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On 7th February, more than 140 people gathered in Norwich to debate the issues that affect the city. The event was delivered by Manchester based charity ROC (Redeeming Our Communities) who facilitate community engagement conversations across the UK.

Participants were drawn from local churches, public sector bodies and community groups. The themes that emerged - mental health, drug abuse, social isolation and homelessness - are not new, but the idea of leading change from the grassroots arguably is.

Themes to emerge from the conversation included mental health, drug abuse, social isolation and homelessness. (You can read a summary of the participant feedback here). Local church leader Darren Woodward, agreed to coordinate those interested in making change happen.

On 7th March, Darren spoke at the monthly Norwich Fellows meet-up. He shared the complexity of his challenge, encouraging people to find and plug the gaps in provision, without duplicating or confusing what already takes place.

One Fellow pointed out the danger of assuming that because a project exists to solve an issue that issue is being satisfactorily dealt with. Often it takes a range of different approaches to fully meet need. Another talked about how something as simple as making your own front garden attractive, can encourage neighbours to both do the same, and talk to each other in the process.

Norwich is now the UK’s first ‘sharing city’, creating real opportunity for social change. A new website encourages those with skills, or space, to offer them to others. Norwich Fellows were encouraged to sign up and offer their skills and expertise.

What became clear is that what is really needed is clear and focused communication. To try to map need and provision would result in a tsunami of data, with the way ahead no clearer than before.  There are also plenty of people wishing to engage, with one Fellow, a teacher, explaining how his school’s Sixth form were always looking for new community projects to support.

What will happen next is unlikely to be large or all embracing. Instead, Norwich Fellows reading this and following the links will think, ‘ah yes, I can help with that’, and so by a process of many small positive actions, Norwich will become a better place to live, work and enjoy for all.

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