The Maddiston and Rumford FEAST


Our work on The Big Idea this year culminated in a community feast event for Maddiston and Rumford.  A FEAST is a community celebration which showcases local projects and gives the community the opportunity to choose who gets funding (along with sharing food and making connections). Our FEAST event was inspired by the Detroit SOUP, a community crowdfunding event which has been replicated across communities globally.

This meant we didn’t just invite people along, we invite them to pitch ideas which they thought could improve their community. This event was the culmination of a year’s worth of community enquiry* which revealed four key categories for improvement within the community:

  • Children and young people
  • Community Spirit
  • Travel, transport and traffic
  • Local provision of services

*a full report based on this inquiry will be available in March 2017

Our hope that was although the available funding may not have been enough to move mountains, it would act as a catalyst for community action and sustainability.

We invited all members of the community to attend the event by letter. This was based on learning from past events from all partners. Luckily, we were able to use the posting facilities of the council, who are partners on the Getting There project. We also raised awareness for the event through the Maddiston Community Council’s Facebook page and website. We relied heavily on word of mouth, particularly when it came to recruiting groups who may not sign up online. We used Eventbrite to manage numbers, but did have groups arrive on the day without a ‘ticket’, but we had capacity and had planned for the eventuality!

On reflection, we realised that many invitations didn’t make it through doors in particular postcodes. This may seem like a small oversight, but one that may have made some members of the community feel excluded. We also learned a lot about the timing of these sorts of events. Our event was at the end of January, which was actually great as people were excited about an energising event after a month of the cold. However, it meant that we had an extremely tight turnaround on invite distribution in the new year.

On the day, we were pleased to welcome a cross-section of the community to the event, approximately 70 residents of Maddiston and Rumford. Surprisingly, a hand count revealed that only around 10-15% of the people in attendance on the day had been part of the initial community research. This suggests to us that the event may have had more reach than the survey (perhaps because of the mailout).

After we shared finding from the community inquiry, including a media presentations, we heard presentations from 8 great projects, which all proposed to improve one of our research themes, or more. These included:

  1. Nurture Project – Maddiston Primary School: Creating nurture spaces around the school to support and promote well being of pupils and families in the community.
  2. Achievement Project – Braes High School: Celebrating success of young people in the local community through posters and displays
  3. Youth Club Project – Maddiston Salvation Army: Help cover costs of setting up Youth Club for 1st to 3rd year pupils, including equipment and excursions
  4. Activity Centre Outing – Maddiston Friday Youth Club: Help with costs for an overnight outing to an activity centre to develop confidence, new skills and teamwork.
  5. Lunch Club: Help cover the costs of setting up a lunch club to provide healthy, low cost food and a place to socialise.
  6. Growing for All – Muiravonside Community Growing Area: Buying raised beds to make the growing area suitable for wheelchair users and people with mobility problems.
  7. Summer Fete – Maddiston PSA: Help with costs for running summer fete for the community
  8. Sports Equipment – Maddiston Minis: Improving kit and equipment for 3 youth football teams catering for 5-13 yr olds.

How did people vote for ideas?

We allocated a marble at the door to each paying adult, and once the community had heard from each project, they cast their vote independently. It is interesting to note that the votes were fairly evenly spread across the projects, indicating that most ideas appealed to the community in some way.  However, we were able to fund five projects from the day! (indicated in bold above)

What did folk think about the day?

Overall, the day was received positively. People learned a little about their community, made positive social connections, felt able to take part and were pleased to know “that things are already going on that are very encouraging”

In future, people expressed interest in a further event: “An event which encourages individuals to take part in positive improvements and leave feeling welcomed and united.”

We also had feedback from people who wanted to see a broader range of people from the community involved – including older people and young people who attended different schools than Maddiston Primary and Braes High.

In many ways, the event felt like a celebration not just of the work done by the Getting There Project and Maddiston Community Council, but the community itself. Performances from local schools and catering from local businesses added warmth and energy to the day.

What are the next steps?

Iriss will be allocating the funding to these community projects before March, and meeting with the Getting There group to discuss next steps. We will be checking in with projects who received funding on the day to document their learning and impact. Falkirk Council has also been awarded funding (£11,000) which they will distribute using a very similar event format based on learning from the day. We look forward to understanding how they adapt and embed this approach.

Wellness and Prevention: Learning from practice

By: Paul Harrison

We found ourselves getting excited about GP Mark Spencer, and his work to mobilise a community struggling to achieve wellness.

In this BBC News article, GP Mark Spencer discusses his innovative year-long project in Fleetwood which aims to use prevention and connection to improve the health of people in his town.

This project, like The Big Idea, is intended to address the connections between communities. What if tending to a community garden could promote exercise, reduce isolation and also help older people who can’t tend their garden anymore enjoy the flowers?

Healthier Fleetwood also focuses on an asset based approach to wellness which asks ‘what makes you well’ rather than focusing on illness. Similarly, we are trying to focus on building the connections that already exist in Maddiston and Rumford.

We’ll be keeping an eye on the outcomes achieved by this local GP and the Fleetwood community…

The challenges of early collaboration: the hook and the box (Falkirk)

A representative from Falkirk CVS, with his colleague from Community Learning and Development (Falkirk Council) attended the first and second Big Idea events to represent the area and pitch for Iriss’ involvement in the Falkirk area. Falkirk’s involvement was initially unique because they came with a ready-formed focus; they wanted Iriss’ support to develop community transport. Partners at the event agreed that community transport was an enduring challenge in Scotland, and a barrier for many people accessing support. In this way, it really served as a ‘hook’ for people, as they could relate to it and apply it to their local setting. This may have been one of the reasons that Falkirk was chosen by the group to be one of the potential sites for Iriss to work in.

In establishing a working group in the area, having the ‘hook’ of community transport had some clear benefits:

  • It brought people into discussions with a clear focus
  • It was easier to identify key partners and stakeholder based on their area of interest/expertise

However, the principles of The Big Idea (place-based working, bottom-up issues) directed that the project began with an open exploration of a geographical area to understand what the people living in that place want and need. This meant that some work had to be done to move away from the ‘hook’ of community transport, so that it didn’t act as a ‘box’. The concern about community transport acting as a ‘box’ was that it predetermined what the community wanted and needed, which would make engagement more consultative rather than open. There was the perception from those gathered that much of the work to understand community issues had already taken place, with many citing recent consultation exercises which evidenced transport being a key concern.

Beginning work in Falkirk was in many ways about supporting our lead in the area and the working group to broader their view of what ‘community transport’ really meant, and to challenge their assumptions behind it and to understand if the real issue is community transport, or something else entirely. This work attempts to support the partners to get to the root of the issue. So how do we do move a group from a ‘box’ to a more open space?

  • We question how we know what we know – how do we know that community transport is the key concern for this community? How have we engaged with people from communities to ask? What stakeholders were involved in this engagement?
  • We explore the ‘why’ behind community transport – where do people want to go? How do people live their lives?
  • We moved back to place-based approach and identified a geographical area, which helped re-shape the focus of the group to a single location, and understand the experience of living there.

While this process helped to move us back to the principles of The Big Idea it is important to note that by moving away from this box (and its hook), some things became more challenging as:

  • Some original group members weren’t sure about their ongoing involvement (In part because they had to justify their time)
  • It may feel like we are entering more uncharted water, which is a more uncomfortable space for some.

This is an ongoing process and is in many ways a process of learning about un-learning traditional approaches to community engagement. Shifting from the ‘box’ of pre-determined projects was something that Iriss had to grapple with internally as well, and may represent a broader shift across social services in Scotland.

Written by: Rhiann McLean

The Helsinki Bus Station: Why staying the course is worth the frustration

Photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen gave a speech about photography and innovation which we feel could be relevant to the work we do here at Iriss. His theory? That innovation doesn’t necessarily always come from the road less travelled, but from re-travelling routes over and over to feel inspired.

The Helsinki Bus Station

Minkkinen’s metaphor for creativity is the Helsinki bus station.

Helsinki bus station is the origin of lots of different buses. But despite each bus having a different destination, each bus takes the same route out of the city for at least a kilometer.  It is only after this first kilometer that they begin to go in different directions.

Despite there being a variety of buses, each reaching different destinations, each bus shares the same first kilometer of its journey, no matter its destination. This means that even though people are going on vastly different journeys, the journeys all seem identical at first. The sights, sounds and experience is identical and feels too familiar to be inspiring.

The instinct when a person realises that they are on the same route as that they have have seen before, is to hop off the bus and return to the station, to take a different bus. The passenger wants to be inspired by new sights, to do new things. But, of course, the next bus from Helsinki bus station takes the same route.. And the cycle continues.

So what needs to change for inspiration to happen?

Stay on the bus!

Minkkinen suggests that creativity emerges when you stay on the bus, and begin to see the same sights from a different perspective. Old sights are renewed through the journey and the bus ultimately continues to a new destination.

Staying on the bus is a challenge because it feels as if creativity can only emerge from the new. But it’s from the repetition of similar routes that creativity really emerges.  From Minkkenen’s perspective, “we should stay on the bus and commit to the hard work of revisiting, rethinking, and revising our ideas.” The act of revisiting and revising isn’t ‘new’, but innovation doesn’t always emerge from new ideas.

What does this mean for us?

A strive to be ‘new’ shouldn’t be at the expense of revisiting existing routes. Often, at the beginning of a project there is enthusiasm for new approaches and a reticence to revisit old ideas. For example, we may not want to engage or consult with a group if we have recently done so, or we may not want to address an issue where there has been other activity.

Often, creativity is born out of revisiting and revising old ideas, staying on the bus rather than looking for something new.  The challenge of the big idea was to stick with the process, examining and reexamining an idea of community engagement and better lives.

Reflections on the Big Idea

For Iriss, ‘staying on the bus’ was about pushing for collaboration and partnership throughout the project, even when it felt repetitive. The feedback from our very  first event was that the model collaboration we were describing was ‘old news’, and our response was to stay on the bus and push for more meaningful and more effective collaboration through partnership.

In fact, our role was to challenge and reframe existing partnerships, asking about origin, power dynamic and reach in order to broaden our ideas of partnership beyond organisational structures. We wanted for people to view partnership working from a new perspective (place-based working) in order to find new direction. Within both project sites, we have continued to focus on the collaboration of multiple voices in order to improve outcomes for the people who live and work in that area. At times, this has meant revisiting existing data and asking new questions – an act that requires the careful balance between ‘engagement fatigue’ and well, new roads.

The frustration and repetition of this approach has at time felt draining, but we know that staying on the bus, we hope to finally arrive somewhere new.

Getting buy-in

The Big Idea represented a challenging shift in working style which was not universally embraced by the entire staff team. In fact, it was initially a really polarising initiative within the office. The project represented a huge shift in working from our traditional policy-driven approach to a place-based approach. Getting organisational buy-in was a process that took months, lots of conversation and ultimately, a leap of faith.

What were some of the barriers?

  • a fear of committing to a project without knowing the topic we would be focussed on
  • a worry that we may not be best suited to support hte kind of change communities wanted to see (what if the community identified an issue with potholes? or planning permission?)
  • an acknowledgement that working differently in the community meant a potentially different working week, including working remotely and working on evenings and weekends if needed.
  • a question of resources – by committing significant time to a fairly small geographical region, are we making the best use of our resources as a national organisation?

I think its important to note that we didn’t particularly overcome these barriers and fears, we just came to terms with them and decided that The Big Idea was worth the risk. We learned as a team to deal with uncertainty with different levels of comfort andmake the decision as a collective to build the Big Idea into our three year strategy. Part of that compromise was about individual staff members setting the boundaries of their own skills and capabilities and committing to what they could.

An unexpected outcome was that by debating and justifying the Big Idea internally, we felt more able to explain the project to external partners. In this internal negotiation, we also found that we were living some of hte challenges of collaboration that The Big Idea itself hoped to uncover. Acknowledging our own internal discomfort with collective decision making was an important experience that we were able to share with partnes further down the line.

Then, a change of director meant (of course) a change of direction! The project has originated before this organisational change process began, but it was reevaluated within a new context. A new direction included a focus on scale and reach, which meant it was even harder to imagine an investment in just one place. A new round of negotiation and debate began and what surprised us was that people who had originally been against the new way of working were able to defend it.

A lot of internal papers emerged form this debate and discussion – some of which have been an opportunity for us to articulate our own views on scaling and embedding ideas internally, and some like our thoughts on place-based approaches, which have turned into useful external outputs.

Ultimately we are still grappling as an organisation with our role in The Big Idea, but have found some common ground and appetite for change.

Written by Rhiann McLean