Building Collective Control

09 April 2020

When people have more control over decisions and actions that affect their lives, they have a better chance of improving and maintaining their health.

At the heart of the Trust’s work is the desire to ensure that control is in the hands of residents and that local wisdom and assets possessed by each neighbourhood drive what happens on the ground.

The Local Conversation in the Bingham and Magdalene neighbourhoods of Edinburgh has been helping residents to address shared priorities since 2015, supported by Community Renewal Trust. Local priorities include the need to maintain and make local green spaces more usable; to create opportunities for local people to come together and socialise; and to develop training and skill building opportunities for residents, to support employability and household income.

Due to the Coronavirus, the project has had to change to meet the vital needs of their local people. As a result, the Local Conversation has joined forces with other local organisations and community groups to form the Bingham & Magdalene Covid-19 Response Group.

On Saturday 21 March, around 40 volunteers to delivered 2,000 leaflets, to every street in Magdalene, Bingham, The Christians and The Jewel in just under two hours, a huge achievement, alerting people to the support available to them. Since then the response group have responded to calls from many people; some needing shopping, some needing prescriptions picked up and some who just wanted a chat.

“What is wonderful is that we have discovered gifts in people we knew nothing about and the sense of Community togetherness has been wonderful. We don’t know what the future holds but we know we will face it together.” Bill Wishart, a founding member of the response group said.

The Local Conversation Project Lead Cris Thacker agreed, stating, “There is positives to come out of this situation. One of the great things is that we have a community of people together who can help and pool resources. Once this passes, and it will pass, we will be stronger than ever.”

Before the virus, the programme focussed on two resident forums, one for each area, which lead delivery and decision making for each community. Cris says that over time, residents have built their confidence and are starting to take control.

He said: “Both forums are well structured and meet regularly. There is a lot of cross pollination now, where they are sharing ideas and learning from each other.

The project members on a littler pick. 

“We had a community conference in February where over 60 people attended. Together we considered what had been achieved up to that point and developed priorities for the future.

“Collective control in the forum and the wider community has really strengthened over time. It is the small changes that have had a huge impact on people’s lives.”

When Tasara moved to Magdalene, she was looking for a way to get more involved with the local community and meet new people. She felt that residents were disengaged and couldn’t understand why. She said: “There was this feeling of apathy, because there had been such neglect over the years with countless short projects that have been left unfinished.”

One day, someone knocked on her door, telling her about the Local Conversation. She initially got involved in a community garden project and a year later, she became chair of the Magdalene forum. She added: “The support from my vice-chair, David, and the training on offer enabled me to feel confident in carrying out this role.

“My daughter was the biggest motivation in getting involved in community development. We have a shared passion in environmental issues and a family motto we live by – ‘be the change you want to see’.

“The best part is meeting and developing friendships with a wide range of people I otherwise would not have met and having the resources and influence to be able support them in making their ideas a reality.”

Smaller groups are starting to approach priorities through social action as well, such as the Bingham Tunnel Action Group, where residents came together to improve the railway tunnels in Bingham and make them more welcoming.

In Bingham the community newsletter, the Bingham Blether, continues to be a campaigning publication, describing itself as 'the voice of Bingham'. It gives residents the opportunity to highlight what is going on in their community and challenge key stakeholders. The project has good relationships with local councillors, enabling residents to voice their issues with decision makers.

The established ESOL Conversations Club also supports new residents to practice English, build new friendships and acts as a peer support group for those with similar experiences and challenges.

Tasara added: “Building trust and assuring people and local groups of our long-term vision is helping massively with breaking down barriers. It’s rewarding to see people attending and engaging with various projects and seeking to get more involved.”

The Local Conversation in Bingham and Magdalene is funded by People’s Health Trust with money raised through Health Lottery Scotland and supports residents to develop a shared vision for their community and take local action on issues that matter to them. It is supported by Community Renewal.

To read more news from the Trust, click here.

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