Published 9th June 2016

The Local Conversation in St Mary’s – with West Itchen Community Trust

Alex Ivancevic tells us about his experience as a community organiser in St Mary’s, Southampton:

Working with West Itchen Community Trust on the Local Conversation project in St Mary’s has given me a real opportunity to work in the heart of our local neighbourhood with residents, the people who know the area best.

If you engage with residents on a deeper level, and you do it right, you find out that people care and they want to get involved.  Often they feel they don’t know where to start, who to turn to, or they assume no one else is interested.

Through the Local Conversation in St Mary’s, we are talking to people, and most importantly listening to them.  Now they have an avenue to voice their concerns, aspirations, ideas, and dreams.  We want to support residents to use their talents and skills to build collective power and their capacity to take action.  Building trust and relationships in communities can take time, and that’s OK.  This project gives us the space to do that.

Alex Ivancevic listens to local people in St. Mary’s, Southampton.

People being better connected is crucially important to tackling health inequalities.  We know that people who are more connected to one another and to the local area have better health and a better quality of life, and hopefully through the project, people will begin to feel more connected.

When people build relationships and friendships with other people in their community, they know more, they learn more about the area and the facilities and opportunities out there.  They can discuss where there are gaps in services and work with others to find locally based solutions.  With the right support, people can achieve so much for themselves and their neighbourhoods.

Working with People’s Health Trust has been really refreshing.  It is great to be on the same page as a funder with a clear vision.  I say to everyone I meet: “People’s Health Trust is absolutely brilliant because they take a genuine grassroots, bottom-up approach. They really want local people to be in control and feel that they’re in the driving seat.”

Local people are at the heart of everything we do with the project – designing, developing and delivering activities.

This is great news for St Mary’s. I have lived in the area for eight years and to be asked what I think will make a difference is fantastic. This is exactly what we need; anything that helps improve the area should be celebrated.
Brian Eyre, local resident

What we want to do is work with local people to build trust, respect, and relationships.  Too often with some forms of traditional community development, the relationship is largely transactional.  The Local Conversation project is different; it’s about supporting people to get involved in neighbourhood life.

I got involved with West Itchen Community Trust five years ago when I was made redundant from my job at a national charity.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but I knew I wanted to continue to work with people and to try and make a positive difference.

I felt that traditional community development work was becoming too institutionalised; sitting in a building and planning activities for or on behalf of communities.  But this was a different way of working with people in the community.

Community Organising is about going out into the local community, knocking on doors, meeting people in the streets, in parks – where they are – instead of waiting for them to come to you.  It involves building relationships in the neighbourhood, mobilising people to take action, and supporting projects and activities which make a difference to their lives.

Alex with some of the local people involved in the West Itchen Community Trust Local Conversation project

Being a Community Organiser has been the most amazing experience.  I look at my own personal transformation through this process and how much I have grown and developed as an individual, personally, and professionally – and for me it has been both wonderful and fascinating journey.

Most importantly, I see that the work that residents are doing having such an impact and it’s the best reward I could ask for.  Working as a Community Organiser for West Itchen Community Trust on the Local Conversation project makes me feel immensely proud.  I feel I’m one of the luckiest people in this country right now.

Alex Ivancevic, community organiser – West Itchen Community Trust, Southampton

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