Monthly Archives: August 2012

Legacy or impact? Succulent lamb journalism vs community development

I was familiar with the concept – living in Wales with its tiny media, political elite and intelligentsia makes it difficult not to be – but it was the ever excellent Gerry Hassan in his blog on the demise of the previously hegemonic institutions that ruled Scottish society – Glasgow Rangers, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Labour Party – that familiarised with me a term for it: “succulent lamb journalism”.

It refers to the manner in which journalists, both print and broadcast, in effect collude by “refusing to risk their access and rights by asking difficult questions” of hegemonic and ruling interests while they “feast at the table” with them.

I fear the same is happening in Wales in respect of the legacy of sporting events. The term ‘legacy’ is being used as much genuinely as it is with abandon. There appears to be inconsistency across politics, the media, government-sponsored bodies and sports governing bodies about what legacy actually means, as distinct from what the legacy will be (e.g., more people taking regular exercise, a reversal of the sale of school playing fields, reduction in obesity, a cementing of class divide, etc.). That the latter debate is political and value-driven it is probably to be expected that the definition about what legacy means is similarly contested.

But when The Western Mail (25th August 2012) appears to agree with Visit Wales that the presence of five Chinese tourists on a Gower bus is proof of the legacy of the Olympics then my fears that succulent lamb journalism is alive and well in Wales prove well-founded. That the Chinese visitors quote the Olympics opening ceremony as the motive for visiting the Gower is not irrelevant, and is to be trumpeted, but a legacy it is not. It is merely impact of the games. Hopefully it is the sign of things to come; an increase over coming weeks and months of Chinese, and other, visitors. Only if the absolute numbers of Chinese visitors to Wales continues to increase or plateaus as a level higher than has been historically the case can we start to talk about a legacy for tourism.

Surely, The Western Mail should be challenging and scrutinising what vested interests are saying about their sector, rather than being a voicepiece for their PR. Indeed, it should be doing likewise across all sectors: economy, sports, health and education. Instead it appears to be in collusion with them.

Further proof is the lack of scrutiny of the legacy of the 2010 Ryder Cup. Much vaunted, and publicly-funded, talk of its legacy has tailed off completely. Quotes about American tourists, golf tourist visits, golf participation rates, and new demographies playing golf were plentiful in the immediate aftermath of the event. But have they been maintained? Have initial statistical ‘spikes’ translated into established trends? If not, then what was being labelled as ‘Legacy’ was merely ‘Impact’. It is principally, though not exclusively, the media’s job to hold the vested interests to account.

This is not to say there is not a role for the media in defining what legacy is and what it should be after such sporting events; that it must remain aloof to such discussions. I fear however that the media is disinterested in or disinclined to report from the grassroots where modest impact happens, and which aggregated together over time is what actually shapes a legacy. It prefers to talk about the millions of pounds, the investment: the ‘panoramic’. For that is what the top table talks about while it feasts. Neighbourhood level activity probably does not figure

There is, for instance, presumably no story forThe Western Mailin seeing how many young people, ethnic minorities or women from Ringland or Pillgwenlly are reguarly playing golf at local clubs and reporting what positive impact the sport has on their lives and aspirations. But if the media is not interested then community development workers are perfectly-placed to lobby, collectivise and mobilise communities to report it for themselves. They will hear people articualting a change in attitude because of Jade Jones or Mo Farah or because the Ryder Cup was in Newport. They will also witness how, when and to what extent this translates into greater participation in sport, citizenship or democracy activities. Community development workers will also be able to record and report the impact on crime, health and educational attainment that these choices end up having. If the media will not come to us, we must go to the media.

Community development workers too, however, need to be disciplined and balanced in what they believe is legacy or impact otherwise they run the risk of pulling up a chair and joining the succulent feast at the top table.

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How community development can help establish an Olympic legacy in a ‘place like Flint’

“Things like this don’t happen in a place like Flint. It’s a once in a lifetime thing for Flint. It’ll never happen again in my lifetime”

Among the triumph and exuberance of the celebrations for Jade Jones’s gold medal at Flint/Y Fflint Sports and Social Club, BBC Radio Wales broadcast this comment from a local woman this morning.

Perhaps it is a throwaway comment, one said in the heat of the moment. But does it hint at a broader mindset? A mindset that sees individual sporting success as exceptional, disconnected to community life, something ‘achieved by others’ and something that happens ‘despite living here’? If it does then a more grassroots-focused, collaborative approach is required that, if underpinned by community development principles, stands a good chance of achieving a genuine, lasting legacy for the 2012 London Olympics. In a place like Flint/Y Fflint, and many towns like it, a true legacy would be one that does see it happen again in her lifetime.

So what needs to be done?

Start by mobilising the community itself to organise itself to lead change. For instance, a community is well able to identify its sporting and leisure resources, strengths and opportunities. Shiny, expensive velodromes and the like are not the answer on their own. The Street Games movement at its heart recognises that sporting opportunities need to be brought to the doorstep at a time and cost that is appropriate to participants.

It needs to be all-inclusive. In truth there are many culturally-entrenched assumptions based on ethnicity, age, class and gender about which sports will appeal to which people and for which ones they will have an aptitude. These are slowly being broken down and for British medals to be won by women in sports such as boxing and taekwondo will help nudge this along. The commitment that community development has to supporting and advocating for marginalised and under-represented individuals can help collectivise participation in all activities including sporting.

History tells us that when people collectivise, change follows. That change usually centres on the re-balancing or re-distribution of power. Community development promotes participatory democracy. So as good as it is for the marginalised and under-represented to take part in sport, to contribute to decision-making processes about the activities in which they take part can lead to rich, imaginative and more empowering sporting experiences. In keeping with the Welsh Government’s desire for citizen-centred services – and a rejection of a consumer model – we might not merely consume sporting activities but shape them as well.

Community development recognsies that it might take time however. Usually it is the communities themselves that are most willing to recognise and commit to this. Funders and agencies need to do so too.

Community development, if done properly, is a reflective learning process, and a process in which all should participate. Learning in this context is very broad. For others to follow in Jade Jones’s footsteps requires there to be formally accredited coaches and mentors. But it also requires the recording, retention and transfer of informal lessons: why do some people ‘drop out’; why are some people taking part and not others; what are people’s true views about facilities and opportunities; what is the impact of external factors; what complements and helps embeds sporting activities and the values that can be gained by participants, and so forth.

Lastly, a community development approach ought to rage against the compartmentalisation, categorisation and thematic labelling of activity in favour of a more holistic approach to activities. For people to take part in sport and to try new sports there needs to be an alignment of local activities and agencies (schools, sports clubs, youth clubs and drop-ins, parental support, local projects of national agencies) with national, regional and programme-level strategies and priorities. Employing the other components of a community development approach outlined here allows for the reconciliation of these vertical and horizontal trajectories. So it is not just sports clubs, infrastructure providers and national sports governing bodies that have a role but schools, local employers, health agencies, planners, and so on. Community development can be the bond that coheres these various interests.

Neither are community development principles confinced to grant or publicly-funded Community Development Workers. Any of the stakeholders referred to here can apply them. So as part of our discussion about the legacy of London 2012, in addition to the inevitable talk of new sporting facilities and top down government programmes, let there also be a brave, imaginative and determined commitment to mobilising all communities to unearth their own future Jade Jones.

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August 9, 2012 · 1:02 pm