I met online with community organiser Les Bonner to talk about his achievements of organising in Grimsby over the last 10 years.
Les started volunteering in 1968 with Grimsby Harriers, becoming a keen activist and political campaigner in Grimsby over the following decades. His belief was always that “it wasn’t for me to find the solutions for people, they were the real experts and understood their communities much better. My role was to understand the issues and support them to find solutions.”
In 2012 Les embarked on a 1-year Foundations in Community Organising training course, funded through the Community Organisers Programme. The Level 3 accredited course included topics on the practice, process and purpose of community organising. Les said “the principles of organising were paramount in bringing together the philosophies I had built over the years to understanding, coordinating and supporting communities.” In the first 2 years community organising, Les listened to over 1000 residents in Grimsby.
In the early years of organising, a lack of community space was an issue. Les worked closely with some established community groups, sharing space with a local theatre group. Together with other community organisers and local leaders they were able to bring a disused building back into use and establish a dedicated community space for organising, building strategies, developing, and running projects in the area.
Projects developed from reaching out, listening and connecting people
Some of the projects Les is most proud of, and that came directly from listening to the community, include:
IT support for local unemployed people. Helping individuals to find gainful employment, build self-esteem and confront personal issues. Some people that had more complex needs were signposted and supported to find appropriate help and assistance.
Language skills. Working with the local Mosque we supported people that didn’t have English as a first language to negotiate the benefits systems, find employment and deal with everyday issues and concerns.
Breakfast club for the homeless. Helping to support individuals with all their needs. A safe space where they could access a meal and have professional support where needed.
Food projects. We have helped grow several food projects in the area. This included supplying hot food for families during the pandemic and lockdown. Gaining funding from local businesses and a local political party.
It is important that communities views are heard and that councils are not allowed to build indiscriminately
In recent years, ill health has meant that Les has had to prioritise the projects and campaigns he gets involved with.
“Although I had a series of heart attacks and ill health, it hasn’t stopped me sharing my knowledge with others and getting involved with projects and campaigns that I feel passionate about. Recently, along with 2 other community activists, I helped some young people to come together, organise and build a strategy for a 1000 strong march in support of Black Lives Matter (#BLM) in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire.”
Les is currently working with a group called Friends of the Freshney Valley in Grimsby to hold his local council to account and oppose an unpopular planning application to build almost 4000 new homes in a green belt area.
“The area they’ve selected is an area of natural beauty, used every day by local people to walk and exercise. Their own council officers have established that there is rare wildlife in the area. There is also a ‘chalk stream’ running through part of the proposed plans. Chalk streams are incredibly rare with only about 200 in the entire world. It is important that communities views are heard and that councils are not allowed to build indiscriminately.”
The Friends of the Valley group regularly protest outside of council meetings. Ensuring their opposition to the plans is heard.
“We have established a formal committee for the group. Together we have managed to raise enough opposition to get the first planning proposal turned down. One member of the committee has now been elected to the council and can express the communities views directly at council meetings.”
Community organising over the years allowed Les to mobilise his community easily, in opposition to the plans “we are not against new housing, but we are against indiscriminate use of power without proper consultation with the people most affected.”
You can read more about Les Bonners projects and campaigns in the links below:
Learn more about community organising and our Community Organising Framework through our self-directed online learning series called 'Framework Focus'. The course consists of over 7 hours of learning split across 70 videos and the first module on 'Reach' is free!