Change that leads to better lives

Blog: “Values are the key to everything” – our conversations from the Campfire Clusters

Campfire photo

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.

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. 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.

At our most recent campfire gathering we spoke a lot about values. Here’s some of our shared learning;

Innovation is happening across the programme!

  • There are many examples of ground-breaking initiatives:
    • Coffee club for men from minority ethnic groups in Glasgow to challenge misogyny;
    • Mobilising older people and primary school children together to develop skills and shared experiences around climate change;
    • Tesco offering space in their store for community groups in Glasgow;
    • Give a Day in a Box and Ratio are sharing a box of ideas for anyone who wants to start connecting and contributing in their community.

Projects are continuing to connect individuals and organisations, discovering that:

  • Connections at a local and project level happen in many, diverse and sometimes unnoticed ways.
  • Some projects are focusing on improving micro-interactions between people to create a cumulative impact; others are connecting community groups and organisations to make better use of resources.
  • People are explicitly championing the importance of relational approaches and sharing examples of what is working at Showcase Events. These are great for sharing “lightbulb moments” and for inspiring and energising partners as well as bringing people together.

People want to give back – how best to channel this?

  • Projects’ key areas of focus can help to mobilise engagement and contribution; e.g. environmental and food crises are high profile powerful levers for change.
  • Focus on finding the shared concerns or complementary solutions between different individuals, groups and communities (“I can help you with that problem”). These are often the things that embody a shared vision and demonstrate values:
Quote 1
  • Being clear that community led actions and developments are not about “formal volunteering” or just random acts of kindness. They are about giving people permission and increasing their confidence to give whatever they can, whenever they can.
Quote 2

Projects are continuing to flex, develop and shift in response to the changing context in which they are working. Their tips for working in challenging times include:

  • As well as responding to external factors, such as the cost of living crisis, projects are also flexing what they offer in response to different contexts in the communities where they are working.
  • Making the work time light but challenging.
  • Being playful and having a light touch. Great things can happen when those initiating or leading change are engaging and make participation fun.
  • Working through community hubs and networks, rather than through local authorities, who are preoccupied with the cost of living crisis.
  • Having a solid project plan is important, but this must retain flexibility; community projects develop organically over time – It’s not all fixed, and that’s cool! You can’t always control how things will develop.

We are learning that it is people and their personal connections that ultimately help to make change happen:

  • There are many different informal (unfunded) as well as formal (funded) roles that enable and cement connections: people who are natural brokers, enablers and connectors are key to success.
  • Finding the right person to either kick things off or connect with someone else who wants to. For example, Give a Day suggest finding who has the biggest heart in a local area/community of interest, and starting there; help that person to grow their network (e.g. with tips, mentoring, tools).

Projects work best when they build on networks that are already in place rather than parachuting in and imposing structures or approaches:

  • Many projects have carried out a thorough scoping process to make sure that anything they offer complements what is already in place.
  • Cutting out the fluff and flexing project design are important for engaging new people in different places.
  • However, engaging people in Bringing People Together projects can still be a challenge in the current climate – it takes times to build trust and meaningful connection.
  • Communities are often wary of approaches that they see as imposed on them from elsewhere (particularly when English/London models are introduced in Scotland).

Growing and sustaining initiatives that bring people together in new ways is essential, complicated and challenging:

  • It’s important to pay as much attention to the transition from visioning to action, as it is to the initial process of developing a shared vision.
  • Successful approaches can’t just be “scaled up” (become bigger), they have to be “scaled out” (by sharing what works with other places and enabling those different places to apply the learning in ways that make sense to them).
  • Projects are exploring whether some kind of “community impact discussion” is useful for work of this kind, which examines issues such as readiness for change and what might need to happen to sustain the work once the initial funding ends.
  • Project leads and community members need to find ways of building their resilience as well as trust, given the challenges and tensions of the current climate.

As projects work and learn together, the interconnectedness between them is becoming more visible:

  • Sometimes the connection is around interests and approaches and sometimes it relates to geography (with projects working in the same place starting to support each other with contacts and networks).
  • Campfire conversations are one important way of highlighting connection and helping cross-pollination to happen.
  • Links and connections between BPT project teams are also helping to share different approaches, skills, tools and techniques for bringing people together at a macro level.

Understanding impact of enhancing community and social connections is key to spreading and sustaining what works:

  • Projects are keen to explore what ‘impact’ means both for their work and the communities they are working with.
  • Instead of focusing on “easy to measure” impacts at the end of a project, they want to use a range of meaningful measures which can be designed in from the start, ensuring these are place based, community led/owned, and not piecemeal.
  • Capturing the impact on the ‘social fabric’ is really important but often undervalued - this has to be a key element of any impact measures used.

Really hearing people’s stories lies at the heart of all Bringing People Together projects:

  • Projects are using life story work as a massively powerful way of connecting with people, sometimes across generations.
  • Learning from stories especially from/by people who are very rooted in their place(s) helps to turn standard, negative narratives on their head (e.g. what is remote to some is not remote to those who live for instance in the Hebrides).
  • It is these stories that will help to show what’s working and the impacts achieved for different people.

As you can see conversations are broad and deep with common themes surfacing across the 16 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 16 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:

Helen Bown, Jane Carrier & Ewa Woodward

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