Usually, the first rule of any community work is about the importance of talking to and engaging with existing local community leaders, such as elected members, local religious leaders and heads of community organisations. This is certainly a true and important aspect of working in any community, seemingly even more so in a community as unique as the Daneshouse and Stoneyholme areas of Burnley. For those unfamiliar with Burnley, it ranks in the bottom 1% of poorest areas in Britain and is home to 83% of Burnley’s BME population, predominantly those of Bangladeshi and Pakistani heritage.
What we have found, however, is that by engaging and empowering local women, the grandmothers, mothers and daughters of the community real change happens, because it is often still women who run the household, bring up the children, control household diets and set expectations of good behaviour. So it is vital that organisations like Pennine Lancashire Community Farm make our modest contribution to support, enable and ultimately empower local women to really take hold of and move their community forward to where they want it to be.
We have seen a practical example of this philosophy in the benefits of letting local women control our Chilli Club growing project, which provides small allotment spaces for local residents. The Chilli Club has seen year on year growth in the level of community involvement, with creation of (all-female) garden stewards scheme and our planned trip, where we will be taking over 150 community members to Tatton Park.
The trip is billed as our ‘big day out’. It is a safe space for people to come together. What we know, from previous experience, is this trip will serve as a catalyst that helps develop and strengthen the bonds that tie our communities. Problems will be discussed and resolved informally, our shared strengths and joys celebrated, regardless of any agenda to ‘do community work’. It’s a little step for the Chilli Club to arrange this trip that will have both little and big consequences for many days to come.