or conflict, negotiating solutions that encourage collaborations and don’t leave people feeling exploited. A listener’s, animator’s or organiser’s key challenge is often to stay positive in the face of the cynicism and hostility coming from people who watch rather than participate. Learning comes down to reviewing and reflecting on life experience and on actions taken. From listening to people on benches, in homes, caravans, boats, mud huts or on streets, in board rooms, in city halls or Westminster, I’ve learnt a few things about challenging and changing the way things are for the common good. Here are six aspects of action and being to chew on:
1. optimism – and being realistic about what people will do;
2. openness to surprise – and being ready for tough reactions;
3. acting intuitively – and planning in detail;
4. energy and impulse – and being calm and reflective (at the right time!);
5. leading from the front, beside and behind – and being prepared for attack from every quarter!;
6. honesty and trust in relationships – and having honest and trustworthy colleagues.

I know that being in touch with the team in Newark – even from a distance – helps keeps me grounded and confident when I’m faced with questions about training 5000 community organisers, or dealing with partners and groups that are struggling to work with new thinking and reduced budgets. It’s good to have had the opportunity of meeting folk in Newark, to share a meal with Caroline, to be working alongside Holy Trinity Community Partnership to develop and share their resource, to exchange ideas with Jo about the voice of the VCS, to have a robust dialogue with Helen from Icarus, connection with Richard from NCVO and to see blog comments as well as have occasional conversations with Alice from NESTA. I was sorry not to witness the commissioning of the listening team, or to join the social media workshop, but I heard all about it – and have read the blogs and seen the pics! I love Newark!!

The surprise has been some incredible opportunities to bring stories of people in Newark, and the work that’s going on there, into the wider frame – into the Community Organiser programme, and into the minds of independent thinkers and national stage academics and thought leaders. Last week I had conversations with Philip Blond from ResPublica, the week before with Profs. Anne Power and Marilyn Taylor, and the week before that with Dharmendra Kanani, England Director of BIG. My own personal challenge is to try to make sure that spending time in such influential circles really does do something to shift power, does help towards unlocking some of the resources needed so people and communities – in NG24 and everywhere – can be supported to tackle root causes of problems affecting them and can contribute to shaping the neighbourhoods and communities they need and want. Now how would I evidence that?

Julia Olsen, REgnerate


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