I remember being at a meeting a while ago discussing our People in Place programme that works alongside communities. We were talking about the desire to go at the pace of the community. The two-sided question that came to my mind then was: “how fast is too fast? But also, how slow is too slow?”
Folk steeped in community development know that the deep, complicated, delightful, hard work of uncovering community talents, building trust, exploring tensions, and growing opportunities can take time. Places are scattered with the physical and emotional baggage of ‘parachute in, promise the earth, fix quick’ programmes of the past.
Our experience so far at Corra Foundation, working alongside eight communities across Scotland, endorses these lessons. We’ve found benefits in arriving gently, engaging patiently, staying awhile. With amazing support for this approach from our partners – Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Lankelly Chase and Tudor Trust.
This isn’t about setting our sights low. Our sights should be where-ever the community members’ are. And in my experience, they are often – just like me – impatient for change. As communities gather energy, confidence, cohesion and support the pace can shift. Perhaps we are seeing this now in Cumnock where a momentum of community activity is now tipping towards talk of community ownership, expanding volunteering, and asset transfer. Not to match that ambition now would run the risk of being too slow, so our support will flex to meet the community where it’s at.
This ability to adjust is going to be increasingly important in our practice at Corra Foundation. Julia Unwin memorably outlined the ‘grant-making tango’. Perhaps here we have the community building foxtrot: slow slow, quick quick, slow.
We’ve recently spent time with friends at Participatory City Foundation, comparing notes and sharing stories. This has offered a lovely chance to think about the different ways to get from A to B. As Tessy, founder of Participatory City set out in her fabulous recent lecture in Edinburgh, there are benefits (and an evidence base) behind an expansive approach: making taking part and starting something easy, every day, everywhere. With 70 projects and 160 events happening this summer in Barking and Dagenham, this networked, practical approach is proving powerful.
What’s not in doubt – regardless of pace – is that working alongside people and communities cannot be careless. Whether running quickly with an opportunity, or pausing to take stock, it’s always careful and caring.
We’d love to hear your views and experiences on this topic: let’s start a conversation @corrascot