Community Dialogue

September 7, 2015 | foundation4peace

The Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace facilitates dialogue within and between communities.  A current example is our work in the Moston and Harpurhey area of Manchester.  This area was, ten years ago, predominantly white British in its demographic.  Over the last seven years, particularly, this community has witnessed a great deal of change. There are numerous new buildings, as well as people living in Moston and Harpurhey today who are from countries including: Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Hungary, Poland, Cameroon, Somalia, and China.

While the changes are welcomed by some in the community there are others who are nostalgic for the area they remember from their childhoods.  For some residents there is a natural fear of difference.  For some there is anger and resentment over a perceived limit to local services.  In addition cultural and behavioural differences can be difficult to comprehend which can create a “them” and “us” mentality leading to self- segregation, assumptions and community conflict.

The Foundation for Peace was commissioned as a neutral third party to take a look, ‘audit’ the potential sources of conflict, and present recommendations for moving the community forward together equitably and peacefully.

Having engaged with over 250 local residents and business owners, the Foundation’s team of facilitators used quotes and themes drawn from interviews to create a short, provocative play to ‘name the elephant in the room’ and reach the heart of the matter quickly.

Residential at the Peace Centre

Fourteen people, resident or working within the area, were then invited to attend a two day residential at the Peace Centre to learn about conflict resolution, identity, adapting to change, and addressing fear of difference.  New friendships were formed around a shared goal of improving their local community.  Participants began to plan joint community events with the aim of bringing people together of all cultural backgrounds using some of the social engineering techniques modelled during the residential.  These have also been trialled by a primary school head teacher in the playground to bring parents together as they pick up their children from school.  The same techniques can be used in churches, community events and meetings.

Community Dialogue Evening

Those who attended the residential worked with the Foundation team to host the first community dialogue evening in Moston. This was attended by over seventy residents and business owners.  The short Forum Theatre-style production created by a local youth theatre group, with assistance from the Foundation team, began the evening by explicitly presenting thoughts and feelings that would have been difficult for residents to raise themselves in a mixed group.  This allowed people to be honest right from the beginning, creating a more meaningful discussion with solutions to potential problems and fears.

The Community Clean Up

Those who attended the dialogue event identified that litter in the community was a bone of contention so they planned a community clean up in August inviting everyone in the community to come along and help out.  This clean up took place on Saturday 29th of August with over fifty people attending. Shop owners took it in turns to help out while rotating their staff to keep their businesses running.  Residents gave up their Saturday morning to join in. People spoke to one another as they picked up litter making new friends and acquaintances as they cleaned.  Two large skips were provided by the Council’s Regeneration Team along with litter pickers, bin bags and gloves.  Kindness was shown as the clean-up took place by a local resident providing soft drinks to all taking part.  Bananas were given to all by a local trader and bin bags by another trader when the group ran out.  At the end of the clean up, a further local businessman invited everyone into his shop for tea and biscuits.  Four streets were thoroughly cleaned and the community spirit was very much alive on that Saturday morning as strangers met together with the common goal of making their community a better place to live.

What’s Next?

There are two further community dialogue evenings planned in October and November with residents bringing neighbours and new acquaintances along.  Each dialogue evening will increase in participant numbers.   A second intensive training programme will take place in November with the aim of bringing community residents, council workers, GMP police and local Councillors together to plan more events which will bring people from different cultural backgrounds together as neighbours.

What They Said:

We had a lot of positive feedback from those involved in this project so far, especially after the community dialogue event. Here are some examples of feedback that we received both on the night and in the following days:

 “Just a quick email to say thanks very much for the efforts of you and your team last night and in getting the whole event together. I felt that it was a really positive evening. There was very little focus on the past or on grievances and people genuinely wanted to get to know each other and work together.”

“We need more events like this one.  This is the first honest conversation we have all had together.”

“The play really showed the reality but it was hard to watch sometimes.”

For further information about this project, please get in touch with our commissions team at commission@foundation4peace.org.