“There are more rewards to this than you can ever imagine”: Building Community in High Wycombe, Part 2

April 28, 2017

This is the second in a series of blog posts about community building in High Wycombe. In the first part we blogged about how guardians in Castlefield, High Wycombe came to live there and how they approach being neighbourly. In this post we’ll tackle the details – how they go about building community on a day to day basis.

 

New Area, New Challenges

Moving into a new area can have its challenges, and this is something Tim, one of the guardians in the area, is aware of.

“There are tensions in the area that you have to be aware of and you need to treat people very gently. In my mind you go in very gently – you explain what you are doing, you be chatty and slowly they get used to you.”

Jon, Tim’s neighbour, agrees.

“That overt friendliness really makes a difference, it makes it clear that you are not a threat.”

But over time, Tim, Jon and other guardians start to do far more to help build up relationships and community. Tim feels simple and more generous acts start to make impressions on neighbours over time.

“They see us on a daily basis tidying up litter, clearing up, playing football and talking to the kids in the evening.  They see us interacting and doing things like that and then suddenly – Pam (who live immediately behind me) – her sister now parks her car down there because she knows I will keep an eye on it when she is away, because she is a student NHS nurse. Amda learnt to ride a bicycle which I basically sorted out and pumped the tyres up and all that and now she cycles to work. It is little things. It is building and the problem with that is it can be smashed in a heartbeat. One thoughtless act or someone shouting at people, people acting in an unreasonable manner it could destroy all this.”

Jon sees the benefits of having someone like Tim in the area over a longer period of time:

“I think that is why having a guardian like Tim here helps because Tim knows the names of a lot of people and when I moved in I knew that I wanted to introduce myself to the local policeman. Now, Tim already knew his name, so that makes it very easy when I see him. I think that definitely helps – having someone who knows more about the area.”

Cleaning up for the Community

The area where our guardians live in Castlefield has been prone to littering, particularly as buildings in the area started to become empty in 2015. Littering and vandalism are familiar problems that empty buildings bring, and often hinder the development of a sense of community, as Tim notes:

“Right up the end where Beth (another guardian) lives, there is a flight of steps down there and because it is grassed over on the other side as well, it is a real magnet for a lot of rubbish. I was clearing that one afternoon and a bloke looked back and he made a comment over his shoulder – don’t see you blokes round here much – and I realised that he thought I was from the council picking up litter. I laughed and said ‘No I am a resident’ and he stopped and we had a 10 minute chat as he couldn’t quite believe that a resident is doing something like that. I had only been here a few weeks then so it was easy to say that I moved in a few weeks ago and I can’t stand all this rubbish and then start telling him about the guardianship. But it is a really good example of how people would rather keep themselves to themselves and complain about something, rather than do something about it.”

So that’s Tim and Jon’s views on the details of building community in a new area as a guardian. Being neighbourly, being friendly and the small acts that make an area better are key. But if he had to summarise, what would he say?

“Communication rather than anything else is what is key to being a Dot Dot Dot guardian. You can’t just sit in your flat. The fundamentals of it is that you have got to let people know who you are and what you are doing and why you are doing it. There are a lot more rewards to this than you can ever imagine. It works, but you have to work at it. You can’t just sit there and expect to be part of something – you have to be part of something.”

We couldn’t put it better ourselves. So we’ll leave it there. If you’ve been inspired to join our community in High Wycombe, please apply now. Our flats here don’t hang around for long! Or, please do read more about our community work.

This week’s top five volunteering opportunities

March 10, 2016

1.Open the GateOpen the gate

Where: Across London
When: Various
Commitment Level: Various

Want to get involved in a fast growing cultural organisation? Open the Gate is looking for volunteers to help with organisation, promotion and event hosting. If this is something that interests you, please email show@openthegate.org.uk

2.Beanstalk

beanstalkWhere: Various Locations  
When: Various  
Commitment Level: Medium – Regular Commitment

Volunteer with a young person as a reading helper! In the reading sessions you will spend one-to-one time with children, chat with them, read and play educational games on a regular basis. For more information, see here.

3.Day Old

Where: Across London
When: VariousDay old eats
Commitment Level: Various

DayOld is a food surplus social enterprise, tackling food waste and food poverty. They sell surplus baked goods through treat boxes, office pop-ups and event catering. Their baked goods are collected from artisan bakeries the previous day, preventing them from going to waste. They are looking for volunteers to help them with this process. For more information and to register your interest, click here.

4.Cleaner, Greener Volunteers

cleaner greener volunteersWhere: Bow Churchyard
When: 16th April  10.30am
Commitment Level: One-off

As spring is almost here, Big Dig day is a national scheme to get people helping out at gardens. On the 16th April, a group will be heading to Bow Churchyard to take the first steps in revamping and restoring the site. If you want more information, please contact Chris on black.bird@virgin.net – or just turn up on the day!

5.Kitchen Volunteers

ashford houseWhere: Ashford Place,  NW2 6TU
When: Saturday March 19th from 11am to 2pm
Commitment Level: One-off

Ashford Place is a community resource centre in North West London. They provide advice and practical support to the whole community. Ashford Place is looking for volunteers to support their Saturday project – a mental health and support group. They want help preparing and serving lunch. For more information and to register your interest, click here.

This week’s top five volunteering opportunities

February 26, 2016

1.Befriending Scheme

Where: Across London  Peabody
When: Various
Commitment Level: Regular Commitment

Peabody Housing Association is looking for volunteers to take part in their ‘Well Met’ befriending scheme. There are opportunities all over London to befriend someone who has become isolated and lonely. They are asking for a couple of hours commitment a week. If you are interested or want more information email: well.met@peabody.org.uk or call: 0207 021 4327

2. Clean for the Queen – Litter Picking

Clean for the queen1Where: Ackroyd Green Link
When: Friday 4th March 9.00-12.00
Commitment Level: Low

Clean for the Queen is an initiative from Keep Britain Tidy marking the Queen’s 90th birthday this year.  This litter picking event is going to be held at Ackroyd Green Link (between Bow Common Lane and Burdett Road). They will supply gloves and litter picking equipment. If you are interested in attending, please email Chris at: Christine.Gennings@towerhamlets.gov.uk by the 28th of February

3. Bucket Collector

Where: London BridgeBreast cancer
When: Friday 11th March
Commitment Level: Low

Help Breast Cancer Care by collecting money at London Bridge Tube station so that they can support more people facing breast cancer. If you are interested in this opportunity, click here.

4. FoodCycle – Kitchen and Customer Service Assistant

FoodcycleWhere: St Leonards Street, E3 3BT
When: Various 
Commitment Level: Various

FoodCycle combines volunteers, surplus food and a free kitchen space to create meals and make positive social change in the community. No particular skills are needed, they are just looking for friendly and enthusiastic people looking to help out. Find out more here.

5. Post Pals

Where: Anywherepost pals
When: Anytime
Commitment Level: Low

Post Pals need volunteers to send cards, letters, emails and small gifts to seriously ill children and their families in the UK. This opportunity requires very little commitment. If you are interested in getting involved and brightening a child’s day, you can find out more here.

Spotlight on Sam: property guardianship in Thamesmead

June 12, 2015

Since joining Dot Dot Dot in January, Sam has already volunteered over 48 hours for local projects around Thamesmead…

“Property guardian? Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” This comment from a neighbour at my first Sam1     residents’ meeting brought me right down to earth. Perhaps more humbling was the man under the impression I was a homeless person being forced to volunteer for 16 hours a month in exchange for a roof over my head. This was not the red carpet welcome of which I had entertained occasional fantasies.

But despite the occasional scepticism of others I remain convinced that property guardians can be a hugely positive force. Being labelled a ‘guardian’ means people come to you for help, and in turn you are more likely to offer it. After said meeting I helped a neighbour pull down an intimidating old black tent from a fence that near her flat in an isolated part of the block. In turn she pointed out a discarded clothes drying rack that I am still using. Quid pro quo.

It sometimes feels tough being in exile from your comfort zone.  One day after coming back from work I got a knock on the door from a neighbour who had latched on to the ‘guardian’ aspect and asked me to have a word with some boys playing outside ­- kicking the ball up in the air over and over again near a row of parked cars. Though tempted to weasel out of it my conscience kicked in and I assured her I would indeed have a word.

Marching outdoors I realised this was a terrible error. Teenage boys tend not to cower in my wake. Who was I kidding? But turning the corner, to my relief the boys were walking off of their own volition. I did consider going back to my neighbour and taking credit for it until, yet again, my conscience intervened.

Sam2
Sam often does some litter picking around the lake in Thamesmead.

Volunteering is central to Dot Dot Dot’s property guardianship. Some of my favourite moments in Thamesmead have been with the Early Words Together project run by the National Literacy Trust. This is a national scheme pairing volunteers with families with pre-school children to help them develop literacy early on. For an hour a week, you meet with a family and do craft, stories, songs or whatever will enable them to bring words into a child’s early development.

I admit that fifteen minutes of trying to stop a child pouring glue all over the floor wasn’t quite my dream of coaching three year olds to quote Shelley and Shakespeare. But then, after making a spider with the same child, while getting them to say the colours and shapes of all the craft materials, I started to understand the value of this fantastic project.

I hadn’t done litter picking since getting a week’s lunchtime detention in Year 10 for persistent lateness. In Thamesmead, however I’ve realised that it is a great way to both clear up and explore the local area. You can even combine it with other chores like shopping, though I have to warn you I did nearly take a man’s eye out in Morrison’s with my picker.

I’ve also been able to lend some professional fundraising advice to a local drama group; Cadz Productions. Cadz provide free drama workshops to local residents encouraging confidence, motivation and increasing community participation, and cohesion

Sam3

The Link community centre.

I’ve barely touched upon the immense variety of Thamesmead that includes The Link, a brilliant community centre, the sprawling nature reserve, the horses that pop up everywhere, and the beautiful Southmere Lake. And the bit where A Clockwork Orange was filmed. Getting the chance to be an active participant in such a unique environment is frequently a treat, even when things don’t quite go to plan.”

Get involved

  • If you’re interested in volunteering and becoming a guardian with dot dot dot, apply here today
  • Keep up to date with our news and our guardians’ volunteering experiences on Facebook and Twitter

Litter-ally the highlight of my week…

June 17, 2014

131107 Litter Loraine

If someone had told me a year ago that spending an evening once a week picking up rubbish would have been a highlight of my week I would have thought they were having a laugh. However low and behold, week on week countless guardians, local residents, and myself would get together braving all weather in an effort to make our local areas look a little nicer. Why you ask? Well this is a good question as it is not just because we had a burning desire to pick up chicken bones and crisp packets!

There are a number of reasons why this was such a successful project and I suspect that these factors can be attributed to many other projects as well. Firstly, it was fun! It was a couple of hours each week where you could chat, laugh and get to know your neighbours a bit better. Also attending one of the litter picking sessions provided an easy way of meeting up with people that did not have to planned meticulously and put in the diary weeks before. It was a known time each week that anyone could come along to depending on their work and other social commitments – it was easy.

130815 Ocean litter pickThe litter picking couldn’t have actually been able to take place if it weren’t for a grant that was given to the guardian litter picking groups from Capital CleanUp. These provided the groups with hi-vis vests, litter pickers and bag holders. A key importance of this is that it was the guardians themselves that applied for these and thus took ownership of them – it was not a case of Dot Dot Dot ‘giving’ the groups these things [assistance was provided though when needed]. As with any project, without the group’s ownership of it there is no hope for it to be self-sufficient. On top of this, having a few dedicated litter picking heroes who took a more leading role in orchestrating the clean-ups was a real plus too. They were always there week on week and helped to remind people who may have forgotten, they would also take care of the equipment during the week.

130708 Mel Pop Pick 5I believe another reason why litter picking worked so well as a project is the visible nature of it. Not only is there a noticeable difference to the look and feel of the area after people have been litter picking, but also with the hi-vis vests the groups themselves are visible. People would come up all the time and ask all sorts of questions about why and what we were doing – some people would go out of their way just to say thanks! It provided an amazing way to spark up conversation with your neighbours that may not have happened before, and after that initial spark you would then start to recognise people more and say hello each time you saw them.

All in all the litter picking projects have proven to be absolutely fantastic ways in which guardians have been able to get involved more in their community, do great volunteering and generally be fabulous. So next time someone suggests something that doesn’t sound too appealing, saying yes might just be the best decision you can make!

The impact of volunteering – small is beautiful!

March 31, 2014

I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon last week discussing how to measure the impact of volunteering with staff, volunteers and supporters from The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).

tcv_logo_twitterTCV is a national organisation that helps people reclaim green space, both through their own environmental projects and through a network of 2000 community groups. They take on spaces that have been previously neglected or unloved, and create vibrant new community and wildlife areas – for example at The Penge Green Gym, where over 130 Green Gym volunteers have contributed over 4900 hours to planting an urban orchard, sowing wildflower meadows, developing food growing spaces, and creating a wealth of wildlife habitats. Our West London guardians Clare and Andrew are also keen TCV volunteers, and have been involved digging run-off trenches at Heathrow Airport.

A lot of the discussion focussed on people’s motivation for getting involved with volunteering in the first place, and what keeps them coming back.  While we all get involved for different reasons, a couple of interesting findings from their research were discussed.

Firstly, they have found that motivation for environmental volunteering tends to change the more people do it, from something initially quite abstract, such as an interest in the environment, to something much more relational – maybe about the enjoyment of being with new people, or new friends volunteers might have made.

Secondly, the more people volunteer, the more their attitudes and behaviours change too – towards their environment, lifestyle, and willingness to engage with the local community. It also has a positive impact on physical and mental health.

And finally, impacts seem even greater for volunteers that received training or get into positions of responsibility.

While all of the above might seem quite obvious, it got me thinking about the blog Danusia and Eddie recently wrote about their experiences of litter picking at Ocean Estate – their transformative journey from seeing litter picking as something rather unpleasant and arduous, to one of the genuine highlights of their week. It is striking that something as simple as picking up litter has allowed them to build a huge number of relationships with the people that live immediately around them, while of course improving the environment too!

Danusia and Eddie are not the only guardians who have been on this type of journey with Dot Dot Dot – see the excellent blog by Tim who makes a similar point about how his attitudes to volunteering have changed over time.

In short, it just goes to show how if you keep an open mind, roll your sleeves up, and get stuck in with even the most boring or mundane problems in your local community, all sorts of unexpected and positive changes can follow.

You can see the full report from TCV on Volunteering Impacts here

Stepney community litter patrol

January 17, 2014

I have been litter-picking with a group of Dot Dot Dot guardians in Stepney for a number of months now and it has been great to see the group develop. When we first started (back when it was still sunny in the evening!) there were just a few of us who would go out every week and go around the local area where we live. This small group soon expanded, and not just with more guardians but also with people from the local community joining in too. We have people joining in for various reasons for example as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award, and simply just to get involved in some local volunteering. We also had local girl Lorraine Chase from Emmerdale join in once too!

It has been great to see that being a visible group in the local area has attracted some good attention. We often get people stopping us as to ask how they can get involved or just to say a ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re doing a good job’. I think the fact that the group is such mixture of men and women and of various different ages it makes us more approachable, and people are more likely to join in. So if you see us walking around Stepney with our litter-grabbers and in our hi-vis jackets please do come and say ‘hey’. We often carry around spare bags and jackets so you too can get involved!

131107 Litter Loraine

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