Anfield Residents Create their Community's Future

A strengths-based conversation by a group of Anfield residents is captured in colour and graphics.

Anfield Residents Create their Community's Future

North Liverpool community offers model for community transformation

As a paper boy about four decades ago, Billy Marrat recalls tossing the newspaper through people’s unlocked front doors. “Thanks love,” people would call as he went on his way. Sometimes he’d stop and have a cup of tea.

Today, he says, he could gripe for hours about how Anfield, a district of North Liverpool, England, where he’s lived his whole life, has changed. From overhearing mothers swearing back and forth with their equally dirty-mouthed teenagers to local residents “cricking” their necks out when they hear a ruckus down the street but refusing to go out and get involved, both the rampant lack of respect and citizen disengagement “eats him up,” Billy says.

North Liverpool has been identified as one of Britain’s most challenging neighbourhoods.

Anfield, home of the world-famous Liverpool F.C. football team, has some of the highest levels of deprivation in the city.

 
 

Local Anfield people participating in the AI-in-the-community, three-day course as part of the Imagine Anfield effort.

This is despite years of regeneration consultation and resources.

Now another attempt is being introduced to try and create positive change.

Organizational consultant Tim Slack sees great possibilities in what can be achieved this time.

He’s basing his optimism on what’s different about this approach.

“In the past, it’s been all about external agencies asking people about things (the agencies) can do for them.”

Past change efforts have also put heavy stock in new or refurbished buildings and a better physical environment to improve the community.

“What we haven’t got is a people plan written by local people,” says Tim, who got involved after a local resident heard him speak and noted he was saying exactly what the people in his area had been saying for years. “No one wants to help us the way we want to help ourselves,” the resident told him.

But that’s what this new effort, called Imagine Anfield, is intended to do. The local people will write and deliver the plan, as opposed to organizations and agencies doing so.

The new effort will also build on the strengths of the community, using a methodology called Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which involves a systematic discovery of what gives a system “life” — when it is most effective and capable in economic, ecological, and human terms.

Appreciating People, the management development consultancy Tim co-founded, is partnering with a local Anfield organization, Anfield Breckside Community Council (ABCC), to get things started.

To date, the two organizations have trained 25 local residents in AI. These residents will then engage with the broader community and create a people plan for the area.

Money has been raised from local associations and The Big Lottery Fund for the initial stages of the effort.

The next step is to engage conversations with as many people as possible — children, young people, pensioners, people on the street and business representatives — over the next few months.

“What’s great about this community?” is the first question people will be asked.

The AI methodology will be used to build on those discovered strengths, dream of new possibilities and design how to bring those possibilities into being.

The new plan is to be delivered over the next five years. There isn’t money for that part of it yet, but the intention is to source it in the next months. Tim adds his organization is sticking with the effort regardless. “We’ll commit our own resources and time to developing the project more,” he says.

Anfield is being looked to as a model for how other communities in Britain could take creating change into their own hands. Big Local, a national effort, recently announced the award of £150 million ($233,394,000 Cdn.) to 150 neighbourhoods — a million per neighbourhood — for local residents to create their own partnerships and develop a program for change over the next 10 years. Tim and his consultancy are engaged with seven of those neighbourhoods, using AI with six of them at their request.

The greatest possibility Tim sees in the approach Anfield is trying is that local people have the confidence and ability to begin to create change in their community.

Perhaps the greatest support agency representatives like himself can offer is encouraging and providing ways for people to even consider new possibilities.

 
  The "practical, accessible" resource that has proven such a hit with the group of Anfield residents taking the AI course.

“If you’re in a low-income situation, with low resilience, your survival day to day matters, not your long-term future, so to get people to be more aspirational, to have more confidence, to be able to go beyond the day to day, that’s the biggest challenge we face and that’s where I think we will do things differently.”

One small tool that’s already giving reason for hope is a set of cards Tim and colleagues have created explaining AI in simple language. “We think too much has been written about AI in academia, and we wanted it to create a resource that was practical and accessible,” Tim says.

Anfield is the first community to test out the cards fully. Tim says they’ve been blown away by how much people love them.

Unaccustomed to being provided with such “classy” materials, Anfield residents have expressed great delight with the visually pleasing, card-stock materials. Even this resource is underscoring for them that this approach is different, Tim says.

Billy is one of those residents who participated in the initial AI training and plans to be involved going forward.

He says he’s most enjoyed the project “bits,” where he’s had to do something with what he had been taught.

 
  Billy Marrat (centre) presenting his dream for his immediate neighbourhood.

One of the exercises he especially liked was to depict his vision for Anfield.

He created a decayed tree to represent how it is today and then a young sapling to signal its renewal, with various branches detailing what’s different, such as more younger and older people engaging together to make their community better.

Like Tim, the best he sees happening with this is that the whole community gets involved in some way.

And that, he adds, will also be the biggest challenge.

“Imagine Anfield is a good idea. A lot of people want it.

“But the thing is they won’t get off their backsides to do anything about it.

"For too long it’s been all about look after No 1, and as long as you’re alright jack, don’t worry about anyone else.

“That’s what I’m trying to implore them to do. Get involved!” Billy says.

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Comments

This looks like truly great work. I hope it succeeds magnificently and you end up with a great tale to tell the world.I would love to know about how you got this project off the ground. It's not so difficult to do developmental work once you have the commitment of the people to "have a go", but getting to that point probably requires a lot of hard work and skill. If you were willing to share this part of the story, then maybe your excellent work would spread more quickly.There are probably more people around who would be able to deliver good work than their are opportunities to do so.Best wishes,Nick

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Michelle Strutzenberger

Michelle Strutzenberger has been a Generative Journalist and curator with Axiom News for more than 15 years.

She's most grateful for the incredible people she gets to work with every day at Axiom News, as well as the many other amazing folks she's encountered through this work.

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Michelle's writing has also been published by a wide variety of other organizations and publications, including the following:
- Abundant Community, an initiative of authors John McKnight and Peter Block to awaken the power of families and neighbourhoods
- PLAN Institute, a network dedicated to enabling families to create a good life for people with disabilities
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- The Canadian Community Economic Development Network
- Nieuwmakers, a Belgian news agency
- Restore Commons, an initiative of Peter Block and friends
- Academy for Systemic Change

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