A Discussion Note
The purpose of this note is to raise issues and questions for discussion about the way forward for community activity given the challenges facing residents and community organisations in the area.
The Challenges In Norbury
Among the challenges in Norbury are:
- The decline in the number of active members of its community organisations.
- The neglect by the Council of positive action to support the local communities and their organisations.
- The failure of the Council to develop the use of the refurbished library and its community hall.
- The decision of the Council not to offer the management lease on Harlow Hall to the partnership of Love Norbury members led by the Norbury Community Land Trust?
- The refusal of Network Rail modernise the Railway Station and change the fare structure down to East and West Croydon resulting in commuters parking in Norbury’s resident streets.
- The growth in the private rented sector meaning that a growing number of residents do not live in the area sufficiently long to build roots and become involved.
- The licensing and planning rules which allow shops to open that are not wanted by residents.
- The loss of employment and community buildings in favour of flats.
- Growing social and economic inequalities.
What Does ‘Community’ Mean?
The word ‘community’ has been overused by Government, local authorities, interest groups and the media without an explanation of what it means. There needs to be a common understanding about the meaning other wise people will be talking at cross purposes.
What is ‘community’?
‘Community’ can be defined as the web of personal relationships, groups, networks, traditions and patterns of behaviour:
- that exist amongst those who share physical neighbourhoods socio-economic conditions or common understandings and interests;
- that develop against the backdrop of the physical neighbourhood and its socio-economic situation.
The word ‘community’ is often treated as a single entity. It is not – it is comprised of many different overlapping communities, including:
- geographic – people living in a neighbourhood or on an estate
- of interest sharing concerns and perspectives e.g. users, disabled, ethnic, faith, gender/sexuality, age based, interest, workplace, business, sport, hobby
People move in and out of different communities, and can belong to more than one community at any one time. However:
- some communities are more privileged than others
- many communities can be excluded.
What Is ‘The Community’ in Norbury?
- What are the many varied ‘communities’ in Norbury?
- Which are more privileged than others?
- Which are excluded or perceive themselves to be excluded?
The answers to these questions should form part of an analysis which underpins what the needs and aspirations of residents as individuals and collectively in their different ‘communities’ that should be addressed in the development of a strategy for the future by local organisations.
What Makes for a Good Community?
In the past the following have been defined as key characteristics for a good and well functioning ‘community’.
- A learning community, where people and groups gain knowledge, skills and confidence through community action.
- A fair and just community, which upholds civic rights and equality of opportunity, and which recognizes and celebrates the distinctive features of its cultures.
- An active and empowered community, where people are fully involved and which has strong and varied local organisations and a clear identity and self-confidence.
- An influential community, which is consulted and has a strong voice in decisions which affect its interests.
- An economically strong community, which creates opportunities for work and which retains a high proportion of its wealth.
- A caring community, aware of the needs of its members and in which services are of good quality and meet these needs.
- A green community, with a healthy and pleasant environment, awareness of environmental responsibility.
- A safe community, where people do not fear crime, violence or other hazards.
- A welcoming community, which people like, feel happy about and do not wish to leave.
- A lasting community, which is well established and likely to survive.
Does Norbury meet these concepts?
‘Community development’ is a process which its advocates claim:
- builds a stronger civil society and develops ways to ensure the local people are able to influence the decisions that affect their lives;
- enriches the web of relationships and make its threads stronger,
- develops self-confidence and skills,
so that the community (the people) can begin to make significant improvements to their neighbourhood (the place) and its material environment.
Community development starts from the assumption that most social problems are rooted in the political, social and economic structure. It is the process of building active and sustainable communities based on social justice and mutual respect. It is about changing power structures to remove the barriers that prevent people from participating in the issues that affect their lives. It expresses values of fairness, equality, accountability, opportunity, choice, participation, mutuality, reciprocity and continuous learning. Educating, enabling and empowering are at the core of community development.
Community Development in Norbury
How are Norbury’s local community organisations contributing to local ‘community development’.
- Do they have a strategy to ensure that they have close links with the different communities at neighbourhood and special interest level.
- How do they currently work with the area’s diverse communities to find out their needs, aspirations and ideas?
- What policies and strategies do they already have to support community development?
- How are these policies shared and developed into an overall strategy to support community development?
- How is the general public in Norbury informed about individual organisations?
What do we know about the extent of community development in Norbury?
- Where is it strong and where is it weak?
- How is information from the community organisations made available to the different local communities?
- Is it clear, jargon-free and available in relevant places, formats and languages?
- Are there resources such as buildings, information communication technology, printing, and equipment that are accessible to Norbury’s communities?
- What community development learning opportunities are available to Norbury
community activists and volunteers?
- How can organisations work together to support the development of accessible learning opportunities?
- What opportunities are there for Norbury organisations to learn together and with communities about partnership working? How can these opportunities be developed?
Valuing Difference and Diversity
The concept suggested above of ‘community’ recognises that there are a range of diverse needs of different social, cultural, and ethnic groups. A key issue for debate is how this diversity can be respected and catered for, while at the same time connections can be made between diverse groups in order to avoid the creation of separateness. This lies at the centre of what is called ‘community cohesion’. The concept of respect between different groups is also linked to ‘community cohesion’.
The Concept Of Respect
The concept of ‘respect’ includes:
- valuing differences – different cultures, backgrounds, skills, faiths, abilities and disabilities;
- acknowledging and recognising people’s life experiences and the choices they make;
- sharing common bonds and working together on issues that concern us all.
‘Respect’ can be shown towards each other by:
- treating other people as we wish to be treated
- leading by example
- being open and welcoming
- embracing other cultures
- giving thanks and positive feedback when these are due.
Relevance to Life in Norbury
- To what extent is ‘respect’ about individuals’ relationships with each other a guiding principle among Norbury’s community organisations?
- How can individuals develop respect if they do not meet with people in other social, cultural and ethnic groups?
- What more needs to be done in order to help create a more ‘cohesive and respectful’ Norbury?
- Do Norbury’s young people feel included and respected or excluded and disrespected addressed?
- Do they have opportunities for their voices to be heard?
- Do isolated older people and people with disabilities feel valued
- Are there safe, easily accessible places to socialise, communicate and support each other?
- Do they have opportunities for their voices to be heard?
- Are Norbury’s unemployed residents regarded asworthless, workshy and on the scrap heap or as people whose potential is suppressed?
- Are there local opportunities for voluntary work for unemployed residents?