Made to Measure?
The conversation about how we can best measure success in our community work, and more importantly, how we can avoid stifling success by focusing too much on measuring it, has been constant in recent weeks.
We are at the very beginning of this journey in Coastal and it was really helpful, at the TPAS Cymru conference a week or so ago, to speak with tenants and landlords about our progress. What was most heartening when putting together the presentation, was that the practical examples of how we are using Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) had driven out some of the theory I had planned to talk about. No bad thing.
In June, when Cormac Russell came to Coastal, we spoke about measuring success by asking “how many of your neighbours do you now know?”. Immediately I was mindful that this may be perceived as a negligible measure of success by some – perhaps our Management team, or our Board of trustees or other colleagues – but the concept has stuck with me for several weeks since. And this week in my personal life, it’s significance finally landed.
In March 2017 my partner and I moved to our current house. The day we moved in, whilst my father in law and I were carrying a tumble dryer, my next door neighbour (Chris) walked past. We had worked together back in 2004 and I realised there was a familiar face close by.
Suns out, strimmers out
Fast forward 16 months and I’m ashamed to say that’s probably where my network (in my street) remained.
That is, until the sun came out.
My next door neighbour (on the other side) was in his front garden mowing his lawn one evening when I returned home from work. We spoke for about about 10 minutes about how the grass was growing faster than he could cut it and about how, that day, he had caught the bus 3 miles to Argos and purchased a strimmer. When he returned home, the cable had been frayed. When he phoned the shop the assistant told him he would have to return it. Back he went, on the bus, only to be told there were no more in stock. He would have to purchase the more expensive model. Reluctantly, he agreed and returned home on the bus. When he arrived, he set up the machine and plugged it in and, feeling majestic, he took aim at the hedge. And with the very first action he cut straight through the lead.
When we both stopped laughing, we agreed that when he needed access to my property to cut the other side of the hedge, he should invite himself and not need my consent.
He lives with his 90 year old mother and on Monday the week before she was attempting to put her bins out unsuccessfully, so I gave her some help in his absence. He thanked me for this during our chat.
Darkness on the hedge of town
On Saturday, I was in my front garden attempting to battle with my 12 foot hedge. Chris told me that the previous occupant had been trying to cultivate it to stop footballs coming over. Realistically, i think he was trying to interfere with the flight path overhead, such was its height.
Whilst dripping in sweat and losing my battle against the almighty shrub, a neighbour walked past from 4 doors up. He introduced himself and we spoke about my futile efforts. At the time he was chasing the rag and bone man, wanting to get rid of an old bike belonging to his youngest son. His son was now 12 – my daughter is 11 – and we chewed the fat about the trials and tribulations of the transition to comprehensive school.
An hour later his wife came down to speak to me. We spoke about a gang of men we had seen it the street earlier in the week and the criminal activity that had been witnessed. We agreed that we would each become more vigilant in the street and I would speak to the PCSO about a more regular patrol. We would also keep each other up to date if any matters progressed.
Later that afternoon, I was reflecting on what had happened, and realised the similarity with a question in Nurture Development’s ‘Good Life Conversation’
“What do you care about enough to join others in doing?”
In this instance, neighbours came together to discuss positive change in their area against a backdrop of an unfortunate situation that we did not invite or welcome. The welfare of our children and the reputation of our community, uppermost in our priorities.
Turning back to our community work, and my earlier statement – success measured by the number of neighbours we know is perhaps a negligible exercise – I’m now minded to staunchly defend it. Residents of Coastal Housing Extra Care scheme, Ty Twyn Teg will no doubt take the same stance, having spent 6 months getting to know their community, welcoming them in with open arms.
35 of us made pledges in Coastal recently to take these conversations forward and we have some exciting stuff planned over the Summer to see how far those chats have travelled.
I now have considerably more currency with my neighbours because of the conversations of the last week, than I did previously. From here, who knows where we will be in 12 months time?
And it all started with a garden hedge. Perhaps tearing down hedges (or walls for that matter), will encourage more conversations and allow us to come together more frequently.
Oh, “how did you get on with the hedge?”, I hear you ask.
Hedge 0, Ross Williams 1