I am totally in sync with the Peabody approach to community development. I think it is cost effective and sustainable. Basically, in an organisation of some 27,000 dwellings, we have a team of four with a manager and are divided geographically and thematically. So for example, I cover North West London and take a lead on resident-led gardening. Another colleague covers South East London and takes a lead on events.
The primary focus of our role is to support the management committees that run the community venues on some of our estates. Not all estates have a community centre. This includes ensuring the maintenance of the physical repair of the building, health and safety and any other policies. If there is no tenant association or management committee we try and facilitate setting one up, so there can be a lot of start-up work in communities where maybe the local centre has fallen out of use.
Coming back to front line community work towards the end of my working life I have to say there seems to be less inclination among residents to get out there and engage. Whether this ties in with less face to face interaction generally as people do more on line I don’t know. What I do know is that when you scratch the surface there are a lot of lonely people behind closed doors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are inclined to socialise with their neighbours more. I don’t dislike my neighbours, but I don’t socialise with them so it’s not as though this is strange.
Every estate is different so no one size fits all. Past experience has taught me that what might work brilliantly in one place has no relevance or meaning elsewhere. It’s just a case of trying and trying different things and then once you have a momentum, sticking with it. Money is needed to oil the wheels, but I don’t agree with throwing money at things. Inevitably, it’s not sustainable and fades away once the funding and usually the employment of a significant driver comes to an end.
I am also not too keen on the glorification of one individual. I know many projects only come about because of the vision and dedication of one person, but the best community development is essentially about being a conduit for other people’s ideas and expression and when it becomes too centred on the gifts of one person, over time that can sabotage the growth and enablement of others.