In this blog post Alma Mason, post-graduate researcher at York St John University, discusses her experiences of co-operative inquiry and community-led change as part of the Croxteth Community Trust.
‘I cannot help feeling that the option of a managed decline is one we should not forget altogether. We must not spend our limited resources in trying to make water flow uphill’
In 1981 The Chancellor, Geoffrey Howe urged Margaret Thatcher to abandon Liverpool; his remarks represent the backdrop to my teaching career which commenced during a period of acute disadvantage and social instability. The city of Liverpool had experienced rising poverty levels following years of cuts to Local Authority budgets.
Many communities felt overlooked but were barely aware of the political agenda orchestrating the entire process. Pockets of extreme deprivation existed throughout the city with many families experiencing multi-layered challenges.
Croxteth, was particularly impacted by government cuts with high unemployment and poverty. Clearly there was an array of deep seated problems in the neighbourhood, but when the local secondary school was closed without any consultation, the community took direct action to retain this essential facility. With an inadequate infra-structure the school was viewed as the fulcrum for community based activities. Their campaign succeeded and this generated an appetite for further change.
Inspired by so many community members’ commitment to improving and transforming peoples’ lived experiences I became a founding member of Croxteth Community Trust. This charity aimed to address social disadvantage by improving education and employment outcomes.
Social justice principles have been woven through my personal and professional life including school and charity based leadership. My doctoral research has allowed me to explore how community development strategies can improve well-being in a socially just way.
A key focus has been applying participatory practice to the organisation’s modus operandi. I am conscious that whilst we have achieved improved outcomes these have been secured by working on behalf of the local community but not directly with them.
To address this concern I coordinated a co-operative inquiry with staff and community members. Thus, those with direct experience of social injustice and disadvantage became part of a collective response. The outcome being that relationship building was prioritised above everything in the delivery of services and improvement programmes.
Community insight pointed the way to a more socially just world. We learnt that by giving people the space to identify problems they are then able to swiftly articulate measures which could impact positively upon their lives. Community voice influenced our organisation’s practices but we were faced with the challenge of trying to overcome power structures and the hegemony of the dominant neo-liberal discourse. The output- focused, technical demands of funders place such little value on processes which encourage a relationship- based mode when working with individuals.
This new approach secured improved outcomes for one local community. Obviously this is small in scale and the community-led change we desire is hard to achieve, but it is not impossible.
‘Change comes from small initiatives which work. We cannot wait for great visions from great people, for they are in short supply at the end of history. It is up to us to light our own small fires in the darkness’. (Handy, 1994)
Handy, Charles B. (1994). The empty raincoat: making sense of the future. London: Huchinson
Howe, G (1981) ’Thatcher urged ‘let Liverpool decline’ after 1981 riots’. BBC News. Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk. [Accessed 15th January 2020]
Marren, B. (2016) We shall not be moved. How Liverpool’s Working Class fought redundancies, closures and cuts in the age of Thatcher. Manchester University Press.