Community Asset Mapping… and a Jubilee Street Party

May 29th, 2012 by Gail Ramster in Community-led Design | no comments

In one week’s time, a street in Battersea will celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee at a party that my neighbour and I instigated.

Last year, the two of us organised a street picnic at a few days’ notice. We made a few cakes, sat in the rain for several hours and met 3 other households. We were pleased with this.

However, at this year’s street party, we’re expecting 150-200 people. How did this happen?

Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design

I am a design researcher at the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, working on the ‘Community-led Design’ strand of the Creative Citizen project, along with Catherine Greene, and architects and a sociologist from the Open University.

For the next 30 months we will be looking at how communities design their own services and spaces, how new media can help this process, and what we can we do to make this easier. A one-day street party is nothing compared to what many other communities have achieved.

The Community-led Design strand is working in partnership with The Glass-House and Nesta. Nesta recently completed a programme called Neighbourhood Challenge, which saw 17 communities receive to help them to carry out community-led innovation projects.

Nesta’s Alice Casey talked to us about the importance of identifying assets within these communities. For some of the projects, a building was an asset, providing a central space from which other services could operate. These services included a knitting club, activities for young people, and a community-run café, The buildings also gave the project a physical presence in the area, so passers-by would drop in to see what was happening, and get involved.

However communities hold many kinds of assets that could be of value to a project. People’s skills, knowledge and time are all assets, as are local businesses and local workers, clubs and societies, organisations, public spaces, public bodies, and local media.

The benefit to a community-led project comes not from simply identifying these assets, but by identifying how the community links to them in order to harness these assets. By engaging more and more people in the project, the community’s network of assets grows.

This is what happened with the street party.

We couldn’t close our own street due to traffic, however we knew a couple on the next street via an online community forum, who offered to close their road instead. We set up an email address and put leaflets through all the doors on both streets asking if they supported the idea, and thirty households replied with unimaginable enthusiasm. We invited everyone along to a meeting and ‘the committee’ grew to 10 people, including the church at the end of the road.

In the month that followed, the committee spoke to the street’s two other establishments, a pub and a social club, and leafleted twice more. By involving as many people as possible, the street party’s assets grew.

Rough sketch of the street party assets, based on a network map (click to enlarge)

Through the collective ideas, skills and personal connections of the now 20-strong committee, and with a budget of £0, the street party has tables, chairs, home-made bunting, a dozen raffle prizes donated by local businesses, a cake competition, singers from the London College of Music, a PA system, a barbecue, a local butcher to man the barbecue, face-paints, games for adults and children, a stage, a disco, a pub quiz, and the last dregs of a helium canister to blow up balloons!

The residents, the church, the pub, the club and the online community forum were all key assets that the street party could link to, and which, in turn, opened up further networks to draw from.

In the Creative Citizen project, we intend to use community asset mapping as part of our methodology when working with communities. We think asset mapping could serve three purposes.

Firstly, it will help us as researchers to understand how the participants’ see their community.

Secondly, by seeing how a community’s asset map grows over time, we can get an idea of the growing impact of community-led projects, and of our interventions.

Finally, and most importantly, we think that the process of making, displaying and updating an asset map may be of value to communities. By developing community asset maps, the participants of a community project can see how their assets grow by involving more people. The process of mapping assets can demonstrate the latent capacity that they have at their fingertips, and also what’s missing: the local groups and networks that they have not yet engaged with.

The community may also benefit from the knowledge and experience of other communities outside of their area, so our research hopes to explore the impact of an online peer-to-peer network for community-led design projects.

We are currently in the process of researching existing methodologies for community asset mapping, and refining our aspirations into a feasible research plan that will see us through the next 30 months.

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Interesting links: 

Offical Guidance for Australia Day community event organisers, about community mapping, including 8 types of local assets.  

RSA Connected Communities report (2010) looking at the importance of real world social networks on communities ‘to solve problems and shape circumstances’.

Govanhill, Glasgow Illustrated Asset Map – assets presented on a geographical map of the area, commissioned by the Centre for Community Practice, in Govanhill.

 

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