‘It is more about the journey and the lasting benefits of that journey than the destination…’
In 2020, the Cwmbwrla community in Swansea published a book of neighbourly stories collected during Covid-19 and the first national lockdown – read Part 1 of the blog to find out more. In this blog – Part 2 – Local Area Coordinator, Emma, and author David Jones reflect on the ten powerful principles of Local Area Coordination and how they are represented in the personal and community stories told throughout the book – Circling the Square, Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community.
Included in the community book is the story of Kevin and his family entitled A Two-Way Street, which demonstrates the importance community, relationships, and citizenship were to them as they arrived in Swansea. Author David Jones writes:
“Kevin arrived in Swansea from his native El Salvador in January 2020, along with his wife and three children. The warmth of their welcome was matched by their own enthusiasm for this new home and their desire to stay permanently. In December, Kevin attended a Home Office Asylum interview and presented firm evidence of his integration to Cwmbwrla, in the form of his own chapter in the book.”
As he completed his first year in Swansea, Kevin told us that the support of his community, exemplified by the Christ Well Community Development Officer and the Local Area Coordinator, made him and his family feel like citizens of value. In his story, Kevin shares his eagerness to learn new technical skills and improve on his language skills so he can take-up employment, and do more for Swansea in the future.
Kevin and his family attended the book launch event in 2020 and introduced themselves to other members of the community and they continue to offer their support to others since lockdown.
For Local Area Coordination, the quality of relationships are an important part of our work, and the stories shared in the community book highlight how important relationships are to individuals too and the impact that they have on their quality of life. Steve’s story from the book highlights this as, when asked for a contribution to the book, he chose to reflect on their family relationships and their friends and connection in the community.
Author David Jones comments:
“Steve has lived in the area all his life. In recent years he’s been burdened by disability and bereavement, suffering decreased mobility and visual impairment and losing the parents he loved. Support and encouragement from community relationships enabled him to take a leading role in the establishment of the Men’s Shed at St John’s Day Centre, initiating projects that will benefit others. When Steve talked about this work in his interview for the book project, he talked about his friendships there and he spoke of his pride in his late father, who had been a pillar of the community for decades. One of the most satisfying outcomes of the book project was seeing Steve realise that his father would be just as proud of him for what he does for others and the good friend he is to others, as they are to him.”
PRINCIPLES: NATURAL AUTHORITY and COMMUNITY
Within Local Area Coordination, the natural authority of people and communities is essential for sustainable and satisfying change and action. A story within the book called Finding Our Way Home shares the story of Christ Well United Reform Church in Manselton and illustrates how the natural authority of community members enabled a personal response to people’s food needs during lockdown.
In the story, a local women started an emergency food resource at the Church and responded to people’s food needs on an individual basis according to their dietary requirements and personal preferences.
Author David Jones reflects:
“With many local families struggling to put meals on the table, they built up a supply that could be shared with those who needed it. Initially the supply came from community members. When the call went out for additional donations, the generosity of local people brought renewed stocks. The book tells the story of a community standing up, standing together and solving its own problems.”
Eventually, funding was secured for this food supply and the food resource was able to continue and be managed by its residents through the first national lockdown. The food resource continued for six months and has led to further developments with extra funding granted for the community to grow their own vegetables in a local communal garden space.
PRINCIPLE: LIFELONG LEARNING
The “Lifelong Learning” story in the book highlights how important this is for people, and in particular Ayarun, whose life was changed by having the opportunity to learn and develop her skills and knowledge.
Author David Jones writes:
“Ayarun was born in Bangladesh and in her three decades in Swansea she has combined motherhood with courses in adult continuing education. The book tells us how she polished her IT skills and completed a degree in Humanities, cramming in studies while her children attended playgroups. A master’s in social work followed and a fulfilling career as a Children and Families Social Worker has put her education to good use.”
This lovely contribution to the book shows how Ayarun and her family members’ lives were changed due to opportunity and determination.
PRINCIPLES: CHOICE AND CONTROL and the COMPLEMENTARY NATURE OF SERVICES
The story entitled ‘Understood, Valued and Safe’ follows the lives of people who attend St John’s Day Service in Cwmbwrla – a place where people are given the dignity of choice and control over their own lives and where services work in a complementary way.
Author David Jones comments:
“The book explores how centre manager Amanda juggles priorities that most of us would find daunting and ensures that people with complex needs are treated as individuals. Few things are more demoralising than the sense of having no power over our own lives. No one who sets foot in St John’s is ever made to feel that way, and Circling the Square – Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community underlines that point”.
“Covid-19 Heroes” is a powerful chapter within the community book that recognises the outstanding contribution from a variety of people living and working in the Cwmbwrla Ward of Swansea. The chapter tells the stories of volunteers who shopped for their neighbours, medical staff who worked tirelessly for their patients, talented community champions who provided countless hot meals, supplied art and craft packs to keep children amused and people who refused to let morale slip with activities and by keeping-in-touch…All things that mattered in a crisis.
This chapter of the book recognised the many people who used their strengths, knowledge, skills and passions to help others during the crisis. It was through citizen contribution where strong community bonds were created and strengthened during this time, the benefits of which have been long-lasting with many plans being made for the future because of this.
PRINCIPLE: INFORMATION SHARING
Author David Jones reflects on how information sharing benefited the community book as a whole, he comments:
“Through regular conversations about the book and its development, community members, community leaders and Local Area Coordinator, shared their knowledge of the area and its many excellent resources. Local business owners, retailers, support workers and residents were listened to and attention was paid to them. They felt valued and they still do as they have gained more recognition for the work, services and support they provide.” Thus, the sharing of information from people with good knowledge of the area proved successful for the book and was pivotal in its rich inclusion of stories from the people and places in Cwmbwrla. The information the book provides is also of value to the readers as they learn more about their community and the people who live there.
PRINCIPLES: COMMUNITY and WORKING TOGETHER
The community book certainly supports the Local Area Coordination principles of community and working together. Author David Jones reflects:
“At a time when many people up and down this country are being made to feel that “community” is no more than a word, Circling the Square – Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community celebrates the spirit and vibrancy of group of people who came together when it mattered most. Cwmbwrla is a place where children are proud of their parents and parents are proud of their children. That’s a story worth telling”.
Benefits for community members creating a book of this nature included inclusivity and the strengthening of community bonds and individual relationships. Emma comments:
“With a common goal and purpose, people worked together to tell their personal stories, share their knowledge of the area through the generations and discuss their individual talents. These acts of storytelling formed connections and kindled self-esteem. People were given a voice and a sense of pride in the good lives they have led and the community around them. They saw how their unique perspectives on this corner of the world form an important part of its history, and most importantly how powerful community involvement was for them during a difficult pandemic lockdown.”
CONCLUSION – The Benefits of a Nurturing, Welcoming and Inclusive Community
“Good things happen when people come together, and the acknowledgements page of Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community lists 60 names. These are people who united behind myself and the working group of local people to achieve something worthwhile, and we’re grateful to all of them” (David Jones, 2020).
To conclude this reflection on the community book and its alignment with the ten powerful principles of Local Area Coordination, Emma comments:
“It is widely accepted that disconnection leads to isolation, which when prolonged can lead to serious mental ill health. The Cwmbwrla community book was a tool to combat against the disconnection and loneliness during the pandemic and to honour and show value in people and the places around them. The book achieved this and highlighted the nurturing, welcoming and inclusive community Cwmbwrla is. With the right approach and the right conditions great things can be achieved, and most importantly collaborative creations, like this book, can have the most positive and powerful effect on people.”
Ralph Broad was invited to write in the Afterword of the book and concluded:
“This book is testimony to the power of local people, communities and the importance and value of all people in our community, in both good times and hard times. Inspiring”.
The journey of creating the book and the lasting benefits of this journey were exponential:
- New relationships formed and connections were strengthened
- Isolation and disconnection lessened due to the inclusion this provided
- Information and stories were shared which raised interest and community connection
- Further learning and understanding about the local area and its people took place
- Contribution of people’s strengths, knowledge and skills which made them feel useful and appreciated
- Togetherness during a crisis
- Enjoyment in creating something new and celebrating the success
- Increased wellbeing and improved mental health through talking and listening to people’s stories
- Validation for the community response, the goodwill, and contribution of people helping people
- Hope for the future with new community plans and projects in place
The book continues to sell online and in local businesses, which encourages people to talk about the rich local history and the people and families they know in the book. Profit from the sales are donated to a local events group, Cwmbwrla Community Events: Cwmbwrla Community Events | Facebook
Due to the book’s success, there has been the development of a new community website and Human Library section: The Human Library | Connectedsa5 where author David Jones continues to embrace people’s stories and share them with the community.