Our priorities over the last year have been to provide support and find ways to tackle the pandemic collectively. We led the organisation of the BD CAN work over much of 2020 (shout out to Amina), pioneered a strong partnership with the British Red Cross, including training local people as volunteers and advocates, distributed hand sanitizer to 5,500 households in the ward, delivered literally hundreds of online resident-led events online and as socially distanced activities, supported the growing work around a ‘new model of care’ with health partners, started our Barking Food Forest project aka Riverside Community Garden, and set ourselves up as a new charitable incorporated organisation (Thames Life). There’s a much longer list of activities and achievements but I’ll pause there.
The thing that stands out for me is the resident-led bit. The numbers don’t lie. Everyone of our trustees is a local resident and collectively they reflect the diversity and breadth of expertise across the ward. Our job as staff is back office support; to convene the space and provide the platform – resident leaders will do the rest hence just about every one of our projects is led by residents and the extra funding we have won goes back into these initiatives. You may have noticed that there are a lot of experiments and pilots going on in Barking and Dagenham one way or another but I believe the way we have merged a social business and community organising approach is genuinely unique. Much of the support we have leveraged has come from out of the borough – from Locality, East London Business Association, Citizens UK, London Sport, Planning Aid London, Community Housing London, Laureus Foundation, London Youth, Just Space – because what we are trying to do has an ambition that led us in all sots of directions. When we seek out capacity building support it comes in all shapes and sizes and we all need as much support as we can get.
Right now we are at a crossroads. We have set up our resident-led Community Development Trust but this is the beginning of a whole set of new challenges – establishing the smooth running of an organisation and systems required to run it, having previously gone under the umbrella of Riverside School. This is the challenge of governance – if you are a large organisation you have the capacity to absorb this, but a small group which wants to remain small but able to maintain minimum size to deliver basic support has to get this right. To avoid becoming a bureaucracy and boring people or burning them out with procedures whilst ensuring the fiduciary matters are performed well. This is where the need to get the right support at the right time becomes vital and if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that we will need to build back better and make sure no one is left behind, to use the political jargon of our times.
Hopefully my next blog will speak of success in securing a further 3-years of Lottery funding – which will cover most of our core costs and really allow us to kick on. Either way we’ve got a lot done, not least in the last year. Especially pleasing has been our work with Barking Sports 4 Good where we managed to deliver a substantial part of this programme online and via socially distanced activity in the final months of 2020, which included the participation of 257 residents in a new women’s cycling and walking project, yoga classes, basketball and leadership training, boxing and women’s fitness classes, dance competitions, a men’s cycling project and enabled us to support the Hikmah Social Project and their football activities. Likewise our involvement with BRL has been pretty spectacular – including working on a resident-led editorial board, community gardening, place-shaping and social enterprise workshops, and ongoing health partnership working. I’ve mentioned the work with health partners previously but again Thames Ward is at the heart of new ways of working with local people and the Locality Board chaired by Cllr Wharby and the Thames View Activation Group supported by LBBD and the local NHS has moved the health agenda on a very long way in the space of a few months.
So no one wants an overly long blog – my message behind all of this is together over the last 3-4 years I feel very grateful for all the investment of time both residents and partners have made. Our Community Development Trust and range of projects seemed a distant prospect in 2017 but local people made it happen. We should demand and expect even greater positive change can and will happen in the coming years. A key measure of our future impact will be to ensure that resources and success is spread widely and evenly across a large number of groups and individuals. That would be my definition of inclusive growth – everybody can grow, everybody wins and no one is left behind.