I had the privilege of participating in two Festivals simultaneously. My Keeping it Real? event was part of the Being Human Festival 2015 and culminated in a performance at the BBC, Media City. My work from Keeping it Real? also formed a small part of the BPS Festival of Community Psychology that took place at the Bridge 5 Mill in Ancoats. Keeping it Real? was a music and video project that explored young people’s attitudes towards crime and offending behaviour by facilitating the making of a music track and a short film documentary about the issues they uncovered in their exploration. For me what was most exhilarating was watching the young people work alongside the BBC staff and community practitioners who mentored them in filming skills and who helped them to write their track, as they blossomed in confidence to speak eloquently about youth representation in the media and its impact on their self esteem. You can read more about the event and the underlying research here.
As a form of community engagement, designed to raise awareness of aspects of youth community activism around the saving of a local community heritage centre in South Manchester, it really made me think about the power of participatory and creative activities to reach and inspire people, perhaps, in the process, galvanising them to make changes in their communities.
So when I attended Kate Thompson’s workshop about Developing tools for enhancing community psychology work in the BPS Festival of Community Psychology, I was really interested to see how engagement and participation was approached from a perhaps more clinical or institutional perspective. One of the things that really stood out for me was the importance of community embeddedness and how hard this is to actually achieve for large institutions. With pressures on funding, staff resources and time, there seemed to be no easy answers to this conundrum other than a complete rethink about how we do partnership working outside the often asymmetric power dynamic of community and institutional relationships. Again, no mean feat as the limited resources of organisations predicates a sort of time and motion model of relationship building based on the project model. This is where the project is costed (monetised), delineated in its parameters and finite in its duration, which means any relationships built within these confines ultimately conform to these restrictions (and are essentially monetised). This is not an ideal position to be in for any of the ‘partners’ involved.
But how do organisations really partner with the grass roots to form equal partnerships that are embedded in the community, producing real agency for the grass roots rather than just reaching out to the usual suspects – the ‘easy to reach’? How do institutions build relationships outside of the ‘project model’?