My ABCD year & Christmas wish to all

As 2013 comes to its end, I look back with great pride on a year of big hopes and very practical actions realised. I thought I would use my final blog of the year to share these with you and reflect on the learning that can be drawn from them. So read on for a whistle-stop tour of my ABCD year across the world…


Our strategic work with Croydon Council and Croydon Voluntary Action, along with their partners, is proof of the extent to which agencies can work towards supporting citizen-led action. It became the first site in the UK to commission an ABCD Community Builder (Paul Macey) in April 2011, setting a trend that others have followed. Paul was quickly joined by a second Community Builder, Jennine Bailey.

Jennine Bailey & Paul Macey with Martin Simon

Jennine Bailey & Paul Macey with Martin Simon

It has been a pleasure working with both Paul and Jennine and to see them and their community flourish;

  • Jennine discovered 76 connectors in three neighbourhoods, who in turn established 77 new citizen-led groups who are actively working together towards actionable change
  • Paul is co-ordinating a Big Lottery funded initiative, Working Families in Croydon, using an asset based approach

Both of these ABCD initiatives have drawn deservedly positive national and international attention. We’re really looking forward to building on these efforts in the New Year.


Gloucestershire is the site of an immensely ambitious ABCD process, supported by the Barnwood Trust. Nurture Development has spent much of this year providing mentoring and learning support to 6 neighbourhoods. Each of these neighbourhoods will has its own dedicated Community Builder(s) over the next couple of years. A further two neighbourhoods are expected to come on stream in 2014.

Early signs are hugely encouraging with each neighbourhood working through our 6 Stepping Stones framework find connectors, identify passions, assets and resources and link them together to create lasting change.

In partnership with the Barnwood Trust, we have also established strategic relationships with Public Health, Policing; Community Housing; Social care and many others. It has been important to engage at the systems level; our work here has proven that if you only work in neighbourhoods and not also with institutions (to support them to lead by stepping back), then you’ll miss a trick.

My experience in Europe over the years has taught me that if you only work ‘on the ground’, eventually the community gardens, green walks to school, and beautiful orchids, will wither in the face of increased professionalisation. Active citizenship will always shrink in the face of institutional power unless you work with citizens to step into citizen space, at the same time as helping systems to step out of it. The refusal to address that tension is at best naïve, and at worst misguided and ultimately harmful. That said, the priority must always be the street level work and ultimately it’s the voice of those citizens that will change the systems that serve them.

Helping institutions/organisations ask the following questions has been central to our work all over the world:

  1. Where are we replacing, controlling, and overwhelming the power of people to be producers and co-producers?
  2. How can we listen better to what people in citizen and community space think they can do, and what they think would be helpful from outside?

All at Nurture Development have been privileged to help a wide range of organisations to reflect on and change orientation in response to these questions.

In the UK:

  • We have worked closely with Rev Al Barret, a CoE Parish Priest from Hodgehill, and Bethany Eckley, Research Manager at the Church Urban Fund, in supporting the development of the recent publication An Asset Based Approach to Tackling Poverty
  • Our work with the Community Development Foundation led to the publication of guidelines for 600 Community First Panels as to how they may adopt an Asset Based Community Development approach. It has become one of the most downloaded documents on their site
  • One of my many highlights this year was working with TQtwentyone who serve people across Hampshire and Oxfordshire to think about a life beyond service for people with multiple labels
  • We have also been most fortunate to work closely with North Western Employers Forum and, in partnership with them, to offer Elected Members and Council Officers across the North West high quality technical assistance on the practical and strategic implications of adopting an asset based approach. We are very much looking forward to continuing this partnership and are delighted by the interest in Manchester in our rounded approach to Asset Based Community Development. In the New Year we will work with Trafford Council and Oldham Council. Both Councils are very committed to the agenda but understand the strategic and operational complexities
  • In Scotland we have addressed key policy makers in the Scottish Government, delivered the Children 1st Annual Public Lecture, and supported the Who Cares Scotland Campaign regarding the welfare of looked after children in Scotland. We have also supported Big Lottery Scotland to review its ‘Our Place’ initiative.

Outside of the UK:

  • We’ve worked with the Government of Singapore to think about the role of Community in family support and social care;
  • In the Netherlands we took part in a rally to elevate the importance of Community Building;
  • In Bangalore, in India, I had the honour of keynote at the Global Futures Conference convened by the College of Medicine, UK and SOUKYA Foundation;
  • In Girona, I had the pleasure of making many new friends at the Saultogenesis Summer School, where I delivered a keynote address on ABCD;
  • In Portugal we worked with the Permaculture movement, and other leaders in the sustainability movement, to think about community-wide change processes; and
  • Our work in Rwanda with schools in Gasabo continues to grow momentum. I have no doubt that the learning emerging from that wo
    rk will have much to teach us here in Europe;
  • I also managed to squeeze in a week with John McKnight
    Cormac Russell spent a week with John McKnight & met Marion Thompson (La Leche League)

    Cormac Russell spent a week with John McKnight & met Marion Thompson (La Leche League)

    in Evanston Illinois, were we spent ten hours in recorded conversation about the heritage of ABCD;

  • I was also very pleased to be asked to address the Chief Medical Officers from across Europe in Dublin Castle earlier this year; and finally
  • To address the European Social Network 21st Annual Conference, in Dublin.

Back to England, and away from the conference podium and into living communities, what defines our work is the commitment to meaningfully occupying the gap between the neighbourhood world and systems world. The learning from Croydon and Gloucestershire, is richly added to by our work with change partners:

Our UK Learning and Working Sites

Our UK Learning and Working Sites

  • In Thurrock, where 2014 will see the recruitment of Community Builders by local communities
  • In Torbay, where three Community Builders have now been in post for eight weeks and have already discovered 47 community connectors willing to weave their community together
  • Essex County Fire service has redeployed two of their officers to become ABCD Community Builders
  • In Leeds where we are working with the Council to think about Ageing well and centrality of social capital in neighbourhoods; this is part of a European initiative
  • And very soon Kirklees will be coming on stream.

Our plan for 2014 is to have a Learning site in all regions of the UK.

What is common across all the learning sites is that they are using a consistent approach in the implementation of their work which has been developed by Nurture Development. We call the approach the 6 Stepping Stones. It is an evidence based approach of proven worth.

Another feature across the learning sites is the common evaluation framework used, which enables us to grow a base of national evidence and learning. It was true to say, a couple of years ago, that there was very little indigenous practical experience of implementing Asset Based Community Development in England. That is no longer true. What we have come to term ‘next practice’, is happening right now in neighbourhoods throughout the UK.

2013 was quite a year: over 70 workshops and keynotes were delivered to 5,000+ people, which included such a diverse range of subject matters, including public safety, public health, inclusion, children and young people, older people, social care, community housing, prison reform, recovery and many others besides. No matter the topic, the message was consistent throughout (to paraphrase Margaret Wheatley):

Whatever the question, community is an essential part of the answer.

Community Christmas Wonderland, Mason and Redwell

Community Christmas Wonderland, Mason and Redwell

Yesterday I visited a community in Matson and Robinswood in Gloucestershire. It’s one of the ABCD learning sites I made reference to earlier in this blog. There, I was reminded once again of why this work matters. In that community centre I saw the most amazing Christmas wonderland created by the local community over nine days using the gifts of hundreds of residence.

It was, without fear of contradiction, the most beautiful spectacle I’ve ever seen. A fitting end to a wonderful year!

Community Christmas Wonderland, Matson and Robinswood

Community Christmas Wonderland, Matson and Robinswood

My sincere thanks to everyone I have had the privilege to work with and learn from in 2013, for your belief in the potential of inclusive communities, where everyone’s gifts can be given and received.

May you enjoy the best that community has to offer over this festive season!

Have a great holiday,

Cormac and all at Nurture Development

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