Taking action in Lozells

09 March 2018

The Local Conversations programme in Lozells is one of 23 place-based projects across Great Britain. The programme is funded and supported by People’s Health Trust. The aim is to address health inequalities by ensuring that control is in the hands of local residents. The programme recognises the local wisdom and assets of residents and looks for evidence of improved pathways to health through, for example, stronger relationships, improved confidence and aspiration and control over money and resources.

Since 2014, People’s Health Trust has partnered with residents of Lozells in Birmingham through local organisation, Aspire & Succeed. The partnership will run for eight to nine years.

We hear from Shale Ahmed, Project Manager for Aspire & Succeed in Lozells, Birmingham:

There have been two riots in Lozells in the last ten years and a lot of people worry about anti-social behaviour and their safety.  

Over the years there has been a lot of investment in the area but many of the people living here felt they couldn’t see any impact. I believe that was because the investment was not in local infrastructure, capacity, or training people in the neighbourhood.

The Local Conversation programme designed and funded by People’s Health Trust, in Lozells is different. When we started talking to people they wanted to get involved with the project because they recognised us – that gave them confidence to get involved and hope that things would change. Aspire & Succeed is focused on making little changes in people’s lives but having a big impact.

Although Lozells is in the top two per cent of deprived neighbourhoods in England, residents see it as a progressive place to live.

There has been a lot happening since the start of the Local Conversation. Residents are working together to develop a shared vision for our community. The project has given us an opportunity to address local issues that matter to us.

It’s all about listening to people. This approach has really helped us engage with local residents - they feel like they’re involved from the start.

We (at Aspire & Succeed) act as facilitators and support residents to come up with ideas. Part of the engagement process is thinking about who are the marginalised residents and what we need to do differently to engage them. We know that no one activity is going to engage the whole neighbourhood so we need different activities and ideas – something that takes time.

Following our first major engagement process, local residents’ decided on the three issues that were most important to them:

  • Children and young people;
  • Jobs and money;
  • Place, environment and safety.

The process is agile, so local residents can change these over time.  

Environment has always been a big issue in our neighbourhood - children couldn’t play in the park because people were taking drugs in there and razor blades and needles were dumped there. We all had our concerns but we actually had to also try to find solutions to them.

We are here long term, trying to make a difference working from grass roots all the way to the top, tackling the issues together as community. We now have a relationship with the local street cleaners who know every road inside out and they know every ‘grot spot’ in Lozells.

We know their whole team - we work with their line manager, who is on a neighbourhood tasking group, so we hold him accountable and if he can’t do something, we then go to their head office. We have connections with the whole department now, rather than just working with certain sections of waste management. We’ve set up an action group with the local residents of each road. There are always people who care about their community and want to improve things, it’s just a case of identifying the people that have that passion and just give them some sort of direction, and then Lozells will blossom.

There is a real buzz around Lozells. People are excited about being in control of their own lives.

When local residents visibly see the results of even very small projects or collective action, they want to get involved. It doesn’t have to be massive – you don’t need to change the whole neighbourhood in a matter of months but once people see that there’s something going on, residents are starting to take ownership and trying to do something, others start wanting to get involved.

The residents opted to put a steering group in place, made up of local professionals, community leaders and other residents, but the whole engagement approach is flexible and aims to reach out beyond those formally involved.

A number of community members have taken on formal or informal leadership roles through the Local Conversation. This includes leading and organising group activities (such as football and Zumba), or other action to improve the neighbourhood (such as planting small ‘gardens’ in tyres and placing them around the neighbourhood).

A wider group of community members have been involved in attending activities such as clubs and classes. Many of them are involved in smaller acts of ownership (for example, residents have agreed to water the small gardens that have been planted outside their homes in two Lozells streets; and the boys attending the football club plan and run short training sessions).

We now have lots of different initiatives that make up local conversations, and by connecting people of different ages and faiths and backgrounds we are connecting people who may have different concerns but may not yet know one another.

One initiative saw school pupils making hanging baskets. They made nearly 80 in one day and sold them in their street. The street is now full of hanging baskets, it has transformed the street.

One of the Local Conversations biggest achievements has been the wider engagement of women and girls. Historically, Lozells has been one of those neighbourhoods where there’s been cultural barriers for women. There weren’t many activities for them, some were reluctant to get involved and no one was encouraged to take on leadership roles. Now, we’ve got massive groups of women who use our centre, all really confident, who turn up to our award ceremonies, who might never previously have come out and engaged with any of the sessions, even a Zumba class.

We are starting to see lasting change in Lozells – the trick is listening to different voices and being inclusive.

Aspire & Succeed has been covering approximately 791 households and 5,000 residents. The Local Conversation in Lozells is going from strength to strength, there is deep engagement which is transferring control gradually to residents across the neighbourhood, supported by the fact that our staff members are seen as “inside” rather than “outside” in the community:

“This approach has really helped us to engage with people, they feel like they’re involved from the very start and that’s really exciting. People can see the area is a progressive place to live where they feel happier about being in control of their own lives through taking action together with their neighbours and improving their health.”

Shale Ahmed

To see more pictures from the project, click here.

To read about more great ideas funded by the Trust, click here. 

To connect with this group, click here.

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