The unique opportunities of Centre-based community engagement
As part of a preparation for a recent ‘ABCD of Community Engagement’ training session, we caught up with guest presenter Sam Williams, at the Yangebup Family Centre. As part of our conversation, Sam identified that for some time, she had felt that she wasn’t really doing Asset-Based Community-Led Development ‘properly’ primarily because what happens at the Centre doesn’t always look like the “YouTubes’ of big community events or festivals!
Enabling individuals to contribute to the whole
Asset Based Community-Led Development (ABCD) is a strengths-based practice. It emphasises building and nurturing relationships, on identifying people’s strengths, and connecting people around what they care about. It sees organisations and communities as full of the gifts and treasures that everyone carries. In this worldview, the role of ABCD practitioners is to be part of enabling those gifts to be contributed to the whole - be it a team, an organisation, or a whole community. This strengthens the ‘whole’ and enables individuals to contribute in ways that feel great and to grow a sense of belonging and interconnection.
Neighbourhood and Community Resource Centres do this so well! As place-based organisations embedded in their communities they are part of ongoing relationships and daily connectedness. As Sam identified, she and the rest of the wonderful Yangebup Family Centre team were already ‘doing ABCD’ in so many ways. Becoming aware and using aspects of the framework meant that she was able to bring more purpose and focus to her community building work.
Sometimes this has involved doing structured community engagement processes, such as building in community input processes at a night market with over 300 people, or embarking on a ‘formal’ codesign process to engage the community in the creation of a nature-based playground.
Nurturing Relationships and Connections
At other times, however, it is more about the ongoing, daily and weekly work of chatting with people as they arrive for Playgroup, getting to know what interests people, what they might like to share. And then connecting them with other people and projects that might grow from their involvement and contribution. In other words, ABCD is also about nurturing relationships with other community organisations, developing relationships in the wider local government and networks, and being creative about connecting these programs and projects in ways that involve community members.
This ongoing, place-based practice represents one of the unique gifts of Centre-based ABCD. Centres have always brought together people based on what they have to share and contribute. Building on a basic invitation of welcome and inclusion for all, and using the creativity and contributions of all, Centres offer programs and projects which:
- build on existing partnerships and relationships - with Centre users, with former Centre users, with wider community members, and with other organisations in the community and beyond
- develop and expand these partnerships and relationships
- are based on discovering what people care about, what they are good at or would like to share with others, and then finding ways to connect people around these ‘strengths’ and gifts, and further finding ways for them to share them more widely in the Centre and beyond.
- in working in these ways, build a culture of enthusiastic community contribution (and at the same time create a rich culture of participation and volunteering in Centre activities)
- enable people to connect with others through sharing their gifts and feeling ‘useful’
- through all of these things, to support physical and mental wellbeing through social connection and community contribution/community building
- build capacity in team members and in volunteers and the community as a whole, for community-led and strengths-based development - a culture of ‘passing forward’ the gifts of welcome and belonging-through-contribution
Having Conversations and Making Connections
The CoDesign for Thriving Communities project is working to collect stories of how Centres are engaged in this vital work of small and slow relationship-building. As Sam said during this process of co-discovery about how ABCD really does work at Centres … “I get it! It doesn’t end anywhere … it just keeps going. We’re doing it every day in pretty much everything we do!”
Over time this understanding crystallised into the phrase “…we have conversations and make connections…” as a way of describing the actual practice of ABCD in the context of a family centre. Engaging with the people in their communities on a daily and weekly basis, and developing relationships over months and years and decades…
“… We have conversations and make connections …”
While sounding simple, this way of working involves multiple skills and knowledges and experience that are often well developed in Centre teams. These ‘small’ everyday practices can also seem invisible and be overlooked, can be taken-for-granted, and don’t often appear in you-tube videos! These practices contribute directly to the weaving of the social fabric of communities. This kind of community building can lead to extraordinary results for people in communities, enabling a sense of belonging, of purposeful contribution, of meaning and inter-connection. It is a recipe for community well-being, and is a direct antidote to and remedy for the ills of social isolation and disconnection.
What does ABCD look like for you?
Does this way of working describe how you see aspects of your engagement work? What does it look like for you?
We’re looking to make these ways of working more visible and understood. We’d love to hear your ‘small stories’ or comments or questions about this. Do send us an email at [email protected] if you’ve got something you’d like to contribute.