This is part of a series of conversations with member organisations of the Connection Coalition.
Community Together CIC provides a gateway for people in Tamworth and the surrounding area to find support and guidance when they need it. Their goal is to help local people Grow Well, Live Well and Age Well through a variety of projects and activities.
Lee Bates, Project Coordinator at Community Together CIC, discusses their work – including a Citizen’s Enquiry they ran last year and their work with local migrant communities.
Community Together CIC began in 2011 and has always taken a very holistic approach to the local community’s well-being, trying to respond to whatever we see the local community needs. We’ve grown in recent years and, largely through successful collaborations, we’ve been able to offer services beyond Tamworth into other parts of Southern Staffordshire.
It often feels like we just get on with whatever’s needed and worry about the finances later! But seriously, about half of our work is contracted (mainly through the NHS) and the remainder is supported through fundraising. We’re signed up to Grants Online and we find there’s a fair bit of funding out there, but a lot of it is very specific and so not right for us.
Our services include link workers, meals on wheels, befriending, form filling and hospital discharge. We also provide migrant support. We have asylum seekers staying in a Tamworth hotel, and unfortunately many local people were complaining on social media. We wanted to help them, and also recognised there were many skilled people in that hotel barred from working. So we’ve been running community projects that enable them to use their skills on a voluntary basis. For example, chefs helped us put on a food event for the community. We deliberately referred to them as volunteers rather than asylum seekers, but we also gave them a space to share their stories to help local people understand their situation. We no longer see any complaints on social media about the guests in the hotel in our town!
A Citizen’s Inquiry is a deliberative process which involves local communities discussing and making proposals around local issues. They often produce more insightful results than consultations or focus groups, and can result in groups of local people feeling motivated to take action.
Last year, our local Integrated Care Board or ICB (then known as a CCG) wanted to understand what helps people stay well in the Tamworth area, so they commissioned a Citizen’s Inquiry. At first there was hesitancy from the Local Authority that it might become a forum for complaining, but we were given lots of autonomy and so able to focus on the positives of staying well and connected.
We initially went door-to-door, avoiding engaging ‘the usual suspects’ and ensuring we heard a diverse community voice. These conversations led us to recruit three panels (with incentives for taking part) each focussing on a different aspect of community wellbeing.
We developed questions based on what came up in the public conversations, which the panels used as a basis for their discussions. As the process went on, there was a realization from the participants that they, as individuals, could make things happen. For example, if enough local people felt some space for growing vegetables would help increase community wellbeing, they could try contacting the local school and asking if they’d consider freeing up some space for shared allotments. Or they could arrange for neglected underpasses to be painted. Or for litter to be picked. They realised these actions aren’t about ‘doing the council’s job for them’, but are about community pride and agency.
The participants identified priorities for different geographic areas, and action plans were drawn up (here). On the back of the Inquiry, we’ve been commissioned by the Local Authority to provide small pots of funds for local groups to apply for in order to act upon the plans.
I’d say to fellow Connection Coalition members, consider contacting your local ICB and ask if they’ve conducted a Citizen’s Inquiry into your local community’s wellbeing. If not, maybe you could help them do it!
I’d love to hear from other members – whether you’d like to chat about our work, have suggestions or ideas for collaboration, or just want to reach out and connect. Contact me here.