CONNECTING COMMUNITIES IN ACTION
Hazel Stuteley of the C2 Connecting Communities team reports on the two-day event between Fleetwood and Middleport.
"Health creation is the enhancement of health & well-being that occurs when individuals & communities achieve a sense of purpose, hope, mastery & control over their own lives & immediate environment."
As co-founder of C2, I wrote this definition of health creation early last year when I couldn’t find a suitable quote on the Internet for what we’ve been witnessing for the last 25 years. It’s now quoted widely and is what happens when residents, not services, are firmly at the centre of decision-making supported & enabled by services, working in equal partnership with them.
C2 developed a 7-step framework in 2002 to enable these new relationships to happen. An important step along the way is exchange visiting where communities just starting Step1 of the health creation journey, visit communities who have reached steps 6-7 where residents lead constituted ‘people & provider’ Partnerships.
This was the context for a coach trip from the Fleetwood Health Creation subgroup to 6 Stoke communities on a sunny March day, kindly organized at Fleetwood end by Karen and at Stoke end by Gill, Marvin & Lisa, the ‘My Community Matters (MCM) C2 team currently supporting a very enthusiastic Fleetwood group of residents and Councillors. The day was generously hosted by resident leaders from Cobridge, Middleport, Portland St, East Fenton, North Shelton & Goms Mill.
Our day began in the home of Cobridge residents Howard & Iona where we were warmly greeted with coffee and delicious home- made cake! Howard & Iona are 2 of the most selfless community volunteers I’ve ever met, who choose to live and work in a disadvantaged neighbourhood where they regularly share their home with local residents for no other reward save that of seeing the huge difference this makes. This has been particularly welcomed since the recent closure of the community centre due to funding cuts. They’ve worked with MCM team for several years in other parts of Stoke too. Skilled musicians and artists, their talents also include cookery with Howard teaching healthy eating to groups of all ages.
Then it was back on the coach to visit Portland St where we were shown around the neighbourhood by long term resident Karen who told the ‘before & after’ story of this community which faced many challenges. It had a bad reputation for issues including prostitution, antisocial behaviour, drug taking but particularly fly tipping. But this has changed since a memorable ‘walkabout’ with MCM team in 2014 where issues were depressingly visible. By listening to local residents and finding out what matters to them the community have now taken environmental issues into their own hands and have transformed green spaces and alleys by clearing literally tons of rubbish, and planting attractive ‘help yourself’ street veg. & herb boxes.
Just as impressive was The Portland Inn, a disused pub covered in stunning artistic street depictions of local people. The Inn was recently offered to the community by Stoke Council to be used as a community centre, part of a creative arts project in partnership with local artists, funded by the Arts Council. True to C2 the approach is to involve the area’s existing and new community to design and deliver activities that they want to ensure the future of this valuable community asset.
Then Karen stayed with us to cross the town for lunch at the Middleport Pottery Heritage Centre and to meet residents and partners from Middleport Matters, East Fenton Does Matter Partnership and North Shelton Community Partnership. The Centre has been sympathetically restored to offer visitors an immersive trip back to when the potteries were in their prime and employed thousands. We heard from local young mum Amelia, Chair of Middleport Matters just how important this heritage is to the indigenous and new community living in restored homes here. She described how becoming involved with MCM team and using C2 7 steps had helped her not only recover from post-natal depression but fund raise and lead transformative community restoration of a local play park and canal side green spaces to not only integrate the ‘new and old’ community ‘but to be the change they want to see’.
We saw the truly impressive outcomes of all this hard work for ourselves on a post lunch ‘walkabout.’ Many more aspirational plans are in the pipeline so watch this space. Anything’s possible with Amelia leading!
The theme continued over a delicious lunch when we heard from Jane & Jeff from Fenton just how effective the approach had been for them in a really short time. They had their doubts at first as Fenton seemed to be ‘the forgotten town’ with nothing going on especially for young people, but since setting up East Fenton Does Matter’ in July 2015 and working with statutory and other service providers they’ve been funded to run activity sessions for youngsters using a local Boxing Gym as a community hub to host a range of events all aimed at rebuilding community pride…..and it’s working according to Jane & Jeff…. as very long term residents they should know!!
Ditto another colourful story of the rebuilding of pride and community health restoration from Brian and Derek who lead North Shelton Community Partnership, founded in 2011 when Brian & Derek quickly discovered that leaflet drops alone don’t work but conversations and neighbourhood walkabouts DO!! Since then a whole range of achievements have happened all of which have created better health. These include ‘cook and eat’ sessions, young peoples activities, installation of ‘dropped crossings’ to enable increased access for less able residents, sewing and gardening clubs….and lots more! The group are now working with Nash Dom CIC a not-for-profit community organization specializing in multi cultural support, advice & translation services, to host and deliver a new Community Ventures Advisory & translation support surgeries. Funded mainly by BIG Lottery, supported by the local Ward Councillor and The Foundation group, the social impact of this has been huge.
Meeting health & social needs of an ethnically diverse community was further described by Gill, on behalf of local practice manager Jill Woolridge from Willowbank Surgery, unable to attend due to staff sickness. Willowbank first started working with Gill, Marv & Lisa in 2009 with ZERO caseload, which 8 years on now totals over 10,000. All as a result of listening and working in culturally sensitive ways to address health, low GP registration, non-uptake of services by doing outreach sessions in venues that are ‘safe’ and acceptable for them.
Then last but by no means least it was on to Goms Mill to meet Sheila, Mandy, Jackie & Leanne who all have major roles in Goms Mill Residents Association and Normacot United. The size of the venue (former terraced home) in no way reflected the scale of the welcome we received, accompanied by tea & cup cakes! The ‘vibe’ was so positive and the room was full of colourful Easter crafts all made by local children supported by residents. There were ‘before & after ’photos of the local allotment scheme reflecting huge community effort which also led to winning prestigious ‘Blurton in Bloom’ award.
All demonstrating restored pride in where they live. Of course it wasn’t always so. In common with all other Stoke communities we’d heard about today the challenges outlined by local residents Mandy and Sheila seemed overwhelming.
With over 40 different languages in common use in the Normacot area it had become a crime & ASB hotspot for Police who felt that Normacot was at a tipping point. Local PCSO Leanne, in plain clothes (it was her day off!) continued the story. In 2013 they invited Gill, Marv & Lisa from MCM to explore new approaches to community engagement and rebuilding trust by breaking down barriers between themselves and the community.
In Jan. 2014 they were encouraged to attend the Exeter C2 Experiential Learning Programme where they learnt new ways of thinking and working from C2 Police Scotland partners, where the 7-step approach is widely used. This was reinforced by a team knowledge exchange visit to Glasgow to meet officers from the Violence Reduction Unit who have worked with C2 since 2011. This provided much needed inspiration and Leanne went on to describe 2 Listening & Feedback Events to prioritise what mattered to residents, leading to the formation of Normacot United and a resident led action plan.
3 years on a whole range of community led interventions is in place. Again Nash Dom provides a vital Drop In advisory service, but for Leanne the transformation has come in the form of her new relationship with the community and in the way she polices in partnership with them. Bravely resisting attempts by Police hierarchy to move her to another neighbourhood, she is now skilled at not only preventing violent confrontations but at diffusing them quickly when they do occur. Unsurprisingly crime & ASB have reduced so she also says her job is much easier these days!
Sadly we ran out of time and had to say goodbye to our marvellous Gom’s Mill hosts and return to Fleetwood. Although it had been a long day we were all buzzing with what we’d seen and heard from 6 very different communities. Story after story of health creation and what’s possible when barriers are broken down, trust is rebuilt between people and providers and residents are genuinely at the centre of decision-making.
Listening to feedback from the Fleetwood HC group on return journey it was overwhelmingly clear that they’d learnt that it’s not about starting with money but all about starting with listening, working with ‘what’s strong’ not ‘what’s wrong’ and believing that whatever the question COMMUNITY IS THE ANSWER!!
Our grateful thanks to everyone who took part in this wonderful day
Hazel Stuteley O.B.E. and C2 national team.