Residents drive change

09 March 2017

In this piece, Sarah Gorman, Project Director for Edberts House, talks about how residents have built a relationship with Gateshead Council, who recognised the success of their work on the Local Conversation. The council is now working with them on other projects to create change in their neighbourhood.

For the last two years, residents on the Old Fold and Nest estates in Gateshead have been involved in a Local Conversation project, supported by local community group Edberts House.

Sarah Gorman, pictured speaking at the launch of Pattinson House in Gateshead.

“Edberts House has always worked closely with the council’s Neighbourhood Management Team. The relationship started quite early on because the building we used as our first hub seven years ago was a council community building. It was standing derelict and the council were exploring ideas as to its future use. 

“Our council Area Coordinator was very forward-thinking and started what was in essence an asset transfer, before asset transfers were common place. He instigated the process with local politicians’ support and advocated why a community charity should be the custodian of the building.  This involved convincing other officers to work in a very different way. This was the start of a collaborative relationship.

“As a result of the work that Edberts House had done in this area in Gateshead, we were approached by People’s Health Trust to support residents on the Old Fold and Nest estates to start a Local Conversation project.

“The same Area Coordinator has been involved in the Local Conversation. He actually grew up on the estate, so this personal experience of having lived here enabled us to work with other local people who wanted to see change in the community.

“He worked with us and residents to help us secure the property which has been transformed into the community hub, Pattinson House.

“Since then, with his help, we’ve continued to develop our partnership working. We’ve started to engage with quite a few other departments in the council. Community Safety are now involved because they recognise the value of local residents’ engagement, so they discuss with us how they can tackle enforcement issues in the area.

“Public Health are interested in the project because they see the impact the project is having on people’s wellbeing. They wanted to look at how they could deliver Public Health policy in a more community development based way.

“At the moment we are focusing on childhood obesity. The Director of Public Health came down to Pattinson House and chatted to the steering group, explaining that they were struggling to address the issue. She asked us what we thought would make a difference in the community.

“We worked with local people to teach them how to use PowerPoint and they put together a presentation for the Director of Public Health. Now she has funded the ideas that were put forward including street dancing classes, exercise for adults and work with local Community Interest Company Food Nation to teach people how to make meals from scratch.

“At first, residents were nervous because they doubted their own knowledge and expertise. But after a little while they started to appreciate how much they knew about the place where they lived, and the insight and skills that they had to bring about change. No one has better knowledge of a local area than the people who live there.

“Residents feel empowered because it’s their proposal, they have put it together and they have control of it and how the money is spent - it hasn’t come from above. They are making changes in their neighbourhood that they think are important. As a result, there is a responsibility on us as a community to encourage people to make the use of the resources.

“It’s a much better use of public money than randomly putting on events that nobody knows about.

“It’s a relationship of trust on both sides. Local people need to know that the council aren’t going to come and force an agenda on them that they don’t really want or agree with, and from the council’s point of view, they need to feel confident that if they are going to support residents, local people will work hard in the delivery of a project.

“The Director of Public Health also put forward a Researcher to work alongside us to look at how the community development process can really bring forward results. This will help to inform the council’s policy making in the future and how they engage with communities effectively.

“In the voluntary and community sector we can deliver things in a different way with communities that is often much more effective than a top-down approach. It’s mutually beneficial.”

Sarah Gorman, Project Director for Edberts House

To connect with Edberts House on Facebook, click here.

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


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