For our organisation addressing the needs of the young people, both ‘felt’ and ‘expressed’, (Study topic 4:35) is paramount but, if our work in the community is to be successful, consideration must also be given to the needs of prospective partners. However, it is worth remembering that different groups can have varying perceptions of need and that individual needs can be subjective so, in order to fully understand the needs and issues that affect each other, relationships must be nurtured and confidence and trust established.
Before deciding who to work with we undertook a community profile (Study topic 4:25) to determine which communities had needs similar to our own. In my role as ‘resource investigator’ (Belbin 1981) I provided ‘hard’ information such as statistics on the seven domains of deprivation (WIMD 2005) relevant to our area which are based on ‘comparative needs’ (Bradshaw 1972) and put them in touch with other voluntary organisations and community leaders in order for them to collect their own ‘soft’ information. I suggested
that they should also collect information about the resources in the area, both tangible and intangible, as ‘to focus solely on what is needy about a community can .. be disheartening’ (Hawtin et al 2007)
Having carefully considered their results they identified several issues that were of concern to them, such as breaking down the barriers between young and old, and decided to approach other local voluntary groups with a view to working together. In some respects I was relieved that they had chosen to approach voluntary groups rather than statutory bodies as, despite the recent policy drivers which require young people to be involved in decision making, I feel that their recent participation in certain areas has been merely tokenistic. Their engagement in community life and democratic processes needs to be meaningful otherwise they will feel disempowered. I feel that by working with community groups it will enable them to take a bottom-up approach to community development, as advocated by Mansbridge (1917) and Cole (1941), rather than a top-down approach which ‘envisages a passive community’. (Cobbett 1987) and I feel that this will meet one of the main objectives of youth and community work, i.e. fostering citizenship and democracy, and will enable the young people to develop social capital. (Study topic 4:20)
I believe that social capital, a term first coined by Hanifan (1916), is beneficial to a community and agree with Putnam (1993, 2000) who believes that its decline has resulted in the impoverishment of communities and the increase in social disorders e.g. crime. By reaching out to, and working with, other community groups it has enabled the young people to start building relationships based on trust and tolerance which have, in turn, led to the development of a shared set of values and reciprocity. Relationships matter (Field 2003) and people who have active and trusting connections to others develop a sense of belonging which benefits everyone involved (Beem 1999).
I have noticed that the young people, and the groups they have been working with, have been co-operating more effectively and become mutually supportive and that this interaction has created a greater sense of community spirit and enabled them to reach collective decisions more easily. I have also observed that by ‘encompassing people across different social divides’ (Putnam 2000:22), or bridging social capital, the young people have experienced a more open type of social network which has resulted in an increased awareness of anti-oppression issues.
Undertaking intergenerational work has provided an opportunity for issues around ageism to be discussed with consideration given to the issue from the perspective of all those involved.
Although age discrimination is traditionally associated with the older generation the young people also face age discrimination from adults. Ageism is therefore about both age and prejudice (Bytheway, 1995:3) so an understanding of this and how it impacts on all participants is essential. (Granville, 2002:10) After several sessions I noticed a greater understanding was developing between the generations. Initial indications showed that young people saw older people as boring and miserable and needing to be cared for while the older generation perceived young people as anti-social and not caring.
Through working together they have gained valuable insights into each others worlds and the issues that affect them and have discovered that they do, in fact, have quite a lot in common. They have learned to appreciate the skills, talents and strengths that each possess and enjoy sharing their knowledge and experiences and the feedback I have received confirms that joint-learning around challenging ageist perceptions has taken place. This fits in with Waddington’s (1994) views on community work (Study topic 4:36) as two oppressed groups within the community have gained personal liberation through their work together.
I was pleased that we had managed to bridge the gap between the generations in such a short space of time and realised that my role as facilitator within the group had, in a small way, helped to achieve this. By supporting and motivating everyone involved it had enabled the group to remain focussed on the objectives and achieve their goals.
Initially my role had been one of advocate by contacting potential participants to briefly describe the project and to promote a positive view of the young people they would be working with. It was felt that because of my links within the wider community I was ideally placed to be the ‘connecting system’ (OU-EZL131, Study topic 4:11) between young and ‘old’. It was also my role to help organise the activities and be responsible for the session outcomes although I often adopted an ‘enabling’ style of working in order to allow the young people to take the responsibility themselves so that they would be empowered to become active members of the community.
This is an important aspect of my work with young people as our organisation, based in one of the highest most deprived areas in Wales, is involved heavily in community development and social planning (Study topic 4:40) and is committed to taking a ‘rights-based’ approach (Study topic 4:53/54) to participation by our young people. This approach is an important feature of current government policies, e.g. Welsh Assembly’s ‘Extending Entitlement’ (2000), and is more responsive to both the felt and expressed needs of the young people.
My role as ‘community developer’ is to assist them in articulating their needs and to provide support to help them convey these appropriately and also to help them recognise and fulfil their responsibilities as community workers. Also, because of my own established roles within the wider community, I have been able to act as a ‘catalyst’ by providing opportunities for them to take on their own roles in community organisations but, even though we have already achieved success in this area, I feel that further work has to be undertaken with the young people if they are to evolve into community leaders who ‘involve, inspire and invest in the ideas of other young people’.
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