Simon then had to leave Stafford for a while due to personal problems, but when he returned this year, was amazed to hear that the community now have the hub they wanted – Old Chapel Works – which is a community organising Social Action Hub.
“It’s really exciting to come back now because I was involved with Eileen at the beginning, going out and listening to people in the community. Part of their aim was to get a building, so to come back after a few years and see what they’ve achieved has been really amazing,” explained Simon.
Since returning to Stafford, Simon has picked up where he left off and got stuck into the work taking place at Old Chapel Works, starting with the ongoing transformation of an abandoned area of land into an ‘Outdoor Classroom’ for the community to enjoy.
“It was good to be involved and watch it happening and to see the community getting involved. It’s easy to get bogged down in the crime in the area, so it’s really good to see something positive happening,” Simon said about the project.
Simon’s role as a trainee community organiser now involves going out into the local community, connecting with a range of groups and individuals, listening to them and supporting them to take action about the things they care about. Some of the local groups Simon has listened to include Stafford Fight Factory, a local community gym, and Stafford Litter Heroes – who he met during a community organising training course at Old Chapel Works and subsequently went out on a litter pick with them one Sunday morning to find out more about their work.
Simon is also listening to the local homeless community: “A lot of people are dealing with issues around drugs, and I want to see how – as a community – we can help them; finding out how they see things and what they want.”
In the past, Simon has been closely affected by the issues he is now working to address in his community. A former user and dealer of heroin and crack, Simon explained that he feels he has taken a lot from his community, and now he is working to give something back.
Simon explained that his listening training has shown him that community organising is “very much about listening rather than talking – taking down information, collating that together and seeing where we can form groups, and identifying people in the neighbourhood to lead those groups – if there’s something they’re particularly passionate about.”
“It’s all really exciting stuff and really fits with my core beliefs about intersectionality. The more different groups we can involve the better. We’re all from different backgrounds and working out how they cross over and how we can build a society from that – I think that’s a really powerful thing to be behind.”
Simon explains that although there are some challenges – such as having to find paid work and ongoing personal issues – there are also many more benefits to his role as a trainee community organiser. He has been able to develop his knowledge and skills through ongoing training opportunities with Old Chapel Works, including community organising and safeguarding training. He has also been learning how to facilitate groups by shadowing Eileen and plans to take a ‘Train the Trainer’ course to enable him to share his new skills in his community.
Simon acknowledges that the support of his local community organiser Eileen has been invaluable to him: “She doesn’t tell me what to do. She asks me ‘what do you want to do? What are you interested in?’ I have a lot of energy and in the past, that has been channelled into negative things, but Eileen helps me channel it in a positive way. She’s slowed me down and taught me about power bases.”
Simon explains that the focus community organising puts on building collective power in communities is one of the things that drew him to it, and engaging in this process has helped him build his personal power:
“As a community organiser, you become empowered by the people that you empower. I do see myself as a leader in the community now, but you lead by serving. I used to be a ‘rebel without a cause’ – now I have a cause! Also, this is where my kids are going to grow up, so part of this is about me being a good dad. They say it takes a community to raise a child, so I’m helping build my community now.”