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Who was your favourite teacher? Learning about how other people engage their communities

A reflection from Sally Taylor

The National Lottery Communities Fund brought a load of black country people together today for their ‘Reaching Black Country Communities’ event - a day where we heard from the Community Fund, shared with others what we do, connected, and got to choose different breakout groups where we could hear all about how other social impact organisations do what we do.

All the sessions I chose to attend were related to community engagement - you can tell where I’m at! How do other people do it? What are the best approaches? How do you make sure you reach people who might never get to take part in stuff locally? Are the ideas we’ve got the right ones? Yep, loads of questions spinning through my head at the moment.

I had the pleasure of meeting the friendly guys from @PhaseTrust in nearby Halesowen who support young people to transform their lives, I heard from Dudley Voices for Choice who support people who have learning disabilities to speak up for themselves, and I spent a lovely half hour hearing how Ash Butt from Generation England who support people in disadvantaged communities, especially young people, to lead a better quality of life.

I learnt so much but today I’m going to focus on the things that I think we should be keeping top of our mind, as we start working together across our community. Much of it is common sense but I think it’s really important to constantly remind ourselves of the basics (and especially the harder stuff we need to put time into) to make sure we can create the very best stuff together. In no particular order:

  • Only when you begin to understand someone’s story can you:

    • Better understand their needs

    • Support them more effectively

    • Create a proactive, not reactive, culture

  • How do you get to know the story?

    • Make space to get to know someone, it’ll come. It’s not about a process. Be consistent, be around, be present.

  • If you find yourself thinking ‘what’s wrong with you?’, perhaps if someone is difficult, think instead: ‘what happened to you?’

  • Making positive connections is everything

    • Who was your best teacher and why?  Answers are generally universal; based on the people the teachers were, not the expertise they had

    • Programmes are important but people are the magic ingredient

    • “We make a difference because we give people space to hangout” (Phase Trust)

    • Make space to be more relational.  Make space for relationships otherwise engagement is hard.

  • To include people you don’t yet know, you need to use your network partners - who can they ask/put you in touch with/invite?

  • Go where people are

  • Chat… at the bus stop, in the queue at supermarkets… bring up subject of what you what to find out about it and get the natural, raw reaction about what people think. 

  • Partnership agreements don’t need to be full of legal jargon.  Turn them into an Easy Read document, use pictures and symbols. Make them accessible to everyone including those with learning disabilities. 

  • We discussed translation – if you have 42 languages in your community translation is difficult.  But keeping everything plain English/ Easy Read really helps with that. Google translate is a friend!

  • Openness and honesty with people you’re working with. If their dream/aspiration might not be achievable instantly, could there be a plan to support progress towards it? Is there something different that could be done (e.g. becoming an astronaut might not be possible, visiting the Space Centre in America could be).

So to answer the question in the title of this blog…. my favourite teacher was Mr Roberts, English teacher. He was kind, funny, warm, gave us space in the classroom to develop our own ideas, trusted us to get on with our work, offered support when we asked for it. When the Phase Trust guys asked us the question, we all answered like this. Nothing at all about how good they were at their subjects or what specifically we remembered learning. Just who they were and how they built relationships that mattered.

That’s my big take away. It’s hard to put time into building relationships when there’s so much to do and relatively little time to get stuff done. But it’s everything and we need to remember that and prioritise it. Bring it on!