Friday, 28 September 2012

How to develop a project - Getting support

Here at FET we believe that any Community can make a difference, and can take on the challenge of performing actions that can benefit it’s natural, social and built environments. However we don’t believe this to be an easy or straight forward undertaking, especially if it's a group’s first project outing.

Often Community groups or individuals get in touch with us, and they invariably have great ideas for projects. Some, admittedly are greater ideas than others, but all deserve to be heard. This is the point – that communities deserve to be heard, and their aspirations acted upon when these are appropriate and do-able. There is assistance available from both FET and other agencies such as Falkirk Council, but the expectation is that the local group will be or at least become, able to pursue these matters autonomously. Most in fact do manage this, although rarely on the first project that they attempt.

I’ve been with FET for a while, and have assisted a number of projects to get off the ground. Over the time in this job, I’ve noticed patterns in both application types and the groups who make the applications. In many cases they have the same difficulties. There are lots of areas to consider, so for this post we'll stick to the idea of gaining support within the community itself. This is an incredibly powerful thing to do, as when several dozen or hundred people show a united front, the world tends to sit up and take notice!

Problem – You feel alone in thinking this problem is in fact a community problem – In many communities today isolation is a problem, and indeed stops positive community action from coming about. Maybe you have only discussed the issue with one or two people, maybe even with no-one.

Solution – Find out what the community thinks – Talk to others, and if they agree that your perceived issue is theirs too, try putting together a working party who will develop the idea. Keep the working party relatively small and be sure that you all agree on what the problem is and it's general solution before you go any further.

Dont - Keep it to yourself.

Problem - Don’t know where to start getting support – Perhaps the problem is something that the community feel that the Council or some other agency should have taken care of and possibly have felt this way for many years. It could be a dilapidated play park, community hall or a piece of waste ground that attracts anti-social behaviour. The Community want something done but don’t know how to go about it.

Solution – Approach your local Councillor, as a working group sending representatives, and explain clearly and calmly what it is that you want. Call the Falkirk Environment Trust and ask about grants for your desired outcome, and what actions you need to take. Find out who owns the piece of waste ground and approach them, not with a demand, but asking for permission to do something positive with the land yourselves. Just this simple communicative act can achieve amazing results.

Dont - Simply keep shouting at the council. It usually doesnt work. Dont try to make land owners bend to your wishes - They can be very stubborn!

Problem - You know what the problem is, but you know there are complcated issues associated with it. - Not every problem faced by modern communities is simple - most arent.

Solution - Study the situation, know your subject matter, do your homework. If you are still uncertain then find out if the council has expert staff, or if there are big charities out there that can give you free advice. Often there will be someone in your community who has made a study of the subject in hand - ask around locally. You may be pleasantly suprised!

Dont - Go to meetings with big holes in your knowledge of the subject or it's history.

Do - Become as much of an expert as you can, and gather other local experts around you.

Problem – You don’t know if the community will back your ideas –  The worst thing you can do is to try to roll out a project with out consulting everyone that will be affected by it. One persons renovated play park is another’s congregation point for scary teenagers. If you dont explore stakeholder opinions early, expect stiff reisitance to your plans later on.

Solution - Try running a public meeting. Book a space in the local community centre, library or church hall. Run an advertisement in the local paper, put up fliers or run a leaflet drop. Clearly state the thing that you want to discuss at the meeting and that you are looking for opinions on the matter. When the meeting occurs, get the opinions of all who turn up on the problem as they perceive it and their idea of a solution. You will be amazed at the diversity of ideas and skills embedded in your community. And remember the scary teenagers? Be sure to invite them and to ask their opinion. If they have been treated like adults and shown some respect, they will almost certainly come to think of the project as their own and treat IT with respect. In fact be sure to ask every sector of your community to attend. Remember – if they attend and get their say, but the mandate goes against them, then democratic process has been served, and the majority get their way. If they don’t attend a well publicised public meeting then they have had their chance at a having a say.

Dont - Ignore this

Do - Overkill this.

Problem – Don’t know where to turn for funding – The point is that gaining funding is one specific step in the linear development of a project. Don’t worry about it too much in the early stages of gathering support. A good project will attract funding when the time comes, so make sure that yours is a good project!

Solution – When the time does come to attract suitable funding partners, you’re going to need to have  developed a decent plan, with costings, permissions, possibly planning consent etc. Just remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that the most important first steps are to gather support and get people form the community on board.

Dont - Try to run before you can walk. There are many things to cover before you start applications and bids for funding. No harm in checking out whats around though!

In Conclusion
Best practice for a group that wants to make some environmental change is always going to be a difficult area to quantify. Every community is different, with varying agendas and skills. Be assured that there are people within the Council, in various charities and other organisations that can and will assist you in all aspects of project development and management.

However I can say that there are a few simple rules to getting Community improvement works off the ground. To recap;

            If you’ve had an idea that could help your community or environs, chances are it’s a good one, and many others may think in a similar way. Trust yourself.

            Gather other local people around the problem/solution, start talking about it, form a working party.

            As a group, contact and talk to people that can help and even champion your aspiration.

            Get the opinion of the local people, and take those opinions into account, through running a public meeting.

Thats it for now - If you have any questions or you want to develop a community project, please get in touch with us here at Falkirk Environment Trust .