Back in 1999 a young graduate embarked on her first role in community work. The role was Community Involvement Officer for a Neighbourhood Centre in an area of high deprivation, dense housing, poor access to services and so on. Nothing learned at university would prepare this youngster for the challenges she was to face in the coming years. That young enthusiastic graduate was me and the lessons I learned in that first job have never left me.
One of the first pieces of work I jumped in to was working with a colleague to plan and coordinate the transformation of a grey, often covered in graffiti, wall on the side of the local library. It was decide that the local children in the area would be involved in designing a colourful mural reflecting nature. Local schools and youth clubs jumped on board and before we knew it a design had been created. I remember many cold, windy and wet Autumn days spent working with the children to create the mural on the side of the building and it was a proud moment when the children witnessed the mural be officially launched by the local MP. I remember a true sense of ownership being present.
As the years went by I would walk or drive past the mural and it was always there – immaculate and colourful – retaining that sense of community pride and ownership. I always used this piece of work as a great example of community development, in that by involving the children and young people in designing and painting the mural, the mural would hold a certain respect within the community and would remain untouched for many years. I particularly remember some of the children who participated in the mural lived directly opposite it and I sensed they would keep a 24/7 watch on it!
Having moved away, I was fortunate to be back in the UK last month and dared to go off route and take a drive past the mural. Would it still be there 11 years later? Would it be covered in grafitti? As I turned the corner and saw the dazzling mural still there 11 years on, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of job satisfaction!
So the lesson to be learned? Involving people in a process and ensuring ownership of community activity, development and assets creates community pride. The value of community pride off the scale.