Tag Archives: Community Development Worker

Reflections on Community Development Cymru’s AGM

23rd June saw Community Development Cymru (CDC) hold its Annual General Meeting at the Culture and Media Centre @Loudon in Butetown, Cardiff/Caerdydd. It also marked the culmination of my first year as a board member of CDC and the first time in a while that the AGM has not been in Newtown/Y Drenewydd where CDC has its main administrative base.

The decision to hold the AGM in Cardiff/Caerdydd was largely a pragmatic one as it would hopefully make it more accessible to a greater number of members. The attendance of membership at an AGM is obviously important for the transparent, effective, healthy and participative governance that should be the aim of all voluntary and charitable organisations. But it was even moreso at this AGM because it provided for an opportune occasion for CDC to provide members with feedback on the membership survey that it has recently undertaken as part of a wider review of membership services and membership involvement in the organisation. I have volunteered from a board perspective to lead on this review and had the pleasure of feeding back to the AGM attendees the survey results, emerging conclusions and begin to broaden the debate about membership.

CDC was keen to ensure that the survey was open to member and non-member community development workers (CDWs) in Wales alike; indeed, and interestingly, more non-members completed the survey than members. This mix was reflected in the AGM attendees too, with non-members and a range of disciplines and sectors in attendance: housing, higher education, Welsh Government, environment, social enterprise, heritage. Given CDC is keen to stress that the Communities First workforce is not the de facto community development workforce in Wales, it was in one respect encouraging to see so few people who work in that programme in that attendance. It is heart-warming to see that community development values and practice are existent beyond the confines of a government-funded programme.

This cocktail of backgrounds and disciplines provided for a stimulating discussion about some of the survey findings, one of which was an apparent lack of desire to be involved in campaigning. CDC Chair, Steve Bennett, had opened the event by drawing on 1970s community development writing that warned of CDWs becoming unwitting apparatus of a state that might seek to entrench and deepen inequality or foster new forms of it. It went unsaid, but the writing’s prescience of what followed in the 1980s was very powerful, creating an almost tangible recognition among the AGM audience that as CDWs we are still grappling with the fall out of that period and its politics and policies. There are parallels between then and now.

There was also a fascinating presentation about Community Philosophy from fellow board member Jan Huyton of Cardiff Metropolitan University which managed to include reference to two of my favourite cultural ‘artefacts’ of working class Wales:

In essence, Community Philosophy is an approach to tackling and discussing life’s ‘big issues’; one which The Dark Philosophers’ Valleys protagonists indulge in with verve and passion. With Steve’s sober reflections, it provided for an interesting juxtaposition: the anti-establishment, dissonant, community development culture of yesteryear that philosophised, collectivised and protested; and a contemporary community development workforce with little apparent appetite to involve itself in campaigning.

Is this a product of the outcome and target culture of a lot of contemporary community development work, whether funded by government or other arms-length forms of funding? Does this funding regime inculcate an obedience and lack of criticality among contemporary CDWs? Should funders me more receptive to activities and discussion – philosophising? – that are not burdened with targets and deliverables? Poverty is after all the result of a massively complex mix of abundant factors that are uniquely distilled by place; is our understanding of it not better understood if we can explore and debate its causes? Communities First is a programme for tackling poverty; should not CDWs be aspiring and working towards its eradication?

On the other hand, perhaps contemporary CDWs are more pragmatic, prepared to comply with government programme requirements in order that ‘something’ can be done with and in communities. How does debate and philosophising assist a family on the cusp of crisis due to unmanageable debt, or support a young person make better life choices? Increased inequality in the UK is pushing families and individuals towards Victorian forms of pauperism with the concomitant hollowing-out of the welfare state providing for increasingly solely charitable forms of support. Communities First, for all the criticisms of it being government-funded and compliant, and target-focused, is at least a commitment from the ‘Welsh bit’ of the state to support for the poor.

There was a feeling on the part of some that the ‘old school’ CDWs resented the changes that Communities First has brought in focus, flexibility to work towards community-identified priorities, and even job title. In contrast a ‘new school’ of CDW is more comfortable with the culture of targets and outcomes and with performance frameworks and methodologies such as Results Based Accountability or Social Return On Investment. Talk of such ‘schools’ leaves me cold, as it runs the risk of polarising CDWs into opposing camps and is divisive. But certainly, someone like myself, who is by no means a fresh-faced, novice CDW, but has nonetheless only ever worked in community development in post-devolution Wales can only try to empathise with the sort of situations that critiques of 1970s community-based action were describing.

It was a fascinating discussion which, sadly but inevitably, had to be curtailed in order to attend to AGM business. But it brought into sharp focus the fact that there is, and needs to be, a plurality of views within community development. That there is a need for campaigning and lobbying within the sector, not just of others by the sector. CDC can be the means of collating these views and I look forward to contributing further to the review of CDC’s membership ‘offer’.

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Community development and breaking the cycle of always doing what you’ve always done

As usual, I awoke recently to the daily morning show on Radio Wales and an interview with a fire officer whose recent shifts had comprised exclusively of fighting deliberately-set hill fires at various locations around the south Wales valleys during the first extended warm spell of the spring.

It was not so much his straight-from-the-textbook condemnation aimed at the unknown perpetrators, or his very obvious frustration that struck me. Rather it was the weary, resigned expectation of a man, and service, that faces the same challenges year in, year out.

The interviewer enquired as to what preventative and engagement work takes place with young people (though the perpetrators are hardly ever caught, they are nonetheless assumed to be young….) and he spoke of “going into schools” and having done so for several years, following an established curriculum of outlining the risks, consequences and costs, both financial and potentially human.

The article caused me to recall visiting a community in the north of Abergavenny/Y Fenni in 2010 and on arrival noticing a large smiley face mowed into the hillside  that looms over that community, the Deri (see Ted Pearsell’s Flickr account for the image). A Community Development Worker (CDW) mentioned that the face had become the talk of the community of late, its creator(s) unknown and that whereas the hillside had in previous years been the location for malicious grass fires, during that summer none had been started because, the CDW felt, the smiley face had been adopted by the community. The community development sector will frequently refer to the importance of ownership by communities, and often it is ownership in an emotional sense rather in any material, legal or financial sense. At a, presumably, modest cost the smiley face had become the means by which the surrounding landscape had become of more value to the community. And even if this was not shared by everyone in that community, the sense of ownership and enhanced value might well have been sufficiently palpable to the perpetrators of previous hill fires that they were disinclined to repeat the arson.

In its adoption of Results Based Accountability* (RBA) (Friedman, 2005) Wales’s Communities First programme requires of local plans to consider seven Performance Accountability questions.

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(Friedman, 2005, page 83)

Abergavenny/Y Fenni‘s smiley face strikes me as the perfect example of a low-cost idea that brings about an improvement in a social ill. It is not, however, enough to replicate it in every community where hill fires are problem. RBA requires of us to question ‘What works?’ and to examine apparent solutions for the underlying reasons why.

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(Friedman, 2005, page 82)

Back in Abergavenny/Y Fenni‘ it would be interesting to know whether the statistical cliff off which hill fire incidences fell that summer was acknowledged by the local fire service. Even if they did it is to the CDW’s credit that he had sought to tune-in to the community’s wavelength on the matter, and without necessarily being conscious of it was informally recording information as part of a research agenda.

This is not to say that the educational approach is without merit but doing it because it is what we’ve done previously is an insufficiently evidence-based justification. And seems odd given the example of an alternative solution on the Fire Service’s doorstep.

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*The references and extracts related to Results Based Accountability are drawn from Mark Friedman’s book Trying Hard Is Not Enough (2005). 

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Clarke, S, Mendola Byatt, A, Hoban, M, Powell, D (eds.) (2002) Community Development in South Wales, University of Wales Press: Cardiff.

Can’t believe this is now over a decade old. A must for any community development worker working in Wales (even north Wales!).

Surely it is time for a revised version or a collection of new perspectives?

Communities First entering a second decade; the publication of a national framework for community development; a much expanded and trained community development workforce; government recognition of the need for and funding of ongoing development of the workforce; recession and forced austerity; continuing divergence of UK and Wales regeneration policy; advent of primary legislative powers for the National Assembly for Wales; the Children and Families Measure in Wales.

All have surely re-shaped the community development and tackling poverty scene in Wales?

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February 22, 2013 · 10:00 am

Street Ambassadors in every street in Wales?

It was the ever-excellent Participation Cymru that brought to my attention recently an imaginative, yet simple and low cost proposal to:

“establish a new vehicle ‘Street Ambassadors Wales’ with the aim of establishing and supporting a street ambassador in every street in Wales.”

Wales Council for Voluntary Action, Timebanking Wales and Blaengarw-based Creation Development Trust are the proponents of the proposal and a paper, Creating another piece of the jigsaw – Street Ambassadors / Creu darn arall o’r jig-so – Llysgenhadon y Stryd,outlining the proposal in more detail can be found here or yma. What appeals to me is that the proposal sets out broad principles that can be adapted to suit neighbourhoods.

For instance, it suggests the idea being adopted in ‘areas’ where an area might be defined as any from a “local authority, sub-local authority, Communities First cluster, Community Council [or] ward”. And that a ‘development agency’, who identifies and recruits the street ambassadors, might take the form of a “County Voluntary Council, development trust, housing association, church, community council, rotary [or] volunteer centre”. 

The paper sees street ambassadors as key in being able “to mobilise people at the very grass roots, street level” and in so doing facilitating through co-production the transformative change required of public service. Such radical and large scale change requires a robustly constructed framework of political, policy, organisational and financial imperatives. Yet clearly without the consent, effort and energy of residents the street ambasadors idea will wither on the vine. As Hoban (2002, 218) accurately observes:

“It is the ownership of the action that increases involvement”

The paper’s receptiveness to a number of different spatial scales and range of potential development agencies is to be welcomed. The non-prescriptiveness of the what constitutes the ‘canvas’ across which ambassadors operate allows for residents and neighbours, perhaps via a process that is animated by a Community Development Worker, to take ownership of the ambassador role, the information it shares and how it networks. The paper even suggests that

“street ambassadors can develop their role…by networking with other street ambassadors to form other neighbourhoods”

The key to the extent to which, as the paper aspires, neighbourhoods become the “building blocks of organising” – of local services, different programmes and initiatives – will depend on what happens at the ‘seams’ where areas meet. But as the above quote suggests it could well be the ambassadors and the development agencies who will have the ownership and autonomy to decide.

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References

Hoban, M (2002) The same old story: implications of current government policy for the involvement of residents in neighbourhood regeneration, in Clarke, S, Mendola Byatt, A, Hoban, M, Powell, D (eds.) Community Development in South Wales, University of Wales Press: Cardiff.

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When ‘Community Development’ becomes a pejorative term?

I recall starting a community development job in Merthyr Tydfil on a small, predominantly social housing estate in early 2003. Within a couple of days of starting I noticed a house scarred by an apparently recent house fire. It turned out that a parent with three young children lived in the house in which a chip fan fire had extensively damaged the kitchen and downstairs. It had happened no more than three weeks earlier and fortunately there were no injuries incurred other than minor smoke inhalation on the family’s part.

Within a couple of days the estate had had a whip round and raised over £250 for the family to help with the costs of repairing the damage. It didn’t seem a huge amount of money but for households with limited incomes the sentiment was obvious and the donation was heartfelt.

In order to take up this role I had relocated from north Wales to Cardiff and was renting a flat in what was very tenuously Cardiff Bay. We lived in Windsor Quay which was one of the first housing developments in the south Cardiff regeneration scheme on reclaimed land on Ferry Road.

As time went by and my wife and I saw so few of our neighbours, let alone interacted with them, an irony struck me. That in Merthyr a neighbourhood had demonstrated very clearly a greater cohesion, solidarity and sense of community and belonging than the one from which I commuted every morning. Yet was a community that was in need of ‘developing’ and intervention.

I previously blogged on how the concept of Civil Domestic Product helps redefine affluence in a way that considers, among other things, social connectedness (see Timebanking Wales for further information). The Merthyr estate may not have been home to as many graduates as Windsor Quay was, and there are presumably stark health inequalities between the two neighbourhoods but the two would swap positions in a notional league table if social connectedness was assessed.

There is a danger that Community Development becomes a pejorative term in that it becomes associated with areas that are labelled in other pejorative ways: deprived, disadvantaged, run-down, unambitious. On a  number of measures Windsor Quay is not deprived or disadvantaged but its reservedness and insularity made it a very disconnected and incohesive community; even isolated and isolating.

The term community development ought not, of course, be taken so literally. Rather it is the name of a specific approach to challenging inequality and redistributing power in communities, but more needs to be done in order to convey this. The experience of living in Windsor Quay might suggest that it is also a component that has been lacking in property-led regeneration that has proliferated in Cardiff with the expansion of high-rise city centre and Bay living, much of it privately rented. Sadly, there is little doubt in my mind that though the land and property values of such developments are considered a virtue and the areas do not figure prominently on indices of deprivation, these communities fail to fulfill some of the fundamental social and emotional needs that many of us would wish our communities provided us.

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