A reflective Blog from Antonia Lee - ABCD Community Builder for Lincoln Green, Leeds
Over the past ten months I have been working as a community builder and getting to know a small area in Leeds called Lincoln Green. Based in the inner-east part of the city, Lincoln Green is tucked between the City Centre and Harehills, with stories that trace all across the streets and all the way up to the tops of the tower blocks. It’s been a true adventure getting to know the space much more, and here I will tell you my story about my journey so far, as we are approaching the finish line of a whole year.
If you, the reader, are familiar with Asset Based Community Development you might know that one of the principles behind our approach is to use a map, to better understand the material and interpersonal assets of an area. Now we do not make a physical map per say, although I may have been handed a few huge A1 ordnance survey like road maps, rather we discover a map of assets through uncovering and digging deeper. From my excavation so far there have been so many lovely people met along the way, stories, memories and hopes shared, but so far I know I’m only scratching the surface.
Some early asset Mapping with Dawn Smallwood at ESOL in Naesby Grange
I first started working in Lincoln Green in June 2019, where I was fortunate to hit the ground running in the heat of summer. After a few walks around all the way from the top at St James Hospital and Shakespeare Primary school, with stops at Boston Towers and Roxby Close and Fresh ways, right past the post office and community Centre until the Leeds Refugee Forum and Naesby Grange, my feet were becoming oh so familiar with the neighborhood. But I still had yet to open my mouth and find some courage to get to know the people who were making up the space.
The initial start was awkward to say the least, walking into shops and standing in queues smiling at people, thinking of ways to approach people. It is safe to say that although buying pastries every time I wanted to speak to strangers was certainly tasty, it wasn’t necessarily sustainable. An opportunity opened, the summer Well-being festival, hosted by YourSpace , with support from Mentally Healthy Leeds. It was the perfect chance to break the ice, without having to break the bank (mainly on trips to the dentist).
The asset doesn’t fall too far from the tree!
Right in the Centre square of Lincoln Green, I set up my stall with hands, feet and mouths for people to share what was special to them in their home. Rather than having to accost people in a jarring way, people could approach me and let me know. It felt really wonderful to have a decorative tree filled with colorful and positive messages in the Center of Lincoln Green. The tree felt like a metaphor for the blossoming that was about to occur. Feeling grateful for the experience, I took that energy forward and continued approaching people in community spaces like the Lincoln Green Community Drop in, the internet café on the square and St Vincent’s charity shop- filled with bargains and lots of stories too.
I made it my mission to try and get to know people in every public space I could get into, and had to become creative in accessing those bumping places. As we moved from the summer time where there was endless daylight, inviting warmth and a real buzz in the more open spaces around Lincoln Green, I found a new challenge. The drop in temperature and the creeping darkness of the winter began to encroach on what possibilities I could imagine. As I found it more challenging to meet new people, my confidence began to dwindle too. What was the point of me, an outsider, attempting to community build? How can I bring any perspective that isn’t patronizing? I needed to try a new strategy for meeting people. I had to go back to the drawing board.
In ABCD training as you learn different approaches to asset mapping, they can become second nature and it is easy to forget why you were even working that way. Some of these structures look at the different levels of assets in a place, like physical assets, or individual assets, like skills and passions. Being so person-centred in my approach it took a while to occur to me, that local organizations are incredibly valuable assets, made up by people! I was working in an office nested right in the middle of the community, and I was surrounded by local groups already organized. Having so much to learn from places, I would attend the Lincoln Green Youth Club, or host a coffee morning for parents at St Peter’s CofE School. Of course, being an outsider may mean I don’t have an already established knowledge of Lincoln Green, but that naivety is valuable in terms of allowing people to tell their stories, and to encourage people to reflect to on their past successes.
The culmination of winter anxiety and low mood built into a wonderful celebration in the New Year. Hosted at the Leeds Refugee Forum, various people came together and created project ideas for the community in Lincoln Green. With food and music to guide us through the afternoon, people voted for the ideas they liked the most and the funding was allocated as such. Seeing new people come together, and support each other- even if they weren’t necessarily successful, was a magical thing to witness. On display there was a variety of interests, from sports tournaments, to gardening groups and women’s social clubs, the projects have been ongoing in terms of development.
Lovely music by Loran at U Choose Lincoln Green
Now much of the activity over the past few months seems like a dream and I am currently I work from Home during the COVID-19 lockdown. We are in an important part of history and facing a much different environment for community development. Although I can feel distant at times from Lincoln Green, the adjustment period for online and remote connections is proving interesting. Having access technology like smart phones has been instrumental in supporting people and staying in touch. But now it is ever more crucial to support others who may not have that access. We are just at the start of a lockdown period, but already the community in Lincoln Green have come together. The efforts of Burmantofts mutual aid groups, local Voluntary action Leeds volunteers, and groups like the Somali Community Heroes, demonstrate the resilience and fortitude of community. I am grateful to be able to bear witness to such actions and continue supporting, even from home. The creativity and innovation of Lincoln Green continues to develop, and ABCD is a way to celebrate the spirit of community. To find out more about my ongoing adventure in ABCD follow me on twitter @ABCD_LincolnG or email email@example.com