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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 – February 2021

Welcome to our first ever Director Blog!

Although we are now in our third lockdown we’ve managed to continue our work, via online resident-led activities and partnership working with the British Red Cross, NHS, LBBD and BRL among others.  At some point the pandemic will ease and we are ready to ensure not only that there is resilience and recovery but a platform for residents to take more control of their local area.

Since October 2017 when we started our Lottery funded journey we’ve covered a lot of ground – the pinnacle of which has been to create a resident-led Community Development Trust (CDT) aka Thames Life, with exclusively local people as trustees.  That feels good.  To know that we have been able to start a project from scratch – Thames Ward Community Project – initially with the support of Riverside School as host (accountable body) and in less than three years create a new organisation run by local people, to go alongside the activities and campaigns we have been able to deliver that have brought in over £1m of investment for local projects and services.  The challenge for us now is to make it sustainable over the longer term so that the community has a resource that will last for generations.

We are working on our governance, our funding and our social business model to ensure the value we create together through resident-led activity becomes a permanent feature in uncertain times, an anchor organisation that supports others, convenes and makes things happen so everyone can win and truly, no resident is left behind.

Finally thanks to all those we’ve worked with and who’ve supported us and a special welcome to Zainab, our new Communications and Outreach Officer and local resident, who has put our newsletter together to help us showcase the work of TWCP and the residents we work with. We want to ensure resident projects, ideas and voices are promoted far and wide so watch this space!

Matt Scott

TWCP Director

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