This is a long overdue blog to share some of our thinking about Roads, Bridges and Tunnels which we have developed through a process of asset mapping with our members.
Over the past three years we have been running an Asset Based Community Development Project (funded by Lankelly Chase) which has involved a number of activities to learn, map, share and do. We have been exploring and describing what Gypsies and Travellers consider to be their key community assets and we have been looking at how Gypsy Traveller communities relate to other communities and services.
This work has seen us do loads of interesting workshops and activities with our members - some of which we'll have told you about through this blog. From workshopping with our members about the meaning of power, to member led activity to provide a Clothes Bank for local residents, to creating our very own Gypsy Traveller asset map, to lobbying local politicians for change and loads in between. Something this project has allowed us (as staff and as members) to do is to have some thinking time, to reflect on the way we work, to reflect on whether our priorities are the right ones and to embed asset based as a way of approaching all of our work. This has seen us re-affirm some approaches we've always had (community development approach, the importance of being a members organisation, our values, encouraging confidence and skills for self-advocay). It has also led us to think through the power of the language we use and what language is meanignful to our members, our funders and to other communities.
A part of this process was asset mapping - we looked at what internal assets there are in our communities, where these link to other communities and where there are links to services. We looked at what happened when there aren't those links out - the positives and negatievs for communities. We decided that Gypsy and Traveller communities in Leeds have loads of internal assets - from caring for the elderly, to being passionate and funny, to fighting for rights and valuing children's voices. But we decided that communities can encounter problems when they can't reach some of the external assets we all need access to (they might be described as public assets - the NHS, schools, accommodation) and this can lead to poor quality of life. To decsribe the ways in which these relationships map out we came up with three concepts Roads, Bridges and Tunnels.
Roads get you from a to b and are a direct route free from obstruction. Where you can't travel freely down a road you might encounter a road block (an example might be not being able to access schools places whilst travelling), this means you need to navigate a way around this road block. We found that we could find two responses to road blocks, one was to build a bridge and the other was to dig a tunnel. Bridges overcome an obstacle and are strongest when they are built from both sides, bridges are good because they acknowledge and highlight a problem whilst working to overcome it. A bridge in the schools example would be a Travellers Education service helping to provide access to schools and where they couldn't providing some learning opportunities themselves. Tunnels are the solutions people find for themselves - a do it yourself approach, they often involve personal negotiation and connections between community members and somebody or something (knowledge / resources) who could help solve the problem. In the example given this might be knowing a friendly school which takesTravellers on that you can approach when in the area or it might be teaching your kids to read yourself.
But we also found some problems with Bridges and with Tunnels. We found that a bridge doesn’t oblige a mainstream service to change, sometimes the existence of a bridge can remove the urgency on a mainstream system to ensure it is inclusive of everyone. This can lead to the further marginalisation of marginalised groups in the way they access services - marginalised communities become the responsibility of bridge builders rather than road builders. We also found that a Tunnel doesn’t openly acknowledge a problem or oblige change in the way a system is designed, it can keep problems in the dark. A tunnel can mean a less equitable service. In digging the foundations to a bridge you may expose a tunnel and undermine it, thus collapsing people’s self-navigated solutions which could be described as community assets. It's important that we understand there is a lot to learn from tunnels and that we don't assume a "service solution" would have the same impact, ease of access or additional benefits that some tunnels have, equally we must acknowledge that the results of some tunnels is a less equitable service and that the presence of self-naviagted solutions doesn't remove the obligation on statutory services to provide equitable access.
The conclusions we came to were that the best solution and what our overall aim at GATE should be is to Widen the Road to include different ways of travelling down it -this describes a service whose access options are inclusive of all those who wish to access, meaning a service is designed and commissioned to include all people - in particular those often marginalised by mainstream services and society - we can call this commissioning from the margins.
We think these concepts are useful for other marginalised groups so we have developed some reflections and definitions which better describe them. See the documents linked below. Watch out for more ABCD posts and documents soon!
If you are interested in Leeds GATE providing a workshop or further information on this approach email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellie's blog was first published on the Leeds GATE website