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Director blog August 2022 – Impact-led Strategy

Our vision is of a ‘diverse and vibrant community where residents are driving change’. The vision is of residents driving change – residents as leaders not followers. That is the world as it should be not as it is. That is why it is a vision – a vision is a vivid dream; we are in the business of selling dreams. Of creating the world as it should be rather than scaling back our ambitions. That is a vision.   

Our mission is to ‘create positive spaces and opportunities for resident empowerment and wellbeing’. Every inch of land is monetised. Every conversation in the community and every action that impacts on communities can be liberating, to the extent that local people drive change.  Wellbeing allows people to make healthy choices and drive change in all areas of their lives.   

To enable this to happen we aim to develop leaders, nurture relationships, exert influence and support enterprise to achieve our vision and mission. 

When we started out, we tried out lots of different approaches; tech companies sometimes describe this as throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Testing, reviewing, prototyping.   

We’ve done large scale growth summits attended by hundreds of people, weekly leadership classes for young citizens, social enterprise workshops, door knocking, street stalls, leafleting to every household on the area, meetings with politicians and bigwigs, monthly forums on planning and conservation, arts based events, community gardening, litter picking, campaigns, resident action groups, online arts classes, sports activities, walks and talks, newsletters and newspapers, videos, away days, training of all descriptions, volunteering programmes, service delivery, partnerships and collaborations across the borough, in fact across London, nationally and internationally.   

We have done a lot of things. A lot of events, meetings, outreach, activities, training etc. So what? How do we know it made a difference? How do we know it delivered our vision, mission and aims? We need to get smart, to work smarter. We will never know if we made the kind of impact we hoped for in our vision, mission and aims unless we spell out what impact we want in ways that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timed, evaluated and reviewed.   

Impact-led strategy is about being led by the impact you want to create and being your purpose as an organization, rather than having a purpose (Fisher 2020). It is very easy for any organization or group to be busy being busy, never pausing to consider if actions are having the right kind of impact. This strategic reflection needs to go with the flow because sometimes the same groups over-think things instilling a kind of paralysis by analysis. There is a sweet spot whereby the actions and analysis go hand in hand, so that impact is at the forefront. That’s the place I’m keen to inhabit. That is the place where true change is made. 

Matthew Scott 

TWCP Director 

Director blog July 2022 – Your silence will not protect you

Audre Lord is an African American author and poet who wrote about the difficulties in communication between people.  Her words have power and relevance for anyone who cares to hear them.  Audre saw silence as a form of violence and as someone identifying as Black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet stated: ‘my silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you.’ 

The transformation of silence into action is something everyone in Barking & Dagenham should be concerned with. Too many are silent.  Too many of us are sleeping whilst standing up. The communities with the biggest struggles are the quietest. They get gaslighted. 

I think the first job of a community worker is to listen, actively listen to the torrent of frozen words and experiences people keep inside of them. The resident whose heating and water hasn’t worked for months, the carer who cannot afford family prescriptions, the council officer who feels powerless to help others because of the fear that comes from above, the partial truths of politicians and their soundbites. Listening to the violence that silences.

Call and response 

In different forms of music there is call and response, from spirituals, blues, gospel, and today’s pop – less so now but still crops up. There’s a phrase or cue and then you join in. Back and forth.  We feel connected. Less alone.  We improvise – the communication like a dance takes twists and turns. 

Listening is not a static act.  Listening, communication and action are all happening at the same time. Even when we are silent. Maybe there is no such thing as silence, only violence that shuts down minds and hearts. Your silence will not protect you.  

If all a community worker does is actively and deeply listen that would be something precious and rare. But it would not be enough.   

To listen well is a caring and loving act. But love without power is a sentimental and dangerous thing. Another form of gaslighting. Here’s where the top end of the voluntary sector cops out. If it bothered to listen in the first place.  Our job is not to cultivate victimhood; it is to support and take collective action.   

Poverty safari

The Scottish hip hop writer Loki describes a special circle of hell for professionals in the charity and public sector who go out on ‘poverty safari’.  People whose job depends on the existence of poverty and other people’s problems, who have an investment in maintaining and administering but never seem to fundamentally change anything. 

When does listening to other people’s silences not become parasitic? 

Many of the poorest in our communities are living with unrecognised trauma, hardly able to process what has been done to us, much less what we might do about it. Silence like a cancer grows.

Where are the silences in your lives? What silencing violence is being visited on you? 

What is it that makes you so angry you have to act? You probably know who will block you, but do you know who has your back and are you willing to reach out to them so you can act together?   

For me, it is simple. Really simple. Anyone can do this.  We listen, we act. Repeat. We do this together. End of.  

Matthew Scott 

TWCP Director 

Young People Meet with Cllr Achilleos to Campaign for Food Waste Collection

Young people have an excellent way of speaking the truth, even the uncomfortable ones. This is never truer than when it comes to issues of looking after our planet and taking seriously the damage our current lifestyles are having. The local newspaper, the RiverView, featured an interview with Leo about food waste and the lack of it in Barking & Dagenham. Leo wanted to do something about it.  

Since then, it has been exciting to link up with the Young Citizen Action Group at Riverside School and with others at Leo’s own school, George Carey Primary School to turn words into action. The young people met Councillor Achilleos, who is the Green Champion in the Borough to take this further.

Erik was one of the young people leading the discussion. He shared:

“After hearing about Leo’s food waste campaign, I felt inspired and encouraged to join his project in order to make a change. During the meeting with Cllr Achilleos we asked him if we could have a food waste collection system across the entire borough and have food waste bins and biodegradable bags provided for free.”

Everyone was pleased to hear that food waste is already high on the council agenda, and they are exploring how to implement this for residents next year. Leo reflected after the meeting, “I felt nervous in the beginning, but the Councillor was kind and very polite, when he said they would do it in 2023 it felt really good and I was excited!”

Councillor Achilleos shared: “It was great to meet with young people from Riverside and George Carey Schools to discuss food waste recently. Their initiative, enthusiasm, and engagement with the issue filled me with hope that we can overcome the challenges, to deliver a food waste service and a carbon neutral future for Barking and Dagenham. Young voices have proved particularly powerful in the climate debate, and I will be working hard to ensure those voices are heard as we work towards our goal of net-zero by 2030.”

So, progress is being made, and that leaves the question of what next? It is great that the council is hoping to bring food recycling to every home next year, for free. The young people continue to watch this to make sure it happens. There is a role each of us can play too, not only to recycle our food waste when the bins arrive, but we can reduce our own food waste today. These young people are committed to keep working for a greener future and working with our schools to do that. Did you know, 30% of the food we buy goes in the bin? We can change that by only buying what we need, saving not only waste but money too – what’s not to love!

Director blog April 2022 – Handwashing guidance – what to do when policies invariably fail? 

1. Palm to palm.
2. Right palm over left dorsum and left palm over right dorsum.
3. Palm to palm fingers interlaced. 
4. Backs of fingers to opposing palms with fingers interlocked. 
5. Rotational rubbing of right thumb clasped in left palm and vice versa. 
6. Rotational rubbing, backwards and forwards with clasped fingers of right-hand left palm and vice versa.

How do you wash your hands of something? Some bold ambitious policy statement that politicians make but then it fails as most public policy does. Try the above. Send out technical manuals so everyone knows what to do and can practice together.  

Seriously – most public policy fails most of the time. It doesn’t achieve what it set out to do. But read evaluations and corporate communications and everything has to be a success even when it mostly isn’t. All that is solid melts into PR. Residents were listened to, communities were involved at every possible stage, and everyone is deeply happy even when they are not.   

One of the questions I wonder about is why do we go along with the pretence? A kind of open conspiracy against social change. People seem strangely frozen within the institutions and communities. In Japan they say: ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’ and I’ve seen that response many times, close-up and personal. The standard response to community work that shifts power is to shut it down. Fear and spite is the flip-side of a paternalism and there is a lot of it about. I think it is more than that though.  

My sense is many of us don’t feel it could be any different. That any kind of change is not on the agenda. Although everyone has a voice most people don’t feel they can use it. There’s a vacuum that more unscrupulous transactional people seize but only because they are allowed to.   

If you don’t act, you will be acted upon. And mostly we don’t act decisively – things happen to us.  Those things are for our own good – everything that happens will be attached to a policy that is always and only a stunning success. So it goes. 

My solution: have an honest conversation. Ask questions and don’t accept answers. Always question answers. If something sounds too good to be true it probably is. Historically power is rarely or never given – it is taken. It is contested, argued over. It can be done amicably and lead to much better outcomes for all, but it means taking a risk.   

Issue / solution / action 

The only way to break free from policy failure is to keep asking questions. Questions pinpoint issues.  These issues become an agenda and an action plan. Having a plan and working that plan is about developing and testing solutions and taking action, over and over again. If you want change you have to take action and not leave it to others who have great PR but a disappointing track record. Part of our task is also to create the spaces where people can grow in confidence and self-belief to take collective action, to learn and work together in more authentic partnership. 

But it only works if you ask questions. You have to question if the person in control really knows what they are doing, if the policy is really working, you have to be willing to disrupt the present to claim the future. Next time you go to a meeting give it a go.  


Matthew Scott 

TWCP Director 

Director blog March 2022 – The Body Keeps the Score

Trauma underpins our lives and our communities; it is hard to talk about and often talking doesn’t help, who wants to relive such things, but we carry it in our bodies and reproduce it in our behaviours anyway. That’s what I mean by ‘the body keeps the score’. We are lucky if we get through life without distressing experiences that injure us physically and emotionally. If we don’t experience it ourselves, we’ll know others close to us who have. 

We carry it in our bodies, but we also carry it in everything we do. It strikes me that community work and so-called ‘partnership’ working that seeks to address positive change, as opposed to maintaining existing inequality and power relationships, needs to exercise more care, because change is painful and is resisted.   

Trauma informed practice has six simple principles which if acted on would help: 

  • Safety 
  • Trustworthiness and transparency 
  • Peer support 
  • Collaboration and mutuality 
  • Empowerment and choice 
  • Cultural, historical and gender issues 

I don’t think our community and partnership spaces are always safe, trustworthy, transparent. Or that we have each other’s backs often enough (peer support). We compete rather than collaborate. There is compulsion in the workplace, not choice and we don’t talk about race, gender, class and other oppressions. Sometimes we create spaces for the above but not often enough. Because we live in the world as it is, not the world as it should be. 

Over lockdown I found myself thinking a lot about the world as it should be.

I was thinking about the pain in our lives and how it is telling us something. It can be redemptive; we can learn from it but mostly it just hurts and then we go numb, stuck, doing the same things and getting the same results. About love and how there isn’t enough of it in the world – in the absence of love, there is survival and how simply to survive is not to live a life.   

I thought about a recent situation that triggered me, where voices were raised. I don’t like being shouted at. It reminds me of a time in my life when my father would explode. He got sectioned. I remember social workers and police visiting. Questions being asked that had no answers. It just repeats. A year or so before lockdown my sister, who is autistic, got sectioned because the care home suddenly changed its staff and she literally started pulling her hair out. Social services answer was to put her into the same psychiatric hospital my dad spent time in. I then engaged with the health system my parents couldn’t cope with and it closed ranks. It reminded me that if you want change you need power; but that power without love is inhuman and love without power is anaemic, too weak. 

My sister is in a good place now and even when it was going on I was surprised at how calm I felt. I’d got used to that kind of thing happening. No big deal. Broken systems and broken people; I feel too much and then I feel nothing. I see how things get frozen. I try to remember to appreciate what is precious and focus on what it is possible to change, and that makes me happy. Sometimes.     

I’ve been thinking about how power is also about vulnerability. Trauma is caused when you are vulnerable and are powerless and overwhelmed so it is odd to say being vulnerable can also be powerful. How can that be?   

In that space of vulnerability we are most truly ourselves and from that space we can re-imagine what is important and worth doing in our lives. A lot of the things we do are probably not worth doing – the meetings we go to – the little competitive time serving rituals that divide and rule. Anything that can give a new perspective, new space to do differently, is worthwhile because when it comes to climate change, transformational public services, local democracy, looking after each other and being more human, much of what we do isn’t working and we can do better at every level. 

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

Inside TWCP: A Year in Post – Zainab Jalloh

Last week, it was my 1-year anniversary as Communications & Outreach Officer here at Thames Ward Community Project, and I couldn’t quite believe it. We choose jobs for a variety of reasons, but I remember vividly late 2020 hoping to take a risk to find a job that gave me time for family, and a job that was closer to what moved me, serving community. I believe in circumstances being timely and purposeful so when I was offered this role, even though changing careers was frightening, a smaller team more exposing, and the initial short-term contract precarious, I took it because it was what I wanted.

It has since been both challenging and incredibly exciting. I sit in my role as a worker but most importantly a local resident of Barking Riverside who emphatically wants to see our area thrive and people really be at the centre of decisions that affect their lives and TWCP exists for that. The heart of Thames Ward Community Project is residents coming together to create action groups and make change: Arts & Culture, Environment, Health & Wellbeing, Housing, Skills & Enterprise, and Young People, and comms plays a huge part.

I’ve been able to heavily support our Barking Food Forest project and seen how important sharing the journey of a project is in building momentum and engaging residents. Even whilst in lockdown, we created social media pages to share our ethos, co-design session plans, and more recently people getting stuck in at events! And I’m learning that that’s what people care about seeing. Real people, real stories, real community building. So my focus this new year is doing more of that.

As a team we’re creating spaces that promote honest dialogue with major stakeholders; the Resident Planning Forum, Community Resilience Project, the Healthy Thames Project, to get our resident voices a seat at the table. And a key vehicle for me to champion real stories is through our now resident-led, community newspaper, “Riverside News.” If you haven’t read it yet take a moment! This is us. The community managing green spaces, supporting local entrepreneurs, building resilience, enjoying street parties and getting behind our young people! We’re a little closer today it seems to having the community we are happy to have our children grow up in, but I don’t just want to sell you positive press.

I want us to have some hard conversations too and to make sure those get heard. At TWCP, I like that we’re not afraid to do that. I’m excited to spend more time this year getting out of my house and meeting you. Collaborating and creating impactful content that turns heads, and gets resources.

Zainab Jalloh

Communications and Outreach Officer at TWCP

Director blog February 2022 – #newpower – why outsiders are winning, institutions are failing and how the community sector will win the day!

The world is changing, faster than ever it seems.  I grew up without computers and mobile phones, without the internet – now those things define us, our data is mined and sold back to us.   

I was asked to lead on some group discussions with COMPASS, an independent think tank, on how the new power of tech impacts on communities and neighbourhoods.   

A new book had come out, entitled #newpower by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans. Books like #newpower try to articulate the zeitgeist, to explain why our times are as they are.  They have a big idea and even bigger hype so I am usually sceptical. The basic idea of #newpower is that for much of history things were straightforward – you knew who had power and who did not. But now it’s changing. For once the underdogs are winning. Just not always the kind of underdogs you might want. So as a community worker working in the community sector I know something about underdogs so I’m interested in changing the rules of the game.   

Evidence of this change might include the #metoo movement, Black Lives Matter but also ISIS and Q Anon. In the hyper-connected world ideas and actions spread very quickly and this can force change. How do we use that for good? How do we make it easier to do good?  The harm and downsides will be obvious, but this new world is coming ready or not. 

One of the examples I liked most was Lego, the company. It was in decline and had run out of ideas.  They talked to their longstanding fans and ran meet-ups for them over weekends where people indulged their childhood nostalgia but then soon ended up as an R&D arm, making successful products overnight. Lego in effect gave up control and handed over production and creativity to the people who cared most.   

See where I might be going here? Council – control – community groups – new way of working. What would happen if we turned local services and democracy inside out like Lego did? That is the kind of thought process the book invites. And more to the point, it illustrates examples of cutting-edge business practice that does exactly this, underlining the point that far from being fantasy it is sound market practice that larger charities and public sector organisations have yet to catch up with. 

What #newpower seeks to do is spread power much more widely to millions of people (crowds) and as much as possible, take it away from power holders altogether. Because power holders don’t have the answers or the insights and can’t grow anything. And now their power is flowing away from them by entrepreneurs who can code and activists who can tweet, video-edit and post.

In its better moments, the voluntary and community sector spreads power more widely and deeper. It was ahead of the curve in pushing power outwards and downwards when it remembered to collaborate rather than compete, in the pursuit of more equitable outcomes and a fairer world.   

The four group sessions we did included council leaders, former government ministers, charity CEOs, policy people and we had a great chat.  Mostly we didn’t talk about tech at all. We talked about how people behave to each other and how power changes that. The fear and cults of personality that so-called leaders promote. How large institutions create a culture that can crush people as a matter of routine.  We talked about our sense of déjà vu, of policymaking being doomed to failure because of broken promises.  The need for immediate ring-fenced money and buildings placed directly in the hands of communities, independent of anyone, in perpetuity (forever).  People spoke from the heart as much as the head so that was my criteria for a worthwhile discussion and hopefully something better to follow.  When it gets written up I’ll be sure to share.   

At the heart of #newpower is a vision of the world turned upside down. I’m not wholly sold on that.  I don’t think the underdogs are winning though some demagogues are gaining traction.  I’d settle for a more pragmatic view of partnership working and power shifting – where the top-down power holder can meet independent community groups and residents in the middle.  That middle ground does not come easy. But we can do much better than winner takes all; we can fundamentally change the rules of the game. 

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

Director blog January 2022 – Freedom from Fear 

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others’. – Nelson Mandela / Marianne Williamson

When I think of inspirational quotes this is one I frequently return to because it is so direct and relatable. Mandela used it in his inaugural address and took it from an earlier source (Marianne Williamson) so it is a mishmash. The child of God reference may mean different things to people of faith or no faith, for me that doesn’t really matter. It asks an interesting question – what are we afraid of? What holds us back? At the beginning of a New Year and after nearly two years of the pandemic with all the disruption and uncertainty that brings, the world feels strangely adrift. Plenty of things to be fearful of but where does that get us?

Fear is a universal experience but it doesn’t have to be defining; it doesn’t have to set limits. Addressing what is difficult is more often liberating. I wanted to think about this in the context of community work in Thames Ward and beyond.

One of the things I am conscious of is that for community work to be successful people need to invest in something bigger than themselves. In contrast much of the social conditioning we receive encourages us to be selfish and competitive – in order to get ahead. Community work is relatively low profile relative to footballers, tech entrepreneurs, celebrities, erratic politicians – that suck up the national conversation. If the criteria for success is money, profile, status, power – and the fear of not having those things drives us, then community work is out of step with the world, playing by the wrong rules.

Here’s the thing – recent research consistently shows happiness is something we do for its own sake, not for external goals. When we become fully immersed in something we enjoy we experience what is sometimes called ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi 1997). We don’t watch the clock because we are wholly absorbed and more truly ourselves. That sounds like winning to me, and along the lines of what Mandela spoke about – something liberating which spreads outwards. When I see community work in action, in its better moments, it is the same dynamic taking place.

My wider reflection is that the community sector is the cornerstone of a successful neighbourhood, ward and borough. One in four people nationally regularly volunteer – that is around 17 million people across the UK. That is a good news story that deserves much more celebration. They don’t do it individually – they do it together in groups (community groups).

I hope the community sector doesn’t continue, in the words of Mandela, to ‘play it small’. Sometimes when community groups get round the table with professionals you can feel people shrinking. The resident voice if it gets any access at all rarely sets the agenda and even rarer, do they hold money and deliver services. Billions of pounds of investment come in and out of the borough in a process that is largely invisible to most people. We are a million miles from where we need to be in terms of real empowerment to leave you with another quote: ‘The first step is half the journey’ (Aristotle). 

What that means is, once enough people in the community case choose not to be afraid and come to appreciate what Mandela terms, their innate brilliance and talents – that is the ‘first step’ and it changes everything. As soon as residents and community groups stop following and start leading we are more than halfway to where we need to be. 

Happy New Year everyone! 

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

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