“When we met people who were interested in being involved in the project but weren’t necessarily the people who usually get involved with the community, we put a lot of time into developing the relationship.”
Maia is the Project Officer for the Local People project in Kingston, supported by the charity Sustrans and funded by People's Health Trust.
In this piece, Maia explains how the project has developed in the first eight months.
“Our project is based in a neighbourhood called Malden Manor where there is high health, social and economic inequality. Sheephouse Way estate in Malden Manor, for example, is among the 2% most deprived according to the Child Poverty Index, whereas the adjacent roads are among the 2% least deprived - so there is a real stark contrast.
“We’ve found that there’s a big social divide between people living in the private housing and those who live in social housing.
“Previous projects have tried to address this inequality, but have really struggled to engage with people, particularly with the residents who live in social housing. This has meant they have widened the area they work in, taking in more people who live in private housing. This can add to the inequality because there are certain people who are accessing a lot more resources, time and funding than other people living in the area.
“Our challenge has been to support residents to build a project that really is inclusive and also develops the skills and confidence of those who are less likely to get involved.
“We’ve put a lot of time into building relationships. We ran lots of pop-up events where we talked to people on the streets about how connected they felt in their neighbourhood, who they knew and their experience of living in the area.
“When we met people who were interested in being involved in the project but weren’t necessarily the people who usually get involved with the community, we put a lot of time into developing the relationship. We went for coffee in the local coffee shop and talked to them about why they were interested in the project and discussed and skills and needs they have.
“We make sure there is a supportive environment for people to come together. For example, one of our steering group members is 70 and has mild dementia so we ring him before every meeting as a reminder.
“Another member, Anna, comes along with her six-month-old baby, Simeon, so we make sure the meetings take place somewhere where Simeon can get out of his pram so he’s not stuck sat in one place for two hours.
“At the moment we are focusing on a particular issue: a small area nearby which residents identified as an underused green space. We are working closely with an urban designer and redesigning the area spaces with local people. The plan is to use this project to increase residents’ skills and confidence so that we can then scale up their involvement. They will then take more of a lead in future projects.
“We’re only eight months into the project, but already the steering group have taken the lead on a successful project. The group decided to put on a Christmas event and it went really well which helped to build the group’s confidence. It’s much easier for people to try out new projects once they’ve seen the success of something else. It was also a very visible event so it encouraged more residents to come forward and get involved.
“We try to make all our events really inclusive and accessible. Rather than just sitting and having a talk, everything is activity-based to encourage people to get to know their neighbours in a relaxed environment. We’ve had things like bouncy castles, puppet making workshops, and collage workshops.
“At the moment, there are noticeboards in Malden Manor but residents don’t have access to them, so we are putting up blackboards which the steering group can update. These can be used to keep the wider community up-to-date with the project and allows people to see what’s going on, as well as inviting them to get involved.
“We might be early on in our project, but already we’re noticing change and we’re excited for what’s to come.”
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