“If we change the story we tell ourselves then it leaves everything open to possibilities.”
People in Welsh communities, including those who face the greatest challenges, are brimming with creativity, pride and potential. We at the Young Foundation believe that when this potential is recognized, celebrated and supported, communities can challenge inequality and create lasting social change in the places that they live in.
Based in Port Talbot, Aberystwyth and Connah’s Quay, Amplify Cymru sought to build local movements for fairer communities by placing the aspirations and actions of local people at the heart of social change.
We know that solutions are far more likely to make impact and to be sustainable if they connect deeply with local experiences and aspirations. This is why the programme used research and story-telling to understand peoples’ lived experiences and identify new narratives for a better future. While our approach has not shied away from the real challenges faced by people in the Port Talbot, Aberystwyth and Connah’s Quay, we have always sought to stress and celebrate the strengths and assets of these communities. We think this creates very different possibilities than narratives about places which focus on decline and deprivation.
Local researchers with knowledge, commitment and connection to the three towns spent time with residents, local organisations and local leaders to generate a rich understanding of the experiences and realities of community life. The research was conducted in spaces where people lived their lives – such as local cafés, art centres, and parks.
Through this we generated some powerful stories. But our method recognised that these stories were significant not just for their impact in their own right, but also for their potential to bring people together to focus on collective action. They were therefore used as the basis of community discussions about what people valued most, what actions they were already taking, and what more they wanted to do together.
We met local change-makers with concrete ideas for delivering social impact through projects ranging from tackling food waste to reclaiming green spaces. All were locally-rooted, focussed on issues relevant to the local community, and led by individuals embedded in the area. We supported these ideas through a series of practical workshops aimed at preparing them for discussions with potential funders and investors and celebrated these at a national showcase event at the Bulldogs Gym in Port Talbot on the 18th of October.
The program was not without its challenges. You can’t build a self-sustaining movement for social change in a year, and to make impact the programme requires strong, identifiably Welsh leadership. But the first year of the Amplify Cymru programme has shown us that people care deeply about the places where they are from and if they are brought together around shared narratives then they have the potential to achieve positive change in their communities.
We believe the lessons of our work in the first year of this programme to have local relevance in the three towns, but also real potential as an asset-based alternative to efforts to combat poverty and inequality in Welsh communities. To make this happen we hope to continue to work with local and national partners to build on the work of Amplify Cymru in 2017.