Community Organising is Right Up My Street

posted 25 Feb 2013, 07:56 by Steve Smith   [ updated 22 Mar 2013, 07:59 by Unknown user ]
When I started training as a Community Organiser I was the manager of the Greenway Community Centre in Sneinton, Nottingham.  Sneinton is an area of extreme deprivation.  Its demographics include a large influx of immigrant and student communities.  The older folk in the area talk about a once vibrant community offering a multitude of shops and services but since a bypass was built several years ago, the through traffic has been diverted, leading to businesses shutting down.  It seems that the sense of pride for the area was steadily eroding, characterised by the levels of dog poo all over, and a high level of fly tipping and litter.  Quite often when I used to arrive at the community centre I would be greeted by a pile of rubbish or dog poo at the entrance.  The centre took part in several initiatives (days of action) and would often be helped by the Nottingham Probation service.  However, every time we cleaned up the area by the next day there was more rubbish to deal with.   Eventually my energy levels waned (as far as cleaning up the area was concerned), and I gave up, knowing that more needed to be done to change attitudes of the residents in the area. At this stage the solution to the problem eluded me.  Then one day a colleague of mine told me about the community organiser programme and thought I would be perfect for the job or, in my own words, community organising was Right Up My Street.

Once my work had started as a community organiser it didn't take long before the listenings began to indicate that there was a prominent theme relating to the untidy area, fly tipping, and a lack of area pride.  In fact, this is Sneinton's No1 concern.  Fortunately, I was armed with the RSLM framework of community engagement and so I invited a group of residents, who were passionate about the area, to an house meeting.  They were very committed to transform the area and have since formed a constituted community group named The Prettier Whittier group.  The Prettier Whittier Group's short term aims are to organise a series of street clean events annually (Spring, Summer, Autumn). The first event is on 23 March 2013.  The aim of these events are to

1.    Get the community together to clean up their street (Community Action)

2.    Encourage neighbours to interact (it is surprising how many people do not talk to their neighbours)

3.    Help to generate a sense of pride back into the area.

As my community organising work continued, I came across others who were also concerned about the state of their streets and, as I told them about the Prettier Whittier group, more and more residents started to commit to having house meetings in view to setting up their own street clean/pride scheme.  I started to think to myself that, if I could successfully support these groups to set up, they would actually cover over half of Sneinton, and if they collaborated with each other then maybe this was the beginning of a Sneinton-wide, resident-led streetclean/pride scheme.  

As you can imagine this idea has large support from many residents but the name "Prettier Whittier" was not suitable for an area wide scheme. Then one member of Prettier Whittier spoke of loving these meetings because it was “right up his street” (as opposed to usual community meetings and councillor surgeries) and thus “Right Up My Street” was born. At present there are a few interested parties who are looking to develop the Right Up My Street scheme locally, city wide and nationally and, although there is much work to do, I am happy to have been a catalyst for a solution to address the No 1 concern of the area (and many others); there is the potential to share our good practice further afield. 

Another thing that makes me happy is that the Prettier Whittier area of interest includes the Greenway Centre, which I once managed, and so I am pleased that the work that I started several years ago (cleaning the outside of the centre) continues..  This is one of the reasons why community organising is Right Up My Street


Steve Smith February 2013