It’s been over a year since the first South Bristol Community Development Gathering took place. It started with two people and two ideas: to grow it slowly, and to co-produce it. Indoor Bowls Club in Ashton Vale agreed to host it…and show us how to play bowls! There were 14 of us, getting to know each other, learning about the local venue and making plans for the next event.
From then on, we gathered and talked and had fun in Filwood (KWMC Factory), No 10 People’s Kitchen at HHEAG in Hartcliffe, Chessel Centre in Bedminster and at the Withywood Centre. Most lately we met in Stockwood at the Southern Links Children’s Centre. Each time different members plan and coordinate the gathering, this means that no one event is like the other. There is no set pro-forma, and no prescribed expectations apart from creating a space for us to grow as community development practitioners. Currently we have over 40 members on the mailing list and plans to meet in other parts of the South of the city.
For me it’s been a fascinating journey to observe how easily people pick up the idea of creating something together, and new members get surprised how different the events are from regular networking meetings. Moving around the area means that we champion local places, learn about community assets, and can start building new working relationships.
The latest sixth Gathering was different again. After helping in Stockwood community garden we started talking about power, and political influence.
We were enthused by Marilyn Taylor’s presentation on the findings from a report she had co-written, The Future of Communities: Perspectives on power. You can download the full report here – https://www.ivar.org.uk/research-report/the-future-for-communities-perspectives-on-power/. The report identifies the five main factors which are important in the creation of powerful communities over the next decade. The five factors are:
- Poverty, “Poor communities know how to be ‘resilient’. But they cannot be expected to go it alone, especially if they are expected to take on more responsibilities”,
- Transience, “Social networks are being eroded be enforced moves”,
- Fragmentation, “Divisions and distrust within communities make them less powerful”,
- Isolation, “Loss of spaces where people can bump into each other”, and
- Democracy, “Creating spaces for grown-up conversations”.
What we notice is that recent community development work is focusing mainly on social activities. I personally want to think more about social justice, fairness, equality, that are some of the core principles of community development work as understood around the world. As we all know having a debate on difficult issues with people having very different views is not easy. But if we don’t create spaces where we can talk and communicate and find some kind of agreements as a society we will be divided and fearful of each other. One of the communities I work in is divided by age, people would say ‘this place is not for us anymore’ or ‘we invite them, but they don’t come’. Building bridges between communities is hard work and long-term commitment – but if we don’t do that what is the future going to be like for us all?
The presentation of this report sparked a conversation about community development and politics. Questions included:
- How can we work within the political structure to bring a long-term change?
- To what extend do people feel that local councillors are allies to what we do in communities?
- What could replace Neighbourhood Partnership?
- Is it ok to be political?
- What about the art of debate?
- What’s/where is the power of community development in Bristol? Do we need a strategy to go forward?
Big questions and no easy answer. Let’s see what happens next. Watch this space!
If you work in communities and are passionate about working in a way that builds communities get in touch. The next gathering is in Hartcliffe on 11th December. Before we meet all members are asked to use the following questions when working in communities:
- What one thing could change here to make life better for your friends and family?
- And, What do you think you could you do to help that change happen?
For more information on the South Bristol Community Development Gatherings please contact Magdakm@linkagenetwork.org.uk.
This article was written by Magda Kowalik-Malcolm, Community Development Coordinator at LinkAge Network.