Forever Manchester leads with the ABCD of community building

A conference last Friday about Asset Based Community Development gave me some terrific insights into on-the-ground principles for People Powered Change (PPC), and also some directions for thinking about the ways that Big Lottery (BIG) and other funders could in future support both action and learning. (Here’s a summary of explorations so far).

The event was organised by Forever Manchester – which is the Community Foundation for Greater Manchester – with the ABCD substance provided by Comac Russell and Jim Diers of Nurture Development UK. As Shaun Walsh mentioned in this post, the roots of BIG thinking about PPC lie in the ABCD approach (I hope you are keeping up with the acronyms so far). More on BIG and ABCD here, and also here, for earlier interviews with Cormac and Jim.

I arrived on the second day of the event, to hear Jim talking about the seven principles of ABCD, which he summarised for me afterwards. I hope to have a link to his slides later. The basis of ABCD is to start with the strengths within a community, not the problems and weaknesses. As this post by Dee Brooks summarises, t’s a glass half full view, rather than half empty – so you first map assets (people, organisations, facilities, stories) rather than starting with needs (unemployment, crime, homelessness, alcoholism). You join up the dots between assets, and then mobilise from strengths to meet needs.

At the event Cormac invited people to put these ideas into practice by sticking notes on the wall about the things they might like to learn in a community, what they might teach, where were the “bumping places” to meet people to connect, and where the social networks might be – bringing alive the strengths-based approach in the room.

Over lunch I reviewed the notes, and found two people using some string to demonstrate how the dots might be joined up: Cathy Ellliot, chief executive of the Community Foundation for Merseyside, and Corrina Milner, a community mobiliser from Milton Keynes.

Forever Manchester, and Cathy’s organisation, are foundations that raise money from donors and then make grants tailored to local needs, and are members of the Community Foundations Network. The network operates nationally as well as supporting local foundations, and is currently running the Surviving Winter Campaign, encouraging people to recycle their Winter Fuel Payments to help those in greater need.

An approach like ABCD is clearly important locally in providing a framework to inform the way that grants are made. If the application form starts with “what are the needs in your community” it could set the direction in which a local group goes. That will also be important for larger funders like BIG, and so I asked Cormac what they and other funders might do to support an ABCD approach.

He suggested a number of directions: look at the Kellogg Foundation for a set of funding criteria that could be lifted off the shelf to support an asset-based approach; value the assets they have in their organisastions, in their staff; recognise and support the local community builders like beat police and health workers; then in monitoring and evaluating local projects, look at the relationships being built and the move towards citizen-led action.

Cormac also suggested that the Big Lunch on June 3 2012 – which is supported by BIG – could be a great opportunity to have a national conversation about the way to develop People Powered Change.

Forever Manchester are already putting these principles into place, with the appointment in Oldham of the first ABCD community builder in the country. Later in the day I talked to Gary Loftus, who is the head of community building, about the journey that the organisation  has made towards this approach, and to Miz Razaq, who now has the job in Oldham. We’ll be exploring in more detail the role of the community builder. Manwhile, as I left Manchester to travel back to London, I had a hunch that the greatest inspirations for People Powered Change may lie outside the capital.

ADDENDUM

John Popham writes: Miz’s first foray into practical community building in Oldham took place during an event at Sholver Youth & Community Centre on Friday 25th November. It was a great privilege to be there to capture the first ever conversation between a UK Community Builder and local residents. By the end of the evening, practical connections and suggestions for building on the community’s strengths were clearly emerging.

Update: headline change to “Forever Manchester …”

5 Comments.

  1. Exactly what B4RN are putting into practice just north of Manchester, people powered change, using the strengths of the community to build a network, of people and infrastructure.

  2. I’m really excited to see this post, and that a real-life ABCD worker has been appointed for Oldham. If I come across further examples of similar posts in place, I will pass it on here.

  3. I was at the conference last week and have been telling everyone I meet how inspring it was. I will make sure they check out this post – I could listen to Jim and Cormac talking all day!

  4. Thanks Jenny – Jim and Cormac are happy to share their slides, so those should by up soon