Grassroots Associations in East Anglia and beyond: enhancing the impact of hyper local groups with interdisciplinary research
21 July 2021
Institute for Volunteering Research
Dr Jurgen Grotz (Director)
As the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) Director, I have been privileged to facilitate an online deliberative workshop with wonderful colleagues from UEA, other universities and local voluntary sector organisations. I am very grateful to everyone who generously gave of their time, the colleagues who helped us organise it and to the PVC Impact Fund which supported the activity.
We opened the event with one of my favourite songs, ‘Our House’, by Madness, an English ska band from the 70s and 80s. Its lyrics resonated across 40 years for me recalling very local, personal, voluntary activities. I trust you will forgive me if I shoehorn my thoughts between its words.
Our House, in the Middle of OUR street
When the pandemic hit, some of our colleagues literally spoke with their neighbours over the fence of their gardens, about what could now be done. From those conversations, with the help of UEA and the Norwich Good Economy Commission, guided by local networks and stakeholders, the Fine City Neighbours initiative emerged with 50,000 postcards, often hand-delivered, 10,000 posters, a short video and a dedicated website to encourage building neighbourly relationships with people, ‘before you need them, and before they need you’.
There's always something happening
The participants in our deliberative workshop gave many other examples of such activities supporting small local communities. From a toy exchange for the youngest, to dementia support for the oldest, from helping with food to collecting rubbish, local neighbourly activities can be seen everywhere in society. And we identified efforts to establish what difference these activities make.
And it’s usually quite loUd
It’s great that we are now speaking up much more about the tremendous contributions of people helping each other. Governments in all four UK countries at various levels are recognising its value. They are using terms for this like ‘the lifeblood of our nation’, and asking how it can be put to work contributing to the recovery after the pandemic. However, in our deliberative workshop, several themes emerged that suggest we need to better understand what this means. For example, we need better definitions and typologies to be clear about what it is and how to act. We need to understand what motivates not just those taking part but also those who want to support or perhaps co-opt neighbourliness. We can draw these from our experiences of working together – as in this Network, and through events like this workshop.
The Institute for Volunteering Research, works across disciplines to make more connections. Exploring the impact of such neighbourly activities through research, providing theoretical and methodological backing, as well as practical offers through local activities and co-producing relevant tools and guidance, are clearly topics for us to explore in these ways. We have therefore set up a research group which will work inclusively, and not just across the university, but within the communities the university serves. This group is being led by Ben Little. As one participant observed: “there is much more to discuss on a practical level re what needs to be done to develop this forward, but this was a great starting point!”
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