Change that leads to better lives

Blog: Bringing Learning Together by (virtual) campfires

Bringing people together around a campfire has been an age-old tradition for centuries. It’s a place to share stories with each other, discussing ‘hot’ topics, developing ‘simmering’ ideas and ‘sparking’ new ones.

Campfire photo

In our role as learning partner for the Bringing People Together programme, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund we did just that. We created a series of virtual campfires.

The programme was launched during a time of unprecedented challenges and change for every community across the UK. It works to bring communities together, providing funding to enable them to thrive and prosper by creating the conditions, infrastructure and social fabric that enable better and longer lasting ways of bringing people and communities together.

Sharing learning with each other and the wider local and national community to explore what works and what doesn’t is integral to the programme.

In our role as learning partner, we have been bringing people together at virtual campfires to discuss common themes and issues, share common challenges and find solutions. We usually gather as a whole network once a quarter, but also meet more informally, looking at different communities in different contexts.

We’re currently working with 13 organisations and we thought we’d share some of our stories here:

Stories can help to change the world!

  • Stories (told and shared in numerous ways including song) are creative, accessible and inclusive ways of sharing and exploring important messages and themes: healing through connections, with each other and local places; learning from ancient histories, layers of knowledge and wisdom that have built up over time; celebrating each other’s’ strengths and contributions; finding the threads that bind people together
  • They can help to highlight the central roles that relationships play in all community connections, and in developments designed to strengthen these
  • They can show what’s possible even in difficult times, recognising you may need to balance creative imagery for imagining better futures with current realities which may be difficult and dark
  • They can be a useful way of bringing people together when projects are new (getting to know each other and finding common ground), as well as for established developments (to renew, revisit and explore change over time).

Designing for ‘Doing’ and Designing for ‘Thinking’

  • Different techniques and strategies for bringing people together at a micro as well as macro level: designing and holding space for community members and partners to have really good conversations about what matters, explore difficult issues, develop a shared vision, agree how to collaborate and move forward, accelerate existing ideas and grow what works.
  • There’s no one way – sharing the range of creative, simple as well as multi-layered approaches is key.

Going deep - there’s no appetite for fluff

  • People involved in conversations that form part of Bringing People Together projects are going really deep, really quickly.
  • Some projects are redesigning what they offer to make the content more serious, because people don’t want warm up or preamble – they are sick of the fluff.

Engaging in face-to-face work is positive and a time for reflection

  • Being in a room facilitates dialogue in a way that cannot happen on screen
  • Builds relationships and trust in a different way
  • Provides other ways for connection – what happens outside the room is as important, if not more important, than what happens inside it

The importance of language

  • Language facilitates communication but can also be a barrier to communication when understanding is not shared
  • Micro-interactions can change the conversation – the difference between asking “alright?” and “How are you?”
  • Thinking of ways to engage in this way with all people – “bake in humanity”

It’s a strange, transitional time – a difficult place to work

  • Bringing people together in the current climate is difficult, with some very keen to meet together in person (craving connection), others committed to remote working (including some people who are still shielding).
  • Projects are responding by using a hybrid approach, with a mix of online and offline contact, and are figuring out how to find a balance that works.
  • But where projects depend on building rapport and trust between people, working online can make connection harder and slower to achieve.
  • Projects have been spending more time speaking 1:1 with participants as one way of tacking this.
  • Cost of living crisis is having an impact – time to do things taking longer, pressure on budgets, also harder to get depth, people cannot engage in deep topics when they have closer to home concerns, pressure on meeting KPIs. A big story for some is that some key organisations are unable to remain open because of rising fuel costs.
  • Short-term and long-term planning, foresee/pre-empt problems, not always possible
  • The last few years have left community leaders and organisations over-burdened and burnt out, so engaging with programmes and projects can be challenging – we have to be a good option with great values
  • At the same time, they are desperate for support, nourishment and an opportunity to offload – how do you make sure they’re ok?

Where possible reframe challenges as opportunities

  • A challenge opens up opportunities for dialogue, engagement and understanding people better
  • Finding solutions to challenges encourages curiosity and bravery

As you can see conversations are broad and deep with common themes surfacing across the 13 projects. There is much learning to be gained from these discussions and as we journey together through the programme we will provide regular updates in learning through blogs, change stories and podcasts.

Thanks to the 13 wonderful organisations who are already sharing learning with each other and generating these exciting conversations which will lead to positive change in the communities they serve:

Dr Karen McInnes, Helen Bown, Jane Carrier and Ewa Woodward

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