Hearing the voice of a community

What does community mean to you? Where do you find community? We humans are social animals and we need each other. So it’s of no surprise that the connection we find through community is of vital importance to most of us.

CommunityCommunity can come in very different shapes and sizes.

Broadly speaking though, there are 3 categories of community:

Communities of shared interest: this is where people connect and create social ties around something that interests them. It could be a community of software developers, Tango dancers, gardeners or trainspotters! Communities of identity are where people connect around something that is fundamental to how they see themselves in the world such as a religion, an ethnicity, one’s sexuality etc.

Lastly there is community of place. This is where people create bonds and have a sense of mutual support because they live in the same geographical area.

These days many of us live in urban environments, working in different part of town and with much of our connecting taking place via telephone and the internet we are increasingly lacking a sense of local community spirit. A recent survey suggests less than 5% of people in Britain know the names of people living in their own road.

How can we create greater community cohesion?

Whilst the internet helps us to connect with people of similar values, identities and interests it hasn’t done a great deal in fostering a sense of local community. This feeling of living amongst strangers is all too common. Britain is a very diverse society nowadays but unfortunately people often feel intimidated by these differences. We’re afraid to approach and make an effort to get to know people of different religions, ages, social backgrounds or lifestyle choices.

The result is that our towns and neighbourhoods end up feeling unfriendly, less vibrant and less safe for everyone.

Bearing these issues in mind the “Hearing a voice of community” initiative with the Lightning Fast Foundation has been designed to help rekindle a sense of local cohesion. Working in conjunction with local councils we bring together a cross section of 15 to 20 people of diverse ages, backgrounds, beliefs and ethnicities to discover their commonalities and the unique gifts in their differences. Through facilitated activities we help them to connect and start to form a microcosm of connected community.

Once a sense of cohesion starts to form, our expert facilitators take the diverse local community members through a discussion process which focuses on what’s going on in the area: the good and the bad. The participants then work together to discuss local problems and eventually propose solutions to them. This all takes place over the space of a weekend.

CommunityThe unique thing about this community building process is that it’s not made up of the usual suspects you find in council consultation meetings. It’s a cross section of the local community who are brought together by random invitation representing the diversity of the area. This diverse microcosm, that starts to appreciate the qualities, assets and networks that each person brings, creates a model for what can be achieved by the whole community.

At the end of this process a larger community meeting can be convened in which the participants share the story of their group work and their ideas for the area with a larger local gathering. Then at the end a council representative such as the Mayor can respond to what they have heard and perhaps even agree to implement the proposals they came up with.

All in all the whole process increases a sense of harmony by building bridges across the divides that are found between different local factions and between citizens and the council. It creates a community voice created out of all the multiple perspectives present in the weekend gathering.

It’s a process that can be repeated regularly to transform a locality in a positive way and resolve deep community issues.

A similar approach can also be used for finding the voice of a community of interest or identity. If you’re interested in exploring setting one up for your locality or community just get in touch!

Andy PaiceThis methodology has been designed by Andy Paice (community builder and local democracy expert) for the Lightning Fast Foundation based on similar tried and tested initiatives that have proven successful all over the world. A more detailed example of this can be found here.



Community Mindfulness

with Andy Paice

I’m really grateful to have the practice of mindfulness at my disposal because it helps me to understand my mind and mental states a lot better. It gives me confidence knowing that there’s a choice: I don’t have to be a slave to negative thought patterns like depression, stress and anxiety. It’s great to have the sense of wellbeing and connection to others that this practice can bring.

So that’s why I love sharing it! Over the last few years it’s been a great privilege to be able to offer simple and effective tips and practices with people from very diverse communities. I’m particularly glad that my sessions have reached people who wouldn’t usually have access to Mindfulness. Time and again participants who attend are surprised by new insights that emerge for them and often leave with a new sense of possibility.

MindfulnessFrom October 2015 to December 2016 I delivered Mindfulness sessions in 5 London boroughs for the City of London’s pilot Community Learning scheme aimed at supporting people with mild to moderate mental health issues. Participants in the scheme included the Bethnal Green Community Mental Health Centre, Bromley by Bow community centre, Remploy – employment services for disabled people and the Single Homelessness project for outreach workers.The sessions were provided in a friendly environment, free of charge to people who really got benefit from them and gave them a sense of hope and a community of mutual support.Now through the Lightning Fast Foundation we will continue this work of bringing Mindfulness to communities and organisations that really benefit from it, creating a sense of respite and an opportunity for improving their mental wellbeing.

Your support to the Lightning Fast Foundation will help fund and enable this important work to grow, touch the lives of those who need it and contribute towards a healthier society.

Andy PaiceIf you’d like to find out more just get in touch with me, Andy Paice andy@lightningfast.org