In Middlesbrough we are working with our friends, Martyn and Dot, at Hope North East. We facilitated a workshop with workers and volunteers in the summer and will be going back in February to catch up with them again. They have also been to a one-day workshop delivered by Cormac at The Basement Recovery Project in Halifax.
This week’s blog is from Martyn and Dot who share their reflections on Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and Hope North East. Enjoy – it’s tremendous!
When I first arrived at the ABCD training with Mark from Nurture Development [Mark Stephenson is a Nurture Development Associate] I didn’t know what to expect, as I had not learned much about this approach before. Once the training had started, however, things just started to make sense to me. Growing up in a small village we always went along to coffee mornings and other such groups with my Nan when she was looking after me and my brother.
Looking back now after this training, I have been able to learn to appreciate these things as community “bumping spaces”, which allow people to come together in a very natural way. Also people helping out neighbours and just getting with things that need doing, to me was always the way. An example would be that, as we live on the side of a hill, snow is always an issue in the winter, so people shovelling snow off the road in front of each person’s house and helping to do so for an elderly neighbour is just what we did without ever thinking “the council needs to do this”. If a bus gets stuck in the snow on the way into the village people come out and push. These are small but simple acts of kindness or asset sharing.
Whilst learning more throughout the training, I started looking at how I could be best thinking of this asset-based community development approach in my own role. I currently work as the Volunteer Co-ordinator for Hope North East, a Drug and Alcohol Recovery charity in Middlesbrough, and work with around 30 volunteers with a diverse range of backgrounds, skills and experiences. Throughout the training my pen was tearing away at my notebook identifying areas in which we are currently working with both people’s and the communities’ assets, and areas which we are not, most importantly areas in which we are potentially doing more harm by interfering with natural community development.
One of the things which I was really interested in exploring was the “bumping space” where people in the community come together to share their assets and gifts. Having had many meetings in which people sit in silence and stare at a scripted agenda or instead vent issues around a table awaiting a chairperson or manager to offer an off the shelf solution, I tried to think back to those coffee mornings and how their set up went. I had also recently been involved in helping my wife set up some equipment for a presentation to a local community group about some work she is involved with. I found it interesting to sit at the back after setting up, and I watched how the group interacted catching up with each other and asking after unwell members who could not attend. They also started planning their Christmas meal; different members of the group spoke of various places to go and prices for the tickets; and then they started going back and forth with who could and could not go to different places on different days and who could offer lifts; whose son could drive a mini bus, and many other logistics.
A coffee morning setup would take the place of my next volunteer team meeting. I booked a room, bought some cake and started advertising it as a meeting/coffee morning through texts and word of mouth. One of the people who accesses some of the groups in the service also offered to come along to help in the kitchen to serve refreshments, and even brought along a portable CD player, speakers and some relaxing background music. I also invited staff via email to come along.
When people arrived everyone came along and sat down quietly looking at me as if to start as a normal meeting. I just explained a little about my aims of the morning being about bringing people together to talk without any set agenda. As the morning went along people got into the idea and pockets of conversations where starting up around the room. Some general talks themed around recovery and study and some about planning some ideas for the service. Some examples of these were when two new students got speaking to two people who are in recovery themselves. Each person was sharing some of their experiences, either of addiction and recovery or in studying, and some great conversations where taking place around these subjects. Another group of volunteers started talking about the Christmas party and rather than get caterers in, as we have done in previous years, several volunteers said that they would rather buy the food in and make it themselves. One volunteer said that his friend was a butcher and could do us a cheap deal on a turkey, and so the conversations went. Overall, this approach to the coffee morning rather than the meeting was about stepping back and just bringing people together and seemed to work and in a much better way.
Another thing I took from the training was the idea of focusing on the assets of individuals and helping encourage the sharing of these. We have many volunteers, all with their own skills and strengths, which might relate to experience of addiction and recovery, typing and using a computer, baking, football coaching, health improvement, decorating, cycling, art, walking or an endless list of other skills or assets.I am now focusing a big part of my role around identifying and helping the volunteers to find ways to help pass on and share these skills and make best use of them to help people accessing our service. An example of this approach is in one volunteer who had recently completed a football coaching course who started to advertise the football coaching centre to people in our service. We then found someone with a car to help them go there and come back. Another example is that one of our health champion volunteers is a keen cyclist and she had been speaking with a man in the bike shop whilst having her bike repaired and got speaking about her role. He then spoke with her about a grant which community groups and charities can apply for in order to set up cycling groups. This volunteer has wrote a bid and has got some help with a staff member who has experience of bid writing before sending it off and we are now just waiting to see if we get the funding for the bike course.
Overall, the ABCD training has been both interesting and useful, and has changed the way in which I am viewing things both at work and in my own community where I live. The main thing is learning to take the time to stop and take a step back and look at the assets already around you and try to create organic systems which fit around people and how they work best and make use of their assets.
Having had the pleasure of learning in an ad hoc way over the past couple of years around ABCD principles, when I arrived in Hope North East I felt that the approach would complement the service perfectly.
My last 4 years in addiction services have shown me how resourceful the recovery community are. Their ability to work together on a favour basis has astounded me, which led me to question the term ‘community’. The common denominator is addiction, however the identification plays the crucial role when connecting each other. The same identification mining communities have with the local pit or the production factories making electrical goods – it’s the common denominator. Modern life has diluted these places we identify with, the reduction in industry has dispersed identifying factors. The experience I had growing up of community spirit and sharing of gifts seems to be absent.
Hope North East provides a space in which to come together for mutual support and is ‘peer led’. This means the people who come through the door have a voice and a say in everything we do. That all sounds good but… we are still in ‘charge’. A shift I am encouraging is handing over the power to those people, encouraging true peer led groups and activities, allowing those gifts to be found. So far we have found:
- A football coach
- A bingo caller
- A flower arranger
- A group of cooks
- A budding barista
- A choir
- An artist
- A group of poets
- An organiser
- A clippy mat maker
- A joiner
- A debater
- A social networker
And on and on…
We have secured a piece of land to develop a community garden, we are on the hunt for people in the local area with an interest and the skills we need. I have contacted the local councillor to ask for her support in getting connected with community members who may help us. We are attending the church, social club, youth club, school etc on the estate to get people involved. This will be the recovery community’s gift to the estate.
The approach really gets me energised, people never fail to surprise me and make me smile 🙂
Thank you Mark for helping me keep on the right path. Thank you Cormac, for the gift of storytelling. This gets me off the academic hook and allows passion to take the place of long words.