Mad, me?

posted 18 Mar 2013, 06:34 by Unknown user   [ updated 22 Mar 2013, 09:27 by Unknown user ]

When I was expecting, colours appeared brighter - berries, bushes, myriads of green.  I had returned to England in 
2000 after a decade abroad - wahey, a back street in Nottingham. Wahey. Beyond berries and bushes, I just couldn't believe how dirty it was here. Walking round with my baby, something occurred to me: He's going to think this is normal. No way.

I dragged a dustbin around, picked up thickly strewn rubbish on an old railway embankment - a would-be wonderful nature walk. 'You're mad,' said the Manager as I walked by the Centre.  I picked some more rubbish up.  People looked at me and my dustbin with a kind of disdain. Oh well, I'm mad then.

I began regular clean ups - me, baby, dog, dustbin...  and then fell backwards into a group - Movers and Shakers. A few of us shifted tons of rubbish and wrangled with the Council about lorries and gloves and bins and dog parks and stuff. During this time I went backwards and forwards between Nottingham, Ruskin College in Oxford and UEA in Norfolk and still the country looked dirty... dirty and poor. 

                                     Poor old England. It wasn't like this when I grew up.

In 2004, I came across Local Alchemy, a local economic empowerment initiative, and joined in. With advice and expertise from the DTA (now Locality) we nudged this group into Sneinton Alchemy CIC, fit for purpose to lobby about aspects of environment, economy, and social life here - a platform for local people. We also had our eyes on a run down, blighted stretch of beautiful old buildings, thinking how fab it would be to revamp this superb Victorian architecture before it gets....

We tried to acquire a battered old centre and a pub next door with ideas about a hot-wired hub, but failed to harness the necessary community buy-in or the funds. Failed.

Last year, myself and Alchemy Director Tom Hughes spent a few days researching and applying to become a host for community organisers. The scheme looked good, supplying a strategy and paid staff to pull in more people and ideas than we could muster at Alchemy's monthly gatherings. Sneinton Alchemy CIC became the smallest organisation in the country to be accepted as a host and I successfully applied for one of three training roles, resigned as a Director of SA and took up the post in April 2012.

After an intensive residential I began listening to people, calling at their homes, or out and about - shops, pubs, markets, bus stops.  Apart from some tweaks, I rate the strategy which underpins our work - Roots Solutions Listening Matters - no agenda, listen to everyone, a people's research project really, a gradual listening programme which seeks to include everyone to get to the root causes of problems and collaborate on solutions.  It's a slow process - some people want in, some are too needy to contribute, and some people don't give a flying one. Hey ho.

Previously in Alchemy, as a small gang of active residents, our intentions were good, but we were always aware we didn't know what others in this neighbourhood felt, as unpicking the lock of social isolation in all its forms was beyond us. We did think we were like others  around here - sick of decisions being made remotely by officials we didn't know. Now, courtesy of this scheme, an expanded, more inclusive network is growing here, fed by ideas from hundreds of residents and key local groups - food/growing initiatives, arts organisations, local businesses and political types joining in. All this, we think, will lead towards change for the better.

So far, people have come forward to work on: a hub space, a launderette, a design house, collective purchasing for utilities, an old folk's club... And personally, I'm working on a revamped asset transfer bid for one of those gorgeous old buildings I mentioned. 

Now that's got to be better than dragging a dustbin about...         ...unfortunately, I'm still mad.

Dawn Manners