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Director blog October 2021 – The Power of Relationships

What did you do during lockdown? 

We had loads of online discussions with our resident trustees over lockdown as well as delivering courses and meet ups online; I lived vicariously on zoom and we got a lot done. We were careful to check how people were getting on.  It didn’t make sense to pretend these were or are normal times and to charge into business as usual.  The community organising training we’ve done starts and ends with relational power – with relationships – an organised community is as strong as its relationships. Communities may lack large buildings, large organisations, lots of money, but they will always have more people on the ground where it matters. So it is important that we look after each other because sometimes that is all we have.   

At our meetings we asked people what things they’d been doing – coping strategies, things for fun and so forth.  We generated quite a long list: lots of online yoga, pilates, learning new things online, trying new recipes, checking out new music, going for walks, exploring new places locally.   

One of the things I did was read a lot of books; that is my downtime.  All sorts of books, novels, history, travel, books about ideas.  It is a good counter to the online hyperactivity of social media and work and there’s only so much Netflix you can watch till it all gets the same.  A couple of books I did read were by the borough’s local MPs which were pretty eye opening.   

Jon Cruddas’ book on ‘The Dignity of Labour’ draws on his experience of Dagenham and looks at the importance of work and belonging. It made a lot of sense to me.  Somewhere along the way we seem to have forgotten that where we live and what we do for work is central to how we feel and by extension how well society holds together.  The fragmenting of community and social ties driven by a precarious job market, where work is short term and liable to change any minute undermines human dignity.  We need to feel rooted to be fully alive and connected to one another.  There’s a lot of theory in it but that was the message I took away.  One thing I wanted to hear more about was the role of community groups.  That bit was missing for me.  People organise collectively by creating small groups, meeting in their front rooms, places of worship, tenant halls – that for me is what transforms the sense of isolation and builds community.  My complaint is that the community sector always gets forgotten about and yet it is the backbone to what gets done – hence BD Collective’s estimate of 7,000 community groups in the borough, mostly invisible. 

What I remember most about Margaret Hodge’s book ‘Called to Account’ is the Public Accounts Committee work.  The inside story of how hard it is to get a whole range of public servants and private sector companies to be accountable is something to behold.  The micro detail of what blocks transparency and openness about how things are run could hardly be more important.  You could have all the policies and plans in the world but if they get keep getting blocked that really needs to be looked at because otherwise there is a continual loop of failure.  I guess my takeaway is that it is right to ask questions and to keep on asking them, and not to stop.  Sometimes I feel that’s a lonely place to be and that the (non) answers tend to be hostile and evasive in equal measure.  My point about relationships at the start – we know when people are being open with us and that creates warmth and stronger communities. Other parts of society could learn from that.   

I love reading because it opens up new worlds for me; its immersive and whilst reading can cut you off for a while, it is good to take a break and those worlds within the words can deepen connections that might have been missed. Let me know any good tips of stuff to read.   

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

Director blog September 2021: Kindness; Vulnerability; Solidarity

We are revisiting our strategic plan over the next few months.  The last one we had was geared very much around the priorities of our 2017 reaching communities Lottery bid before we even had resident trustees or staff.  The fundamentals of the plan I worked to was essentially set out in advance – kind of like painting by numbers.   There was room for interpretation and innovation, but I was aware of, and appreciated, the framework set out ahead of time.  The objectives were fourfold with work focused on cohesion, health, skills and environment and by 2020, to have in place a community development trust (CDT).  When it came to values our 2017-2020 plan will show we came up with these: 

  • Energizing and empowering  

  • Entrepreneurial and can-do 

  • Relational approach  

  • Transparency and accountability  

  • Inclusive  

My older self looks back and thinks, okay not the worst but plenty of bingo buzzwords that mean what exactly? Paulo Freire, a Brazilian community educator wrote that to speak a true word is to transform the world.  Speaking a true word meaning something genuinely and unreservedly coming from the heart of oneself and one’s experience of the world – not sure the above list does that.  Looking back they feel mediated by professional jargon; my bad. 

At a recent discussion with trustees and staff led by Locality – ahead of board games people brought with them as a DIY social and refreshments sourced from a local resident business (happy to recommend), I jotted down the kind of words I wanted to be central as values for our new plan: kindness, vulnerability; solidarity.  They ended up on a stick-it note somewhere and may or may not make the cut as and when the plan gets signed off but I’m already feeling good about them.   

I’m sure we’ve all spent time over lockdown thinking about what is important to our lives; lots of people have suddenly left their jobs, moved away, simplified things.  Maybe that is part of what is on my mind – the appreciation we feel when someone asks how we are, when mutual aid networks reach out door to door, street by street.  The currency of kindness.  It is not forced or regimented; it flows out from communities.   

I think the pandemic has also shown us how vulnerable we all are – how quickly everything can change, how little control we have.  I’ve been thinking that maybe our vulnerability is actually our superpower.  I’ll have to explain this one.  Normally I bang on about structures – and that power resides with public and private sector bodies; with politics and money.  Normally I resist platitudes that claim it’s all about relationships as a partial truth at best.  At worst a con.  But it struck me, all the people I admire and respect are people who have struggled, suffered and in doing so grown and remained open and accessible.  Some kinds of power, where people fear you, are probably not worth having, so just maybe vulnerability is where our creativity and potential combine to empower us – individually and collectively.  You’ll have to tell me if that makes any kind of sense. 

Soon after I started working in Thames Ward the council’s director of participation told me the view from on high was that I was ‘old fashioned’ in my approach to community work. Pot, kettle, black. I didn’t really understand why but I imagine having an independent thought process can be alarming if you are not used to it.  Solidarity is an old school word; it is not trendy, it smacks of another age, but I reached for it anyway, as my third value.  Strip it down and it means being there for people, having their back.  I’ve always worked in the voluntary sector and I rarely see much solidarity but when I do I want to hold it close.  A youth worker friend of mine, who died earlier this year, always told me the way to get the sector to fight amongst itself was to leave a five pound note on the table.  Divide and rule is a powerful thing. My thought: we are divided and ruled until such time as we choose not to be, and then everyone wins.       

My final word I jotted down was enterprise, I didn’t highlight it here because it has a distance to it at odds to the rest of the blog.  My experience of Thames Ward is not of voluntarism – that doing stuff for free and let organisations with money drop a few crumbs, is not going to work out.  Kindness, vulnerability and solidarity are things to be and do – they are enterprising and creative; they don’t work if they are fenced in.  The pandemic has shown that control can be illusory but the re-set that is taking place can be liberating, depending on how we go about planning for it.  

Matthew Scott

TWCP Director

Meet our (new) Deputy Director, Jamie Kesten

Jamie isn’t a new member of staff, having joined TWCP back in November 2017 at the very beginning of the project as a Community Organiser, however following TWCP’s continuation funding from the Big Lottery and a review of the organisations needs by TWCP Trustees he is moving into a new role as TWCP’s Deputy Director.

The new role will incorporate five main areas of responsibility:

  1. Strategic oversight of programmes
  2. Strategic oversight of communications
  3. Income generation
  4. Demonstrating social impact
  5. Stakeholder engagement
Jamie is excited about the new role and the additional responsibilities and opportunities that come along with it to help support the organisations growing team and wider strategic journey.
I joined TWCP because I was looking for an opportunity to be involved in work that positively impacted real peoples lives, after years spent working in a research environment. Working to support local residents of Thames Ward of all ages, backgrounds and experiences over these last 3 and a bit years has given me just that and I am proud of the meaningful connections TWCP has built with the talented residents of the ward and the incredible events, programmes and opportunities that we have helped make possible over this time. I am excited to continue supporting the great work of local young people, residents and community groups, supported by key local stakeholders, as TWCP solidifies it’s position in the borough as a champion and convenor of the local community as it continues to evolve and grow.
Jamie Kesten, Deputy Director – Thames Ward Community Project


Director blog August 2021: Getting things done

Most of us will know what it feels like to make a list of things we need to do, diligently work through it, maybe get sidetracked by stuff, come back to other stuff that is urgent and cannot be put off any longer.  Get to the end of the day, or week and then do it all over again – another list. 

Maybe most of us will also know what it feels like to have too much to do – and that some tasks won’t get done, fall through the gaps in our busy lives.  Which generates stress, no matter how hard we work.   

One of the ways I decompress is by reading – whatever takes my interest, novels, current affairs, books on ideas and theory – and I found myself reading about stress free productivity – hence the blog.  The premise being that the more we are able to relax, the more things get done. Having a lot of things on your mind limits how much gets done – we feel overwhelmed.  It is exhausting thinking about all the things that need to get done, and this is simply trying to recall what it is we need to do, not even the act of doing it.   

A lot of this is obvious but we often miss what is obvious – like where we find ourselves placing our attention.  I was a bit shocked to realise how much time I spend thinking about doing things and trying to remember all the things I should be doing rather than actually doing them. Quite a lot of my life caught up on that hamster wheel.  Whereas what I enjoy is being absorbed by what I am doing, being in the moment, not distracted by trying to chase after lists.   

The wider reflection for me, is about how we do community work.  Again I spend a lot of my life going to meetings, having conversations with people which come down to – so what are we going to do?  Dancing around who does what and will it get done and do we even get to the point of spelling out that there is an action and someone is going to do it. I break things down into issues, solutions and actions.  In community work we spend a lot of time talking about issues but we often miss the solutions and fail to take actions.  Sometimes that is fine because we need the space to simply speak it out, build relational power and trust – people before programme.  Not rush to transact business and instrumentalise people.  So chat about issues is fine.   

But and there is a but, I think one of the major reasons why community work falls short is we don’t then go on to frame the solution and action in specific measurable terms.  Sometimes I think this is a deliberate strategy – power holders get people to talk about issues but that is all it is.  Stuff doesn’t get done if it hasn’t been clearly agreed what the action is and who is going to do it. I think that is what transparency and accountability means.   

I was in a meeting the other week with a lot of public sector workers who lamented the absence of smaller community groups in the delivery of local services and thought was given about how these small groups might ‘get on board’.  I seem to have heard the same conversation for years, a subtext of almost every meeting I go to.  My thought is – if you want to get more community groups ‘on board’ you just do it.  If you really want to do it, you will find a way.  It really isn’t hard.  This is about political and institutional will.  The fact that it still gets talked about means the will is lacking.  The solution for example is to identify what resource exists and ring fence and re-direct some of it. Trouble is, no one is framing the solution and the action – hence smaller community groups are disenfranchised.  This is by design.  I’m not saying there is a malign intent – I just think there are a lot of people copping out. Sometimes people blame the ‘system but we are the ones who create the system by who we are and what we do.   So for me it is not about the ‘system’ or bureaucracy, it is just about the will and desire to do it differently and better.   

Sometimes it occurs to me that maybe the same people in the ‘system’ have a lot on and feel overwhelmed.  They can’t relax but bounce from meeting to meeting – too many things to do, important people to placate.  No wonder stuff doesn’t get done.  Or when it gets done it happens at the margins because no one felt the need to form a committee or bring external consultants in.  Sometimes it feels like a conspiracy to agree things are being done when they are not.  There’s a fear factor.  Maybe that sounds a bit critical.   

Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator, wrote about how oppression operates through a culture of silence.  Power holders encourage magical and naive thinking when addressing social problems – magical in the sense of things being an act of fate or chance, naïve in the sense that those in power always and only act on the best interests of those without power and in fact want to give power away rather than hold on to it.  Freire suggests only critical thinking gets things done – that’s why maybe I’m coming across as critical.  Critical as in asking questions, trying to move from issue to solution to action.  Sometimes getting lost in a list of things to do.


Matthew Scott

TWCP Director


Allen, D (2015) Getting Things Done. London: Piatkus 

Friere, P (1995) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London: Penguin 

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