One Fellow’s place-based approach to creating change in her hometown of Chesterfield
I launched Create Change Chesterfield (CCC) in 2019 with the goal to create a positive change in our world by helping to build a community of changemakers. I felt strongly that the way to support action by individuals was to offer opportunities for communities to come together face-to-face for inclusive, creative events that empowered people to share ideas for creating change.
It felt important to ground this activity in my hometown of Chesterfield. What drew me to this place-based approach was simply that I know my hometown (where people like to meet, the transport system, the landscape of local government, local community groups). I could use this knowledge to tailor events specifically to the needs of local people.
When planning what CCC would look like, I decided to first tackle practical aspects such as accessibility. For example, CCC events were free and scheduled on Sundays to make it easier for those who work Monday through Friday to attend. We provided free lunch and childcare on the day, both a crèche for younger children and creative workshops for older children so they could feel part of the discussions that were taking place among the adults.
CCC launched with a community event held in March 2019. This was supported by the RSA and welcomed over 50 people from ages eight to 80, an encouraging level of interest as a starting point! The event was lively and creative, sparking fascinating conversations and connections. I used a feedback-led model in which subsequent events would be designed based on the topics of greatest interest and importance to the community.
On that first day, participants discussed exploring action around the climate emergency and what deliberative democracy might look like at a local level. Our second event was designed as a ‘citizen assembly experience’ with a focus on climate, and over 70 people came together to discuss how we could effect change as a community. Our third event (scheduled for March 2020) was designed to explore methods of communication and an action plan to bring more people along with us on the journey of addressing the climate emergency. Unfortunately, the pandemic forced the cancellation of this event and CCC entered a period of hibernation.
The enforced hiatus gave me time to reflect on the model we had created. All the work so far had been done on volunteer hours, including my own. I realised we needed to move on from exclusively volunteer action for CCC events to be consistent, and to keep volunteers from burning out or overextending themselves in the short term. Furthermore, the volunteer-only model is not sustainable if we hope to create a culture of social action which supports everyone to be involved and has diversity and inclusion at the heart.
The future of CCC will be determined by partnership working and engaging with established local third-sector organisations, reducing the reliance on volunteer hours. To this end, we are talking to Community Chesterfield, an innovative partnership between Derbyshire Voluntary Action and the University of Derby, to explore a collaboration of ideas and plan for CCC to start up again in 2023.
To learn more, visit Create Change Chesterfield Blog
Clare Gage is a designer/maker and pottery tutor. Her voluntary work explores using creative experiences to build community and explore social action
This article first appeared in the RSA Journal Issue 1 2023.