Connecting local responses around the world
In our opening session we were asked to consider the phrase "local response" and what it meant to us.
The following is a short story from my experience.
A few years back I worked as a community development officer in a coastal town in the UK. It is a town that experiences high levels of deprivation in its local communities. At the same time it is a holiday destination and has a range of leisure facilities for tourists; a sea life centre, arcades and fairs etc.
A small group of local parents in the neighbourhood I worked in had had conversations about how the facilities in the town were too expensive for local people to use and that they could not afford such activities in the summer holidays with their children. However they wanted to keep their children stimulated through the six week break and also find ways for families to do activities together and also meet their friends and neighbours.
The group began to organise outings together. They arranged simple but effective things like arranging to go to the park with each family bringing a dish so they could have a picnic. They arranged going to the beach altogether or finding a discounted group deal on the cinema, so that it was cheaper and they could share transport.
A key turning point in this story was the realisation by the parents involved that what they were doing was worthwhile and was much bigger than "just going to the park." With some support from our community development workers they identified that what they were doing was creating a sense of community, addressing the problem of child/family facilities in the area their selves, reducing isolation and creating friendships, bolstering their children's education, facilitating space for important family time and spreading an ethos of "all welcome." By identifying this was what they were creating they sought to do this more actively, more consciously and to reflect on whether they continued to fulfil these values.
They began to run a weekly family craft club alongside the outings. Each member of the group contributed by putting their skills to use. One member was great at IT and made the posters. Another had previous experience as a book keeper and led on the finances. Another was a real people person and spread the word out and about in the town. Others were great at crafts and designed the activities for the sessions. Everybody knew their role was important to the running of the group.
The club grew as more families came to know. Each year in the summer holidays the local community centre was full every Thursday of families coming along to do craft activities and each Tuesday they went on different outings. The group actively sought to be accessible and welcoming to all; they translated their posters into different languages, made sure their activities were disabled friendly and this paid off. Most importantly, families continuously commented on the new friends they had made. Many single parent families particularly reported the positive affects of the group, with parents continuing to meet once children were back at school. Supported to apply for funding the quality and variety of the activities grew. Local schools were supportive of the programme and actively helped promote the club and share resources.
The group also inspired the local council in their approach to community development and how to engage residents to create strong, resilient communities.
Lastly the journey of this organisation was matched with journeys that many of the members went on individually. The skills gained through developing the group helped one group leader in particular reveal to herself her skill set and identify the career she wanted; she has since gone on to thrive in a new career after a long period of unemployment.
This is a simple story about seemingly simple solutions to simple issues; but with wonderful outcomes that should be recognised and valued.