Tag Archives: abcd

Knitting up a stronger community – starting with its strengths

Several interviews and articles have given me further insights into the asset-based approach to community development – one of the main philosophies I’m reporting in the exploration of community enabling. Here’s a round up, with links to resources at the end. It reinforces earlier insights from our People Powered Change exploration.

Last week in Surrey the Lower Green Community Community Association, which is part of the NESTA Neighbourhood Challenge programme, organised an ABCD workshop with Cormac Russell.

Jenny French, LGCA secretary, had been impressed by Cormac’s approach at a workshop in Manchester which I reported last year.

Cormac gave us some great stories and presentations – including reference to the work in Thornton Heath - and in this interview Jenny explains how the approach has worked in Lower Green. It’s about finding what people need, what others can offer, their aspirations, and then making the connections.

In a class to learn English, the teacher asked what people liked to do in their spare time … they said knitting … so this led to the Knit and Natter group where people both learned the language and produced some great knits. These could have been sold, but the group decided to offer them to men in a local hostel as a way of giving back to the community.

The arts group took off well, learning to make things together … then decided they would join in the knitting. As Jenny said you can knit up a new set of relationships all for little more than the price of a ball of wool. ”It’s been fantastic – that people knitting together is actually knitting community”

At the end of the event I asked Cormac if he could summarise the essence of ABCD. He emphasised starting with what you have, welcoming new people into the community, taking a citizen-led rather than professionally-led approach, building relationship power … all things demonstrated very practically in Lower Green.

Cormac also said that he felt there was great scope for the various community building and organising approaches to find some common cause.

Earlier I had spoken to Matthew Bowcock, who is chairman of the national Community Foundation Network, as well as deputy chairman of the Community Foundation for Surrey

Matthew says that we could do a lot more to share stories in communities by using social media. When I asked what stories he was hearing, in visits around the country, he said that on the one hand people might be pessimistic if they were relying for change on traditional approaches of agency-led development and funding.

On the other hand, he found people optimistic and energised when they looked at the strengths they already had in their community … and sought funds only when they could do no more themselves.

He said that many community foundations were changing the way that they operated – shifting from administration of national funds, to the development of communities of engaged local philanthropists. Overall this was part of a tide of change, where people recognised a contract between themselves and their community, with rights but some obligation to give back.

In a blog post for New Start Magazine, entitled The Big Sobriety, Nick Massey applauds the asset based approach to community development – while warning that funding is also essential.

Nick is chief executive of Forever Manchester, which is a community foundation that raises money and distributes it to local people and groups trying to make a positive change in neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. It has the first team of ABCD community builders in the country – as I reported here. Nick writes:

Traditional public sector and foundation-led funding have succeeded only in creating dependency among targeted communities. Providing resources on the basis of need simply underlines the perception that only outside experts can provide real help. Therefore, the relationships that count most for our local residents are no longer those inside the community, those neighbour-to-neighbour links of mutual support and problem solving. Instead, the most important relationships have become those that involve the expert, the local authority, the health provider, the funder.

This virtually ensures a cycle of deepening dependency, particularly with funders, as problems must always be worse than last year, or more intractable than the next neighbourhood, if funding is to be renewed.

It’s a ‘find it, fund it, fix it’ culture. It’s unsustainable and it’s time to change it… it doesn’t work.

Nick adds:

Traditional community development is driven through formal meetings, is agency-led and engages with at best 20% of local people in their communities, usually people who work within established, well-organised and properly constituted groups. This leaves over 80% of people remaining on the outside who would never engage in this way. ABCD is about new ways of working that appeal to this wider audience.

Three months into community building in Lostock, Manchester we have engaged with 100 local residents whom we had never met before, all now talking about what they can do together. That is ten times more people than we engaged with in the local area partnership there in the last three years.

We are already seeing that local people are starting to think about what they can do for themselves. But still while they wouldn’t think twice about raising money for Children in Need or Comic Relief, it remains out of the norm for them to think about raising money for themselves, for their own simple yet exciting ideas.

ABCD is about conversations and talents, and we see our role in coordinating these, connecting neighbours and looking with them at future ways of funding their ideas, often from within. This is where our community building team are starting their work.

I’ll be gathering resources and interviews about other community enabling approaches. Meanwhile, Tessy Britton has a valuable analysis of participatory paradigms here, leading towards her Creative Collaborative approach.

Update: James Derounian responds in a guest post Joining forces for community enabling

People love Thornton Heath (and other places too). Here’s how and why

A couple of weeks ago I went to a conference in Manchester about the theory of asset-based community development … starting with the strengths in a community rather than the problems. Glass half full rather than half empty.

Last Saturday I went to south London, to see the results of ABCD in practice at a celebration day for I Love Thornton Heath. Over the past few months a group of residents have explored their neighbourhood, and their neighbours, to find the good things that are happening, and think about what more could be done.

On the day, people were greeted by Sarah Taylor and Paul Macey of Croydon Voluntary Action, and Cormac Russell of Nurture Development, who I interviewed in Manchester. Around the room were posters showing the local resources, networks and ideas already gathered in September at the Thornton Heath Festival.

Cormac emphasised that this wasn’t a formal event, but a chance to meet their neighbours to carry on developing understanding and ideas, with professionals in a support role. “Why have a meeting when you can a party”? It was about telling stories, celebrating success, thinking what we can do ourselves using people power, and where we need external help.

As you can see from the videos I shot, it was a very creative and lively affair. We looked at the work of a group of community connectors, trained by Cormac, and led by Paul Macey working one day a week. They found people had an appetite to connect, through sharing stories, and had brought people together. We looked at what people might be able to do on their own – through existing skills in the community – where they might need help, and where outside support was needed. We concluded with groups discussing where they wanted to take action.

The eight video are compiled into a playlist which will play through – or you can see them separately here on YouTube. Cormac talks through his presentation in the second video, and you can see the slides below.

Afterwards I asked Sarah to provide some reflections on the process, and what happens next:

The ‘glass was overflowing’ in Thornton Heath on Saturday with riches that can’t be bought. It’s incredibly fulfilling working with people who, despite challenges, have an abundance of skills, knowledge, energy and commitment to give to their area and community. Local people and what they bring, their ‘assets’, are so often under valued at a cost to us all. The next steps in Thornton Heath are for Community Connectors and groups of neighbours in Thornton Heath to continue to develop their plans on what they want to act on together with a view to coming together again in Feb/March 2012 for a community planning session. Alongside this a Community First Thornton Heath Panel will take form, with support from CVA, to help local people who are developing inspiring community projects in Thornton Heath to access small grants to enable their work.

Here’s Cormac’s presentation

Discovering hidden treasures thornton heath the story sofar

Cormac has written a primer for other areas interested in the ABCD approach – available here.

While the success of initiatives like I Love Thornton Heath depend ultimately on the skills and enthusiasm of residents, it helps to have the support of a local agency with resources, and the believe in a different approach. In this interview Rachel Nicholson, of NHS Croydon, explains how hearing Cormac at a conference led to Croydon Council and NHS Croydon commissioning the initiative as a pilot project, through Croydon Voluntary Action.

We are looking out for other models and examples of people powered change that can be taken up by local groups and their supporters, so if you know of them do get in touch.

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 …”