Federation for Community Development Learning
Federation for Community Development Learning

Communities Action Reflection and Change (CARC)

By Susi Miller, Training Development Officer, FCDL

This article was circulated to members in the FCDL Update, May 2012.

Between August 2011 and March 2012 the Innovation Fund gave the Federation for Community Development Learning and our partners the opportunity to build on our strategic and practical project experiences and contribute our further learning to the review of Adult and Community Learning. Evidence that we have gained through this project shows the benefits that informal adult learning, for the specific purpose of community development, can bring to individuals, communities, community groups and mainstream organisations who are interested in reaching out to include all communities in their work.

What CARC set out to achieve

FCDL and our partners developed this project in order to promote examples of community actions where learning, participation and community self-help supports the development of communities and their engagement in participation initiatives, partnerships and policies.

Lifelong learning is central to achieving the ‘vision of social action outlined in the Coalition Programme’ and makes a direct contribution to many policy areas particularly health, family stability, community safety, employment, economic development, innovation in public services and enabling people to take responsibility.


Our partners in the CARC project were: Maan Somali Mental Health Sheffield, Manchester Refugee Support Network (MRSN); Sunderland Black and Minority Ethnic Network (SBMEN) and Northern College.

Each of our three community based partners brought their unique expertise and network of relationships, established over many years of building up trust, confidence and good will, which enabled the project to involve and successfully work with a range of diverse groups, and the individuals within them, who are often excluded from ‘mainstream’ adult community learning.

Learners at a MRSN workshop 19 January 2012


Hints and tips for other organisations interested in delivering or supporting informal community development learning programmes 

We would like to share with others some of the key processes that will support and sustain informal community development learning.

Our advice to others is to have an emphasis on 'how' rather than the 'why'. Each community member, group, voluntary or public sector activist or worker needs to consider “the why” based on their own community’s and organisation’s context and setting.

We are not offering answers to underlying problems you may be facing in your community action or work to support community led groups.

Nurturing the conditions to support informal community development learning is really about understanding the link between individual action, reflection and learning and group development aimed at democratic and inclusive organising. People working together to create change around social, economic or environmental situations facing their communities is a common theme of community action.

Involvement and capacity building of volunteers and the engagement of voluntary organisations

Highlighting existing assets and supporting capacity building was a central theme throughout all parts of the project. CARC focussed on learning from and through community action defined and led by community based organisations. The role of volunteers underpinned all areas of outreach, planning, delivery and evaluation.


“This means a lot to me as it gave me confidence and engagement to work for community groups and organisations. […] I share my experience and work with community groups by giving training, presentations, organising events, one to one.”


Providing opportunities for individuals and communities to develop social and economic independence

Our work on environmental justice linked the underpinning social factors affecting communities, community groups and their members. Exploring the value of collective and cooperative ways of working supported personal and group planning aimed at sustaining community development based change. 

“This means empowerment to the group and me. Using appropriate tools (is important). Knowledge has to be presented. Together we can grow, not only bigger but better.”

Supporting better mental or physical health

Specific activities and workshops within CARC focused on health and well-being and gave learners a chance to experience, reflect upon and make plans for further learning.

“We helped change community attitudes and understanding of mental health issues, we focussed on the historic approach to health, we encouraged people to talk more openly about health issues and problems.”

The work of FCDL and all our partners will continue to incorporate the lessons and approaches explored as part of the CARC project. Sustainability will be possible due to the following:

  1. Tools and guidance will be disseminated across all FCDL members and through the networks supported and facilitated by each partner.
  2. Strategically the work carried out enables FCDL, partners, members and wider allies to articulate in more detail the benefit and unique value of informal community development learning in terms of collective and individual learning as part of community action.
  3. Illustrations of informal community development learning (ICDL) will continue in the actions and development of each participating community group. As this project was not about creating new groups the outcome to build the capacities of participating groups and their members is based on self definition and therefore ownership of the plans to continue ICDL approaches to learning.

Throughout the next year participating groups will be identifying cultural and celebratory events to take part in while sharing their individual and group learning and development gained through the project. Achievements will be used to inform existing and potential funders of the benefits of supporting ICDL.


The Community Action Reflection and Change activities and workshops included:


  • Degmo farm residential: environmental justice and action learning
  • Health and Equality through community development
  • ‘Lost and Found’ group theatre visit followed by animateurs peer learning drama and writing workshops
  • Informal community development learning workshops
  • Informal community development learning and multimedia journal animateurs workshop
  • Informal CDL and Health and Well-being
  • Animateurs workshops – peer learning through story sharing and telling
  • Multimedia journals through drama and writing
  • Informal community development learning and active citizenship
  • Young Asian Voices informal community development and active citizenship workshop
  • International Women’s Day: Active citizenship, reflections and celebration of women
  • Eritrean community Health and Well-being event
  • Community Health event with sports action
  • Sunderland networking event for Black and minority ethnic communities.

The project came to a satisfying end with a celebratory residential at Northern College. One additional achievement was that FCDL had been selected to undertake a Social Return on Investment analysis of the project and Randi Baden, FCDL

Information Development Officer, had adapted the SROI material into a user friendly tool which all participants at the residential were happy to use. More on this in the future.

Click here for more information about the CARC project. 

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