On 29th March 2022 The People’s Powerhouse attended New Local’s Stronger Things event, Community Power: The Movement Grows. We hosted an informal conversation inviting attendees to consider the question: Is the Community really in control of Community Power?
Community power is in theory, a great idea, but how can we translate the rhetoric of community power into practical action? Our session at Stronger Things asked our participants to think about what community power really means. How does their work engage with the community? And indeed, which communities? In one location there will be hundreds, if not thousands of different communities.
Our in-house poet Nathan Parker summed up our views on community better than I can write in this blog. Here’s the link to his poem ‘What is Community?’ that was used to kick-off our session! Thanks Nathan!
We had four guests share their thoughts on community power through the work they engage in. Thanks Tracy Fishwick (The People’s Powerhouse/Transform Lives), Ruth Hannan (RSA), Paul Kelly (Breaking Ground) and Tom Murphy (Homebaked) - thanks for joining us!
Our own Tracy Fishwick OBE started up the conversation by introducing The People’s Powerhouse and how we work to amplify Northern voices that often go unheard. One of our core values is ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to contribute, which is why we are so passionate about doing a deeper dive into the ‘community’ behind community power. She explained the importance of diversity, and that who is in the room really matters. It’s, “really easy to say, but hard to do.”
Ruth Hannan (Joint Head of the People & Place Programme at the RSA) explained how her knowledge of improving participation in services shaped her views on community power. Ruth highlighted that a substantial participatory mechanism is necessary for community power to succeed. This is basically making sure that there are successful methods that ensure the ‘community’ can communicate effectively with the public sector. She emphasised the importance of making sure engagement is accessible, and that the public sector is actually listening to the issues that communities are raising. “With devolution, how can we make sure we’re not replicating a new layer of bureaucracy locally that doesn’t include participation?”
Next up was Paul Kelly, an expert in the fields of community development, housing-led regeneration, and cultural programming. Paul shared his thoughts on how removing the disconnect between Local Authorities and the local ‘community’ could boost community power. He explained how ‘communities’ need a good working relationship with their local authorities in order to take control of their assets. Without proper support from the state, ‘communities’ can’t be expected to have all the tools needed for successful participation. “Local Authorities need to see Community Land Trusts (CLT) as more than a photo-op.”
Tom Murphy was the last of our speakers. As an experienced worker in Liverpool’s Voluntary Community Social Enterprise Sector, Tom discussed his involvement in Anfield-based Homebaked CLT. CLTs allow a community to work together and provides affordable housing as well as community-owned business and services. Homebaked CLT’s current project is the Oakfield Terrace Scheme: a mixed-use community owned high street. You can read more about it here!
Homebaked CLT is a great example of local people taking control and using their own knowledge to create sustainable solutions to the issues that matter to them.
Lively conversation ensued and we’ve listed some of the points raised by our audience:
Community power will need to ensure that all communities and their collective interests are represented. For example, providing translators for both online and in-person communication. This would prevent alienating non-English speaking people, as well as those who aren’t fluent.
Making sure that academic language isn’t used in discussions around community power will create a more inclusive place for people to share their views without fear of judgement. Using accessible language and ensuring there are translators when engaging people will empower ‘communities’ who may feel more heard and create better representation. It was also pointed out how important including a cultural perspective, as well as local in community power.
Failing to consider cultural views such as beliefs, values and experiences will result in a major part of ‘communities’ being hard to reach.
Moving on to the challenge of creating practical action, one concern was, “closing the gap between leadership promises of working with communities and the challenges of doing it on a day-to-day basis at officer level.” How can we make sure community engagement is sustainable? Those working in public sectors are at least compensated for their work. Community leaders work for free and often work the hardest whilst being the least acknowledged. Our audience member and community leader Leila explained, “(we) do what we do cos we love where we live,” but that doesn’t diminish the fact that community leaders are human and get tired. Community power will need to be done on the community’s terms. This would include working around people’s jobs, family duties and other responsibilities. For example, it was suggested that letting a ‘community’ decide where and when is best to meet, as well as reimbursing them for time and travel would allow far more people to take part.
Tracy F summed up by reminded us of the importance of not equating community action to community power. Seeing how people worked together during the pandemic to support their local ‘community’ was incredible to see but should not be used as an example of successful Community Power. The community action displayed throughout the pandemic was adrenaline fueled and not sustainable. Meaningful participation requires continued resourcing and support from the public sector, not simply a one-time transfer of power.
Thanks to New Local for having us and organising the first in-person event that we’ve attended in a while! It was brilliant to hear our speakers and our audience contribute their perspective on community power.
We hope you can reflect on the points that were put forward and would love for the conversation to continue – tweet, direct message or email us to add your own contribution!