[Written on Friday 30 Sept, this is the last of three posts whilst on community organising training.]
The third day of training started with another reflection from Julia Olsen, one of the founders of RE:generate Trust. She seems to be given the role of spiritual guide to the process! After some other preliminaries, we went on to hear from Jess Steele who is the Director of Innovation at Locality and the programme lead for the community organiser training. She ran through many of the practical issues relating to employment, coordination and accountability. Then we were told that BBC Newsnight would be filming us during the morning for the 7 October programme (BBC2 22:30) – look out for it!
Some practical details
Jess emphasised that the training year was only the beginning of the process of long term community organising. Whilst the government contract provided for one year’s salary to train the full-time organisers, the aim was during that time to establish the basis in the local networks and in the financial strategy to ensure the organising was sustainable. She explained the history of the learning bursary that became a salary – see my previous post – and how this had required Locality to completely rethink its financial package for trainees. She confirmed the importance of organisers remaining independent of their hosts and gave some outline of the continuing training through the year.
Jess went on to outline how she thought new trainees might spend their early days. The early days were for practicing the basic framework of questions with friends and family, she said. The first fortnight would be focused on getting to know the organising area and on sorting out the practical details of the work. Reflecting on the course and sorting out the plans for early listening campaign would both take some time as well. Lawrence Walker from Locality then introduced the online seminar software and the organisers organisers’ collaboration website. All of this was in preparation for an online seminar for all full-time trainee organisers on 14 October, concluding the early phase of engagement in each local area.
We were invited to find another participant and to practice the listening process introduced yesterday without using the supplied recording form. We listened in pairs and then in fours tried to draw out the key themes from our varied experience of community and particularly the facts and feelings evident in our conversations. Everyone reported finding the discussions flowing much more smoothly and many of the issues discussed were common across the group. When we gathered in plenary, we found ourselves being filmed by BBC cameras and this proved very intrusive. Each of those who reported back from their group found the camera extremely close to their face and their flipchart being examined in minute detail by the cameraman. The film crew withdrew toward the end and the atmosphere relaxed again.
Creating a Network
Stephen Kearney – CEO of RE:generate Trust – talked about the importance of developing a network of contacts. By finding individuals with energy and commitment to change their community, it was also possible to get their friends and neighbours together for a house group meeting. He pointed out that people might know influential individuals as relatives or friends and such connections were very helpful for the future organising strategy. As people offer to bring their friends together to discuss the challenge of improving their area, so the organiser will have the opportunity to reach out to a wider and more diverse community.
Stephen focused on the need for absolute confidentiality about both the community’s views and opinions and the personal data. He affirmed that the organisers were holding the information in trust for the community until a community holding team (CHT) – a group of volunteer leaders from the community – could be formed. Once the CHT was in place, the listening information became their property and needed to be zealously guarded against the many self-interested parties who might want to use it for their partial gain. Stephen made it clear that the preservation, protection and security of the data was paramount. He emphasised the importance of holding the anonymised paper copies securely and of ensuring the electronic personal data was encrypted.
Before lunch, Stephen went on to introduce the idea of a power analysis in the neighbourhood. He talked about the impressions – gained from talking to residents and from walking the streets – about who had real influence over the community’s life – the drug dealers were especially mentioned. He also encouraged trainee organisers to think about those forces that empowered the community and gave local citizens a real sense of their potential and future achievements. He recommended reading the local paper each week with attention to real detail, looking for the signs that routine figures were being mentioned or that particular institutions were particularly prominent. Finally he suggested using online mind mapping tools to record a power map of the community.
Closing the Training
At the end, each participant was given a pack of resources to take home. Included in the pack was a video introducing the Root Solution Listening Matters approach, a pack of RE:generate Trust listening forms and a Resource Pack. In the Resource Pack, Nick Gardham from RE:generate Trust explained that we had practice and procedure guidance, a disclosure policy, some examples how to record listening responses, a follow up sheet for recording individual details and an approach to identifying potential leaders in the community. He reinforced the importance of reflection to ensure that a conscious effort had been applied to each step on the journey of organising.
On our way home
On Friday afternoon, we were issued with Smart phones to keep us in touch with each other and the wider world, new email addresses and encouraged to be reflective about the training in our early days. As always with such intensive training experiences, we were rushed at the end and then sprinted for our station-bound cabs. Lots of people were aware of the start of great relations with other organisers cut short but with the promise of other means of being in touch in the coming months.
I hope to be able to collect my thoughts and offer some reflections on the course in the next few days but now its off to bed after three very full and exciting days.