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.

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