What is the recipe to make an empowered community?
There’s no set recipe for an empowered community, but in this blog, Sabrina Kavanagh lays out how community organising can help discover the recipe that works.
By Sabrina Kavanagh, Community Organisers
All communites are different and require a unique recipe to become empowered. But just like a traditional recipe, there are some essentials.
The basics: community organising
Community organising aims to build relationships and networks in communities. This is by creating social and political change through collective action.
We aim to equip communities with tried and tested approaches honed from the very start of community organising over a century ago. This means reaching out into the community, listening effectively, bringing people together and facilitating them in their move towards action. Community organising helps to uncover the ingredients that works for the empowered community recipe.
Community organising works because it asks participants to do something that’s instinctive, that at some level they already know how to do; this is how people, throughout history, and across the world, have naturally organised to make a more socially just society. They have gone out into their communities, listened, and come together around what they care about most.
One distinctive part of the empowered community recipe is a focus on changing where power lies.
Community organising isn’t afraid to challenge power and this is why it`s the basis of the recipe. It actively seeks to build power within local communities so people can influence, inform and challenge the people and organisations who make decisions that affect their lives.
The ingredients for an empowered community
Just as when it started, community organising is about finding local leaders – people who care, who have ideas on how to move forwards, or who others look to when action is needed – and equipping them to get out into the community, and facilitate people to get involved.
The new Community Organising Programme is centred around a cohort of 20 ‘Social Action Hubs’ who work in different areas across the country. These organisations have already had great success working with their local communities – from bringing local assets into community hands to setting up support for isolated or vulnerable members of the community and leading on issues across food, health, housing, education and business.
These hubs are our kitchens, training new leaders, identifying burning issues through listening, growing new ideas for solving them and sharing together the results with an ever growing and powerful network of people within the community. Ultimately, through this process, a community comes up with its own recipe for success.
We can provide the equipment and help uncover the available ingredients, but each community’s distinct mix of them, and each Hub’s distinct approach to helping discover and combine them, means they end up with a unique end result.
Getting the recipe right in Sneinton Alchemy
Sneinton Alchemy is a hub with a successful track record of sustainability, which works in its namesake neighbourhood in Nottingham. Their model is to help develop and launch self-sufficient schemes and enterprises locally. Although they run a handful of programmes directly, many of their greatest successes have come from supporting others.
Sneinton now benefits from a food bank, a clothes bank, and community allotments with an accompanying café, all run by leaders trained at Sneinton Alchemy, and all now thriving in their own right. The hub also actively works with local partners, including Sneinton Festival and Sneinton Town Football Club, to embed community organising in places where people already are. This gives Sneinton Alchemy’s work a life outside of the organisation itself, and spreads its reach beyond its own doors and into the future.
So, “what should the future look like?” Well, it’s not for one person, group or interest to decide. What we do is ask “How can we provide communities with the basics, and help them uncover the ingredients, to get to the future they choose?”
The next addition to the programme’s structure is a stronger support network for this growing force of organisers. One of the fundamental maxims of community organising is “don’t do anything for people that they can do for themselves”. We do our best to support our hubs, who do their best to support community organisers, who do their best to support their communities. In the future, we hope community organisers can become empowered by moving power and prosperity as far along that chain as possible.