In the last 6 years much has been made about citizen engagement in our city. Hack the Vote, Citizens Panel, London X, The London Plan, Shift, and now an idea to change our cities name. All interesting, all needing attention, but one group , The North East Community Conversations Group, has been unique speaking to issues and coming from a unique place. The grass roots of average citizens.
I first became aware of their efforts in the last year and a half and since then have sen them engage the community in elections, ability and disability, and poverty. They recently held a large forum on poverty for The Mayors Poverty Panel and have been asked by them to continue this important engagement work. Gabriel Marcel , french philosopher and playwright, said ”On a grassroots level we say that man can touch more than he can grasp.”. This has been very true The North East Community Conversations group as their efforts at engaging in issues do not come from governments, business, or the non-profit sector, but form citizens wanting to gather and exchange ideas and concerns over what are important issues. Their reach extends beyond a mandate and extends into what we think about as a community.
At a meeting I attended recently the group was talking about the role of schools, the needs of students, and what our education system could be. It covered the gamut from students with special needs to where our focus needed to be to help students develop so they could confidently face the challenges of the 21st century . My wife was at another conversation last week about ability and disability and what are our collective responsibilities as participants in a community that espouses to be inclusive. The results of the conversation were illuminating and posted out that we had more work to do while celebrating what we have accomplished.
I have been involved in the sometimes frenetic initiatives of community engagement a lot over the last 6 years but I am impressed at the way this group comes together and works. There go about it in a quiet and thoughtful way without pushing an agendas, with out massive social media campaigns or fancy websites, they go about it not for gain or attention, but because they are called by a need to connect to their neighbours and community and discuss the issues that effect is everyday.
I have always believed that conversations lead to relationships that then lead to action. The North East Community Conversations group do this. It is built into their DNA and those of us who are , or have, been involved in various engagement exercises could do a lot worse than to pay attention on how this group does it. It was born from community and continues to be be rooted there. They’re lesson for us is that they don’t need meetings to discuss engagement burnout, they just do it and as you know great changes are created the doing. Engagement is not a product or an outcome but , as shown by this group, something we should just do.Take some time and do, and do it with the North East Community Conversations.