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In a world where we are constantly reminded of the importance of the powerful, it’s refreshing to be reminded of the power of the humble and less obvious.

In a world where we are constantly reminded of the importance of the powerful, it’s refreshing to be reminded of the power of the humble and less obvious.

For the last year I have been grappling with how to translate the enthusiasm, talents and ideas of my local community into real events and greater involvement around local parks.  I have been doing this not only as a design and community engagement project I ran last summer for my Masters , but as a member of an umbrella community group for parks and green spaces in my local area.  The scale and projects the group is involved in are small and simple, and very low key in the greater scheme of things, yet it was my experience of the network of parks people that sprung to mind this week at an enlightening meeting with Cormac Russell of the Institute for Asset Based Community Development.

Cormac works across three continents, applying a Community Development model based on making the most of what’s already there; utilising people’s innate ‘gifts’ and  reflecting back to communities what they have, what they care about and what they want to act upon as a catalyst for them developing their own projects.  The fact that ABCD gets results in contexts as diverse as Ireland, USA, Canada and Kenya (where communities are divided by inter-tribal conflicts), is testament to the flexibility and universally empowering nature of the model.

One of the barriers I discovered when exploring potential local involvement around parks is that many people felt discouraged by the hierarchical nature of community groups, the length of meetings, the bureaucracy involved in making anything happen and the expectations that would be placed upon them if they put themselves forward.   Cormac’s expertise mirrored my experience, that a community’s’ latent gifts are often not freely given because people feel that they aren’t ‘qualified’ and that ‘doing’ is exclusively the domain of the professional.  The ABCD model recognises leadership not as a position, but as a behaviour and a narrative, the key characteristic of which is the ability to connect people over interests and passions circumventing those barriers; and it is these characters (be they members of the community or local authority representatives) that need to be elevated systemically to be able to effect positive change.

What touched me most about the ABCD approach was how well it described the often unseen value of small, unassuming, inclusive projects within communities, and the potential impact of people whose contribution to community life is to many  inconspicuous, lost within a culture that can often overvalue professionalism and competition.  This awareness will not only go on to inform my own practice, understanding the place of design and creative process as a tool for community development, but in my personal life with a renewed pride and enthusiasm in the work of my local parks group.


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