Why it’s important to be community led
Writing this blog I am reminded of how Carolyn, Corra Foundation’s Deputy Chief Executive, reflects on working alongside communities ‘arriving gently, engaging patiently and staying awhile.’ Working with communities is not a quick fix, at Corra Foundation this means taking an asset based and community led approach, so where I work in Methil, I make it my business to publicise Methil’s strengths and actions at every opportunity.
The importance of showcasing Methil is why I have been very specific about the title of this blog. The egos of partners working in communities, such as Corra Foundation, can be a big barrier to community led change. It’s not about Corra Foundation, or me. It’s much more important to highlight all the great things the Methil community is doing for itself.
When I started working here, people told me nothing ever happens in Methil but I soon discovered that’s not true. I collected all the bits of information I heard and presented it back to the community in a flyer called ‘It’s all about Methil.’ People were astonished and delighted in equal measure because they had no idea there were so many things going on in Methil that are organised by the community for the community. And the list is growing. It helps people to feel proud of their town and so they should.
If we are truly committed to supporting community led change in communities, we need to be prepared to relinquish power and shift our role. If we are too ready to take the lead, to do things for communities rather than taking the time to resource and support more community members to do things themselves, nothing will change.
That isn’t to say that help can’t be offered. The importance of practical arrangements, taking time and giving thought to the space discussions will take place in; somewhere neutral, a convivial space where tea and coffee breaks can happen, avoiding seating arrangements – like boardrooms – that might promote confrontational communication. Aiming for changes that are specific is helpful because it’s easier to make progress with small incremental actions. We have so much to learn in conversation with people who are rooted in the everyday life and realities of their communities.
Preparing to be community led means leaving our professional roles at the door and placing community voices at the heart of our conversations as a collaboration of equals. Relinquishing power and shifting role sounds dangerous and a wee bit scary but maybe it needs to be. It involves a belief in people, new ways of working and a willingness to make mistakes and learn as you go along. For me, the most important resource we bring to work is not our role but ourselves. An ability to relate to and make trusting relationships with other people as human beings is key.