I was recently in conversation with a friend who wanted to know more about the training and development that the Locality community organiser programme is providing. As one of the first cohort, we were the guinea-pigs for the newly-minted materials and approach and much was no doubt learnt from our experience. In such programmes, the learning opportunities are always adjusting to the environment and the students, so I am sure that subsequent cohorts will have a different experience to ours. Nonetheless, I thought it might be useful to lay out the learning pathway as we found it so that others might understand what is on offer and required by it. You can find the programme description of training here.
The year’s training starts with a three-day residential induction; ours was in September 2011. This is an opportunity for new recruits to meet their trainers from Re:generate Trust, each other and the programme staff from Locality. With about 30-40 in each cohort, these mid-week events form the basis of subsequent practice and theory sessions and introduce many of the key themes picked up later in the year. The conference centre venue in which we were trained (Trafford Hall) offered opportunities for plenaries, small group and pair work and outdoor exercises in glorious sunshine (see the accompanying photos!).
The methods were a mixture of didactic and experiential sessions building sequentially over the three days. The days were long but varied but the pace was pretty intense. Some of my fellow trainee organisers felt that the practical questions about Locality employment and Re:generate systems were relegated to an after-thought when they were keen to be reassured on these early on. In later cohort training, I think this was addressed by extending the residential by half a day.
After the residential, the cohort dispersed to our respective communities and made an early start using the Root Solutions – Listening Matters method with our friends and family. We were encouraged and supported by Re:generate staff to move out when we felt secure to listen to people whom we did not know in safe environments such as cafes or clubs and after a while and at our own pace to start using the approach door-to-door. During this early phase of course we were also setting up and sorting out the practical details of our placement with our hosts.
We received four visits in the early months from senior staff of Re:generate Trust, Helen Wallis-Dowling (Director of Training) and Stephen Kearney (CEO). They came to discover how we were coping and to reinforce some of the material we had received at the residential. Since we were based in London and a larger-than-average team of five organisers, these visits were good use of both our time and the staff members. We explored key issues such as dealing with the press, developing a power analysis of the area, the practice of listening and preparing for the accreditation.
During our year, it was recognised that the initial approach to shared online learning (using Adobe Connect) as a whole cohort was just not going to work. So by month five, we were put into four learning groups and Helen held monthly seminars with each group online. These were opportunities for each person – among about 10-12 – to celebrate their successes and share their current concerns with the group. In the second half of the three hour session, the group chose three topics from those raised for deeper discussion. These more intimate times were helpful and quite productive.
The training was focused through a modular course called Foundations of Community Organising accredited by the Open College Network Yorkshire and Humber Region. It came to us in two parts: an Award and a Certificate. Both courses were offered at Level 2 or Level 3; I took the Level 3 course.
The Award modules (Nov-Dec) were called:
- The practice of community organising
- The purpose of community organising
- The process of community organising
The Certificate modules (May-June) were called:
- Developing reflective practice
- Engaging with people in groups
- Developing interaction skills with individuals
- Understanding power and the spheres of influence in community organising (double module)
The course materials were essentially the criteria for assessing the module and the assignments. Students were encouraged and supported to do their own research and to use their team members to explore the issues. Several of the module assignments required the student to be observed, to receive formal feedback and to comment on that feedback as evidence of learning in practice. Others were in the form of short written or recorded statements exploring particular situations or examples to show a grasp of the concepts.
The course tutor was Helen Wallis-Dowling who also ran the regular online seminars and made visits to the trainee organisers in situ to see us in action. She offered personal support to individuals who needed guidance or pointed the group to specific materials that clarified parts of the assignments. As this was the first time these courses had run, Helen’s role was fundamental to their success and she was a great support to us all.
In addition to the accredited course work, we were offered four options for specialist study in the last half of the year. The range of these options is intended to grow but our choices were:
- Foundations of Community Organising – Diploma
- Digital Organising
- Know Your Community Rights
- Post Graduate Certificate in Communities, Engagement and Enterprise
The Foundations course is an extension of the accredited course above at Level 3 and again run by Re:generate and accredited by the OCN Yorkshire and Humber Region; none of my immediate colleagues took this option so I don’t know much about it. Know Your Community Rights involves exposure visits to Locality members, exploring the rights to build, challenge and bid, neighbourhood planning and learning about community assets and enterprise; one of my colleagues is completing this course at present. The PGCert is run by Dr Juliet Millican at the University of Brighton and Re:generate and provides two accredited modules of study: Learning by Objectives and Community Organising and Animating, theories and practice; two of my colleagues took this course and found it both stimulating and useful. The option I took was Digital Organising run by Richard Wilson and Thom Townsend of izwe project, looking at how community-focused digital methods can expand options for organising. I have already posted on these themes here and here.
The accreditation became a central focus of our efforts in June and early July as we were given only a few weeks to complete a more demanding set of assignments against a final deadline. The need to have other people provide feedback on practice that had mostly already passed proved to be a demanding exercise. The feedback given on first drafts by Helen was invaluable in identifying where I had failed to meet the criteria in full and how that might be rectified. I was pleased to send off the final versions in mid-July and to be able to attend the Action Camp free of that burden (Photo above right). The Action Camp was also full of learning opportunities and added depth and insight to several of the themes of the training.
The culmination of the year’s training came in late September when we gathered the whole cohort together for a ceremony and reception hosted by the Office for Civil Society at the Admiralty House in Whitehall. In magnificent surroundings, we were given our Locality certificates of achievement by Chloe Smith MP (Parliamentary Secretary for the Cabinet Office) and then shared a buffet supper with a range of invited guests who had an interest or stake in the programme. We saw one of my organising colleagues Rebecca Cant listen to Anthony Joshua, the London 2012 gold medallist in the super heavyweight boxing and Britain’s final gold medallist of the Games. It was a fun evening and set a seal on the year’s learning.