Going back a while now, but this is one of those memories that just stays with you: I was due to deliver some training to AgeUK staff, on the publication I had written about putting community development into practice.
It was in Huddersfield and I had made the journey up from Shropshire the night before and got to the venue bright and early. I waited a while, but only one participant turned up – let’s call him Mick! It transpired that a lorry full of gob-stoppers had overturned on the M62 so the only person who travelled by public transport ended up in a one-to-one session with me! I didn’t even know they still made gob-stoppers, but they were a blessing in some ways as the two of us had the luxury of spending the whole day together – real quality time.We put the next few hours to good use – sharing experiences and stories and trying to find some practical solutions.
Mick worked as a ‘leisure and fitness coordinator’. One day, he was visited by 4 women (aged 70+) who told him that they wanted a Tai Chi exercise class to go to. They had talked to other people in their age group and it was a popular idea.
Mick wanted to make sure that anything he arranged was ‘community-led’ so he talked to these women – and others – about the best day of the week, time and location, to hold the classes and he arranged for a trained instructor to deliver them.
The first week was great – about 50 people turned up and seemed to engage happily with the activity.
The following week wasn’t as popular, but was still good, and attracted about 30 older people to the session.
Week 3 was very disappointing and barely made it to double figures, with a downward spiral from there-on-in.
Mick was dispirited and just could not work out what had gone wrong, as he had met the request that came from the older people themselves and consulted them on the practicalities. I asked him if – when the women had first approached him – he had asked them why they wanted Tai Chi classes ……
- Was it primarily about exercise and fitness?
- Was it about relaxation?
- Was it about socialising?
- Was it about learning something new?
- Was it to fill a gap in the timetable?
- Was it because someone had recommended Tai Chi as something to try?
- Or because there had been a television programme about it?
- Or because the neighbouring area had Tai Chi classes?
- Or something else …?
Mick didn’t know, but we could both see that it mattered. We could see a really clear link between process and outcome.
In Mick’s example – his process of checking with older people was great but he didn’t have a clear outcome i.e. he didn’t know why he was doing it, other than people had asked him to. Crucially, we didn’t know WHY this group of people wanted Tai Chi classes, what they hoped to get from them, and so he had never considered, or checked, if that was likely to happen. Huge learning for us both.
Mick and I back-tracked a bit to think about what might happen if we tackled both process and outcome. It made sense to start by thinking about the outcome – what older people want to happen as a result of the activity. We practised with the outcome that “older people network socially and learn more from each other”.
Once we had this in the bag, we discussed ways that this might be achieved. e.g. doing things which will bring people together, encouraging them to talk to each other, creating an atmosphere where people will share ideas and develop trust in each other. To achieve these things, we thought we needed to stimulate discussion and debate, get people interested in others – thinking about their similarities and differences.
- It can be pretty strenuous for older people – so, if they are after gentle exercise, it may not necessarily the best activity.
- It can be delivered ina way which is quite individualised, so if people want a social activity to share with others, it may not necessarily the best activity.
- Tai Chi instructors are very disciplined, so if they deliver in this way and people want an informal, relaxed atmosphere, it may not necessarily be the best activity.
Sticking with the Tai Chi example: if Tai Chi is seen to be strenuous, individualised and disciplined – how could it be delivered in a way which achieves outcomes about networking socially and learning from each other? Sessions could include:
- information about why people practice Tai Chi, the health benefits and the range of movements included
- discussion about Tai Chi, exploring people’s knowledge and experience of China and other martial arts, what makes movements easier to do and what might make them more difficult for some people
- work in small groups, to support each other to understand and practice the movements, encourage people to share their experiences of Tai Chi – and the benefits they have recognised
- visits to other places practicing different types of martial arts, and to a variety of other venues to learn about different ways of exercising
- encouragement to, and opportunity for, older people to shape the direction of the sessions, voicing their interests and requirements and making suggestions for future sessions and other activities
We identified these five different, but inter-linked, ideas by working through the five community empowerment dimensions – which were really helpful
It was a fine day!
Having avoided the gobstoppers, sadly Mick later suffered on the way home as Leeds Train Station was hit by a tornado – it was quite day!
Our community leadership and active citizenship development work started in Wolverhampton in 1998 through a women’s community development and health project, when the focus moved from running workshops on ‘dealing with the menopause’ and ‘how to be a mother and stay sane’ to working out how women can influence the decisions that affect their lives. It evolved from a series of workshops around women and leadership which, by 1998 had expanded to include a programme of training, practical support and mentoring. The first accredited ‘course’ of this type began in January 2000 and it focused on women’s own experiences and opinions whilst setting out to explore local, national and European decision making structures.
Funding came from a variety of sources – Health Action Zones, National Lottery, Barrow Cadbury Trust – to develop ideas around women becoming more active in community and public life through using a community development approach, countering the notion of elevating a few women as community leaders to talk on behalf of others, engaging with civic structures as a token (and not necessarily particularly representative) voice for women. A key aim of the programme was to encourage women from a whole range of backgrounds to speak out and make their voices heard in whatever context is most appropriate and relevant to them.
The success of the pilot courses led to further developments around the main topics – citizenship, democracy, leadership and participation – and then to an invitation by the Home Office Active Learning for Active Citizenship (ALAC) programme to showcase the IMPACT! approach as a creative learning initiative (2004-06). We commissioned our own evaluation of the Impact! initiative to identify what it was that made the difference.
The experience of Impact! contributed substantially to the development of the Framework for Active Learning for Active Citizenship; the document was jointly written by Jill Bedford from Impact! and Helen Marsh from London Civic Forum and launched by CLG in November 2006. The Framework was subsequently named the Take Part Framework and the original group of seven ALAC projects became the Take Part network. The ALAC initiative was evaluated by Professor Marj Mayo and Alison Rooke from Goldsmiths College and their findings, including comments about IMPACT! are available at takepart.org.
changes was asked to present a paper to the Expert seminar on citizenship and belonging – part of the Commission of Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning (2008). The focus was ‘Moving on up: the role of lifelong learning in women’s journeys to active citizenship’.
In 2008, changes started working with Dosti, WVSC and Wolverhampton Council to develop a Take Part Pathfinder in the Black Country: funded through CLG (2008 – 2011) Details are below:
Purpose of the Initiative
To increase the level of influence people and communities have over the decisions that affect their lives and that this influence is shaped by the values of participation, co-operation, social justice, equality and diversity.
The initiative encompassed work with individuals and communities as well as pubic sector organisations and agencies. There were five main delivery strands:
- Learning and support to build skills and confidence, within a community context – this would include active shared learning leading to community leadership; increased individual and collective voices, action and influence. This included courses, support network, buddying scheme, and information on opportunities for civic and civil involvement.
- Initiatives for community and voluntary groups and networks around monitoring and increasing their capacity to influence. This used Voice, one of the Axes of Influence, which was researched and developed in Dudley.
- Initiatives for public sector agencies to assess their openness to community influence using Echo.
- Joint dialogue across sectors and boroughs on themes of active critical citizenship, community empowerment, involvement and engagement.
- A pool of local facilitators developed and supported through training, shadowing and provision of materials
Women Take Part
During 2007 members of changes were approached by Government Equalities Office and Communities and Local Government to undertake research on under represented women in public life. This was called Women Take Part and built directly on the work of Impact! and other Take Part hubs. The Women Take Part (WTP) research was funded by the Government Equalities Office (2007 – 2008) to examine the participation of women, in particular under-represented women, in governance and decision making, in both community and public life. Women Take Part collected information about two sides of the story: ‘what works’ in terms of approaches, initiatives and learning models that encourage different groups of women to become more involved, and ‘what needs to happen’ so that structures, policies and organisations work in ways that encourage the recruitment and support of more women.
The report (published September 2008) provides a summary of the research findings and guidance on models and approaches which can be used to encourage, equip and support women. It is a resource which can be used by agencies, to extract information and ideas to inform delivery of relevant performance targets. The report draws upon research and knowledge which confirm and articulate the inequalities surrounding women’s active participation in public life. The need to develop and grow the ‘pool’ of women available for civil participation and civic engagement is emphasised. Despite being researched and written in 2008 the report and the framework developed from the research is increasingly relevant in 2013.
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