In August we were finally able to move our project onto the next step, a few months late and following numerous ‘set-backs’, (each and every one of which has created a huge amount of learning, so I’m reluctant to focus on these as being negative).
We had been working closely for some time with Lynda, a resident representative of the Holyrood estate and link to the activities that were going on at Holyrood. Plants for people (described in previous blog the parallels with tenancy/residents engagement) have been working with Lynda and other residents of Holyrood to help the estate look greener, tenants feel wonderful and community spirit to thrive by building several allotments in the estate.
We worked closely with Lynda to help with the organisation, and then attended a summer party at Holyrood, to celebrate the grand opening of the allotments. This would be our first opportunity to bring along some researcher colleagues to chat with the local community, having ad-hock and informal conversations about their research.
What did we learn….?
Again, reciprocity is key
It wouldn’t have been fair or possible to simply turn up on the day of the party, set up a stand and try to have some conversations with attendees. We really felt we needed to be part of the event, and for others to know who we were and why we were there. We joined planning meetings in the lead up to the event, helped arrange activities and helped signpost to a team who could offer blood pressure monitoring. We bought all the food and drink for attendees, helped set this up and brought colleagues along to help serve.
Get stuck in
If you want to feel like part of the community, you cant hang about awkwardly at the edge waiting for people to come to you (as much as I may have liked to do this!). Having the confidence to just approach people can be hard, but conversations don’t need to be to forced. Just chatting to people about who they are, why they were there etc. opened up opportunities for more discussion, and often the chance to introduce community members to our researchers who had come along. This, I guess, is about being human and talking to people on a level. Anyway, there was no opportunity to stand awkwardly at the edge if Lynda had anything to do with it, at one point hijacking me and dragging me into the middle of the room to join her in a dance off. What can you do? I threw some questionable shapes in front of a room of people I didn’t know… Caroline hid behind a post, for which I will never forgive her.
Listen, people want to talk
One of the things that really struck me was how comfortable many members of the community seemed talking to us and research colleagues. And yet these were not individuals who we might see typically involved in research, or PPI. As I reflect I can’t help but wonder whether this is, in part, because were chatting to people in an environment where they felt comfortable. We were taking these conversations out of an academic world and into the community, and in doing so allowed the community to own them. It felt as though the power balance shifted significantly, and that is exactly what we needed. And all we had to do now, was listen!
We had some fantastic feedback and insight into several research projects on the day, which we will detail in the next blog post!