Councils are under pressure to tackle the climate and nature emergencies whilst also improving the lives of their citizens and communities too. They must act fast but with limited resources and staff they need everyone else to play their part too. But how do you get communities to work in partnership with councils in a way that benefits everyone?
Well it’s not rocket-science and of course it’s bread and butter daily business for so many councillors and council staff. But it’s always good to be reminded, as we discovered at a recent Ashden Local Authority Learning Hub, delivered in partnership with Think & Do Camden, there are some principles that can help turn aspiration into success. Here is what we learned:
- Ask communities what they want. For any project to be successful, there must be a sense of ownership. Make sure as many voices as possible are heard without raising expectations too high. Be flexible in your design and above all do it together.
- Don’t expect communities to come to you. Go where the people are. Have pop up events on your high-street. Talk to the Tenants’ Associations, use the community space on housing estates. Look for church halls, mosques, libraries, shopping centres or even allotments for spaces to gather people. Go door knocking to find out what people think.
- Look for where the energy is already at. Map your local community groups and bring them together. Cycling groups, nature groups, cultural groups and faith groups. Community groups already know how to create positive change in their communities. Join events they are planning already.
- Focus on the issues that are important to communities. Framing is important. Climate can be seen as irrelevant when you are struggling on a lower income for instance but, sharing and swapping really resonates. Provide the space for swapping clothes, toys or books. Think about a community fridge. Or bring people together around a meal to find out more about what they need or want to do in their own neighbourhoods.
- Communicate through lots of channels. Look for all the existing communication channels and tag your messages on. Are there tenant’s newsletters or a local authority magazine? Can you tag messaging on to official mailings? What about notice boards in libraries or local businesses? Use your communities’ skills and networks. At one pop-up event a local women’s group wrote handwritten notes in Bengali which made a huge difference in participation.
- Get council officers out of their department silos. All too often people work in very specific teams but bringing them together at community events can help them hear first-hand what citizens want and, to think about how they can work collaboratively to create larger impacts and meet their own objectives. Make them keynote listeners.
- Mission-based approaches. This can really rally support across the whole community like Camden’s https://camdenrenewal.com/ Four missions set out to increase diversity, make sure young people have access to jobs and skills, make sure everyone eats well and that streets and neighbourhoods are creative and sustainable with climate woven through them all.
- Small amounts of funding can go a long way. A small grants scheme allows communities to set up their own projects. Projects like for example, an intergenerational board games meeting to get people of different ages talking about climate. Leverage in money from local business. We heard about a nightclub sponsoring a local tree planting project.
- Remove barriers of participation. Think about childcare, translation, vouchers to participate or covering travels costs to get everyone involved.
- Use nature as a way in. Who doesn’t love a green neighbourhood? Trees in pots on estate walkways. A community forest. Veg growing in schools. Pop-up parks. Gardening clubs. Nature is a great way to not only talk about climate but to improve the quality of your neighbourhood at the same time too.
You can find the learning from lots more of you project and programmes on our Learning Out Loud website.
Many thanks to all the team and Think&Do Camden for a great session.