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Local Practitioners come together to engage in Community Dialogue

Guest blog post by The Faith and Belief Forum.

Fatigue, resilience, uncertainty, service and community spirit were some of the words our Community Connectors (CCs) used to describe their experiences over the last six months when they attended the first in a series of virtual Walsall Community Dialogue Trainings.

The Walsall Community Dialogue Project is about working with different groups in Walsall to give people a chance to talk about what’s important to them, to share their stories and to share their experiences of living in Walsall. In this blog, we will be sharing some of the experiences of our CC’s, local people in Walsall who are supporting to deliver the project.

The aim of the first training session was to develop skills in facilitation and community dialogue so CCs are confident to deliver sessions within their community. This first session focused on ‘How Are You’ and created a safe and supportive space for community leaders to share the challenges and opportunities that they have faced since the start of the pandemic. Across two sessions we trained 17 CCs.

The last several months have been a challenging time for all, however, despite the CCs coming from different communities across Walsall, there were lots of similarities in experiences and opportunities to learn from one another.

Innovation

Many were extremely proud of how they were able to radically change the work they do, often in a matter of days, in order to continue to support and meet the needs of those in their communities. This included building volunteer bases, developing new partnerships to share food resources and deliver more meals, weekly meetings on Zoom so people could still interact despite the lockdown, virtual ESOL classes and a virtual book club. Looking back, the creativity and innovation of Walsall’s faith and community groups are remarkable and many shared that it is important that we harness this energy and build on new relationships post-pandemic.

Enforcement

For some, especially those living or working with young people, the responsibility of communicating and ensuring people follow local restrictions had become a burden. Especially when people’s social lives were being limited but they continued to work outside of the home every day. Others shared that it was at times difficult to put on a positive, professional front when feeling overwhelmed by childcare, dealing with grief or other emotional impacts. But felt that they were in an important, trusted role and wanted to put the needs of those they worked with first.

Community Spirit

For many of our CCs, a shared theme that they had experienced in Walsall was the community spirit. Everyone spoke of the importance of helping in the community during the lockdown period and building community in a distanced, virtual way. For many CCs this meant taking on additional voluntary roles, such as running community kitchens from their own homes, building a virtual community for people who use sign language and taking this group trans-Atlantic via Zoom, doing doorstep deliveries to the vulnerable, and sourcing iPads for the elderly and supporting them to get online. Although it has not been possible to create the same sense of community as when people are physically together, care and community spirit have not diminished despite the pandemic.

Awareness

Reflecting on all the experiences shared, the group agreed that a positive result of the pandemic has been discovering all the good work happening across the borough, knowing that groups are supported and that in the future they will know where to direct people. “There is a sense that we no longer have to work within our own bubbles but can be more connected”. The group also wanted to celebrate the random acts of kindness that have been shared across Walsall and the community spirit of everyone across the town.

We are now looking forward to extending these conversations to our local community groups throughout Walsall.

Get involved with our Online Community Conversations!

Are you a resident living in Walsall and interested in meeting new people from across the borough? This may be just the project for you. Across three online dialogue sessions, facilitated by us, you will have the opportunity to:

· Share your experiences and stories with others

· Talk about the things that are important to you about living in Walsall

· Meet people from different backgrounds

If you are interested in getting involved as a participant or you would like a group that you are currently involved with to be part of the project, please register your interest here and we will be in touch. If you are having trouble accessing the form, or want to learn more, please get in contact with Daisy King: daisy@faithbelieffourm.org or Jaishree Patel: jaishree@faithbeliefforum.org

Thanks to our wonderful Community Connectors:

  • Carol Wilson, Manor Farm

  • Owen Allen, Brownhills CC

  • Lisa Lockley and Pat Davies, WATMOS

  • Sharon Sidhu Dhillion, Guru Nanak Gurdwara

  • Sanjay Patel, Sewa Kitchen

  • Lorena Leon-Lasanta and Manjit Kumari, RMC

  • Zaynab Hamza and Ashma Dihider, Aaina Hub

  • Nazneen Gulzar, ESOL

  • Colin Townsend and Christine Barkley, Signs for Worship

  • Liam Dacre Davies, Faith Meeting Faith

  • Latoya Simmonds and Kim, New Testament Church of God

  • Maureen Lewis, Walsall Black Sisters

  • Kiani, Kiondo

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