What do we really know about our communities?

We hear a lot in the news about community engagement, ‘let’s involve our communities’, ‘communities are important’ remember the famous saying Mr Cameron ‘we are all in this together’. Well while that is all well and good, often when trying to involve communities people fall at the first hurdle. Below are some tips that we hope you find useful when engaging with communities.

Know the community you are trying to engage with:

I never forget working in a community in Stoke on Trent and I wanted to put on parenting classes for the young Mums that lived on the estate. I went with the health visitors and midwifes and met these young mums to gauge if there was an interest (luckily there was).  I worked with the local children’s centre, got a room, put posters up, posted leaflets through people’s doors and asked the local nursery to put postcards in the children’s bags to take home. The first session only one parent turned up. I was devastated, however what I hadn’t realised (as I hadn’t asked) was the that I had put the class on benefits day (it was back when you queued at the post office). I changed the day and the next week I had 18 parents attend. Lesson learned – Know your community!

Make it interesting so the community want to engage with you:

In any community activity you plan, you need to make it so the community actually want to get involved. Sounds obvious but the amount of people that will decide to run a community event without thinking about what the community would enjoy is astounding. Remember it is not about what you enjoy; it is about meeting the needs of that community. Fun activities for both adults and children, competitions where there are prizes to be won, talent shows, arts and crafts, anything that will encourage people to have fun and engage with you. If you are unsure, do a poll prior to the event, I had spoken to many parents at schools gates to gather information!

Identify and work with leaders:

Most communities will have leaders. Those people that are always looking for ways to enhance their community and make it better. Identify these people and support them as much as possible, they are your most valuable assets. Build a relationship with them, buy them coffee, chat on the phone, go for a walk, ask them to help you engage with the community, but most of all listen to them, they know the community better than you ever will and getting them onside is the best thing you can do.