Report review: Community in the making

| Helen Sharp

“Participation has evolved into a label that is potentially alienating for the person who is so defined. Participation should go back to its origins as an act of sharing, an act of distributing power so as to transform the public space.”

Romeo Gongora

In 2016, the Bromley by Bow Centre (BBBC) embarked on an in-depth evaluation to understand how its unique approach impacted on the local community. We recently featured an article on the event which launched the research – Unleashing Healthy Communities. I wanted to revisit the work and introduce you to some of the innovative methods they used to involve the community.

For those of you new to the BBBC, it is based in East London and has evolved over the years through the partnership of a community centre and a set of three GP practices. At the core of their approach, they have focused on being practical. They have tried to create a place and culture that encourages human interaction and elevates the things that enable people to have a purpose in their lives.

With this in mind, it made sense for any evaluation to break the mould of traditional research. And as someone who has tried to research ‘community’, I was fascinated to hear about their approach. Firstly, the researchers – Becky Seale, Catherine-Rose Stocks-Rankin and Naomi Mead – were based at the BBBC for the duration of the project. This was a significant change in itself. It enabled them to bear witness to the day-to-day activity and culture of the centre as well as properly getting to know some of the 6000 people the centre serves.

Then, they joined forces with Roger Newton and Romeo Gongora. Together, they introduced them to creative ways of doing research including participatory appraisal and collaborative art. The project slowly developed to become ‘Connected Dreams’ which brought to life the question:

‘What could the Bromley by Bow neighbourhood look like in the future?’

The local community worked together to design an imaginary utopia over a period of five weekly workshops. Each workshop focused on a different theme which had been identified by the community previously. They used a variety of approaches including collage making, blind drawing, poetry, meditation and movement. The local community was involved in each step of the evaluation process, including the curation of the final exhibition of their work.

Their work has culminated in a bite-size booklet called ‘Community in the Making’. This publication  shares their vision, methodology and findings and will hopefully inspire others to try out something similar.

The Hub had the privilege to visit the exhibition. I wasn’t surprised by the outcomes, but I admired their methodology. I will be considering their approach when thinking about evaluating ‘community’ in the future. And I will start by going back to the basic question of ‘who owns this research?’

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