“Ownership not buy in” key to long-term success of local project

Hidden Insights, and its “parent”, Positive Deviance, is all about helping people to help themselves by sharing what works. We have been surprised how difficult professionals find it to facilitate communities to do this, and let go of the “fixing” or “rescuing” mindset.  Kerrie Tonks  added the skills learned from her Hidden Insights training to a career in youth work.  By finding helpers and asking what really worked, she was able to nurture the development of a community-based project that has proved highly successful and very resilient, the Huntingdon Grub Hub.

Community members mobilised themselves to solve the problem of fracturing families.  Recently Huntingdon Town Council noted its success, particularly how it has grown, offering new activities, impacting the whole estate of 4,000 people.  They recognised the enthusiasm, commitment and the dedication of its volunteers.
(photo courtesy of Kerrie Tonks)

Because the Grub Hub was designed to mirror what worked locally by the community members, it’s survived changes of local authority sponsors, and austerity.  Each session has been full from its launch five years ago –  because it’s the community’s.  It has thrived, and grown offshoots and collaborations, including Catch a Cuppa and Book Nook.  These now reach over 100 people a week, parents, carers and children, and have “made a significant positive impact” on the deprived estate, according to the local Council minutes.

Kerrie ensured that she had “ownership not buy-in”.  She used the facilitation techniques she had learned so that the community group:

  • Defined the problem they wanted to tackle and framed it in their own terms
  • Named the initiative (and its offshoots), set their own rules and guidelines
  • Negotiated a mutually supportive relationships with agencies and other community and faith groups, so they weren’t “sold fixes and solutions”
  • They focused on growing what already worked, then and there – the families that ate together and talked stayed together and were more likely to be better community members
  • They designed how they helped people and the communications with the community
  • They listened and continued to harvest and grow good ideas and things that work
Kerrie helped to set up Huntingdon Community Action Projects, which is now the official governing body.  The initiative is low cost, and self-funding, with help from local businesses and the town council.  They continue to support the community in a community-centred way.  The solutions may well be what community developers and volunteer organisations already know.  What is different is:
  • the community discovery and definition process to recognise, get consensus and ownership of an issue
  • the chance to build personal connections and create something based on what is known to work on that particular estate
  • starting smaller, focusing on the “how to” – finding existing, practical solutions to one aspect of a wider problem
  • renegotiating relationships with authority and local support agencies
  • “acting their way into a new way of thinking”

Tracey Holliday, the Cambridgeshire Community Development Officer who now looks after HCAP, says that there is nothing else like it in Cambridgeshire.  People feel safe there to discuss difficult issues, and services do not dominate the activities, but are there to help when asked.  Five autistic children feel comfortable to attend.  HCAP enables the community and agencies to work together as equals, and so what happens there meets exactly the needs of the community.

The training that supported its development focused on:

  • Not making assumptions, and learning to listen to what people wanted and needed, challenging where necessary, using evidence and stories
  • Seeing things through others’s eyes
  • Asking the right questions and observing, to find what really worked in that particular context, with those particular people – finding the hidden solutions and wisdom already in the community

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