An Introduction to Community Organising – and how we apply it to the Safer St Leonards project
“If people don’t think they have the power to solve their problems, they won’t even think about how to solve them”.Quote from Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky (sometimes considered the ‘Godfather’ of Community Organising).
During the last three weeks that I have been door-knocking in Central St Leonards, the most common question I get asked from residents when I’m standing, fully masked and 6 feet from their door, is whether I’m from the council. Before they embark on, sometimes, a sizeable list of complaints, I have to explain that no, I’m actually working on a community organising project with the Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust and we’re aiming to encourage and connect those from the same streets to make positive changes together.
What exactly is community organising?
Community organising encourages people to act through bringing those with shared interests together in order to help them develop a sense of collective power, lead them to identify shared goals and create lasting strategies for change. Community organising, as a form of social action, focuses on helping to organise activity that “seeks to improve human welfare, deepen civic culture and develop group life and commitment to others” (from www.corganisers.org.uk).
Community Organising in the UK tends to use a neighbourhood-based approach which is achieved through door-knocking and listening to the thoughts of the community, but it can be applied in a variety of other areas and settings. One example is Acorn which is a community based and member-led housing union which works to support low-income communities across the country and give power back to the people. You can read more about Acorn: https://acorntheunion.org.uk/
What role does Community Organising play in the Safer Streets project?
The Safer Streets fund aims to enhance the security of areas that are particularly affected by ‘acquisitive’ crime (which includes car theft and burglary). The fund can be used for a variety of increased security measures such as home security improvements, installing more CCTV cameras and upgrading lighting. Using a neighbourhood-based community organising approach as part of this project allows us to find out exactly what the views of residents are in relation to how safe they feel and what they like and don’t like about their area. It also helps us build a better rapport with individuals and gives us a more detailed and nuanced understanding of people’s thoughts on measures sometimes seen as controversial, such as the installing CCTV in residential areas. Understanding that stronger community connections can also play a part in making a neighbourhood feel safer, we will also be using these conversations to find out what improvements’ residents would like to see in their areas and who has the interests, skills and time to instigate these changes.
Above is the ‘Community Organising Framework’ which is crucial to the work of Community Organisers in the UK. At the moment, we are in the ‘Reach’ and ‘Listening’ stage of the cycle. Having only been door-knocking since September, we had hoped to spend most of our time on this project having as many conversations as we could with those from Central St Leonards. However, with the onset of the second lockdown, we have had to pause door-knocking for the time being and now face a challenge as to how we will manage to stay connected to everyone and continue to have these conversations.
We hope to start reaching out to those we have already spoken with to have further online conversations with and arrange a series of personalised survey mail drops to help us engage with those we haven’t yet had a chance to speak to.