Why have a meeting when you can have a party?

The following blog has been written by Stephen McGinty and Shaun Burnett. They are part of AHEAD, a team of enthusiastic and motivated Community Builders working in a number of areas in Ayrshire to support the growth of local activity. They are building vibrant and connected communities through the skills, interests and passions of those who live in the communities they work alongside. Stephen and Shaun concentrate their work on the community of Fullarton and Harbourside, Irvine on the west coast of Scotland. The AHEAD team are funded by NHS Ayrshire and Arran, with support from South Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Council and Access to Employment Ayr to adopt an ABCD approach to their work, focusing on the strengths and passions of the local people. They believe that every individual in the community has skills and strengths to contribute to the building of their community.

The stick out line from our Asset Based Community Development training with Cormac Russell was without a doubt his challenge;

“Why have a meeting when you can have a party?”

But what does that look like in reality? It took us a few goes to get it right. Here’s some lessons we learnt on the way.

  1. Don’t call a meeting a party unless it actually is a party

We tried to dress our first AHEAD “MeetUp” as a vibrant, exciting get-together for the people we had met in the first few months. A chance for people to hear about us and contribute their views and ideas – with cake and sandwiches!

However, what party have you been to that has rows of tables facing a PowerPoint presentation? What party starts with a turgid run-through of the benefits of asset v deficit analysis? Let’s be honest – not a party we’d want to attend in our spare time! Needless to say, it didn’t go well – tho’ everyone agreed the cake was good…

  1. People know what to do at a party

We didn’t learn the lesson. In the lead up to the Photo Party we thought we needed to tighten up the programme. We discussed “outcomes” we felt would fit with the ABCD approach. We prepared exercises for the group to participate in, and considered how we would draw the event to a close reflecting on the ABCD theory of the importance of the “stories” we anticipated the photos would generate.

As the guests poured in and spotted the boxes of photos – we were pushed to the side. Any effort to “intervene” was ignored or drowned out by the laughs and excited conversation. People knew exactly what they were there for and certainly didn’t need to be guided by us! They laughed at the 80’s fashion, shed a tear over the pictures of those no longer with us, shouted with excitement when the found pictures of their 30-year-younger-selves.

We took the hint, stood back, and served up cake…

  1. Seriously – actually have parties instead of meetings

The pictures highlight the stark contrast between those nights. One was dressed as a party – and one actually was (or became) a party.

Which one would you have rather been at?

It’s a short and to the point message. Organise a community party and see the connections, stories and conversations flow. Don’t worry about agendas, programmes, structures, processes, outcomes. Focus on putting on an event that people will want to come to. Put people together and things will happen – you can’t stop it – well maybe with PowerPoint you can…

The AHEAD MeetUp has faded away with the rest of the numerous meetings the community have been persuaded to attend. People are still talking about the Photo Party and asking when the next one will be.

And, co-incidentally(?), quite a few of those who attended the Photo Party are back involved in local activities, and still talking about what was so good about the old gala days, local events and celebrations, and how to bring back those times…

Lesson learnt.

Shaun and Stephen

For more information on Shaun and Stephen’s work and to follow the community builder blogs see https://aheadcommunitybuilders.wordpress.com/

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