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Listening to Community Organisations

By Victoria Hopkins

The Support Fenland project continues at pace this week as we met with members of a wide range of community organisations across the district. A key part of our project is to understand the specific needs of Fenland, so we wanted to talk directly to the groups who are already active in the community.

There are a huge number and wide variety of groups supporting Fenland communities, ranging from large organisations supporting the whole county and beyond, to small voluntary based organisations supporting a very specific area within a town or village. Often these groups have been set up in response to a need that is emerging in the community, and so these groups are vital for support organisations such as CCVS and Hunts Form to listen to when we’re planning how we can better support their work.

At this week’s session we had 19 representatives from 17 different organisations of different sizes, and over a fast paced one hour Zoom call we learnt an awful lot!

When asked about the challenges that their groups are facing, there were some common themes emerging. The ability of each group to reach and communicate with their communities has become limited, either due to social distancing or a reduction in funding. Digital services offered within Fenland do not have a high take-up rate. Volunteers have a lack of confidence; whether that is dealing with new Covid measures or just coming back to volunteering after a significant break, the groups are finding that those volunteers need an increased level of support. Finally, there is a lack of awareness of the variety and scale of the issues within Fenland outside of the district.

We then talked about the opportunities that were coming in the future. There was a lot to celebrate and look forward to, and the focus was on ensuring that all of the positive ways of working that have come out of the emergency Covid response, such as new partnerships, closer relationships and new services, continue.

Finally, the conversation turned to how the groups wanted to raise their collective voice. It was acknowledged that networking and bringing people together will be key, and that there will be many benefits of this; knowing which groups are already delivering services to residents and being able to point people in the right direction, enabling increased partnership working on common issues, giving communities a place to celebrate all that is happening and acting as an advocate for all that is great about living in Fenland.

A huge thanks to everyone who joined us for such an open, honest and lively meeting. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation with even more members of the community at next week’s open event.


Our notes from the meeting are captured on the graphics below – click them to view full-screen.

Support Fenland: Capturing the Views of Council Officers

By Ben Pitt

The Support Fenland project starts in earnest with a round-table discussion with council officers about what the voluntary and community sector needs to help it flourish.

Many people see “the council” as a single organisation that does things like parks and bins, but the reality is that Cambridgeshire has four tiers of local government – parish and town councils, district councils, the county council and the combined authority. Each has its own areas of responsibility but they all take an interest in keeping residents healthy and happy. Building strong communities is a vital part of that.

While the elected councillors or Mayor might be the most visible side of local councils, the bulk of work is carried out by council staff. They include dedicated teams at Fenland District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council to support communities. Meanwhile, parish and town councils often have the closest links with the people in their town or village, and much of the work of the parish or town clerk is to respond to the specific needs of their residents. This often goes hand in hand with the activities of local community and voluntary groups.

At Hunts Forum and CCVS we want to ensure that our work in Fenland responds directly to the specific needs of the district. That’s why we started by talking to the council officers who work with residents on a daily basis. We were delighted to be joined by the community development teams from Cambridgeshire County Council and Fenland District Council, the clerks from Wisbech, Chatteris and Christchurch plus our friends at Living Sport and Cambridgeshire ACRE.

We started by asking what the communities of Fenland need from infrastructure organisations, and what the barriers were to accessing that support. Lots of answers came back. Some were practical, such as support with business planning and funding applications for new projects, a volunteer database and peer networking opportunities. Others were more strategic, such as umbrella organisations with the governance in place to hold funds, thereby allowing volunteers with a good idea to focus on delivering it.

Some points were more philosophical. How can we make volunteering a more ‘normal’ thing to do? How do we empower residents to feel that it’s their right to shape their community, rather than their burden? How do we give communities the confidence to seize opportunities?

Finally, we reflected on what infrastructure organisations and councils need to do to ensure that the voices of our communities are heard. The simple answer was to ask them, but there was also a recognition that communities need a reason to want to have that conversation.

We need to ensure that the various people whose job it is to support communities work together effectively, and that the Support Fenland project has a legacy. Too often, people and solutions are parachuted in and make a few ripples, but afterwards things fall back to the way they were before. Our challenge is to change the culture of volunteering and community action in Fenland for the better.

We’re looking forward to talking to the community activists to find out what their perspective is.


The graphics below capture the views expressed during the discussion. Click them to view full screen.

 

 

 

Ask Me Community Ambassador Scheme

[Republished from www.cambridgewa.org.uk]

People within a survivor’s community are often the first to know that domestic abuse is happening. But lack of understanding and confidence can make people afraid to talk about it, and unsure of how to respond when someone speaks out. Survivors have told us they can feel judged, silenced or isolated by the people around them.

We are changing that through the Change That Lasts Ask Me scheme, developed in partnership between Women’s Aid Federation England and Welsh Women’s Aid.

The project is a simple initiative that equips community members in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with an understanding of domestic abuse and how to respond to survivors. This knowledge will enable the community to play an active role in ending domestic abuse.

Being a Change That Lasts Community Ambassador

We offer free 12 hour training courses to members of the local community from all backgrounds and identities where they learn about domestic abuse, including its gendered nature, how to challenge the stereotypes surrounding it and how to listen to, believe and direct survivors to specialist support.

Anyone with a connection to Cambridgeshire and/or Peterborough can become an Ask Me ambassador, whether you have been personally affected by domestic abuse or whether you would like to learn more.

After the training, ambassadors are given resources and support to share what they have learned with those around them in ways that feel most comfortable to them. They are encouraged to start conversations about domestic abuse that will help others to better understand the barriers that survivors face in speaking out. An ambassador can commit as much or as little time as they can give.

We keep in touch with Community Ambassadors with new opportunities and events such as ambassador meet-ups, campaign involvement and volunteering. We also send short surveys to find out how they are getting on and how we can support them further.

A Community Ambassador…

… believes in equality of all people, regardless of their gender identity, age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, cultural beliefs or circumstances.

… listens and believes others that share their personal experiences of domestic abuse.

… is non-judgmental and respectful.

… is passionate about ending domestic abuse.

There is a chance that we may decide that it isn’t appropriate for a person to take on the role if they don’t share these values and qualities. We will work with people to overcome any barriers wherever possible, or we will direct you to a more suitable volunteering or training opportunity.

Interested? Join the Scheme

If you would like to take part, please register your interest through the online form here: REGISTER INTEREST FORM

Recipes for Success at the Community Cafés Workshop

On 18 October Support Cambridgeshire hosted its first Practitioner Workshop, focusing on community cafés.

There was a great turn-out, with 17 people representing 10 existing and prospective community cafés from across the county. Many of them are involved in plans for a new community building, where it is hoped that a community café will be a central part of the building’s identity.

The workshop was lead by Ben Pitt, Communities Officer at Hunts Forum, who in his spare time has helped to launch a community café at his local community centre, Love’s Farm House.

The workshop started by exploring the benefits of community cafés: to bring the community together, encourage regular use of a community building, provide volunteering and training opportunities and lots more besides. The group then proceeded to discuss what key ingredients are needed to make it work: meeting the demands of the local customer base, ensuring quality produce and an appealing environment, and developing a sustainable business plan with a realistic expectation on volunteers. It also touched on food safety training, kitchen fit-outs, fundraising opportunities and modelling income.

What people said about the event:

Really helpful to hear from people with experience. Particularly please to pick up tips on modelling profit and loss.

Very good to share ideas – so much to think about… Loved the personal experience of setting up a café.

Great formula! This is vital to what we are doing right now.

Really useful, learnt a great deal. Thank you so much. Another event please!

Please keep an eye on our Training page or sign up to our newsletter for future training and workshop events.