Social Action Hub Wiltshire + Swindon Community Organisers Blog Fri, 07 Feb 2020 08:08:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Social Action Hub Wiltshire + Swindon 32 32 Plot 35 – Devizes Wed, 29 Jan 2020 17:10:21 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Plot 35 – Devizes

We first met Martin and Niki when they came on our Community Organising Training at Community First in the Spring. They had both been registered with Richmond Fellowship and had a history of mental health issues which had impacted on lots of different aspects of their lives. They would meet with a group of individuals with similar issues and volunteer at Devizes’ Caen Hill Farm. They found this physical outdoor work very therapeutic – it helped with their mental well-being and also combatted loneliness.

Earlier this year funding was cut unexpectedly, and the Caen Hill farm outreach programme was bought to an end and the group found itself with nowhere to go. Desperate to keep the group together and occupied, Martin and Niki began looking into what was on offer locally. They were looking for a location where the group could meet – a “hub” as Niki described it; ideally outdoors as the group’s members decided that they benefited from physical work outside and being in the fresh air. But they were unable to find anything suitable.

Instead, Martin and Niki decided to take initiative. They came up with the idea of setting up a Community Allotment Group; the idea was appealing because it combined an outdoor meeting place which was relatively accessible and brought with it the opportunity to grow vegetables together and have a chat over a cup of tea. They immediately applied the lessons that they had learned on the Community Organising Training organising, connecting and showing leadership.

They contacted Wiltshire Council and were given an allotment plot for free. They informed the Council of their intention to install a shed and a polytunnel and were told that this would not be a problem, that they would need to follow an application process and as soon as it was formalised, they would be given the go-ahead. However, the following week they received a letter from the Council telling them that they would not be allowed to have a structure on their allotment. Martin and Niki felt terribly let down, and also very worried. They knew that the allotment would only work as a meeting place for the Group if there was somewhere sheltered to sit, particularly during the winter months.

Determined to do something, they appealed the decision, and the following month attended Devizes Town Council’s Planning Committee armed with all the information they needed. Martin had prepared a speech which he delivered to the meeting. The initial reaction from Council members was quite negative: the structure might be blown away or upset the neighbours. Responding to Martin the Mayor of Devizes, Judy Rose, got up to speak. She addressed the committee and spoke with great passion and honesty about her own experiences of depression when she was a teenager, and how she wished that she had been able to meet regularly with others who were suffering in a similar way. Judy ended her speech by declaring her support for the appeal.  After Judy had sat down, a member of the Planning Committee stood to share his history of mental health problems. He too pledged to support the appeal. This was enough to persuade the rest of the Planning Committee to reverse their earlier decision and give permission for the group to install a shed and the polytunnel on their allotment site. Martin and Niki were thrilled!  The Group had found a new home, and this security has given them the confidence to open a business bank account and draft a constitution. Next step was to apply for funding so that they could purchase the poly tunnel, some tools and seeds.  A lengthy application form was filled in by Martin and Niki and sent off and they have just heard that they have been awarded their funding grant!  Such good news, the Plot 35 Community Allotment Project is now up and running.

It struck me how powerful it was that Martin and Niki’s story encouraged not just one but two people to speak out about their own journeys with mental health. Two people who might not have spoken out had Martin not decided to be open about the problems that he had experienced. A very brave decision.

Find out more about Plot 35 on their Facebook page

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Out and about in Devizes: Ian and Steve’s Community Organising Story Wed, 20 Nov 2019 11:51:31 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Out and about in Devizes: Ian and Steve’s Community Organising Story

Ian Cox came to meet us at Community First as he was interested in volunteering here in Devizes where he lives.

He came on our One Day Introduction to Community Organising training and also attended the Listening Training too. Ian was very interested in loneliness and isolation and whether it affected his community.

We set off door knocking on very wet morning. Ian got into the swing of it and his smiley sunny disposition soon bought the Devizes people out of their houses and onto the doorsteps to have a chat with us. He has always impressed us with his professionalism and his enthusiasm. He has constantly pushed himself out of his comfort zone and is always keen to learn new skills and takes on board all the feedback and we gave him during our regular reflection sessions.

He has worked very closely with Devizes resident Steve and we wanted to share his story. Ian recently got an award at our Community First AGM  – volunteer of the year award – for all his hard work! 

See below for a short-film about Ian and Steve, who kindly agreed to share their story.

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Alana’s Story: Taking a leap of faith Thu, 23 May 2019 09:52:17 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Alana’s Story: Taking a leap of faith

“Living in Bishopdown hasn’t always been easy for me and I’ve lived here for 17 years with both my parents – and on my own,” she said.

“I used to have a violent relationship with my dad and at the young age of 14, my father went to prison. It had a huge impact in my life and my view of the community around me.”

From here Alana began using heroin and from the age of 12, was reliant on methadone and diazepam for many years.

“I left home, stayed on the streets, sofa surfed and used hostels. I spent many years doing wrong things and had bad behaviour around drugs and violence. I had been the target of the local police and was a person to stay away from in the community.  I was seen as trouble.”

“Back in 2010 I was lucky enough to get my own council flat, but at the time I didn’t realise the importance of being a good tenant. As time went on and I progressed, I realised how I needed to behave to have a positive and secure life.”

In late 2016, Alana’s freed herself and went onto be completely opiate free. As well as suffering with Asperger’s syndrome, which makes social interaction difficult, Alana has ADHD which makes concentration hard.

Her world changed one day in September 2018 after visiting her local shop. She met a lovely tenant participation officer called Zoe who encouraged her to become part of the community and taught her how she could highlight the issues in the local area.

The rest, as they say, is history.

From here, Alana visited Community First in Devizes and attended the introduction to a community organising course.

“I jumped at the chance, it gave me a feeling of positivity that I was clean from drugs and was ready to move on and not become a burden to my community.”

“I attended the course and felt like an equal to everyone else. I was not working and everyone was from different backgrounds and professions. I learnt the basic community organising framework and was shown how I could use it in many different ways. I soon decided I wanted to focus on loneliness in my area.”

Thanks to the support of Zoe and the team, Alana now talks of the first time she truly felt someone believed in her.

“It was from here and meeting Community Organiser officer, Katrina, that I had the confidence to go out and talk to the local community.”

“We began to door knock around Bishopdown listening to people’s opinions and concerns in the community. The first question I chose to ask was: ‘What do you love about Bishopdown and do you think Bishopdown has a community?’ as I personally didn’t feel there was.”

During the Christmas period, Alana had a great experience when visiting the local shop and the staff kindly provided her with a box was full of Christmas treats and various cleaning products.

“I started to feel different, more positive more motivated,” she said.

Fast forward to February this year, Alana attended the listening skills workshop with Community First and says it was a “very good and easy experience to understand as it showed me that although my ears are open, I may not always be listening.”

This then led Alana to attend a local Prison which she spoke to a large group of men about her history and where she has come from and how she got there. More so, where she was now going and how she decided to change her life around.

“The most important part was explaining that you must love yourself before anyone else can. They received me well and had in depth conversations they were really interested in my story. As my confidence grows, I am learning new skills all the time.”

It is thanks to the framework and the team support at Community First that enabled Alana to feel the happiest she has been.

“This entire experience has made to feel like I belong and part of a team and network, which has been a huge help to me getting back into employment and engaging with the community in bigger groups.”

“When first meeting Zoe and Katrina and going on the training, I was in receipt of benefits, along with PIP, but since then I started a part time cleaning job and managed to secure a my first full time job since being drug free. I started as a healthcare worker, which I love, and I continue to use the CO framework to benefit me and my residents in their community.”

If you would like to take part in an upcoming training session or organise a free session for your community group or organisation, please email: or telephone 01380 722 475

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Hannah’s Story: Them dodgy flats on Aylesbury Street Thu, 23 May 2019 07:24:05 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Hannah’s Story: Them dodgy flats on Aylesbury Street

Read how Community Organising training helped Hannah (and her fellow residents) get together to make positive changes to their housing conditions. This is Hannah’s story…

When my fiancé and I were first handed the keys to our 2 bedrooms flat we were ecstatic! Our own little home, our little boys’ own bedroom. Things were just perfect. For about 6 months. Before we knew it, we had a serious issue with drug users, dealers and homeless people gaining access to the block of flats and using the communal areas as a playground for illegal substances. By the time I’d had my second child and returned to work everything became so overwhelming for me, carrying my two children over homeless people who were crashed out asleep outside our front door, telling them they no they can’t race to press the lift button as there are needles on the floor all whilst working so hard to give them the best life I could. It all just felt completely pointless. My partner had had enough and was now confronting the drug users and putting himself in danger, I’d cry on my drive to work every day because I just couldn’t see a way out.

I emailed the local council, housing association, my housing officer, my health visitor and even the local MP over 120 times!!! And not one response….not  a single thing was done to move things forward. People within the block of flats were starting to turn against each other, blaming each other for all the issues we were all facing. I gave up in the end. Things were never going to change. Nobody would ever listen to me. My children will see these awful things and will think it’s just normal. I gave up. I felt like a failure to my children and couldn’t see a way of things ever improving.

My boss told me about a Community Organising workshop that was being run by Community First in Devizes that was due to take place the following month. I agreed to go along and although my anxiety that day made me consider turning around at least 35 times on the journey to Devizes I got there, and I completed the days training. I don’t know what I was expecting to get from the course, but for the first time in 15 months I felt powerful, like I could make a change. I just had to use my initiative and the skills I had learnt that day at Community First to put my ideas into action. So that night, I put pen to paper and set up a plan of action!

Door knocking was a big topic during the Community Organising training; however, this didn’t feel appropriate because we were all at war with each other.  I had to come up with another strategy. The only other way I could get peoples honest views and opinions was to set up an email address! I left a note on the hallway pinboard and assured tenants it would be completely anonymous. Overnight I had 17 emails, with images, different experiences and concerns and it was apparent that we did all feel the same. Fed up. Ignored. Angry. And worried for our own safety and our children’s safety too. Over the next few days I composed an email quoting all thoughts, feelings and experiences the tenants of the flats had. I enclosed pictures too. I signed the email off by making the housing officer aware we were, as a united group ready to tackle the issues head on and had no concerns in going to the local paper, MP’s and local council with our story. We felt powerful as a group and were now not prepared to take no as an answer. Within 4 days we all received a letter stating they heard us, and changes were about to take place. We just couldn’t believe it.

Within 3 months, no drug users, no homeless, no rats, no overflowing bin shed and 21 flats that had returned to being homes….finally. The Community Organising training gave me a voice and made me feel powerful and my anxiety has even improved. I could change things and I did. Eddie and Betty now race to the lift button, we stop and chat to our neighbours and pass unwanted toys to each other. We are now happy and saving for a mortgage, our next goal in life is a garden with a WASHING LINE!

I love my 2 bedroom flat on Aylesbury Street.

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Guys Marsh Prison Training Day Tue, 11 Dec 2018 09:24:33 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Guys Marsh Prison Training Day

Katrina and I spent the day at HM Guys Marsh Prison in Shaftesbury delivering an Introduction to Community Organising Training Day to 13 prisoners due to be released in the next year. What a fantastic group of guys they were – engaged and enthusiastic throughout the day. The talking photos invoked some emotional conversations and all the prisoners were keen to share the stories behind the photos in the circle section after. Their favourite part of the training was the ‘Power’ section.  They really responded well to this session and despite being in prison they really did believe that people have the power and they seemed to understand the importance of power dynamics.

One prisoner told us afterwards

“I enjoyed the whole day – it was inspiring, and it gives us hope and positivity.”

Another said,

“the motivational, encouraging, supportive and friendly facilitators really made me want to participate.” A few of them commented that they couldn’t believe that they could concentrate for so long “in prison the lessons only usually last for 45 minutes…but we managed to focus for the whole day.”

Sandra Seldon from RECOOP who enabled us to deliver the training at Guys Marsh had invited us to attend an opening meeting in the library to meet some of the prisoner’s first back in October, we then spent 2 hours introducing them to the course signing up whichever inmates were keen. Sandra then let us know that we had 13 confirmed participants for the course. She was thrilled with how it had gone

“You were quite a team – rolling out interesting activities with the greatest of ease – while remaining totally responsive to need…..I hope we can repeat the magic in 2019”

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Staying connected across Wiltshire and Swindon Mon, 05 Nov 2018 10:13:42 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Staying connected across Wiltshire and Swindon

With a population estimated at 716k and a coverage of 1346 square miles it is probably not a shock that one of our main objectives at the social action hub is to try and help people feel more connected and less isolated across Wiltshire. Our training is available to anyone within this remit which and we feel it’s really important that we make it as accessible as possible- choosing to deliver within the different communities across the county as opposed to having one central place that delivers the training.

We meet so many people where transport can be an issue from the beautiful rural communities that people live in. Being a Community Organiser over the past years has been really thought provoking on isolation; what it is and how we might tackle it in different ways.

I really love the way that digital communities can join people up through social media and online campaigns. I also feel it is a huge part of reaching people behind the doors. When we were delivering the young people’s listening projects we provided free transport for the young people so that the people who really wanted to be a part of something could do so without barrier. This could see us driving up to 150 miles a day to pick up and drop off those that wanted to join in. Costly and time consuming-yes; but the impact and outcomes were well worth the investment. Our Healthwatch Young Listeners project (2015-16) saw over 200 hours volunteered by 10 young people that would not have been able to take part had they not had transport provided!

It has made me really think about what a social action hub is and how it works. I really feel that the hub itself should suit the place it is and be guided by the needs and desires of the people who form it.. (sound familiar?)

As part of our promise as a Social Action Hub we have said that we will provide meet-ups for those that wish to connect with other people who have done the training, or who want to network and meet new people and find out about community organising. Supported and facilitated by our Member Organiser (Nick Laffan) we are pleased to announce that we held our first one on 7th September 2018.

Seeing the way that people move and communicate within rural communities is really interesting and inspiring; people seem quite accepting of the fact that their community expands beyond their one village or parish. Traveling to another town or village for a food shop or an exercise group or interest group seems second nature. It comes across to me that people really value and cherish the places that they physically live- but also consider their wider community a big part of their lives.

Seeing people meet with others from across the county and build relationships has been really wonderful and shows us that even though we can provide people with a ‘physical’ meeting space here in Devizes, the feeling a part of something creates the true Hub, and it’s presence will be felt across the entire county and beyond…

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Reflecting.. Mon, 29 Oct 2018 11:06:19 +0000

Community Organisers Blog



We have now reached a point where we have a substantial amount of feedback forms from people who have taken part in our Introduction to CO day. Its important to us to be able to listen to people that have taken part in the training so that we can see what is going well and also what needs changing or adapting.

Of the 51 feedback forms that we have from our training days we put together all of the comments and took out some themes to give an idea of how we’ve done over the past year or so… these were our results.

What did we do well…

  • 100% of participants who gave feedback said that the training met or exceeded their expectations!
  • 98% of people said that they gained new insight and understanding from the training-with people saying they had a better understanding of CO methods and the importance of a grassroots approach.
  • 94% said they felt able to participate in the workshop and this was down to good facilitators.

People loved the way that the day enabled them to work in groups and valued sharing and hearing other people’s experiences.

How can we improve…

  • 49% of people found the exercises challenging.
  • Although 12% specified that this was a good thing; people highlighted that the Agree and Disagree ‘definitions’ of what Community organising is and what it isn’t; were complicated.
  • People also said that a the challenge was a personal one; in that they found it difficult opening up to new people

Each feedback form was filled with really useful comments and compliments and we continue to ask and to listen so that the training can be effective as possible. It will be great to hear from those of you that get involved in the future so that we can continue to be the best that we can be.

For now we would like to say a huge thank you to all the people that have taken part in our Introduction to Community Organising training day. We are always touched by how open you all are, and to how much you embrace the day and participate with such energy. You make it great!

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Introducing new Community Organiser Clara Wed, 24 Oct 2018 12:17:03 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Introducing new Community Organiser Clara

With all the leaves changing and saying goodbye to the summer; it seems to fit well with our latest update.

One of our Community Organiser team is moving projects and will no longer be working directly on the Social Action Hub training. Alex has started up on a joint project with Community First and Macmillan around Cancer support in Wiltshire.

Because Community Organising is at the heart of my approach I used that in my interview for this new post. Macmillan really seemed to understand the importance and the approach of Community Organising and have encouraged me to use this approach wherever possible in the new role.

I have loved every single moment working with the Social Action Hub and will work hard to make sure that it links with what I am doing now. I would love to ensure that the people I engage with in Wiltshire and Swindon have a direct link to Community Organising training and to the network. It would be wonderful if we can have a Cancer/Health link within that hub. As I am still based in the same office as the CO team I will make sure that I stay in touch and link up people wherever I can.

I will also have a blog that tracks the progress of the Macmillan Cancer Connections project.

This is by no means the end and I fully intend to continue with Community Organisers Ltd to support with training delivery wherever possible.

What I really love about all of this is the growth of Community Organising within Community First as an organisation. We have seen organisations open up to the approach more recently with the likes of Nationwide who have employed a full time Community Organiser to their team. Community First now have three Community Organisers and I know that if funding permits they would look to employ more.

I appreciate the patience that Community First have had with Community Organising and the trust that they have put into us and the process. I really feel that the way that they have embraced Community Organising has raised the profile of Community Organising within Wiltshire and Swindon and that makes me very happy. This is such a contrast from when I started the role five years ago.

Community First have now appointed Clara to take over from me in the Social Action Hub; I’d like to take this opportunity to wish her a very warm welcome and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her so far. We thought we’d get her to join me in this piece to introduce herself and let us know about what brought her to the role…


Introducing Clara

A little bit about me and why I wanted to join Community First….

Since moving to a small rural village just outside Devizes I feel passionately about the power and significance of communities.

I have a history of volunteering. After I left school I spent a year in a rural school for mentally and physically disabled children (STAR Special School – Coimbatore) in Tamil Nadu India teaching English, maths, music and drama. During my university holidays I volunteered at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability in Putney London as a care assistant helping the resident patients participate in an art, reading and music programme.

Before I joined Community First I had a career as a television producer working mainly for the BBC or Channel 4.  I was drawn to programmes and projects that illuminated how inspirational people can be, and the pleasure generated by community activity and living life to the full.

Since moving to Wiltshire in 2010 I have become even more aware of the value of happy, well integrated and active communities. I am lucky enough to be part of two thriving communities: a small primary school and the village where I live. Being a part of both has taught me how important it is to listen to each other’s problems and to reach out and share things with others. However small the problems feel if you come together as a community you can always bring about change. This act of collaboration has also made me realise how lonely and isolating life can sometimes feel – particularly when you embark on motherhood or perhaps when your children leave home (this hasn’t happened to me yet!). Adapting to your changing circumstances can be very hard but this is where a community can become so important to people’s lives.

And I think I know what ‘good’ communities look like, and appreciate how much work they take to sustain.

I am really excited to be joining Katrina and Alex and the dynamic Community First Team!

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The adventures of Martha and Matt… Mon, 22 Oct 2018 16:04:45 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

The adventures of Martha and Matt…

When Community First said that they would be having some work experience students for the week we jumped at the opportunity to take them out and give them a taste of Community Organising.

We started their day by running through the Community Organiser’s Code of Conduct and explaining a little about what Community Organising entails.  The two students were from the same area and so we gave them the choice of where they would like to go door knocking.

At the moment Katrina and I are supporting our Village Halls Advisor; Helen. Helen is talking to communities about some funding that is available for them to utilise their community spaces whilst increasing participation in leisure activities. Whilst out door knocking we have been asking people what they love about where they live and during the conversation (if appropriate) we have been talking to people about how often they use their local community space. It has prompted some really good discussions and ideas where people have then been able to apply for this funding for community projects. So far we have had X community project applications. We thought this would be a great project to go out with the work experience students with..

The students chose knock in a rural area close to where they live called Mildenhall, near Marlborough.

Martha and Matt paired up with us and shadowed us while we spoke to people in the village. Prior to the experience it is fair to say that they both had different feelings about the experience. In our morning reflection Martha was very excited and Matt was a little apprehensive about the method of door knocking itself; would people actually speak to us? Would they even answer the door?

It made me remember when I started as a Community Organiser back in 2013. Everyone telling me to ‘trust the process’ and such emphasis on a very relaxed and flexible, unstructured approach; but would it actually work? Who answers the door and talks about what they love? Would this really ignite power and change?  I shared this with Matt and explained that all he could really do is get out there and start listening to people.. try it out and see for himself what happens.

Sure enough we saw just how fantastic Community Organising can be. People were friendly, happy and welcoming. I always love how much people are willing to share on the doorstep. Some people just wanted a conversation some wanted to tell us what they were passionate about.

I tried to explain to Matt that sometimes when you are out in a community you will knock on a door and a person will seem to literally spring into action from behind the door- It really is like they are waiting for you to come! But this is not something that is easy to describe. Luckily i did not have to rely on my explanation alone. On the final door that we knocked on we met a lady who was exactly that. Her energy was incredible and infectious. She told us of the amazing ideas she and her friend had- and how they wanted to involve more people. In half an hour she had told us all about the dynamics and her view of the village. Matt and I stood in awe as the lady spoke to us about her ambitions and dreams for the community. We were able to take some details and found that the lady would like to attend the Social Action Hub’s training to find out more about Community Organising- and meet others in Wiltshire and Swindon to share ideas and experiences. She closed the door visibly energised and uplifted, and she wasn’t the only one.

As we walked away Matt was silent for a while. We went and sat on a bench nearby and reflected. He said that after just one day he could see how beneficial listening in communities could be….It was so great to hear him say how he now understood what Katrina and I had been trying to explain. Trust the process… it just works!

Sharing a day with these two was brilliant. Two very different individuals with such different approaches; but both fantastic! Martha was even asking to take the lead with Katrina on the doorstep and initiating the conversations. We are so grateful for their enthusiasm and for trusting us and opening themselves up to what we do. For me; watching two 15 year old students do so brilliantly secured my views on how powerful yet simple what we do can be. I hope that more people of all ages choose to give Community Organising a chance, because if this can be achieved after one day; then what could be done if we had Community Organisers in every community all the time!

If you would like to know more about our project with Helen for Increasing Participation in leisure activities and Community Exercise in rural areas; please contact Community First or the Social Action hub on the details below and ask for information about our Lace-up project.


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Amazing CO meet up 2018 Tue, 14 Aug 2018 10:10:51 +0000

Community Organisers Blog

Amazing CO meet up 2018

We recently returned to our ‘Mothership’; Yarnfield park, to reconnect with all of our fellow Community Organisers.

For Katrina and I we really love this; not just for getting away for a few days but for hearing about all the projects that are happening across the country.

We always seem to come away invigorated and energised and this year did not disappoint.
This year was particularly great for us as it is the first year we have taken some of the people we have been working with to enjoy the fun- one of which was Emma.

Emma first met Katrina five years ago when Katrina was door knocking in her first year of CO training, and then met Alex at a local park where she was engaging with some local young people.

We always loved Emma’s enthusiasm and were really sad when she moved away from Devizes.

Five years on and at an Introduction to Community Organising training day in Swindon; who should walk through the door but Emma!

Since reconnecting Emma has been a star; supporting the set-up of a local group and helping others with their projects in Swindon. She has even come out and supported us with different door knocking projects. We felt it so important that she come along to the CO meet up.

Emma said:

“I had never been to an event like that before, so felt very nervous which was totally unfounded. The entire event was welcoming and inclusive; workshops came from the heart, everyone wanted to participate and get involved.

I left feeling like I had not only learnt so much, but also made friends for life!”

We are so glad to see people who had done the one day training as it really illustrated to them the strength of the network and also (hopefully) helped them feel better connected. …we get lonely sometimes out here in rural Wiltshire!!

We were also happy to be reunited with our former colleague Alex North, who was running a workshop around Community Organising and ABCD. It is great to see Community Organising is being recognised in so many different organisations. Stay in touch ‘Alex-Boy’ 🙂

A highlight for me was getting to see Eve Harper Barrett- my ‘long distance art-soul-mate’.

A year ago we started a piece of artwork to illustrate what CO meant to people. We gathered a quote or a sentence from people and used our very different artistic approaches to create a collaborative piece to gift to COLtd.

Time was short last year and so it became a long term project. After a year of waiting we finally got back together at the meet up and finished the piece.

We would like to thank everyone who got involved and would also like to thank Nick Gardham for accepting it!!

The meet up is always a really diverse and exciting event and I’m not sure if it can be completely summed up in a blog post, but I wanted to try!

Many thanks to COLtd for another cracking annual meet up… Here’s to next year!

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