Framework sections highlighted: Action, Connect, Leadership, Listening

“We can do this!” Shifting Power in Hartlepool

Following their participation in a one-day ‘Introduction to Community Organising’ training course, a group of people living in Dyke House in Hartlepool wanted to take action around their shared concern that there isn’t much to do for families over the summer holidays in the local area. When Julie, Jan, Janice, Mick, Callum, and Andrea reached out for support from their community organiser, Nikki, who is based at The Wharton Trust Social Action Hub, Nikki’s first question was “what do you think we could do?”

The group wasn’t sure, so they put their community organising training into practice and went out to listen to others in their area.

They went with Nikki to the local school at the end of the day to ask fellow parents what they would like to do over the summer holidays.  Through this listening process, the idea of arts and craft sessions, as well as group trips for families, was uncovered.

Affordability was also raised as an issue within the community. Dyke House is within the top 2% of deprived wards in the UK and has high levels of unemployment, meaning that over the summer families struggle to find affordable things to do with the kids, many of whom are also missing out on free school meals for six weeks.

Taking that on board, this group of dedicated community members worked to secure money from local funding organisations and plan, prepare, and mobilise volunteers to take action. Over the summer, their collective efforts managed to provide 1,000 dinners and 600 breakfasts for local people, organise trips for 500 people, and put on a programme of regular activities – including arts and crafts and cookery clubs – for families in the area.

The group has since grown in size and continued to organise activities with the local community, with Nikki seeing them increasingly take ownership of the projects and develop their own personal and collective power.

Since last summer, community members have organised Christmas activities, a trip to Roker lights, and an event with mascots and local singers. They did all of that themselves; they just got on and did it.
Nikki Stainsby, community organiser.

Nikki has also noticed the snowball effect that this action is having on the wider community, stating, “so many more people are getting involved because they are seeing other people do it.”

Some members of the group have gone on to complete the ‘Listening Skills for Community Organising’ training and ‘Building Power through Community Organising’ training.  Six group members are also so excited about community organising that they are planning to study for an ‘Award in Community Organising’, a course that the Wharton Trust are planning to offer next year.

Nikki describes how she has seen her role as their community organiser shift as the group has developed their power and leadership:

“I think [power] has been shifted.  A lot of them at first, when we were doing the one-day training, they didn’t realise exactly what organising was – they were mixed up between organising and development – so when they first came along they didn’t realise that they held power.  They just thought ‘only the council can do it; only The Wharton Trust can do it’, etc.  Now they just skip all of them and think ‘well, we can do this’, so there’s definitely been a power shift, which is great.”