You may have heard of asset-based community development (ABCD) which identifies the existing skills, talents and capacities of people and their communities to encourage change and development from within; the community’s strengths instead of its needs. The assumption is that, given the tools and the opportunity, small groups of local residents can change the things that they believe need changing in their community better than anyone else.
But how do you do that? What you need is a community builder, someone who can plant seeds at a neighbourhood level, who shares stories about people who do amazing things and creates a positive environment so that people can come together and form strong, cohesive and resilient communities.
Enter Teresa Milligan who works as a community builder in New Wortley, Leeds.
Teresa applied for the job because she needed more working hours, and hoped that her background as manager in the Armley-based Real Junk Food project café would stand her in good stead.
Now she has just passed her one-year work anniversary and the post has received further 2-years funding. Teresa is based at New Wortley Community Centre, she lives in Armley.
So what does a community builder do?
Teresa says: “I have conversations. I talk to people and find out what they want, what they can offer and find out ways of linking everyone together. Point out things that can be done and support anyone that steps up to achieve them. People are our greatest assets.
I work with local GP surgeries who refer anyone they think I can help. For some people the only time they leave the house is to go to the GP. Because for some isolated people visiting their doctor is a social occasion not someone to visit just because they are ill. If someone is referred to me we have a chat and a cuppa so we can sort out any help they may need, if they have any talents or skills that the community can use or just point them in the direction of any groups or events that they might not be aware of and might want to get involved in. Here are some examples.
So, let me tell you about 60 year old Joe, not his real name, Joe had been to see his GP because he was tired and anxious but the GP felt there was something more to discover so he sent Joe to me. After a chat and a cuppa Joe told me that he wasn’t sleeping well because he was badly in debt and despite being in full-time work he didn’t earn enough to cover the repayments. He had fallen into debt because he’d paid the care home fees and funeral costs for his parents. He was a passionate gardener which had meant high heating bills as the house was kept very warm for his beloved houseplants. When I spoke to him he hadn’t eaten for 4 days. He was divorced and had lost touch with his adult children. What could we do?
I told him about MoneyBuddies, who have regular sessions at the New Wortley Community Centre, who gave him debt advice. When volunteer drivers were needed daily to collect out-of-date food from Greggs to be donated to the New Wortley Community Centre Joe was able to get involved and also to stock up his own pantry as well before making his deliveries. He is also now seeing a counsellor. I was able to help Joe but in turn he too has been able to help his community – what we need to do is walk alongside people not do things to them.
One thing I’ve discovered is that people don’t realise what they know or what skills they have and my job is to give them confidence.
Kirsty, a woman in her twenties, was referred to me by her Mum who was worried about her daughter. All Kirsty did every day was take her special needs son to school, go home and get into bed until it was time to pick him up from school again in the afternoon. Her Mum was convinced that Kirsty had more to offer and just needed a reason to stay out of bed. After a chat I found out that Kirsty knew Makaton, a basic sign language used by people with hearing problems and persuaded her to run an 8-week course at the Community Centre so others could learn this important skill. Since then Kirsty has joined the Centre’s drama group leading to her being awarded the lead role at West Yorkshire Playhouse’s “Searching for the Heart of Leeds” play.
Through talking to people I’m also able to identify peoples’ aspirations and what can be done to achieve them. When I got chatting to Dave he told me that he wanted a particular job but that meant he had to get some specific training which was too expensive for him to pay for himself. However because I was able to identify several other people who also wanted this qualification I was able to set up and fund a session at the Community Centre so several people were able to take the training together.
As you can see I talk to a wide variety of people. I love this job, every day is different and it’s great to be helping people and look at the skills they have not their deficits.”
Thanks for talking to us Teresa it was fascinating to learn about your work.
New Wortley Community Centre and Theresa’s ABCD work – funded by Leeds City Council – are focusing on working with people and supporting them to make new friends and see the changes they want to see.
Here are all the other community builders in Leeds
45 Ramshead Hill, Seacroft, Leeds, LS14 1BT
|Armley||New Wortley Community Centre, 40 Tong Rd, Leeds LS12 1LZ||Teresa Milligan
|Chapeltown||BHI (Black Health Initiative)
277 Chapeltown Road
Leeds, LS7 3DX
|Gipton*||Action for Gipton Elderly
5-11 Oak Tree Drive, Gipton, LS8 3LJ
*Action for Gipton Elderly are no longer a pathfinder but the organisation is now entirely organised around asset based principles.