During April and May 2014 FCDL was involved in the delivery of two ‘introduction to community development courses’ for people drawn from different teams of workers employed by Guildford Borough Council. The same outline of the course was used for both dates. On the second date three members of Voluntary Action South West Surrey also took part in the training. The inclusion of VASWS team members added a valuable dimension and opportunity for networking across different experiences across community work contexts for both local authority and VASWS team members.
Guildford Borough Council were keen to provide community development training across a number of teams whose roles have a strong community focus in terms of facilitating activities and delivering events to meet the needs of those communities. None of the staff had any access to previous training relating to community development work. In the same way that many working in community settings can relate to participants experiences. Course members shared their strong feelings that most of what they have done previously has been through ‘learning on the job’ and comes from their own passion to support communities. Guildford Borough Council is committed to promote and nurture ways of working with communities which widen accessibility, choice and participation in a range of leisure opportunities including the arts, children’s play and sports and physical activity.
During the course participants brought wealth of insights, experiences and skills of Roles within the Council team members included Community Wardens, Arts Officer, Play and Youth Officer, Sport and Physical Activity Officer, Lead Play Ranger, Parks and Leisure Rangers. Across these diverse roles there were a wide range of experiences, responsibilities and ways of working with different parts of different communities.
Examples of some of their work involved activities such as coordinating community days - examples shared included community celebrations, fetes, days to promote opportunities within the community (information days), promoting the use of sites and venues for leisure and recreation (e.g. parks and open spaces) supporting and delivering activities.
Some of the participants were already confident in their ability to talk about their use of community development practice for these workers the course provided an opportunity to look at further development needs while framing networking across roles. For others the courses were an introduction to a framework to map their existing skills, knowledge and experiences whilst building an understanding of how community development can support their work.
During each course session participants were able to take part in small group, individual and whole group activities focussing on building links between their experiences and community development practice. Each person was able to give examples of their work with communities which related to the different values and Key Areas for community development.
The use of their existing knowledge, ideas and questions based on their work experiences provided the main springboard for examining existing and new approaches. This process of participants generating their work based scenarios, case stories and project analysis was done in reference to the values, key areas and standards outlined in the CD NOS. The group used drama, art and games to explore work based situations through practical action and learning.
The development of practical skills and understanding around using different methods and activities was one of the consistent areas positive feedback was given across both course evaluation comments. In delivering the course each person was given a range of FCDL materials as reference points during the course. Each person was given a copy of the Community Work Skills Manual. Working in small groups participants generated themes and issues which they face in their current work settings.
When working as a whole group, during the second day’s course, two participants shared their experiences of conflicts that have happened in their role of creating new spaces for young people and children’s play areas. Using the visual Theory of Change activity, published in section 11 of the Community Work Skills Manual, the whole group examined and analysed similar and contrasting incidents of conflict across and between communities. The wider group were able to identify ways to encourage workers and community members alike to move beyond getting stuck on what has happened, didn’t work or can’t work. They talked about ways to use community development approaches to think about alternative options as well as reflecting on how what they have learnt can be used in order to make changes as part of future actions.
Guildford Borough Council is committed to supporting the capacity and competence of front line workers to include community development practice as part of their approach to working within community settings. In commissioning the training the Council was keen to build on the existing confidence and skills by promoting the principles and approach to inclusive, collaborative and participative work.
Powerful visual images were created by participant on both courses reflecting their links to community development by using our CD NOS cloth tree. The tree was laid out on a mat, which everyone could walk around, then decorated with post-its capturing each person’s experiences which reflect the different community development values, Key Areas and detailed role areas.
As each course group contributed to the tree activity it felt as though many light bulb moments happened at the same time. Community development was something that they could link to their past, current and future work. The CD NOS was used as a framework to help participants to link their various stages of development, questions and analysis of current issues and themes involved when working with different communities. The active process of each person working with others to make their connection to community development was very powerful.
By developing a greater understanding, tools and skills to support their complex roles and responsibilities, we would hope that the participants feel more able to support a wide range of community members to take lead roles in defining, carrying and reviewing actions to bring about change. and also to see results from their work so they can see that they are achieving.
A significant amount of this role is providing community based activities and projects while providing support for community members and groups to take autonomous actions - particularly to vulnerable communities in the borough.
Using different creative approaches to shared learning encouraged sharing of success stories and areas of concern across different roles and community work settings. Through using drama, video and art based activities participants generated and created collective action strategies. Use reflective practice each person was able to contribute to the analysis of their wider context.
Examinations of what we mean by community assets from a community development approach led to some encouraging stories being shared on how asset mapping can lead to communities taking lead roles in bringing about realistic and achievable outcomes.
As political, economic and social upheaval brings renewed and new challenges for supporting community members and groups to play active and lead roles in building the capacity of their own communities, there is need for organisations like local authorities to develop and promote community development practices in workers who work in group and collective capacities across communities. Part of the process offered by FCDL included critically examining asset-based approaches (as opposed to negative, deficit models) that can bring about better outcomes for individuals and communities.
Using the model of asset mapping promoted by the International Association for Community Development, IACD, we were able to examine different types of assets that participants named from their own community work situation.
During each course participants were able to identify assets in their own settings that have or could be used by community members and groups to take a lead on actions to support sustainable change reflecting community development values. In our discussion and activities we explored a wide range of specific assets that are either tangible or intangible in every day community settings. Across the courses participants were able to reflect on ways that tangible assets such as libraries, hospitals, schools, community centres are already being used by community members. We talked about the need to emphasise and community assets as resources which can be accessed and or managed by community members and groups. Course participants worked in small groups in order to identify a wide range of tangible and intangible assets which form part of the landscape which they already manage or access.
Within the ‘Appreciating Assets’ approach, IACD promote the Seven Capitals framework which value and promote the role that intangible assets such as human and social capital can play in turning community buildings and ﬁnancial capital into assets that the community can build on.
During each course participants examined examples of the types of intangible assets which they and community members and groups they work with already tap into. These included diverse experiences, local knowledge and, strong relationship.
What was clear is that there were common approaches used which helped to promote community ownership and lead roles across both Guildford Borough Council and Voluntary Action South West Surrey. On both days participants were able to analyse how and why their work in communities helped nurture a community led approach. They were also able to identify situations where work was delivered in a way which didn't give as much power to community members to take a lead role. The complex issue of different community situations being shaped by different historical, economic and social factors brought to the fore how important it is for workers to understand how to assess the strengths, capacities and needs of each situation. The term ‘one size doesn't fit’ is apt when trying to talk about what is community development.