I was approached by a teacher from a local prep school who was hoping to encourage her students to think more about their local communities and in what way they could be of benefit to them. I was excited at the prospect of having conversations with 40 eleven-year-old students about community, but equally anxious that the topic might be too nebulous or “grown up” – I’m not sure I could have been more wrong!
I arrived at the school one day where the teachers had kindly set aside an afternoon of academic study hours to the delivery of a workshop. I came along with my colleague Valentina Demori and one of our volunteers, Tracey Johnson (incidentally Tracey had taken part in our VTP and has since become a part-time Community Organiser funded directly by the Department for Communities and Local Government). Over the course of the 3 and half hour session we were amazed at how in depth a lot of the students understanding of community was. We had discussions around the different types of community they were a part of, geographic communities, communities of interest, or of practice. The students were able to identify themselves as a community, but also to recognise that their separate class groups were distinct communities too.
Using World Café techniques and working in groups of five, we asked the children to identify a particular community that they were a part of or aware of, to think about the strengths and challenges within that community, and eventually to pick one issue affecting the community and to organise a plan to address that issue.
The groups and communities that came out were amazing, as were the plans and solutions. Some wanted to help elderly people, some wanted to help young people, others wanted to help people with cancer, and some wanted to help the homeless.
Before leaving for the day we agreed action plans with each group, which they would go on to work on with their teachers in lessons over the next six weeks. Some groups were less or more successful in actualising their plans, but all of them spent six weeks considering how to help the communities they had identified and coming up with more ideas and plans.
My work schedule since progression had made it a little harder to visit the school and I hadn’t really heard how things had gotten on ’til just before I went on leave for Christmas, the teacher who’d originally approached me sent me the following message, together with a bunch of photographs.
“Cuz if you smell good, you feel good……
Thought you might like to see how the kids finished off their project – 200 wash bags delivered to the sea view project!! [a local charity dealing with marginalised people]
And then came a letter from Amber Rudd [our local MP]…… And an article in [local newspaper] the Observer!! Thought you might want to share with Valentina – hugely inspirational workshop for The kids! Thank you.”
It’s amazing to see what can happen from just a three-hour session and I hope in future to be able to work more with pupils at this school and others to help young people to realise their potential to help out in their communities.