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This guest blog is written by Clare Wightman. Clare is the Chief Executive of Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire, a charity which helps those experiencing isolation, poverty and disadvantage. This blog shares details of NPC’s 26 July 2020 Pledge on Place meeting. Click here for further information on NPC’s work on ‘place-based approaches’ and how you can join our Pledge on Place.

At NPC’s July Pledge on Place meeting, I was invited to talk about Grapevine’s decision to resist becoming an emergency response during the pandemic, in favour of creating space to get ahead on future issues.

In normal times, Grapevine focuses on root causes, mobilising strengths, and the slow burn of relationship-based work—not staunching need and treating the symptoms of crisis. But, as the crisis unfolded, we felt pressure to be busy and practical in the emergency space. It was uncomfortable—we’d had an unspoken feeling that the organisations who mattered most were the ones who showed up in the effort to provide food, medicines and advice.

It was hard to look inward not outward but when we did, it told us where our best response belonged. We have over 300 people connected within 15 of their own self-led initiatives and personal support networks. We had to know that this relationship-based infrastructure would remain solid under the pressure of the pandemic.

For example, one of these initiatives was our existing ‘Connecting For Good’ movement which had been busy tackling the isolation experienced by people because of disability, long-term conditions, or mental health. Another of those 15 initiatives was ‘Lads and Dads’. They are not a health service alternative, they say, but a force for change on mental health and wellbeing in Coventry.

They’d planned a big programme of activity with Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, to boost their message and their numbers. It was all stations go—and then the crisis began. They switched to digital outreach, asking dads, granddads, or just those ‘being dad’ to regular online parties. Encouraging them to get creative, make DJ booths, join the chat, request a song, have a dance‚ and let off some steam before the kids’ bedtime.

Building on newfound potential

Once all of our existing community-led movements had ‘settled’, we made a plan. We wanted to help those movements to grow by building on the newfound potential and enthusiasm for community action that the Covid-19 pandemic had brought to the fore.

Our thoughts turned to how we could:

  • Help them revisit their ambitions and attract more people to their isolation beating ideas
  • Carry on developing leadership and continue to run our ‘Changemaker University’. A training programme for community members with a passion for taking action on local issues
  • Improve our movement structures to make it easier for people to join us
  • Turn community spirit into community power

‘Lads and Dads’ has doubled its organising team and it is now in touch with three times as many men as it was before the pandemic began. They’ve just launched a series of podcasts too. 4 July saw us opening our digital doors to the ‘CommUnity is not just for Pandemics’ summit. From all over the city, 155 people, young and old, unemployed, home working and furloughed, parents, migrants, and students, came to talk about the pandemic. The intention was to get people thinking about and taking action on the big issues, such as interdependence (a community where people support each other), inequality (a community where everyone can thrive) and the idea that change is possible and we can make a new normal. You can read the report on this summit here.

One month on, we are recruiting and mobilising from within that base of event subscribers and participants. Because the people that lie outside of services and formalised volunteer support are the biggest untapped resource.

Collaborating for a better future

Only at this stage does our story become one of new collaborations. We’ve begun to collaborate not so much around responding to needs, as responding to the potential to work on a better future.

‘Reform the Norm’ is a collective of Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, Coventry’s Refugee and Migrant Centre, Positive Youth Foundation, and Central England Law Centre. They want to put people with lived experience at the heart of changing current policy and practice as we emerge from this crisis. We’ll use the power of the city’s greatest arts and culture moment, to turn experiences from this time period into narratives with the power to change our city.

One of my biggest fears, as local authorities try to recover from this crisis, is that focus returns to stemming need and that this could squeeze out the ability to think and act in ways that get us ahead of problems. We must not let that happen.

We are, of course, very grateful to all those who stepped up to the emergency need in our city. There were many better placed than us to do so. But just as we resisted moving towards emergency response in favour of working on future issues, we must all now start to move on from reacting to the pandemic to proactively creating a response to the challenges ahead. Being ready as they arrive. This is about building the economic and social capital needed to take action on the causes of tomorrow’s problems.

The places in which we live and work influence what we do and determine many of our relationships. Rather than focusing on isolated interventions, a ‘place-based approach’ makes the most of connections by working with the whole community to understand how it works and what it needs, collaborating with different sectors and co-designing solutions. To come to our next Pledge on Place meeting and for further information on NPC’s work on ‘place-based approaches’, click here.

Grapevine chose to create the space to get ahead on future issues, rather than focusing on emergency response during the pandemic. We must proactively build the capital needed to take action on tomorrow's problems Click To Tweet

Image credit: Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire

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