- APPG Rural Health & Care Parliamentary Inquiry by the National Centre for Rural Health and Care
- Job vacancies
- Opportunity: The Loss Project
- And much more…
A note from Nick
Hello and welcome to February’s Newsletter. Thanks as always to Rachel Tait for compiling this so well!
This month I’ve been reflecting a lot on “Community Power”, not least because I’ve been asked to participate in a panel at New Local’s annual conference “Stronger Things” next month. This is an exciting (albeit mildly terrifying) opportunity to contribute to an important discussion. New Local has been doing some pioneering work on Community Power over the last few years which has really helped shape and further our understanding. Their research and thought leadership have taken them at points to Local Area Coordination’s door where we’ve been more than happy to share our reflections, research and evidence.
I often come across community power being nurtured in quiet and unassuming corners of our places that are easily overlooked unless you’re there to witness it. I fondly remember attending a community led group in Derby a few years ago where local people had acquired a room and small kitchen owned by the local housing organisation. They were meeting regularly to build connections and enjoy each other’s company without any defined purpose or outcomes other than that. Their space had a really warm, welcoming and safe atmosphere about it and was clearly a hotbed for local skills sharing and a source of natural support on the estate. There was a peaceful buzz in the room with the conversation, coffee and cakes flowing in abundance. I had a lovely chat with a man about different TV shows we both enjoyed and he filled me in on some of the stuff I’d missed recently. I was also privileged to see the wonderful artwork of a local resident who was working on her most recent creation at the time, a large drawing of a tiger – it was stunningly good. It was evident that the people in this room were open to mutually supporting each other through building connections, and this was helping foster a wider spirit and emerging sense of community power on their estate. Their Local Area Coordinator Kim, employed by Derby City Council, was in the mix brokering connections with people she’d encouraged along, whilst also listening to people who might be facing some pressing personal challenges, arranging further catch-ups, etc. I remember noting that Kim appeared to be neither there to run the group or to connect only with the people she was alongside either, rather she was there to help people take a lead themselves as active citizens of that estate and to make and take introductions. Essentially Kim was being a catalyst for community power by both building meaningful relationships of mutual support and helping people practically with anything they sought her input on.
The experience reminded me that community power is built on the backs of individual members of a community acting collectively. It seems to me that this ability to act collectively comes from our own personal strength and if we feel suitably well, energised and connected enough to do so. This is where I see Local Area Coordination making its most useful contribution. Not in community organising and running community activity specifically, but through connecting with and being alongside people who are (for whatever reason) feeling on the edge of their communities, helping them overcome any personal challenges in order to connect with others and to share their abundance of gifts. Those seeking to collectively leverage wider change, for example campaigning for change, acquiring council owned assets, or running their own services etc., are massively benefited from the likes of national organisation Community Organisers who really understand how to make these things happen and want to share that knowledge far and wide. Local Area Coordinators are, by the nature of the approach, often in and around that space, but they are there to introduce and stimulate such ideas, actively supporting communities in their wider aspirations of ownership and to build partnerships with others who really know how to make that happen.
Essentially, the experience in Derby reaffirmed to me that in order to create the conditions for community power to be fully realised people in a community need to feel a sense of inclusion, belonging and passion for their place. This is massively benefited if people aren’t stuck and alone in facing personal and familial crisis or spending endless amounts of energy navigating disconnected service systems looking for answers. More often than not the big answers we seek to such challenges seem to lie within ourselves and our relationships with others. It is here that I see Local Area Coordinators playing a vital role; helping to grow that overall community power, person by person, one relationship at a time.