On a lovely sunny Saturday at the end of September, people on the outskirts of Merthyr got together to celebrate the place and community of Gurnos. The celebration was the outcome of several activities in partnership with the Open University in Wales as part of two different projects: the Creu Cyffro Community Renewal Funded project, led by Wellbeing Merthyr, and the AHRC funded Cross-pollination project collaboratively led by the Open University and The Glass-House Community Led Design
Celebrating our Gurnos was in part the outcome of a Cross-pollination workshop held at an earlier event in June. The workshop brought together members of the local authority and local organisations to see how they could connect, share assets and skills and develop an activity that will benefit local people while building a legacy for continued collaboration in Gurnos. It was decided that the event should not be on one single location but for the local residents to connect in different areas around the neighbourhood and to experience the variety of green spaces Gurnos has to offer. By having one central location, at a local secondary school, with different satellite activities spread over the local area, people were encouraged to walk around the area to enjoy the different activities that were taking place, from music to graffiti workshops, from free food to outdoor craft workshops, and from bouncy castles to music events.
Due to the sun coming out after a rainy period it was a busy day, with over two hundred people exploring their neighbourhood at the different locations and moving between sites as planned. We were at the main event location inside the secondary school, where different local organisations and stakeholders had a chance to set out the stalls and engage with the community. Located in the sports/ assembly hall, there were also free refreshments and tables and chairs for the people to take a break from the walking between activities. There was also the school’s resident artist doing some craft workshops for the whole family to enjoy.
Creative Connector – the Sharpie
We set out our stall and pin-boards to hopefully do Cross-pollination, using our prompt cards, with local residents and see if we could identify projects or activities and facilitate connections. However the day went a little different than planned. Being in the main area with the free refreshments the footfall was ‘tidy’ (good) as the Welsh would say. Even so, it proved hard to draw the adults in for conversations and to engage with the cards, especially as most adults were there with their young children.
However, creativity as we have seen before is a great one for breaking boundaries and lowering thresholds to engage. It was the children that came to our table, drawn by the colourful sharpie pens that were there and white paper. So we engaged with them to ask them what they really enjoyed about Gurnos. We got a wall full of amazing drawings from the local children sharing their joy of the area. Whilst the kids were eagerly colouring away, it gave us a great opportunity to talk to the parents and get a few to engage with our prompt cards.
Through the research we have found that the language used to communicate the Cross-pollination activities is very important. It proved that the cards were maybe not the right tool for this type of open day event. The prompt cards talk about projects, people, place and skills. Not words that immediately evoce engagement with the adults. Also most of the people in the hall were in transition, they were getting a drink or bite to eat and talking to different stakeholders, so the cards didn’t grab their attention.
Larger sized posters, A 1 size, to quickly capture responses along the corridor might have been more attractive. The posters need to have a call to action and more self referential wording, asking the people to respond to the three areas of interest in a more proactive way. ‘I am involved’, ‘I would like to see,’ and ‘I can contribute (Do or Offer)’ would have been better placed at an open day event.
Community confidence and resources
When we did speak to the local residents it was clear why the wording, ‘Projects I would like to do:’ or ‘Projects I am currently working on:’ were a barrier. The main demographic were working single parents and young families, with additional care responsibilities. Between work and care responsibilities people felt that they just did not have enough capacity or capability to contribute .
However, when prompted about the things they are good at, despite an initial lack of confidence, some participants did reveal amazing skills and practical know-how, from creative skills, management skills, sports capabilities, or knowledge of how services work. There is always hidden potential in people, and sometimes all that is needed is to just take the time to engage with them meaningfully, and to create real opportunities for them to grow and contribute their skills. The prompt cards are an artefact that can create a moment for people to take stock of what they do, and make them see it as valuable.
There were many people involved to make Celebrating our Gurnos a successful day. It was great to see many people take pride in their home place and feel so connected with their neighbours and neighbourhood.
One of the conditions for community events like these to come about is that you need connectors; community connectors and enabling connectors. The ‘Queen Bee’ pollinator and connector for this area was Lee Davies (Wellbeing Merthyr), a local councillor who is active on the ground trying to make Gurnos the best place it can be. As a place agent he was well equipped to get other local organisations and stakeholders round the table. Another community connector was Ross Williams (Merthyr Valleys Homes), who was able to reach out and connect with the community through their established channels. Sarah Roberts and Julia David from OU Wales functioned as Enabling Connectors facilitating the events management and coordinating with all the different groups and individuals delivering activities.
If you’d like to know more, please watch our two films, which captures the day and participants’ voices.
Short Film (2.55min)
Full Film (8.26min)
Post by Vera Hale and Katerina Alexiou