So ABCD – Asset Based Community Development – what is it? Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) focusses on identifying the existing gifts and capacities of people and their communities to encourage change and development from within; the community’s strengths versus solely its needs. The important factor is to find where local assets meet local needs. And it’s already started in Leeds.
Mick Ward, Head of Commissioning, Leeds City Council’s Adult Social Care tells us more about the scheme.
Asset based community development can make a fundamental difference to how we all work and the impact that can be made in an incredibly cost effective way. It has been encouraging to see how developing this approach has support not just in Leeds City Council’s Adult Social Care, but across other Council directorates, Community Committees and the Third Sector.
My ABCD journey really began just a few years ago when in Leeds, as part of our priority for tackling loneliness in older people we started using a more formal ABCD approach in a few communities. This was part of a European funded project – which locally was known as SeNs Leeds
How does ABCD work?
Well, in Leeds we used three key building blocks :
a community builder,
community connectors and
a ‘small sparks ‘fund.
The community builder is a person within an existing, trusted organisation that is based and operates at a neighbourhood level.
In Leeds we worked in three very different communities using three of Leeds’s fantastic 37 Neighbourhood Networks as the Community Builder – the 3 Networks were: Middleton Elderly Aid, Action for Gipton Elderly and Farsley Live at Home Schemes. Their role was to find ‘Community Connectors’ – people who were just well known in the community, or had a natural talent for getting people together.
Finally, a ‘Small Sparks’ fund was established in each area to provide a small amount of funding to facilitate groups of three or more people getting together in their neighbourhood – although it is worth noting that the grants were often not required as people were usually able to source what they needed through their own networks. These two stories show how ABCD actually works.
In Middleton Robin Silverwood, a retired parks attendant, and a keen whittler, was identified as a community connector. Robin now leads groups of men in the area on walks to identify appropriate wood, which then go to his garden shed, or local community facility, where he teaches them to carve these into walking sticks which are then in turn shared with local older people.
Another community connector is local poet, Michelle Scally Clarke who set up workshops for women from UK, Pakistan and Afghanistan to come together to write moving and insightful poems, which they shared in the final week of the project to a small audience.
Some of the poetry was then written onto tie-dyed fabric to be displayed at community events in and around the Harehills area. The group intends to visit care homes in the area to share their work with others who find it difficult to attend events in the community.
There are many other similar stories which show such impact that several of the other Neighbourhood Networks are now talking about adopting this approach.
ABCD is more than just setting up a few groups, it is about a basic shift in thinking – moving away from a deficit, or negative, model – what is wrong with a community – to an asset , or positive model – what does a community have?
As John McKnight, one of the architects of ABCD says,
‘You cannot know what a person or a community needs, until you first know what it has ’.
And crucially, it is what it already has that can be harnessed to resolve the areas where there are problems. To hear a more articulate view on ABCD watch this short clip of Cormac Russell @CormacRussel) talking about ABCD and how he has worked with Local Authorities (including Leeds) on this:
We are now building up this approach not just in social care, but across the Council, and what we have quickly learnt is that you can’t ‘project manage’ ABCD, nor can you do it through ‘procurement’ although I do think you can commission it.
Here are some ‘rules’ that do help develop ABCD:
- Put a spot light on what is good but not necessarily replicate, locally in particular, but also learning from elsewhere.
- Take every chance to proliferate the work, but not try to ‘scale up’ or to ‘industrialise’.
- Work with individuals and communities to turn complainers into the producers of solutions.
- Recognise it’s a relational activity (not a project or procurement approach) and release staff just to go spend time with people.
It’s also crucial to identify:
- what communities can do with some assistance;
- what communities can co-produce/influence others to do; and most importantly
- what communities, geographical or of interest, can uniquely do best?
Currently these rules are used as a basis to form a charter on ABCD, initially for the local authority to adopt and sign up to, and from there our partners.
Of course, communities themselves need no charter, just a reminder that the glass is half full and not half empty