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A Heart for Community

A few months ago Peter and I were filming a short video ready for the How About? launch party, when I was asked when I got involved with community work. I responded by talking about how I got involved with community work around 10 years ago when my eldest son was born. But after we finished filming and I was home I started thinking about it, I mean really thinking about it and actually, I got involved long before my eldest was born.  Really, it’s something I have always had a heart for, even as a very young child when I was rallying everyone up to contribute to the Blue Peter Bring and Buy sales I organised, and getting everyone together to raise money for a charity I wanted to support.

As I became a teenager my passion continued. I became part of a community of music-loving
teenagers, we were a tight knit community, all from the same city but different schools, we would socialise at a youth project called Base Connection and at our local Arts Centre. We were always there for each other, and actually I made some solid lifelong friends through this community of peers.

At the age of 18 I moved to Cornwall with my family and shortly after turning 19 my eldest son was born. I desperately missed being in a tight community of likeminded peers and was very lonely. That community was my world. When my son was about 18 months old I started going to WILD Young Parents Project. Through this project I met lots of other young mums with children a similar age to my son. I was a self-taught and very keen allotment gardener and through WILD I had the opportunity to set up a community allotment where I could pass on my skills and teach the other young mums to grow their own food. This project progressed and I became involved with The Barefoot Games at The Eden Project. I got to expand the project and bring WILD mums from across Cornwall together as a community for an event at The Eden Project. In 2012 I even won an award for the project!

allotment project

In May 2012 my second son was born and I found myself using the local children’s centre. They were on the hunt for people to form a parent forum. A group of us got together along with the guidance of a community development worker with the aim to bring the families in our area together as a community. We did this through organising family fun days which were accessible to the families in our local community. We did this for around two years, organising five fantastic events.

Using the skills I gained in the voluntary sector, in October 2013 I started working for a social enterprise called Go Real which promotes the use of reusable nappies. This found me slap bang in the middle of an online community of mums, volunteers and businesses, all with a passion for promoting reusable nappies. This really demonstrated to me the power of social media and how it breaks down barriers for people who strive to be a part of a community. In April 2015 I took over the management of Go Real and through this I discovered a love for research and started to realise the importance of measuring social impact.

Peter and I knew each other through our children who attended the same nursery, in the spring of 2016 he told me about his idea for How About? I got really excited about his ideas and knew I had to be involved!

So, when thinking about my life, it has shown me how, not only is community important to me, but actually it has been a key part of my life ever since I was small. How About? is important to me because measuring the impact of community groups, charities and social enterprises on their communities in our economic climate can be key to keeping other people’s communities together, communities that to some people are their world. And, no, I didn’t first get involved with community work 10 years ago, it’s something that has simply always been a part of who I am.

– Anna

Collaboration vs Competition

One of the most inspiring parts of being a social enterprise is the word social. We are social beings and more often than not, better together rather than apart.

We live in a world which it is encouraged for us to be in competition with each other – we have a culture in which we are told that this is a healthy way to grow, to develop and to move forward.

We watch television programmes such as The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den where people are vying for the attentions of “successful” business leaders and their money – which in turn makes us, as the viewing audience, little more than spectators in a gladiatorial battle.

But what if we change the parameters of what success means? What if we change that paradigm so success is in fact based on how we change people’s lives and the environment for the better?

For those who run social enterprises, this I think is at the core at how we measure success. Sure, money helps to make us grow, however money is not at the forefront of what we do.

So on to my main point…. If we’re not in a fight to the death with our peers in the business world, doesn’t this allow for more opportunities to work together?

The benefits of collaboration, in my opinion, far outweigh of those of competition. Imagine belonging to a network with an endless pool of experience, skills and resource – where together we can address problems and issues without having to think about how we can look good and how we PR ourselves to the max.

This week I had the opportunity to attend a conference run by Nesta about the Social Value of a collaborative economy. I was particularly struck by the number of innovative social enterprises wanting to make a positive change in a variety of different ways (which alone could provide enough content for another blog). I also liked the spirit of collaboration that drove innovation. It was great to hear from the governance of large cities from across Europe testify how collaboration has helped create a robust democracy which allowed their citizens shape the policy decisions. If you'd be interested to hear more

206975_503058746945_4733_nAntoinette Guhl is the deputy mayor of Paris whose governance so believed in the power of collaboration and participation, that they invested 500 million Euros to give the city’s citizens to shape its future.

How About? wants to help create a collaborative environment in their local community of St Austell by bringing together social enterprises, community groups and other businesses – and through action research – identify and address issues in the local community and strive to make a positive social impact by doing so.

So if you are part of the Cornish community or even wider and would be interested more about this – then please let us know and keep an eye on the website and social media channels.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Rajesh Agrawal, the deputy mayor of London:

 “It’s all about collaboration, not competition”

Couldn’t agree more.

The Start of a New Journey

So last night I launched my own social enterprise….

I’ve been working within the third sector for the past 8 years in a number of different roles, however I have found more recently – there has been more of a need for folks to prove that their ideas work and evidence the social value of their projects and social enterprises. For those who rely on funding, it is becoming more and more difficult to find it without tangible evidence that there is a

need for their service or intervention and that they are achieving what they are setting out to do.journey

The idea behind How About? came from years of working with community groups who struggled with idea of impact and believe it requires a PhD even to begin to understand (for the record, I don’t have a PhD) – this is a myth which I hope to dispel.

How About? aims to provide our primary service users (social enterprises and community groups) the tools in which they can carry out their own research and engage their target users more effectively by helping them to develop their ideas and prove that they’re creating a positive impact in people’s lives. And when they haven’t got capacity to do it themselves – then we’ll step in to help!

Our main mission statement is about creating better connected communities through a greater understanding of each other through engagement, evaluation and understanding impact.

Taking a closer look, we want to help social enterprises and community groups engage their communities more effectively to achieve a greater understanding of their primary service users and their needs; evaluate projects and interventions to help develop ideas and projects even further, and helping to evidence impact to show they are creating a social impact.

We will be developing our company over the next few months and having a launch party / networking event in November where we are hoping to invite community groups, social enterprises and local businesses to the Cornwall area. Eventually, we hope that these will be quarterly events which will see us deliberate and collaborate using the range of skills and experiences that we all bring to address problems, develop ideas and make new friends.

If you are not a community group or social enterprise – we still offer a service – however this in turn will help us subsidise our work with smaller groups which will mean:

This service will be more accessible for these smaller groups and social businesses by removing the cost factor and in turn create a more positive impact
You can be seen as supporting our primary service users.
So there we go, I hope you will follow us on our journey and stay in touch. If you are interested in attending the November event or want to have more information, then you can email us on: info@how-about.org.uk, follow us on Twitter: @HowAboutUK and like us on Facebook here