The term community effectively has two meanings. The first is a group of people who live in the same geographical area, e.g. Cookstown, Dungannon or Belfast. Secondly, community can refer to a group of people who have something in common, e.g. the catholic / protestant community or the elderly community. At this stage it is important to remember that while people may have something in common which gives them a sense of community, it does not mean they are all the same. It would be oppressive to presume that because two service users belong to the catholic community, or the gay community they have the same needs and circumstances. Thompson (2005) says people are still individuals, regardless of how many communities they belong to.
Ultimately it is about change, which is progressive and positive. Development can be about any aspect of people’s lives – their environment, relationships, housing, health etc. It will mean improving the quality of any of these areas and bringing with it the desire to continue to embrace change.
Bringing the two terms together the DHSS Community Development Review Group 1999 (www.dhsspsni.gov.uk) would define Community Development as:
“…strengthening and bringing about change in communities. It consists of a set of methods which can broaden vision and capacity for social change, and approaches, including consultancy, advocacy and relationships with local group”.
Therefore community development is about helping people to deal with problems they encounter and identify to be important. It includes empowering groups to change things by developing their own skills, knowledge and experience and also by working in partnership with other groups and statutory agencies.
There have been considerable changes in the approach to mainstreaming community development, particularly from 1997 onwards. There has been a build up of sporadic practice to government and departmental policy over the last decade so that now H&SS are required by law and policy to use methods such as community development to tackle inequalities in the delivery of services.
Central government in Northern Ireland, in February 1993, welcomed
“…the inclusion of a clear statement of the importance which we attach to the work of community groups and to the process of community development”
(Strategy for the support of the voluntary sector and for community development in Northern Ireland www.ceni.org). The Health and Personal Social Services (Quality, Improvement and Regulation) (NI) Order 2003 (www.opsi.gov.uk) places a statutory duty on each health and social services trust to put, and keep in place, arrangements for the purpose of improving and monitoring the quality of the services we provide.
Furthermore the need to involve service users in decisions about the services they are receiving has been reflected in a wide range of Government documents including:
* Investing for Health
* Priorities for Action
* New Targeting Social Need
* Best Practice – Best Care
Our commitment to strengthening user involvement and community care is evident in several Trust documents including;
* Corporate Plan
* Corporate Governance Policy
* Equality Scheme
* New Targeting Social Need Action Plan
* Community Development Action Plan
* Disability Discrimination Act Implementation Plan
The initial response from the Trust was a User Involvement Strategy, to involve users and communities in a meaningful way when planning and reviewing services or developing policies. It stated the trust would work together with the community to provide the best care they could, so that people would use the services with confidence and would make informed choices which promote their health and well being. The Trust also appointed community development project workers, project managers and project administrators who worked with voluntary groups, partner organisations and health and social services professional staff.
Smale et al (2000) state it is important at this point to realise that there are going to be power differences in our relationships with service users and this should not be ignored. It would be detrimental to our working relationship if we ignored power imbalances and thought that true partnership would be achieved. As social workers and students we will always hold statutory duties that will put us in a position of power and these should be addressed. Coulshed and Orme (1998) believe a service user will value openness and honesty and the working relationship will develop quicker and easier if they understand the limits of working in partnership.
There are some key principles of community developments. As our beliefs and values shape what we do and how we do it, the principles of community development will influence our goals and our practice. The broad principles are:
* Collaboration and Partnership
* Promoting a shared vision
* True Empowerment / Self Help
* Targeting Need
There is a clear link between these principles and professional social work values. As social work students, and indeed qualified social work practitioners, we strive everyday to empower people to help themselves; to become included in society and working in partnership with service users as far as is possible.
In addition to the principles of community development, The National Occupational Standards in community development (www.communitysectorcoalition.org.uk) work outline a list of values that underpin community development. These are:
* Social Justice – This can be described as working towards a fairer society that respects civil and human rights and challenges oppression. This is not only about working in an anti-oppressive way; it is about challenging any oppressive or unjust practice that is encountered along the way. In my opinion to ignore others’oppressive practice is just as bad as practicing oppressively yourself.
* Self – determination – Individuals and groups have the right to highlight their shared issues and concerns as the starting point for collective action. It also includes raising people’s awareness of what choices are available to them and encouraging them to make decisions on what is best for them themselves.
* Working and Learning Together – This includes sharing good practice in order to learn from each other whilst ensuring that all perspectives within the community are considered. Also, valuing and using the skills, knowledge, experience and diversity within communities to collectively bring about change.
* Sustainable Communities – Empowering communities to develop their independence and autonomy whilst making and maintaining links to the wider society. This will include promoting the empowerment of individuals and communities, supporting communities to develop their skills to take action and promoting effective collective and collaborative working.
* Participation – Everyone has the right to fully participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. This will include promoting the participation of individuals and communities, recognising and challenging barriers to full and effective participation and developing structures that enable communities to participate effectively.
* Reflective Practice – Effective community development is informed and enhanced through reflection on action. This will involve changing practice in response to outcomes of reflection and recognising the constraints and contexts within which community development takes place.
Again these values are inextricably linked to our social work values. We need to hold these values professionally, as well as personally in order to practice effectively. For example, without reflective practice, we would not be able to critically analyse our mistakes and subsequently improve out practice. It is therefore important that these values implemented as far as possible. Dominelli
(2002) suggests if this is not done, then not only will our role in community development be invalidated, but we will be failing in our role as a social worker.
My Community Development Opportunity
My Practice Learning Opportunity is with the Community Mental Health Team in Cookstown. For my group care and community development project I was given the opportunity to work in the local Beacon Centre. This centre provides a place of learning and development for people who suffer from mental health problems. It promotes inclusion and interaction and strives to empower individuals to achieve a maximum quality of life, for example, by offering various taught classes like creative writing and computers.
During my time in the Beacon Centre, I piloted a project with service users, to set up a newsletter. A group expressed interest in the project therefore I set up an initial meeting to discuss how we could develop the idea.
In our first meeting we discussed what we understood a newsletter to be. The members decided that it should be a source of information while also providing light-hearted reading and possibly some puzzles or crosswords. We talked about including member’s own work in the newsletter, e.g. pieces of creative writing, pictures or poems. It was agreed that this was a good idea, but only on a voluntary basis, as some members may not want their work to be published.
It was also agreed that for the first edition of the newsletter, it was advisable not to include members photographs, in the interests of privacy and confidentiality. As we could not guarantee that copies of the Newsletter would not be taken out of the centre we also agreed that any names appearing on the issues would be first names only.
Other ideas that were discussed included a suggestion book. This would allow anyone who had ideas or information for further editions to note them in a book, which would be consulted before each edition. It also allowed members to remain anonymous should they wish to do so. The suggestion book would also have a section for members to submit any of their own work that they would like published.
The members decided for the first edition that it would be good to have an introduction to the Beacon Centre, what it does, and also a list of staff and their job titles. Following this, they agreed there should be a section on fundraising, which would show what events have taken place to date, with how much money was raised, and any forthcoming events. An up and coming events section was therefore agreed on, as people would be able to keep the newsletter and consult it to find out dates and times of certain classes or events.
At the end of this meeting it was agreed that we had sufficient ideas to go ahead with piloting a first edition. Tasks were set for each member and myself to have completed for the next meeting.
Following this meeting, the group met a further four times in order to bring together all the necessary bits that were needed to complete the first edition. Each member was given a certain section of the newsletter to gather information for and deadlines were agreed. As the members were keen for the newsletter to be a success, there were no problems arising from the work set, all was completed on time and to a high standard.
As this was a user led initiative, it was agreed that group members had the responsibility for gathering the information necessary to complete the first edition. I was therefore nominated to do the typing and come up with a proposed lay out for the first edition. I was forthright with the group that this would be the only time I would do this, as after the first edition they would be carrying on the project themselves should it be a success. When the typing was completed, we had a final meeting to go through the finished product and ensure no mistakes had been made. The group ended positively, with the members excited about the prospect of the newsletter becoming a long-term project, which they would be responsible for.
There were various skills I believe I used effectively in setting up this community development project. The first of these was the ability to build effective relationships. Adams 2003 suggests that as this was a group of four people, a good relationship needed to be built with each individual member in order for the group to be a success. As the worker, although it is important to treat each person as an individual, it is important not to single out any one person as being better, or show that you have a better relationship with one particular person. This would show favouritism which may lead to other members feeling oppressed. This in turn may damage the working relationship that is being formed.
Another skill needed was communication. At a simple level, “communication concerns interacting with another and involves giving, receiving, interpreting and acting upon or responding to information” (Parker 2003:149). In a group, different people will have difference levels of communication and so will give, receive, interpret and act differently when communicating with others. Crawford and Walker 2003 suggest communication, although obviously involves talking and listening, it also involves body language, posture and non-verbals. It is important to be aware of the service users’ body language and indirect cues, as this could indicate if the service user is uncomfortable or there is something wrong. Failure to take these aspects into account will damage the working relationships and could create barriers in the group and so progression will be hindered or even stopped.
Parker and Bradley (2005) state a worker needs to “value the uniqueness of each individual assessed”. It could be easy to assume that because the members of the group have a common interest, i.e. the newsletter; you do not need to consider their individuality. This would be detrimental to the progression of the group as members may feel stereotyped and labelled. No matter how much people have in common, they are their own person with individual circumstances and situations. It would be oppressive practice to group the members and their feelings together. At the same time it is important not to let one individual personality take over and change the dynamics within the group as other members may feel under valued.
I believe community development is an important part of the social work role. I understand that it can be time-consuming and sometimes difficult to undertake because of pressured workloads and sometimes limited resources and funds. However, my experience of how the service users benefited from what we did leads me to argue that it is worth the extra time, effort and resources. Everyone has the right to feel like they belong, and have the opportunity to be part of exciting, new projects, like the newsletter. Community Development, in my opinion, is a good way of promoting social inclusion and social interaction, which is inherent to good social work practice.