Martin Simon, GGT Trustee and Community Author
We are automatically turning to each other for emotional support, we are kinder and more encouraging, we care for and comfort each other. We are re-activating our common decency. Often, without us even realising it, three rudimentary prescriptions for successful communal living are back in vogue – 1) ‘live and let live’, 2) ‘give and take’ and 3) ‘speaking out' (against unfairness.)
So how do we make sure this continues after the pandemic passes? At Gloucestershire Gateway Trust much of what we do is based on the idea of “come together to make life better” and experience has taught us to stay as flexible as we can and use a combination of approaches when it comes to trying to stimulate social action.
Local organisations, groups and individuals, with their vast reservoirs of talent and ingenuity in every neighbourhood, are all different and all quite unique. Therefore, we invest in them to do it for themselves. This April we invested £100,000 in our nine partner organisations and we regularly supply the grease for the wheels of individuals and groups wanting to make something happen for the common good.
Our hope is that new possibilities will emerge to amplify and supplement the common decency quotient in Gloucestershire and so inspire people to stay connected far into the future. We have repeatedly observed that when people feel safe and well connected they become more open to new experiences and are more aware of the ways in which we are all interdependent.
We have a small a team of Neighbourhood Connectors who positively re-enforce collective acts of caring wherever they are to be found. They live locally and ARE – Available, Responsive and Engaged (albeit at the time of writing in lockdown, socially distanced and often on the telephone or online).
What does that mean and why is it important?
Our neighbourhood connectors develop a thorough understanding of each neighbourhood and explore new ways to meet up with and motivate people. They work in the public spaces where local people naturally gather. They walk the streets and knock on doors (when not in lockdown). They aim to be accessible, recognised, respected and tuned-in. They look out for “Local Hosts” to act as contact points - to spread news, talk about issues and organise social events - and listen. Overall neighbourhood connectors want people to feel good about themselves and their neighbourhoods and to know that if they should feel insecure or uncertain there are people around who care and can be reached easily.
Our neighbourhood connectors do not come up with solutions for local people, they ask questions and listen carefully and non-judgementally to their answers. They help people become more aware, spontaneous and close. Then they take a step back by creating space and time for people to make their own decisions and take whatever action they think is appropriate. (If they need additional resources or new contacts GGT will help them find them.) Neighbourhood connectors are positive and passionate about home-made social change. In the real world no-one is infallible, so if things do go wrong they are responsive and comforting but do not take on the responsibility for fixing the situation for people. They ask questions and see what can be learned from their mistakes and then shift the focus onto what is working well and on how to make it even better.
Neighbourhood connectors form relationships that are life-affirming and mutually supportive. They believe that everyone has the capacity to think for themselves, have fun and can contribute to the wellbeing of others. They are open, straight talking and honest. They approach their work with energy and candour and view every new connection as a potential friend. Being emotionally present means that they can form quality relationships that endure. When they find an isolated resident they make sure that he or she stays found. Only when they share a sense of common purpose and experience the solidarity needed for them to be courageous will neighbourhood connectors and residents really find out what is possible for them to achieve together.
Gloucestershire Gateway Trust is here for the long haul and when we emerge from this pandemic our experience and new learning about community development will contribute in no small way to common decency and interdependent, human connections being valued for generations to come.
Find out more about our LOOP team.