As we begin the third year of the latest Our Place initiative, we are keen to share the experiences of others who work with Our Place communities. So, we asked Judith McVinnie, a Community Builder in Lochside and Lincluden, to tell us her Our Place story…
It’s 9am on a Wednesday morning and I’m unpacking the car with bags, A1 maps, post-its, cupcakes and some freshly picked apples from the community orchard. It feels like I’ve done more than a week’s work and I haven’t even been in the office as yet. The usual pleasantries with colleagues take place as I divulge the stories of the week so far – putting up posters, meeting an inspirational person who has managed to leave an abusive partner with her two young kids, judging a community hero competition, and so on. Although there is great interest in what I’ve got to say, I get the feeling that this doesn’t seem like real work to my colleague – I sometimes wonder if they know the challenges that I face.
Sitting at my desk I go through emails, arrange some meetings to try and find some answers to people’s questions and resolve an issue that most people have long given up on. Then something comes back to me about the previous day – was it strange that one of the community connectors had a black eye and seemed completely out of sorts? I have a quick look at their Facebook page, see they are struggling with parenting after what feels like a never ending summer holiday with no summer or holiday. I pick up the phone to give them a call.
I throw myself whole heartedly into this work because you have to be authentic and real to make human connections with people. Having the time to build a relationship with the community is one of the most satisfying parts of place based work.
I’ve learned that the things that stop people contributing to their community are often not ground-breaking barriers. They are simple things like knowing someone else that is going to be there, or childcare, or transport that people don’t have the confidence to ask for. They often ask themselves – ‘what am I really going to be able to contribute?’ And when they can’t answer, the hopes and dreams and all the skills, connections and assets that they possess are left for small talk at the school gates.
I know that life gets in the way of community building, and people drift. Still I continually invite and spark up previous conversations I’ve had with different people. At a community event the one acting differently in the corner is the one you want to naturally encourage other people to engage with. You need to keep reminding yourself and others – unless you include everyone, it’s not a community.
I’ve worked with communities before, but it’s always been straight into the specific projects and tangible stuff. Our Place (so far) has been more about the process, the journey of getting to that stuff I guess. The nuts and bolts of how a community reacts, shares and works together. As the first grants start to feed into the area, projects and activities will capture people’s attention. People may or may not remember it’s Our Place but, regardless of that, they will hopefully have more numbers on their mobile phone they can call, they will know how to contact the council when something is not right and they’ll send that email they’ve been meaning to send for ages. The more people that have these connections – the better life will be.
This is good work to do. It can be fun. But what keeps me getting up early in the morning and my head held high as I walk into the housing estate to work with the community is that it’s important work. And the question is – if we are not all going to play our part in trying to change things now – then who is?