So, tell me about Amplify Barking & Dagenham?
This is a community research and action project which is all about community cohesion in Barking & Dagenham in East London. We’ve been working there for over 6 months and the project will continue into 2020. We are delivering in partnership with a local organisation called Community Resources.
We’ve employed and trained up a team of 8 local residents, as ‘Community Amplifiers.’ This means they work across the borough, having conversations with residents, exploring how people from different backgrounds connect – or don’t connect – with each other, and sharing these stories locally to spark ideas for change.
Amplify has been commissioned by the local council, as part of the ‘Connected Communities’ programme which aims to improve cohesion across the borough.
What approach are we taking?
Our approach, supporting residents to conduct research in their own communities, means that we are able to develop a deep understanding of local feelings, attitudes and opportunities. Our team are already experts in their own communities and have used places they know (the conservative club, the mosque, the bus…) as a starting point for rich and honest conversations. At the Young Foundation, we find that working with local community researchers can create a much deeper understanding than perhaps a professional researcher could.
As part of the ‘Amplify’ process, we have been hosting community storytelling events across the borough. These are a way of reflecting back to the wider community the stories we’ve heard and inviting people to discuss these issues over food and interactive activities. Some of these stories shine a light on the many drivers of strong community ties that already exist – whilst others can be quite challenging, including personal accounts of racism and division.
Sharing these stories provides a platform for people to have discussions locally, and – most importantly – create new ideas for social change. Our experiences in other places like Tower Hamlets and Northern Ireland is that this generation of ideas, will (if supported well) lead to the community-creation of new initiatives. Our team will facilitate a series of workshops over the summer to support residents to develop their ideas for action and change and transform ideas into projects which they own and lead.
And why is the project important to The Young Foundation?
The project supports the delivery of our mission to develop better connected and more sustainable communities. We know that being present in communities, walking alongside and talking with people about their perspectives, experiences, hopes and fears is the only route to supporting community-led change, and the only route to accurately and authentically reflect what’s happening on the ground to those who hold power, either locally or nationally.
We’re delivering the project with Community Resources who bring deep local connections and expertise, and an understanding of the networks that already exist on the ground. Our relationship with them, and our team of local community researchers, gives this project a real legitimacy with the local community, and has ensured that we are able to work together to learn and reflect and provide strong roots for legacy.
In turn, The Young Foundation brings a wealth experience of community research using creative participatory approaches to have conversations with local people. We are constantly evolving our methods on how to gather and make use of stories and narratives from local people and use what we learn to shape new ways for communities to interact and develop.
What have we learnt in the first 6 months of this project?
We found that local residents have an enormous range of ideas and energy to create positive change in Barking & Dagenham. Some of the team have told us this wasn’t what they expected when we started the project because of negative narratives they were often exposed to in the borough as a place in decline. What we have discovered so far though, is a far greater number of solutions than problems and working with that kind of positive energy has been amazing, and a refreshing change from some of those more negative narratives.
We are collectively beginning to understand some of the challenges and barriers people face in creating strong, social connections; exploring people’s fears and how they might be overcome. For example, we have found that fear of the unknown is a major barrier to cohesion locally. The team have been hearing from residents who would like to see more regular events to promote cultural understanding through food and music locally and provide more opportunities for positive interaction.
Some people still believe that most solutions should come from the council, and they expect top down models of intervention and change, but many more people believe that change can come from within the community by working together with their friends, families and neighbours.
So what’s the ultimate aim for Amplify Barking & Dagenham?
The end goal, the dream, is to see improved community cohesion within Barking & Dagenham – for people to see and feel that they have things in their lives that connect them positively to the people and communities around them, regardless of their background.
That’s a big goal for just this project and that’s why we’re focussed on contributing new voices and insight to the local discussion of cohesion which local residents and organisations can act on. We will also be supporting a minimum of three, big, new initiatives that local people identify and create. By helping these initiatives to develop and grow we hope to provide a really strong legacy beyond the life of this project.
Hannah Davis is a Research Officer at The Young Foundation. Hannah works across a range of projects, conducting first-hand research with communities. She also helps to train & support teams of community researchers who work with residents to explore and understand their perspectives and experiences on a range of local issues such as cohesion.