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Thoughts on “Wales’s Most Deprived Estate: The Fight Back”

Last night BBC Wales broadcast an episode of Week In Week Out (WIWO) entitled Wales’s Most Deprived Estate: The Fight Back. The 60 minute documentary is available to view on BBC iplayer.

It focuses on the Lansbury Park estate in the St James ward in Caerphilly/Caerffili. The 2014 Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation singled it out as Wales’s most deprived community. The WIWO coverage was largely balanced and was a nice antidote to the usual exploitative ‘poverty porn’ coverage of poverty and deprivation.

The principal theme was how some local people – all women interestingly – had decided to set up their own action group because, in the words of one of the women, they

“Have been let down. Big time”

The focus of their efforts and a cause célèbre for their frustrations was a derelict community centre. The other motivating factor was the perceived lack of engagement by the local authority, and by extension, the Communities First (CF) programme.

The BBC online article that served as a taster for the broadcast refers to the usual list of public expenditure invested in a community as proof of action, while CF is cited as actually prioritising and targeting Lansbury Park, despite the residents feeling they are “forgotten people”.

There is a tendency by such programmes to see things in such binary terms – either forgotten and ignored, or prioritised and focused upon. The figures supplied by the local authority stating that 8,600 people were helped to improve their parenting, employment prospects and to escape domestic abuse suggest that clearly some people are not forgotten about.

Therein lies the nub though.

Communications Logo - Communities First - JPEGCF has evolved from the sort of intervention that would hold highly-visible community events, meetings and consultations to one which is more intensive, responsive to individuals’ needs (often very complex) and targeted at those determinants of poverty and disadvantage. A derelict community centre is not such a determinant; which is not to say that it was not an eyesore or that the need for neutral, accessible space is not important for communities to express themselves, interact, celebrate and collaborate. The challenge for CF has been to retain and nurture the broader community interest in and emotional attachment to this new approach that cannot, by default, respond to those who are most articulate, loud or determined. Indeed, it must respond to often marginal voices, uncover hidden poverty, and sometimes be discreet and confidential. However, an overlooked, in my mind, aspect of the community involvement strand of CF is the imperative of establishing the right to act, even, the right to be there.

It is not enough to tout new-fangled budgets and programmes, well-meaning rhetoric, or even to genuinely  aspire to make a(ny) difference. In rugby there is the phrase “earning the right play”. It means doing the spadework that gives you not just the ability but the right to express yourself and to apply your tactics and gameplan.

Community development requires the same thing and it requires one to be cognisant of the surroundings and circumstances in which one finds oneself. Arguing the extent to which Lansbury Park is forgotten or prioritised is irrelevant; that that is the perception, at least held by some, is what is key. I could not help but feel that the current CF configuration and strategies had left too many people in Lansbury Park behind, and so its right to act – irrespective of how effectively, on what, and with what statistical justification – had not been earned (or perhaps had been lost in CF’s evolution over the years). Quite simply, there seemed to be little acknowledgement on the part of some the residents of what CF had been doing and achieving locally.

There is not a CF area in Wales that will not admit it can do more and better to enhance the level and quality of engagement with local people. Acting reflectively and self-critically are key principles for community development. By doing both off the back of the the broadcast and accompanying profile, will serve to articulate things in less binary terms, with the aspirations of local people and the focus of CF potentially being able to dovetail for mutual benefit. There is enough room for CF to do what it does, for the women to do what they think is important, and for other people in Lansbury Park to do what they want to do. Grassroots action in communities like Lansbury Park can be all too rare, enfeebled and reliant on too few pairs of hands. The greater the mosaic of community action, the more sustainable its roots will be; the more energy it can generate; the better regarded it will be by local people.

All of which, frankly, makes it easier for Communities First to achieve.

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Neighbourhood policing and community development: Gainesville, Florida style

The very same I day I published my Neighbourhood policing, digital engagement and community development blog  (15th January) a police officer was filmed sympathetically dealing with some young people shooting hoops in Gainesville, Florida.

I stumbled across this Telegraph article that chronicles what happened when the officer, Bobby White, attends and then returning with the “back-up” he promised, one of whom was NBA legend Shaquille O’Neill.

It was a masterstroke by whoever managed to persuade Shaq to agree to be part of the ‘back up’. Clearly, his input guaranteed the media spotlight; but it shouldn’t disguise how important it was that White kept his word and returned to play with the young people

It’s simply great policing on White’s part. He addresses the young people with respect – which they show in return – and he has been rewarded with a huge local, viral, and media presence. #BasketballCop and #HoopsNotCrime trended and Gainesville PD received ‘incomprehensible’ level of social media traffic.

The point of the original blog, and the Telegraph article that prompted it, was to illustrate how digital engagement was complementing, and in some cases replacing, traditional models of engagement by police. A week after the #BasketballCop shot some hoops with teenage Floridians, Gainesville PD drew a full house for a public meeting, the staple of the traditional model of engagement.

Despite how popular Bobby White and Gainesville PD had become it is a nice touch that White’s “basketball buddies” also attended the meeting.

A more sober observation is that given recent press coverage of the relationship between American police and black male youths it is a poignant and refreshing reminder that matters can be handled in a civilised manner.

It is also easy to overlook that it was digital engagement via Gainesvile PD’s YouTube channel that underpins this uplifting episode. Had they not uploaded the initial video recorded from White’s police car then most people would still be none the wiser. That video has had almost 300,000 views. “The Rematch” clip (the one above) has had over 1.5 million views. I love how a brief scan of Gainesville PD’s other clips have received more modest viewing figures: 818 views for their Christmas holiday safety clip; 549 views of a burglary caught on CCTV; 1,301 of their August edition of their occasional ‘Police Beat’ videos. The video that preceded that of White attending the basketballers has been viewed 5,009 times

Clearly, those that managed the account made hay of the whole thing. But what I also like – and this goes to the heart of quality engagement – they remained alert to the need to remind citizens of the ‘bread and butter’ issues; that despite the media frenzy, it was business as usual. So in between Shaq and #BasketballCop tweets they also updated on the relatively more mundane: traffic issues, swearing-in of new officers, car thieves and community safety advice:

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Role for the community in tackling substance abuse?

I recently stumbled across this tweet during a lunch break at work spent idly browsing the internet. I’m still reeling from the power of the HMO Hitmen and Profits of Addiction I re-blogged recently and the tweet’s reference to substance abuse resonated given the frequency of overdoses.

Station House is an American treatment centre for substance abuse whose philosophy is

“…to combine a safe, supportive environment with evidence-based care to help our patients enter a long term recovery from their substance addiction”

A key part of this philosophy is about supporting emergency services (or ‘first responders’) to better respond, prevent and treat substance abusers. The clip is a brief but interesting glimpse at the role of community in tackling substance abuse. A supportive and sympathetic community appears to be the ‘cement’ that binds together the proactive professional interventions and treatments, abusers themselves and their families

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HMO Hitmen and the Profits of Heroin Addiction

The link to community development is tenuous but seldom has a blog about social issues had such a sobering, then angering impact. It’s written from an American perspective but nonetheless is an extremely sober reminder why Britain’s publicly funded and underwritten healthcare service must be fought for and protected. Because first comes privatisation followed by de-regulation and the social harm it would cause. At least the Welsh Government has autonomy over its health service and so can adopt different policies and ideologies to those of the UK government. My fear is that intra-national borders are no impediment to neoliberal market forces.

Dal dy dir

takingthemaskoff

richevil

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

By Irwin Ozborne

“Susie is dead.”

I still remember the text message on that fateful morning.

Susie is a 24-years-old, hard-working, good-looking girl without an enemy in the world. She is the type of person who naturally connects to everyone and genuinely cares about others. How could she be dead?

“She died from a heroin overdose.”

I heard these words and it literally floored me. We hear the figurative expression of being brought to your knees – well this is where it comes from. It literally occurs when you cannot physically stand and the pain and anguish is so unbearable that you involuntarily sink closer to the earth.

Who does heroin? That was my instinctive reaction.

It must have been engrained in our culture and generation that if you touch the stuff, you…

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Forsythia Youth, once again on the money

I have shared my admiration for the Forsythia Youth Group from Gurnos, Merthyr Tydfil/Merthyr Tudful previously. So I was yet again impressed, though in no way surprised, to see the group tweet the following film about the perils of loan sharks and the virtues of becoming a member of a credit union (CU), which in Merthyr’s case is Merthyr Tydfil Borough Credit Union.

It conveys a simple message: that the pernicious, persistent grasp of loan sharks can be difficult to escape in even the most mundane of settings. Obviously loan sharks do not dress up in a literal sense. However, they do initially present themselves as a source of help, as being approachable, dependable and responsive to people’s needs. One of the closing graphics states that one loan shark was found to be charging a mind-boggling 100,000% APR interest. That they are not as friendly as first impressions may suggest is candidate for understatement of the century.

The CU movement has long identified the need to engage with schools and young people in order to promote the movement’s benefits and relevance, to raise its profile and to recruit ‘members for life’; as the saying goes ‘Healthy habits are best learned young’. If adults are to become responsible savers and borrowers then it is in their youth they are likely to learn, and retain, the virtues of such behaviour. There are many Communities First clusters working with CUs to promote financial literacy among young people, often in a school setting. I recall fondly working on one such project with Islwyn Community CU in the mid 2000s. They promote an interesting concept, namely that behavioural change among children and young people can be imported into the family home and adopted by adults. Though it was a shame to see efforts to draw attention to the film mention via the seemingly redundant @CreditUnionsWales twitter account go unrequited, I hope the wider CU movement capitalise on the group’s efforts, both broadly and locally. Making CUs relevant to people, of all backgrounds and incomes, is critically important for the movement to thrive. Young people can be at the vanguard of this push both in terms of becoming members at a young age, but cascading messages and behaviour to their peers in a way that is likely to be much more effective than CU staff and volunteers or local community development workers doing so alone

Lastly, I also notice that Forsythia Youth recently celebrated their eleventh birthday.

May I wish all involved with such a great role model for grassroots activism, community spirit and youth empowerment a belated Penblwydd Hapus. I fear it is a clunky metaphor but as they reach the age at which a child moves from primary to secondary school I look forward to the group continuing to mature, grow and broaden its horizons as it approaches its teens. The youth of Gurnos and north Merthyr are in safe hands.

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It’s Time for Us to Unleash the Hidden Power in Communities

Hear hear Paul! A terrific argument for revisioning how services and service providers see and define people in our communities.

The deficit model is particularly pernicious for young people who are stigmatised, even demonised, by a range of sectors, not least the media. Therefore it was refreshing immediately prior to reading this to read an update on Cardiff University’s Community Journalism project which aims “to develop understanding, engagement and participation [so] that citizens get news and information about their own communities and are able to play a part in creating and influencing content and comment.” I am interested in the potential for hyper-local journalism to help residents re-interpret and re-present their communities by reclaiming the means of production of narratives, thereby not relying on external, unaccountable means.

Paul Taylor

“It’s so tempting for those of us who provide services….support workers, housing providers, social workers, community workers, health visitors, GPs…to see ourselves as the ones with the gifts. The ones with the solutions. The superheroes ready to fly in and save people.

 Maybe there is already a superhero living on their street”  –John Wade 

Lego-Superman-Batman-and-Wonder-Woman-Wallpaper

The typical story arc of the superhero is fairly predictable.

The journey to greatness begins with a background rooted in tragedy or potentially limiting life events:

  • The sudden death of family members (For example, Batman or Spiderman).
  • Being cast out alone into an unknown world where you are markedly different from everyone else (Superman or Thor). 
  • Troubled or abusive families triggering low self-esteem or even mental illness (Wonder Woman or Bruce Banner/The Hulk).

Having got us firmly rooting for the underdog the story unfolds, telling of the discovery of a hidden power or talent , and the difficulties…

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What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty…

What financial inclusion really means and its significance in the fight against poverty….

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