Through the grapevine - RSA Comment - RSA

Through the Grapevine


  • Picture of Mel Smith
    Mel Smith
    Deputy CEO, Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire
  • Community and place-based action
  • Fellowship
  • Fellowship in Action

How one organisation is ‘going deep’ on a journey to empower communities in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Our vision at Grapevine is local citizens with the skills and confidence to act on what they care about, connecting through their shared humanity, taking power into their own hands and regenerating their communities.

Grapevine exists to help the people and communities of Coventry and Warwickshire to thrive – because too many struggle on the edge of coping. We want local people and communities to be stronger, to be able to take opportunities, tackle their challenges and shape their lives. This happens when people have the power to take action and the capacity and capability to work together for change.

If we accept that it will take all of us to address these challenges, then we need to go deep together. This involves putting relationships at the heart of what we do, strengthening the leadership of local people and going deeper into communities regularly excluded from having a democratic voice. Relationships matter to us at Grapevine. From working with the individual to communities and through to the boardroom, it all starts with being more human and working towards a world that prioritises relationships.

Connecting for Good Coventry, a movement to end isolation and marginalisation initiated by Grapevine and local citizens, has sparked over 20 initiatives tackling isolation and marginalisation to date. It is led by hundreds of Coventry people in a way that is emphatically ‘bottom–up’.

One of these initiatives is Creative Kindness, a group that facilitates crafting sessions to promote positive wellbeing. Chris Reid, one of the core team, says the group’s membership began to thrive following a move to Coventry’s Central Library in May 2019 and continues to grow, starting in another five locations since then. “Grapevine’s Community Organisers have been coaching and supporting us from day one,” says Chris. “They helped us to build a core team and supported us to develop connections with others to strengthen our mission.”

From working with the individual to communities and through to the boardroom, it all starts with being more human and working towards a world that prioritises relationships.

Grapevine Deputy CEO Mel Smith

Social media regulation

We are also growing leadership to tackle the systemic causes of the inequalities communities face by holding those in power to account. Our Community Organisers are working with Coventry Youth Activists (CYA), a group of young disabled people calling for social media platforms to change the way they handle online disability hate. The group recently hosted a meeting with Meta’s Head of UK content regulation policy and the Patagonia EU team to further build their allyship; significantly, these sessions started with time carved out for building relationships and agendas that created equal power.

To organise well we have to be in relationship with one another, we have to understand what Community Organising is and how it helps to unlock collective power and the capacity for transformation. We have to learn about the structural causes of the things that need to change and we have to work together to influence established power structures to secure wins.

Mel Smith is Deputy CEO at Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire. She is also part of the Relationships Collective, a group of nine individuals who are working together to identify areas for collective, practical action to support and advocate for relationship-centred work.

This article first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 2 2023

To learn more about Grapevine, contact [email protected]

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