Building on local strengths

Nick WaterfieldIn this third guest blog about our ‘Listen Up!’ work with partner churches, Nick Waterfield reflects on how the approach has tied in with the work of the community project where he is employed.

I am a community worker with PXI – Parson Cross Initiative, funded by the Sheffield Methodist Church – with a brief to explore new ways of being church in the local community I serve in North Sheffield. More and more over the past four years, my time here, we’ve felt called:

  1. To become more aware of the effects on the ground of current government policy around benefits and ‘welfare’
  2. To gather a better understanding of how people deal with times of hardship and poverty in their lives
  3. To explore ways of supporting our neighbours not simply in ways that are ‘defensive’ (for example, food banks – which we are heavily involved in), but also in terms of community development that builds on local strengths.

These were the motivations with which we got involved in the Listen up! project in our area. I first got involved in the pilot study in Longley alongside people from the local Anglican church St Leonard’s. I was involved in parts of planning as well as interviewing participants, but in terms of the follow-through this was left with the local church.

A number of things struck me during the pilot: firstly, how willing many people were to talk about finances, and other aspects of their lives.

Secondly, the way in which ‘listening’ provided a real value to people in itself – allowing their story to be told, and heard and given a dignity and value as a real experience was in and of itself life-giving, I feel.

Indeed, that experience has helped underpin the chaplaincy approach that we (PXI) continue to develop in much of the work we are doing here.

PXI was then invited to help shape and lead a second-stage Listen Up! project in Southey ward. A team was recruited from local churches and also local community groups, and we undertook a series of interviews which we still hope to collate. This experience, however, also taught us that the process is more than simply a research tool: it can be a real means by which local ideas, opinions and experience can be heard.

In an area where many feel voiceless and powerless, the importance of the church helping to create a voice cannot be underestimated in terms of the potential to transform communities and the churches that serve them.

We are now hoping to develop new formats that allow for quicker conversations, which still have a rigour of research methodology but are also less time-consuming for both sets of participants. We are also using the experiences to talk to local politicians, directly and through groups like the food bank network. Importantly we are also exploring ways of the church enabling a collective voice – and are even exploring a public ‘wall of lament’ on election day 2014.

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