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Covid-19 Reflection - Love is the way?

In part 3 of his blog series (the other two are below) Ray Leonard explores some of the responses to the needs revealed during covid-19, in this part he focusses on ABCD:

So what is Asset Based Community Development?

Asset-based community development (ABCD) is an approach to sustainable community development that recognises the inherent skills, gifts and talents present in individuals, local associations and institutions. It focuses on capabilities instead of deprivation and in doing so enables people to identify and mobilise assets to build strong and sustainable communities.

The approach, developed by two international development experts, Kretzmann and McKnight, is defined by three key characteristics: that all individuals and places have assets and gifts to contribute; that sustainable change comes from within communities; and finally that it is relationship-driven, such that when people come together and combine their assets, communities will be made stronger.

ABCD helps to shift power back into the hands of communities, as they become less dependent on external agencies dictating what they need and how they will be supported.

ABCD resonates with the Christian understanding of the intrinsic value of each person, as made in the image of God. Each person has been created with gifts, passions and talents, and acknowledging and using these gifts will help them to experience fullness of life.[i]

Go back and look at the definition offered for mutual aid groups in part 2 of this blog (see below). Perhaps this model, in its more pure and yes, political form, is not too far distant from that envisaged by proponents of ABCD.

Whilst ABCD is a philosophy and not a process, a helpful way of thinking about it is the inversion of traditional ways in which the state and voluntary sectors go about ‘helping disadvantaged communities’. They would probably carry out some form of needs analysis, which in itself is a presumptuous one based on need and not abundance, and then think about things something like this:-

  1. What can we do to help this community?
  2. What might the community do with us?
  3. Is there anything the community can do itself?

ABCD turns these questions upside down. The community, following an audit of what assets and gifts they have (abundance thinking rather than deficit), could ask themselves:-

  1. What can we do for ourselves?
  2. What could we do with others?
  3. What can we not do and can only be done by others?

This is radical. This is subversive. I would suggest this is Gospel. So how does this link to today’s Covid crisis?

Well we see traditional employment and charity under huge threat, at a time of rapidly increasing need and sense of vulnerability by many who have not faced such a situation before. Business is requiring huge bailouts from the Government. In the north east a question marks looms large over the future of Nissan and all its regional suppliers. Losing an estimated 40,000 jobs in one go is almost unimaginable, and yet here we are.

Charities and voluntary sectors organisations, including churches, are making valiant efforts to support people at this difficult time. Amazing commitment and creativity from the voluntary and faith sectors, attempting to maintain and expand support, primarily food related but including spiritual and social support, in difficult circumstances. At the same time of attempting to meet this tsunami of need, they see the edge of the income and funding cliff as shops are closed, and fundraisers cancelled. Understandably they are spending time thinking about how they might survive themselves. It looks like many wont.

Unprecedented state intervention from a neoliberal Government. Unimaginable policies of nationalisation and what almost mirrors universal basic income. However short term, these things were fantasy a few months ago.

We’re also seeing huge numbers of community led groups, organically forming and doing what they can to help each other. However they label themselves and evolve, they are out there attempting to help others.

But I observe the clash of two opposing cultures. The state, national and local, and third sector, again national or local, are busy answering their traditional first question – What can we do to help the community? At the same time, mutual aid networks are busy exploring answers to their own first question – What can we do for ourselves? (see ABCD above). Less energy seems to be going into exploring question 2 – What can we do together?

Agencies compete for scarce funding and income, scarcity of volunteers, and suddenly what is being treat as competition and unwelcome complexity ‘on the ground’. Mapping and auditing of groups is treat with suspicion by mutual aid groups who have asked for no help or support from anyone. Anecdotally local councillors, and leading public and 3rd sector ‘officers’ have begun to try and influence how groups work, and undermine their philosophy.

All of this is wholly understandable. Organisations and groups develop survival cultures which are triggered in the circumstances we all face. The reality will be messy, inefficient, a mix of success and failure, or more accurately a greyer continuum of the best efforts of all concerned. Will anyone create the time to pause, reflect, be open to new ways of thinking, experimenting, being prepared to fail, learning and loving together in common endeavour?

A cynical view would be no. The more professionalised sectors will dominate, some will survive, others not, but business will emerge as something near ‘as usual’, albeit in a long lasting recession. Need will have been recalibrated. The ‘how’ of meeting it wont.

A more hopeful view might suggest a more mixed and messy picture emerges into the likely recession. Some learning and alliances will have taken place between the professional sector and new grass roots community groups. A new space will have been negotiated for mutual aid, although by its very nature of being wholly self-reliant, it can simply continue in any case. It requires no permission to exist. Perhaps in these circumstances new ‘how’s’ may be more visible, giving confidence to others to self-organise. Just imagine loving, compassionate, mutual groups in communities. Sound Christian-like to you?

Well this is not intended to be a prescriptive claim for absolute truth or indeed solution to what we are going through. It’s a mix of observation, theology, praxis and politics. It will be quickly out of date. It’s an honest and deliberately provocative piece, which I hope deepens reflection, openness, prayer and practise.

For our hope, and I’d suggest supporting theology for a new way of living in community, we turn to love. If we act in love, if we are in love, then ‘we’ are no longer important and God knows the way:-

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[bm] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[bn] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

[i] FROM METHOD TO MINDSET:MODEST EXPERIMENTS WITH ASSET-BASED APPROACHES, Church Urban Fund 2016

Covid-19 Reflection - Part 2

Here is the second part of our team member Ray Leonards 3-part blog, reflecting on the community responses during the Covid-19 crisis time. The first part is below.

Mutuality or Charity?

Within days of the Covid19 virus hitting the UK, mutual aid networks began forming at community level all over the UK. Some have been established for many years, especially in the larger cities. A national website appeared very quickly, attempting to bring together emerging practise, FAQ’s, defining what mutual aid is, and listing as many of the groups as possible across the country. At the time of writing there are over 4000 groups registered on the site.

So what is mutual aid? https://covidmutualaid.org/ describes mutual aid as

Mutual aid is where a group of people organise to meet their own needs, outside of the formal frameworks of charities, NGOs and government. It is, by definition, a horizontal mode of organising, in which all individuals are equally powerful. There are no ‘leaders’ or unelected ‘steering committees’ in mutual aid projects; there is only a group of people who work together as equals.

Mutual aid isn’t about “saving” anyone; it’s about people coming together, in a spirit of solidarity, to support and look out for one another’

What is a mutual aid group?

A mutual aid group is a volunteer lead initiative where groups of people in a particular area join together to support one another, meeting vital community needs without the help of official bodies. They do so in a way that prioritises those who are most vulnerable or otherwise unable to access help through regular channels.’

The origins of mutual aid are rooted in black communities, and much evidence points to the West African concept of Sou-Sou – a cooperative where people who were sick were supported and acted as a bank (and some still exist today). Black mutual aid societies existed in America as early as 1857. Certainly poor people, wherever they found themselves, will have formed some form of mutual aid group as they struggled to support each other in very difficult circumstances.

Mutual aid was popularised in anarchism, and the work of Peter Kropotkin, who published his seminal work ‘Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution’ in 1902. He looked at examples in the plant and animal kingdom of mutual and symbiotic relationships that were of mutual benefit, and suggested humans should live in this way too. Some of his ideas of evolution are now outdated, but the founding principles of mutual aid live on.

In reality many of the groups who have labelled themselves as mutual aid groups, will not be. They will be the more traditional model of support groups who will come together in response to a need, they will organise themselves in traditional ways with some form of hierarchy and decision making, and will no doubt do some important and valuable work in their communities. However, it is unlikely that the support and help will be mutual. It is more likely to model the charitable culture so embedded in our society, of one way help. Helpers and the helped.

Some will adopt the mutual aid ethos, and certainly existing ones will continue as they have always been. This ethos changes everything. People are supporting each other in mutuality, in equal community, in alliance. Power is equal within the network. Whatever is offered is of equal value. Whatever may be required is met if possible from within the group. No one keeps a ledger. Perhaps a glimpse of the early days of the Apostles (Acts 2:44-45)?

Perhaps the comparison with the early days of the Apostles is stronger than it appears. As early followers of a subversive cult whose leader had just been executed, they were oppressed, criminalised, persecuted and forced into the margins of life. They had precious little, but what they had they shared among themselves generously and in good faith.

How is that mirrored in today’s mutual aid networks?

What is interesting about the existing mutual aid networks, and this is a generalisation, is many of the participants are people who are at the margins. They are disadvantaged, discriminated against, and oppressed culturally and structurally. People from the LGBTQI community, asylum seekers and refugees, squatters, people of colour, people with criminal records, the unemployed, the sanctioned are disproportionally represented in these networks. On the face of it, a group of people with precious little. Well that would be a materialistic judgement, and we deal with an alternative perspective below. Many of us might wonder about why those in such need don’t turn to the voluntary sector for help.

Wouldn’t we in that position? The impact of Covid19 will have many of us in need we’ve never faced in our lives.

Some of the answer may well lie in their lived experience with the state and more formal structures of the voluntary sector. They may well be asked to disclose information they are uncomfortable about. They may have been offered help in a generic way, and not one suited to their own personal and cultural needs. They may well have been made to feel ‘helped’, ‘grateful’ and ‘powerless’ in these systems, intentionally or not.

Wouldn’t we want to avoid creating shame, guilt and dependency in our attempts to ‘help’? At what point would our ego’s, attuned to ‘helping’, become co-dependent? What about our own openness to receive ‘help’?

Whilst well intentioned, the unintended consequences of charity are well known. J Hobson wrote in ‘Work and Wealth’ (1914) “For every act of charity, applied to heal suffering arising from defective arrangements of society, serves to weaken the personal springs of social reform, alike by the 'miraculous' relief it brings to the individual 'case' that is relieved, and by the softening influence it exercises on the hearts and heads of those who witness it.

It substitutes the idea and the desire of individual reform for those of social reform, and so weakens the capacity for collective self-help in society.”

So we act on a positive loving intent, and by default, reinforce the conditions that actually led to the need in the first place, and make it less likely for social reform. Foodbanks are a classic example. We run the risk of normalising the feeding of hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, become complicit with savage public policy that created such levels of poverty, and created dependencies and in some circumstances, arguably, co-dependences. We now find ourselves in a struggle to find ways to keep feeding the hungry, glad of the crumbs off the table of the multibillion pound supermarket chains.

I, along with the CTD team, have been championing the importance of equal loving relationships, and the recognition, celebrating and utilisation of everyone’s God given talents, gifts and passions. We were created to live in thriving communities. We might dare to call this Kingdom. This is why we have been talking about and promoting Asset Based Community Development as a philosophy we could use in our personal and corporate ministries.

How much do you agree with any of the above and why? What parts? With what to you disagree and why? Has it been uncomfortable reading? Why?

Covid-19 reflection Part 1

One of our team, Ray Leonard, has written a 3 part blog, reflection of community approaches during the Covid-19 time. It is critical, and reflective, and as a piece written over a month ago, shows also the changes that have happened in the intervening time.

What scope is there for new praxis in this Covid-19 crisis?

A reflective blog – Ray Leonard

Part 1

These are difficult and dynamic times, as the pandemic sweeps through communities across the globe, killing hundreds of thousands and making millions ill. Domestically we might feel we’re entering a new phase, but globally health systems are being overwhelmed, state and charitable responses stretched to the limit in a very dynamic and ever changing situation. And yet we observe amazing levels of volunteering, and high levels of community self-organising. Encouraging signs of love and compassion in the face of extreme adversity.

Writing a blog (in early April 2020) that, however cautiously, might begin to examine responses and tensions within the UK context might seem foolish, or even offensive. However I have spent four years working and promoting asset based community development, both from a theological and practical perspective, and can’t help observing both traditional patterns of responses and newer expressions from within communities.

The public and charitable/voluntary sector, including faith groups, are adjusting their normal service provision as best they are able within social distancing and public health guidelines. They’ve experienced a huge rise of demand in their services, in particular the provision of food and meals, and also in the field of social contact. Faith groups are also concerned about the impacts upon our spiritual life now all public places of worship are closed. At the same time they have seen a drop in the number of their existing volunteers who can make themselves available through self-isolation and illness. Classic economics – rise in demand and a fall in supply.

So what will fill the gap? How will the ‘market’ correct itself?

There are interventions. Central Government, in partnership with the voluntary sector, launched a huge drive to recruit volunteers, with a massive response from the public, with over 750,000 people signing up. Emergency funding is being made available, albeit taking a few weeks to start to come through. Some supermarkets are pledging to bolster dwindling foodbank donations as the nation seems to be slowing down on its panic buying, but even so some still face limits on basic staples, and whilst welcome, it has taken weeks for the response.

But is it enough? Even by the time this blog is published it will be out of date, but we can already foresee charities in collapse, and many may not survive at all. Income streams are drying up, emergency aid will not be sufficient to prop up the whole sector, and calls on support grow exponentially as the employed and self-employed hit hardships that have been the normal for the unemployed, marginalised and oppressed. Many businesses may not survive this crisis either, the self-employed are struggling, and we can be forgiven for slipping into a sense of being overwhelmed. And yet there are signs of alternate thinking and action becoming visible.

Signs of God on the move in the midst of our suffering? Where have you seen God moving? How have you responded?

The second part of this blog will be published in approx. a weeks time.

We would love to hear from you, if you want to write your reflection of these times, you can do so here. Thank you

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Our display

Waymark 2019

Over the weekend of 12-13th October our Team were at the Durham Diocese conference, Waymark, and we took a fridge.

We took a fridge to represent something of the needs of people in the North east in relation to poverty of resources. But what we also did was take a number of things to show how people are gifted, and how people have developed community and shared resources for the goodness of all in their local areas.

Some of the key highlights of 'Waymark' for us included that a number of people connected with us to tell us of how things are going in relation to conversations we had hosted and started, such as Period Poverty and Dementia (do read other pages on this site for more, on be in contact directly) , we were able to connect people doing similar things.

One of the things we asked people to contribute to - and receive a free gift for doing so was to respond to the question:

What are the gifts in your community?

And.... these were the responses, shared anonymously via the gift box

  • The Walls! - seriuously the desire for change
  • Asylum Seekers
  • Community involvement - poor area but foodbank flourishing
  • Community resilience and tenacity
  • Creativity, tenacity
  • Sense of Identity and community, village and church
  • Hard working people working for the community
  • The people who worship together
  • The amazing people
  • _____________ is self sustaining - Foodbank people are so generous
  • A lot of caring people showing Gods love
  • Consideration of others, in caring for the area and supporting social initiatives eg foodbank
  • People and generosity to one another
  • Caring and sharing of material resources and love

With the exception of blanking out the place name, these are as written from the suggestions. As a team, as we have conversations with many of you in the diocese - we already know these things! We know that there is so much strength in the communities within each of the areas, strengths in groups in churches, strengths, creativity, generosity and creativity in local communities. So, Waymark, was a space for developing, and in some cases deepening conversations, and so, thank you for those of you who stopped by and chatted to us.

We would love these conversations to continue, especially if there are areas that you think we, as team, could focus on in 2020, so, do let us know how we might help you to create flourishing communities where more gifts are able to be used.

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Your gifts in use - Holiday Clubs 2019
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Jenni Osborn leading the conversation

Mental health , Young people, Commmunity and Poverty

On Tuesday 24th September we hosted a conversation around the subject of Mental Health, and linking this with Young peoples, community work as well as thinking though faith and poverty. This was led by Jenni Osborn youth worker, schools and trainer.

The morning session began with a question

What would you say to your younger self?

This provided the opportunity for a number of responses, a reflective look back for each of us, whether we were 20 years old, 40 or 60 in the room. Following this, we were guided through various aspects of mental health, including diagnosis, stigma, and looking at a number of conditions. These were explored with a number of stories and examples.

We spent a while looking at some of the factors that might increase the likelihood of poor mental health (everyone can have variances of mental health) , these risk factors including exposure to abuse, alcohol misuse, discrimination and poverty, as well as others. Specifically we looked at Self harm and Eating disorders as cases, as these can be prevalent in young people (though not exclusively).

The morning concluded with the question:

Mental Health and Faith; how do they interact?

It was stated that it was widely recognised that churches, and more broadly being in community, being able to make decisions and having a sense of belonging are all important for positive mental health. So churches, where community and groups occur, can be significantly positive places for peoples mental health. Although, many examples are also known where peoples mental health suffers, or not helped by being involved in churches. Its like everywhere.

After Lunch we looked at the CUF Web of Poverty and how these related to the risk factors shared in the morning, and concluded the session with time to share of each others practices, with some attendees meeting others from the same town, others gaining new ideas.

All in all, the conversation raised the awareness and learning for many of the complexity of mental health, Jenni shared both the challenges, and appropriate responses that all of us can make in terms of being alongside people, listening and helping

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Feedback

Some of the feedback from the content of the day included:

Appropriate knowledge on mental health for student and youth work
It gave me greater understanding of mental health, approaches, background and how the church responds
Good content, presentation and stories
It was good to learn about resources
really enjoyed content and discussion
Thank you for a friendly informative event

The following were responses about how the event might have an effect on the attendees:

'It will will help me to discuss mental health with children and young people'

'It will be good to open discussions with projects and what is being done to engage and involve young people'

'It will give me greater awareness of when working with young people'

'It will help me to become more vocal about young people'

Many thanks to Jenni Osborn for leading this stimulating and clearly positive, constructive conversation on mental health. As a result we have added a few new resources to the Resources centre, including Liz Edge's book on Emotional Health. Jenni's Grove Booklet will be published soon, and a link will be posted here when this is available. Do contact Jenni here, if you would like to book her for your organisation to deliver training or events on these themes.

Thank you to all who attended and took part, further follow up will be arranged with the CTD team, there may be a next conversation on these themes next year.

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Holiday Clubs

We have been visiting and supporting some of the fantastic holiday clubs that churches are hosting this summer - here is a bit about one from our friends at Woodhouse Close Church and Bishop Auckland Methodists.

Merci... Tack… Grazie… Danke… Thank you!

From Monday 5thAugust to Friday 9th August, Bishop Auckland Methodist Church was transformed into a travel bureau for “Backpackers” where there was fun, friendship and food for those attending. Each day, between 2pm and 5pm, the Travel Agent and Tour Guide and Travel Reps looked after over 60 children and young people. After listening to Bible stories, associated with Jesus’ travelling in his final days to Jerusalem, and taking part in games and craft activities in their groups, they all joined together for a hot meal.

The event was run by the Bishop Auckland Fellowship of Christian Churches, in partnership with the Auckland Project. Sports workshops for participants were provided by Leah Kennedy, Development Community Coach from North East Netball and Darren Brown, All Stars Champion from Durham Cricket. These sessions were a high point for many.

On Sunday 11thAugust we held a Family Celebration and BBQ with over 100 children, parents and volunteers.

Thank you to the Caroline Theobald, Honorary Swedish Consul who helped us with some facts about Sweden. Thank you to local Italian restauranteur, Franco and his brother, Stefano from Casa Nostra, who brought us the Italian flair, and thank you also to Cockney Nick who taught us about ‘Balls of Chalk’ and ‘Frogs and Toads’. Each day taught us to value the culture of the different parts of Europe and Britain that the Backpackers visited.

Thank you also to local supermarkets, businesses and grant funders who have all contributed to making this year’s Holiday Club an ongoing success.

Feedback from those attending and their parents, is overwhelmingly positive, with many people wanting the event to run again next year. Please contact Jenny Prior on bascircuitoffice@gmail.com or 07783946968 if you would like any information.

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Steph from Free Flow Hull, describing their workshop and activities

On Periods, Period Poverty and responses

On 20th August we held a first conversation on periods. Not solely about period poverty, yet we know this has been making the headlines over the last few years. But on periods more generally.

Our facilitators on the day were a new organisation, 'Free Flow Hull' (read about them in the link above), we heard how they developed a programme and workshops in Hull where they provide spaces for women to talk openly about periods, to share experiences, reflect on some of the taboos and power dynamics of language associated with periods.

As part of the day we experienced the workshop that they currently would do with groups of adults, including the taboos, limitations of current sanitary products available and what the alternatives are, and how they are used.

Questions were raised like: 'Why does the word 'period' need to be avoided, and colloquial terms used instead? (like 'aunt flow visiting', 'on the blob' or 'time of the month')

Where do these phrases come from, and why do they exist?

Steph and Rob shared stories from the workshops they lead, of how women have felt having talked about periods, and been able to make more positive choices regarding the way in which they manage their periods, through using different sanitary products that have less chemicals, and are cheaper and better for the environment in the long run.

Action is required on this... and it feels achievable (attendee feedback)

After lunch the group discussed some of the challenges and difficulties there are when having conversations about periods, including feeling queasy. Cultural factors and social factors were discussed, and talk was that many difficult issues are barely raised in churches (money, relationships etc) and periods is well down that list. Questions were posed about young people and specifically talking about periods in sex education, and how girls are often taken to one side to talk about periods, and boys can be excluded from this knowledge. We weren't sure if this still happens...

Its important to provide long term, not just immediate solutions

Throughout the day the attendees were given time to reflect on what they were learning, and consider how they might develop responses in their local context. A broad range was represented, urban and rural church, national or regional organisation, diocese and deanery responsibility, though sadly no men attended, outside of the CTD team - is this telling? But culture shift will take time. Men, we can do better - cant we?

Further questions were posed in regard to the responses such as :

  1. How might a response preserve human dignity?
  2. How might God be revealed in the response?
  3. How might community gifts be developed?
  4. How might the response tackle injustice?

A number of responses and ideas during the day already captured the essence of these, and each person left with further questions and ideas about this issue, thinking about how they personally or how they in their organisation might develop a response further.

It goes without saying that these conversations and ideas are at an early stage, though a number of the group had already begun developing local responses, and the team at Communities Together Durham are available to support these and new projects where they can.

It was a day that provided good knowledge, understanding and ideas, new angles on issues I was aware of

We are grateful to Free Flow Hull for their input into the day, for their approachable nature, passion and determination to help women (and men) to think about periods in a more positive way, a strength not a weakness, and to make more informed choices in regard to sanitary products. If you would like to hear more about Free Flow Hull, they can be contacted via their website which is here

Other feedback included:

It brought up and helped me be aware of problems and issues young women have
Really engaging session - thank you
Great to think about the environmental issues caused by sanitary products
Good to meet other people passionate about this subject
Really passionate about the subject of periods