Chesterfield’s community champions take on new challenge

Chesterfield Community Organsing Team: Rachel Hodgkinson, Alan Ward and Natasha Keen.UGC
Chesterfield Community Organsing Team: Rachel Hodgkinson, Alan Ward and Natasha Keen.UGC

A team of community activists who work in some of the toughest parts of Chesterfield have created a ‘social’ business which they hope will allow them to continue their ‘important’ work.

Rachel Hodgkinson, Alan Ward and Natasha Keen have recently registered Chrysalis Inspirations, a community interest company based on the ‘community organising’ model of social change.

Holme Hall unite group. John and Wendy Snowdon and Stuart Colls.

Holme Hall unite group. John and Wendy Snowdon and Stuart Colls.

This model, popularised in part by US President Barack Obama, who was once a community organiser on the mean streets of Chicago, aims to create change from the bottom-up, asking people what they want to change about their communities and then helping them do it.

Natasha, 24, from Sheffield, said: “The process starts on the doorstep, simply having conversations with people.

“We ask very open questions, are completely non-judgemental and just try to build up relationships with people.

“When people come up with ideas we support them through the process of implementing them, also helping them acquire any skills they might need in order to do what they want to do.”

KOYS group members Shaun Whiting and Louise Tasker-Lynch with Rachel Hodgkinson on the left.

KOYS group members Shaun Whiting and Louise Tasker-Lynch with Rachel Hodgkinson on the left.

The idea of community organising was introduced into the UK by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government in 2010.

As part of the ‘big society’ and localism agenda championed by that government, more than 500 community organisers were trained at a cost of around £35 million.

Rachel, 46, of Ashbourne, currently works in the Loundsley Green, Holme Hall and Green Farm areas of Chesterfield.

She said: “At the moment I am doing work with Holme Hall Unite which is having great success in improving the lives of residents.

The 'Scribblers' group who meet at Newbold Library on Windermere Road.

The 'Scribblers' group who meet at Newbold Library on Windermere Road.

“Part of that is the ‘In Bloom’ project which at the moment is making the area look great by planting lots of daffodils.

“We are also involving local schools in a growing project which is giving people in the area a real ‘plot to plate’ experience of food and working with tenants in flats to help them turn the grassed areas they have into gardens they can use.”

However, as austerity has started to bite, the funding that was readily available in the project’s early years has become more difficult to access.

Natasha, who currently works with communities in Boythorpe and St Augustine’s, said: “Now the government funding has been reduced we have to be more creative in our approach.

Mums Frances Dowsett and Cassey Smith with their children Ethan Dowsett-Barker, 11 months, and Anne-Mai Britland, 11 months, want to transform a park off Langer Lane.

Mums Frances Dowsett and Cassey Smith with their children Ethan Dowsett-Barker, 11 months, and Anne-Mai Britland, 11 months, want to transform a park off Langer Lane.

“There is definitely less available but it is still there if you know where to look and are prepared to work hard to find it.

“We need to look at ways of doing things differently, working with people more collaboratively and in partnership, tackling issues together.”

Bodies which have been important to the group in terms of funding recently include Public Health England, the People’s Health Trust and the Church Urban Fund.

Their work addressing health and wellbeing issues in the community in which they work has helped with this - and in turn helps reduce costs for under pressure bodies like the NHS.

The funding they receive allows them a salary and an office in the West Studios building on Sheffield Road which they rent from Chesterfield College.

However, they hope their new venture will allow them to raise their profile and put them on a stronger financial footing over the longer term.

Community organising: activity listening to the children of Holme Hall.

Community organising: activity listening to the children of Holme Hall.

Alan, who is 52 and from Hasland, is based in the Newbold and Dunston areas of the town.

He said: “Together, we work with some of the hardest to reach people in Chesterfield.

“Some of them have been on an amazing journey - I have seen people change so much as a result of the work we do with them.

“But as well as that the three of us have been on an amazing journey and we want to continue doing it.”

Case Study - Rachel Hodgkinson - Holme Hall

Holme Hall Unite started in 2014 and has been involved in both creating activities and improving life for people in the area. One joint venture that they led on was Holme Hall in Bloom, planting daffodils around the area which are now starting to come through. KOYS (Keep Our Young Safe) has been founded by Louise Tasker-Lynch to raise awareness within the community of the dangers of uncontrolled drugs, work towards a change in legislation and provide workshops where young people aged 8 – 18 can engage in developing skills and interests in a safe environment. Other local residents have been involved in working with Holme Hall School. Other projects and activities include a seniors ‘Time To Share’ group, a ‘Gardens, Not Grass’ group and a safety on foot and bike project. Rachel’s phone number is 07813 543412.

Case Study - Natasha Keen - Boythorpe

Park Parents, a group Natasha has recently started to support, work collaboratively with local authorities to secure the future of Langer Lane Field for their children and families. Their plans include working towards providing a family and dog friendly, fully disabled access play park.

At Potters Place, a group of local residents of all ages, from both inside Potters Place and the surrounding streets, are working together to campaign against the loss of local bus services, to provide community activities including day trips and a gardening club and to promote community facilities and activities which are already in place. Natasha’s phone number is 07981 752121.

Case Study - Alan Ward - Newbold/Dunston

Newbold Scribblers was the first group to form and meet at Newbold library weekly. The group meets to share the skills of creative writing and attracts people of all ages and abilities. Its successes include several pieces of writing being published, the winner of a national calendar competition and two attendees working together on a series of short stories for children which they are hoping to be published in the near future. The group has enjoyed a day out to Stratford-upon-Avon and have organised its own writing workshop. Also formed around the same time was the Newbold Creatives craft group who meet each week to share ideas and skills including egg decorating, flower arranging and card making. Other groups include indoor bowls and the Wanna Sing teenage choir. Alan’s phone number is 07789 260814.

Rachel Hodgkinson in Holme Hall.

Rachel Hodgkinson in Holme Hall.