“And again there was that sense of relationships being able to keep on giving and reconfigure themselves around new problems.”
Our CEO Clare Wightman has written a new blog for an independent network of social change activists known as ‘A Better Way’.
Many of the members, of which she is one, are from the voluntary sector but others are from different sectors. Their common vision is of helping to liberate people’s potential rather than writing them off as problems, difficult to reach localities and hard hit communities.
Clare’s latest blog is about services having their place but also their limits. What people need in life, she says, is other good people around them who can back them up, encourage, problem solve and find opportunities.
The outcome being that these people and networks of help are there when services can’t be.
It doesn’t mean that services can walk away and leave people to it. It means that this is the kind of help that flexes, reciprocates and strengthens in ways services can’t.
“It’s our way of creating ‘organisations without walls’ where people and solutions come first, not organisational identities and self interests.”
The two Mels – not to be confused with classic comedy duo The Two Ronnies – are today giving a masterclass on movement building at the Social Media Exchange event in north London.
Otherwise known as #SMEX19, the day-long training day is about the power of storytelling to help those in the charity sector harness the impact of stories to raise awareness of their cause, spark action and bring more people (and funds) into their world.
Grapevine Deputy CEO Mel Smith and her sister, community organiser Melissa Smith, are hosting an interactive session called ‘Building a movement on a shoestring’ which they hope will inspire members of their audience to nurture their own communities, bringing out people’s “hidden gifts” and enjoying some “golden moments”.
The latter two movements share a common thread in trying to tackle the widespread social issue of isolation. While Connecting for Good cuts across loneliness in all people and communities, Self Care Social’s community is dedicated to those with long term health conditions and chronic illnesses. Both movements are Coventry-based and by Grapevine, with funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and Better Health, Better Care, Better Value programme respectively.
As with any honest imparting of knowledge, Mel and Melissa will also share some of the mistakes they’ve made along the way and the lessons they learned from them.
To mark the event, Mel recorded a short vlog and has also written an interesting blog about the emergence of a new movement called Swimmers Social which is tapping into the collective power of a group of – you guessed it – social swimmers. We are hosting her blog on our Connecting for Good site here.
Wednesday again and that can only mean one thing – another trip to London for our CEO Clare!
This week she’s attending the launch of a book of essays – or ‘insights’ – for A Better Way.
A Better Way is a national network of social activists from the voluntary sector and beyond, focused around a shared vision of better services and stronger communities everywhere.
They want to use their ideas, knowledge and experiences to help make this vision a reality – where people and places are no longer treated as ‘passive recipients of services, as problems to be solved, or as failing communities’.
As a member of this network and contributor to the collection of essays’ latest volume, Clare will talk to the audience at the launch event about how building on strengths is better than focusing on weaknesses. Her story, ‘The Good and the Bad’ is illustrated through the experiences of Coventry couple, Chris and Margaret.
“Chris, Margaret and their daughter lived on a tough estate. Some neighbours spotted their vulnerability.
‘They swore and shouted us. Put rubbish through our letterbox. They would knock our door at night with masks on. They even stole our daughter’s birthday balloons and banners.’
“Faced with Chris and Margaret’s experiences we had a choice. We could have just given them a service, a set of transactions – called the police, called the social landlord, supported them to have their say in meetings and make reports to both. But then at the close of day they’d have gone home, to the estate, alone.
“We chose to help them get some real friends instead. Help is available in communities if we know how to find it.”
For the past 18 months, the Sheila Mckechnie Foundation (SMK) has been asking: what can we learn about how social change is happening today that can strengthen civil society’s future efforts? The answer was launched last week and I was delighted both to join SMK’s discussion panel and to see Grapevine featured in the report.
Click here to read our article on the report and follow this link to read the Social Change Project report itself, plus a quick summary of its key findings.
Here are a couple of thoughts from me as the leader of a place based charity on what hit home as I read this important report:
UK civil society is often – even mainly – associated with charity and charity is often – even mainly – associated in the public mind with relief of suffering. We are not in the business of relieving suffering. We’re working with the strengths of people and communities to help them bring about change that will improve their lives and futures.
We reject the label of service provider too – that label is given to us by commissioners – it’s their typology. I remember at one particularly low point being introduced as a ‘delivery agent’! Pizza anyone? Language of this kind should not be allowed to shape how we see ourselves. We are a charity that aids people and communities find a voice, to organise, to advocate for shared interests, to hold to account and to bring about change. I think many charities would say the same.
It’s not a new point but it bears repeating by the report – many civil society organisations like ours when we contract with government are working to commercial models and cultures that don’t allow us to work in the ways we need to and which distort our value. That’s well known and talked about but it isn’t changing – yet except among some of the major grant makers and Trusts. Grist to SMK’s mill if they can help us bring that shift to the public sector too.
The report says that civil society is putting too much on influencing formal power. I agree. We don’t spend time in the corridors of Westminster but we do spent time in the corridors of local authorities – and sometimes tread a fine line between co-production and co-option which can leave us passive and powerless. Increasingly, we’ve decided to step away and create more human and personal ways of coming together with a local authority in spaces that weren’t theirs, with agendas they hadn’t set and a much more varied group of people who were there because they wanted to be. See our Walk and Talk clip.
Finally what excited me most was SMK’s inclusive ecosystem of change makers, from activists to movements, from individual campaigners to charities large and small. But as they note in spite of our common cause there’s a striking lack of identity across all social change makers and few opportunities to build one.
My hope for what’s next for SMK is that they can help us build that shared identity.
Grapevine’s local work in Coventry and Warwickshire is on a national stage again this week at the launch of a major new report into social power and change.
Our CEO Clare Wightman will sit on a panel of sector experts today (27 June) at St Bride’s Church in London to speak about the ‘Social Change Project’ report which is being unveiled at the event.
The project is run by the Sheila McKechnie Foundation – the UK’s leading provider of training and support to those seeking to bring about positive social change.
The Foundation’s ethos is that “people should be able to shape their world” and it exists to help them do just that by building their capacity to effect social change.
Click here to read the report and a quick summary of its key findings.
The report starts from a point of stark contrast between North America’s extensive industry of activating communities to drive societal change (both for-profit and not-for-profit) compared to the UK’s less developed operation.
It aims to learn from what is happening on both sides of the Atlantic so we can work towards a fairer, kinder society where people are not marginalised or excluded because of their differences.
Grapevine is one of three case studies of different types of significant social change (the Living Wage and #MeToo Movement being the other two) and is summarised in the report as follows:
“This local charity helps people experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage to build better lives. By bringing what they describe as a ‘social movement approach’, they hope to be not a provider but an enabler, centred on really listening to those who need support.
“As Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire looks outward into the community to see what is already there that could help, they crowdsource ideas and offers and find creative ways to provide the support that is needed.
“Such an innovative and high impact approach starts to capture national attention. Featuring in the Good and Bad Help report sparks new relationships with national funders, allowing them to work with more people and continue to forge new ways of approaching everything from relationships with commissioners to their own monitoring, evaluation and learning.” (from the report ‘Social Power: How civil society can ‘Play Big’ and truly create change’).
The report concludes that these three examples – and many others shared during a series of ‘Community of Practice’ workshops, events and away days – demonstrate civil society’s huge potential to effect change. It calls this ‘Social Power’.
It is hoped that by highlighting the scope and possibilities of social power, the report will help to evolve the relationship between civil society and the state and initiate new opportunities and investment in its growth.
Our very own resident artist and community organiser @FeelGoodMel was also commissioned to illustrate the report.
For those who don’t know her story, she uses ‘doodling’ to take her mind off the pain caused by a rare spinal condition. With Grapevine’s help, she set up her own social movement ‘Feel Good Community’ based around the idea that creativity can be used as a tool for health and wellbeing for people with long-term conditions. A perfect choice for a report on social change.
This Friday (1 June) our Grapevine CEO Clare Wightman takes to the stage again to talk about Grapevine’s ongoing work across Coventry and Warwickshire – this time at the Inclusion International World Congress in Birmingham.
This 17th World Congress takes place over three days (30 May – 1 June), bringing together people and organisations from all over the world to influence how inclusion can become a reality for people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
The event, held at the International Convention Centre, will be a forum for self-advocates, families and professionals to learn from and inspire one another to achieve this mutual aim.
Clare’s topic on the event’s final day ‘Inclusive cities’, examines how people, families and organisations can form civic partnerships – working with political and professional leaders to make our cities better for everyone.
Here is an excerpt of the paper Clare will present for the first time at this event, co-written with Lucie Stephens and David Towell.
The ‘Cities for all’ research paper* includes an interesting and accurate reflection of part of Grapevine’s current work with learning disabled people. It was originally founded in 1994 as a project to offer a drop-in centre for people with intellectual disabilities.
If you would like to know more, read on!
Cities for all: Disabled people as partners in making our towns and cities better for everyone
“Put at its simplest, Grapevine is a team, at the heart of local communities, working to change things so that those at most risk of exclusion can help make their community a better, fairer and more welcoming place for everyone.”
“…Today we work with many others facing disadvantage: young people, migrants, families in crisis and many groups of disabled people and their families.
“…If people can get the resources they need and can make the best use of public services, then they can shape their own lives. At different stages of finding their own paths to community, people may need different kinds of support, all of which we try to make available. We characterise the main kinds of support as:
Partnership – Some people need someone along with them on the journey, at least for a while, to keep them strong and hopeful.
Preparation – Some people need help to prepare for personal change and transition, to get inspiration, support to plan or practical assistance.
Self-direction – Some people just need to access information and networks to find the right resources for themselves and their families.
“…Over [this] 20 years at Grapevine, citizen advocacy has become community advocacy. This is not just because the community is itself critical to every person’s ability to lead a valued life. It is also because the community needs these different voices and experiences in order to become fully itself.
“The goal is not just that the individual becomes part of the community; the goal is that the community becomes more truly what it should be, a place that welcomes, supports, and is in turn nourished by, all of its members.”
*Click here to read the full paper in the Centre for Welfare Reform’s library.
For more information about the Inclusion International World Congress click here.
This report starts with a line from a song and each section starts with a popular saying. Gathering information about our 2011 work under these headings seemed right because a lot of good sense is captured in the sayings themselves.