This week, we caught up with Ash Bearman from Shire Community Action Forum (SCAF) in a live Q&A on the Just Act forum. Ash is one of our Community Champions, on hand to share experiences of running community projects on the Just Act forum.
In our Q&A session we chatted one to one with Ash, to find out about SCAF, the benefits the group brings to the community and what advice she’d give to community projects that are just starting out. Read on for tips and quotes from Ash.
Shire Community Action Forum
SCAF is a small, grassroots community group with one very simple key objective:
“Our sole aim is working to make Shire a better place to live”
The area she’s referring to is Shirehampton, which is on the outskirts of Bristol, around six miles from the city centre.
Identifying local issues
A community profile took place in 2000, looking at the area. What it was like for residents, what it was like to work in, that sort of thing.
“It concluded that a lot of different groups were working in Shire – but in isolation. It was recommended that a new organisation was created to bring all these groups together and work to address the identified issues.”
The issues identified for Shire included poverty, low educational achievement and poor health, as well as the lack and loss of local facilities and amenities. SCAF was then set up in 2001 and Ash has been part of the organisation from the very beginning, working to improve the area.
The list of issues that Ash cited contains complicated problems that are not easy to address. But Ash said that they are able to make a big difference in lots of ways. Among their improvements is anti-social behaviour.
“When we started, anti-social behaviour was a really big issue, now it is dramatically reduced.”
Working in partnership
Community groups often work best when they connect with others in the area who also want to make a difference:
“Partnership has been the key to success – we work with everyone. Local community groups, businesses, Bristol City Council, police, schools, churches… We also have great support from local residents who are actively involved in our action groups.”
What’s the most rewarding thing about working with the community?
Ash told us that the most rewarding thing about working with the community over the years has been watching the area improve before her eyes:
“Knowing and seeing everyday all the practical, positive differences that SCAF has made over many years. Having the support and commitment of local residents to continue working together for our community, also seeing how it has brought people together from all sections of our community.”
What advice would you give other community projects?
Ash has been working to improve the community for a long time, so I asked what advice she’d share with those who were thinking about setting up a project in their own area.
Ash’s recommendation is to devote some time to find out about issues that are specific to the area you are working in:
“Never assume you know what the real issues and concerns are for the whole community (some issues are very localised). Ask them, gain their support and encourage people to be actively involved.”
She went on to say: “Always be open and transparent and realistic about what can be achieved – you can’t solve all the problems – some you can just work on really hard to try and improve a little.”
Good advice all round, we say.
Fancy taking part in a Q&A? We’re looking for new Community Champions. Find out about how to apply here…