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Socially Connected Leeds: Day in the Life of a Community Builder

Added: 12/05/2020

This post is part of a series of blogs sharing good news stories, positive practice and the range of innovative ways communities in Leeds are remaining connected through neighbourliness.

ABCD in Leeds

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) begin by finding out what the people living in a community care enough about to work on together to change, develop and/or sustain.  It recognises and celebrates the uniqueness of neighbourhoods and the interdependencies of communities.  Leeds City Council Adults & Health (A&H) currently funds twelve Pathfinder sites across Leeds who employ Community Builders whose key approach is to create connections with the local community to find and recognise the assets of an area; these can be anything that can be used to benefit the local community. 

Johanna Mawson the ABCD Community Builder for Opal shares with us her experience.

A day in the life of and ABCD Community Builder 

Like most jobs being An Asset Based Community Development community builder means that you do some of the same things every day, for me answering the phone and dealing with every day admin checking e-mails and so on but the key thing about the community builder role is that you are always looking for an opportunity to meet new people and to help build new connections in the community.  You’re always working on out how to support and help people in the community make good things happen that bring communities together using Asset Based Community Development approach, working with the local assets – these are the people and the neighbourhood. The work evolves based on how the community wants it to be shaped, the work has recently found me working across all age groups and I see that the ABCD work is connecting people across the generation gap, something that other services in the area have struggled to approach.

It can take time to build those new connections, to find the community connectors. I spend a lot of my time talking with residents, learning their passions, interests and skills and see a big part of my role is to create new connections and build up trust to help reawaken that sense of community and the mutual reliance that defines strong communities. 

The Sunflower garden club is supported by a group of residents and some of our community connectors (these are local residents who want to create the changes they want to see in the area) have become a key supporters of the garden with ideas for new maker space activities and food growing. Many connectors spend many hours gardening here and find the experience helps with their mental health and to feel less socially isolated. I work to support the community connectors to enable them with their vision. Together we’ve sown mini flower meadows, planted a hedge, built compost bins, cleared away tons of rubbish built a workbench and then raised money to create the garden and restore a rundown patio area. 

The Patio, now almost completed,  is on a street corner with lots of people passing by so it should become a great ‘bumping space’ for the community – a place that can be used by all ages just to sit and have a chat, have a tea or a coffee from the cafe and possibly do a bit of gardening too. The outdoor focus involves working with Tinshill in Bloom, led by local community connector, to plant bulbs and do clean ups of the local area linked to Tidy Britain activities. The community connectors feel a sense of coming together to create change in the area and spend time littler picking and cleaning of the local street, everyone benefits from this and it creates a sense of purpose, community spirit and belonging. I’m reaching new people and connecting people across the generation gap,

As an ABCD community builder some of my day is spend managing a micro grant scheme called the ‘Sparks’ Fund which is money from the Council to help support ideas that the residents in the community have. The idea is that they know what best for how they would like to see their community thrive. A recent project that we funded with Sparks is a JIGSAW making club which gets people together once a week. It’s doing really well a community builder who runs the club is now thinking about organising a JIGSAW Festival which is an opportunity to involve other groups from the local community.

I feel grateful to be able to work on and support the ABCD approach it’s about creating those new connections, finding those community connectors that are passionate, have skills and gifts, idea and interests that want to shape their own community in how they see it should look like, the role can be surprising and things are created I would not have even thought about, it shows that once supported enabled local communities can thrive!

This post was written by

Johanna Mawson, ABCD Community Builder for OPAL

In partnership with Leeds City Council


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