“Everybody has something they can offer.”
I spoke with Liam, a community builder for Barnwood Trust, about how individuals can make a change in their communities.
Liam: “Community building basically means connecting with local people, finding out what they are passionate about and connecting them with others to make something happen. We help people to see what their community has to offer and to see what they can offer the community. To know that everything that makes a thriving community, everything that makes a really healthy place to live already exists in their community.”
“We encourage conversations with questions like “What are you interested in?” and “What are you passionate about?”
Me: How is that usually received?
Liam: (laughs) “We get a lot of blank looks. Especially if people are busy with family, commitments or work. People often don’t have time to think about their passions or what they are interested in.”
“Despite the blank looks we know that everyone has something that they are passionate about, that inspires them, that they want to do, that they feel they can offer people and that has some purpose. So, it’s about getting people to identify that in themselves so they can begin to connect with others that share similar passions.”
“If the only time we see our neighbours is when they put the bins out, we won’t know them very well, so it’s about sharing these conversations with people and making communities healthy places to be where people enjoy living.”
“Even with our friends we often have conversations around our common interests, but I’ve known friends 4 or 5 years that I’ve just found out stuff about them that I didn’t know they were into, that they’ve never mentioned before. It’s about being aware of those questions and conversations about what inspires people, what do they have to offer, and what are they passionate about?”
Liam out & about with the Podsmead walking group
Me: So how long have you been interested in Community Building?
Liam: “It’s funny because I used to be an ACTUAL builder and when you say that you are a Community Builder people assume it is the bricks and mortar-type of building that we do, but no I’m not that type of builder anymore.”
“I’ve been doing this type of Community Building for around eighteen months and I learn something new every day. It’s why I enjoy doing it. You’re meeting new people every day and everyday something different I happening – it is a journey.”
“You have to constantly check yourself. If, like me, you are a person that enjoys getting involved in stuff, it is easy for your imagination to take over but I know that my role is to make sure that everyone is included, to inspire and support people – not to do it for them. You have to remember that on a daily basis.”
“The thing that inspires me the most is just seeing people stepping into what they really enjoy doing, being inspired themselves, and finding real purpose in what they do & being empowered by it. Seeing people inspired, inspires me.”
Visiting Westonbirt Arboretum with Podsmead walking group
Me: How to people react to your approach?
Liam: “You have so many different conversations – you might meet groups of people, individuals, in a café or on the street or even on their doorstep. The location sets up the conversation but 9 out of 10 times people first think that you are selling something! Or they think you are from the council. We have to break that perception down and build trust.”
“It’s a bit alien nowadays, just chatting to a stranger in the street. We have our lives to get on with and it’s not natural to stop and have a conversation with people who are walking by. Some people will shut the conversation down and that’s fine – sometimes it is not the right time or place. Everyone’s going through their own journey, going through something different, so maybe further down the line, when they get used to seeing you they might strike up a conversation.”
“Other people burst with ideas! It’s like they have been waiting to hear that question for a long time. It’s about building trust over time and letting people know that you are not there with an agenda but to help out with their ideas on how they can inspire their community. Sometimes all they need is a spark.”
“It’s about reminding people that everyone has something they can offer. I think we have been tuned to thinking that “Somebody else can do it better than me” which is not necessarily true. We know that there is always something of yourself that you can give and if there is something that you really can’t do – who do you know in your community that has the skills to help?”
Visiting Westonbirt in the Autumn with Podsmead walking group
Me: What are your hopes for future Community Building work?
Liam: “We have been hearing about some of these great things being done, not just in Britain, but by communities all over the world. Communities are coming together and coming up with really crazy ideas to put their communities on the map. It’s important to know that no idea is a bad idea – it could be anything and if you’re really passionate about it, it could really work.”
“A group of people can come together and inspire others about the place where they live. Your community is your space – what can you do with it? Know that these ideas are not limited to other people, other countries, other communities. We have so much to offer, so much creativity and unique imagination which is so inspiring. Community Building is about inspiring people to think differently.”
To learn more about what Barnwood Trust does, visit www.barnwoodtrust.org