From The Invisible to the Visible: Coalville C.A.N.
“There is no community in Coalville” was the jaw-dropping comment made to us by a senior Council officer as we discussed a project. “Can you help to find it?”. Where do you take a conversation like this?. Follow that with another conversation with a local publicly funded arts organisation when asked how to contact local creatives, the answer, “there are no creative people in Coalville”.
Our immediate and heartfelt response was “Walk outside your door, look and listen and connect. Coalville is abundant in community, in people helping their friends and neighbours, in people with a shared rich heritage, in people with knowledge, talents and skills”
Community is something the people of Coalville feel is a real strength, with a myriad of relationships and lots of stuff going on. These were not represented in the public conversations or the institutional outlook. Whilst many people live a life rich in connections, they do not always see their own strengths and conversations of making a difference, beyond dealing with the symptoms of economic poverty and a collective memory of promises unmet.
The institutional conversations are about bringing in professionals to make change and sponsored developer-led regeneration, stifling opportunities for people to do it themselves and leading to profits (and rents) leaving the local community. Does anyone stop to think who is paying for all of this? What if communities decided where their money was spent or they had access to the same opportunities?
These conversations helped shape our name: Coalville C.A.N. (Communities and Neighbours) to capture both our potential and recognising our strengths. Inspired by Cormac’s ABCD course, Deana and Victoria created over the fuel of community – a shared cuppa – Community Asset Bingo, based on a sketch of their notes,
Community Asset Bingo, a physical and visual way for people to capture what is strong in their community, never fails to change the conversation, increase connections, and build a sense of having people and places of value.
We set out through chats in pubs and cafes, online and through imaginative use of press releases to change the conversation and to create a plan with our communities.
This built on our own evolution from The Hero Project, a creative project which co-ordinated 50 local organisations from schools to the Job Centre, Scouts to local pubs to create 50 life-size figures of the Famous Fifty. A large community celebration of the first civilian volunteers in World War l – all from our local community. The Hero Project became TH!NK FC as we sought to use better ways of thinking and working to level the playing field by focusing on people, place and potential.
This foundation of sharing tools and resources and recognising the power of sustainable community development led to Coalville C.A.N – a community co-operative (CBS) putting ownership and control directly in the hands of the local community.
Legal structures don’t create cultures – values make the difference. Sharing ideas and experiences has always been how we learnt best and we sought inspiration where we could. The excitement of meeting the author of Blueprint for A Revolution, albeit online, through the connectors of Camerados, as well as joining the crew of Alex and Sam through Be More Pirate, led to our Code. We wanted, in plain language, to capture in an image our rebellious intent and our way of working. We sought to connect and learn from inspiring groups through Locality and CB Patchwork, Reaching People and via Parish Councils, flat-packed or otherwise.
All of us who take the time to listen to those we meet, to connect beyond the role and label, are uncovering talents. These can range from the amazing photographs of the solar system or the length of time you can hold a “plank” by students in an SEN class through the baking and the makers of “Coalville caviar”, known as faggots elsewhere!
The power of community was captured in the love for the place, a love that often dare not speak its name. This was brought out by Victoria in a visual of over fifty talents shared with us, captured in speech bubbles with local landmarks as the backdrop. “We Are Coalville”, a celebration of community, gave inspiration as people found themselves and their neighbours and friends.
Coalville with its industrial heritage and motto, “from the earth wealth” also sits within the National Forest and in walking distance has beautiful countryside and woodlands. The Coalville Mega walk – a 6-mile circular walk connecting paths and routes already there though maybe not previously seen.
Our place is shared by all who live here and we look to connect people. The government Kickstart scheme offered the opportunity to work alongside unemployed young people. With some innovative tweaking, we supported them to find their own strengths and passions and have connected them with each other, with independent local businesses and within their community.
Where next for us?
We are working to take over local buildings and to have the community on the High Street, standing confident and respected alongside the public and commercial spaces, not just there to pick up the failures of the system.
With the rents and surplus created locally used as a pool of ‘people’s profits’ to be spent as the community decides.
To keep sharing what we learn through our tools, resources and connections.
To engage more fully with all the community, and through everyday participation, go from couch to 5k for our democratic and relational muscles.
We are Coalville