Local Conversation in Gateshead

25 September 2017

“I’ve lived on this estate for over 30 years and there’s never been anything like this. I never thought we could transform that building – now I think there’s nothing we couldn’t do together.” Dot Robinson, resident

“In the beginning, when we were getting to know local people, they were nervous and a bit suspicious about what was going on.

On estates like ours, where the statistics say there are high levels of deprivation, there’s often consultation but nothing actually comes of it – people’s expectations are often raised and then dropped again.

When we were first here, it took some time to win people round because they felt it wouldn’t last. We got out and about on the estate, chatting to people at fun days, we pushed trolleys full of pasties, went  to the school gates with strawberries and cream – we did whatever we could think of to start conversations and  build relationships.

One of the things that kept coming up was that people wanted a community hub – somewhere where our activities could be based, and we could get together. We identified two derelict shops in the middle of the estate and have refurbished and transformed them into our hub.

Because of the Local Conversations approach, of investing in an area over a period of time, people have been able to see it grow and flourish. The transformation of the two shops has become a metaphor for what can happen – you can take something derelict and useless and turn it into something powerful. And now residents feel like they can start to change things.

There is a whole load of stuff going on. Local people cook lunch for other people on the estate, we have children’s groups, dancing, and an athletics club.

We launched our own artisan pizza business this year. We learned how to make dough and breads. We delivered bread to local schools and have taught local children and teachers to make bread, developing new relationships and a new dynamic in existing ones: local people never imagined they would be the ones teaching teachers.

It is early days for the pizza business, but this is already bringing in new people and allowing volunteers to meet different members of the community.

We have met some wonderful, creative people; they always had it in them to make things happen, but the challenge is creating a vehicle for it to take place.

We are now embedded in the estate, there is no difference between staff and residents – we are doing something together and there is a mutual respect for all our voices.

Our role is facilitating what people on the estate want to do. Making sure the boxes are ticked from an organisational point of view, and allowing people to lead with their ideas.

People are now coming who didn’t previously come out of the house, people who didn’t know their neighbours. There is a man who comes to our men’s group who is like a different person now. A year ago, he had been unemployed for ten years, struggling with his mental health and confidence, never going out. Now he comes to the men’s group, has attended training and he has even joined our steering group. 

People are starting to build relationships in a place where they can find their voice and feel more confident.”

Sarah Gorman,  project director



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