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Community Development

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This paper intends to research the aims and objectives of a community development project, whilst examining the proponents that initially drove this project, highlighting both the positives and negatives. It will identify if Social Change has impinged on the policies, procedures and framework of this project and will endeavour to explore if the project meets the current needs of the local community. “Community development work supports people to work collectively for social change which will improve the quality of their lives and the communities in which they live.” Framework Information Hand-out (1999).

Family Resource Centres were established by The Family Support Agency in 2003, under the auspices of The Department of Children and Youth Affairs as Community Development projects, to address the needs of marginalised individuals residing in disadvantaged areas. Like most community development projects, Rosemount Family Resource Centre was established as a direct result of a community coming together to address issues such as poor housing in three Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Local Authority blocks of flats.
In general residents accepted occupancy of these flats on the understanding that it would be short term, but found out to their detriment that it was far from a stopgap. For many of the residents it took over ten years to be rehoused, some took as long as sixteen years. This complex was situated in the heart of Dundrum in what was seen to be an affluent area, yet the housing conditions of this complex were abysmal, clearly shown in the survey carried out.
“The overall health of residents is being seriously compromised due to the inadequate Dickens style methods of heating the buildings in conjunction with the poorly fitting windows, damp issues, rain water pipe leakage into top floor apartment divisions and in one case where harmful fumes are escaping in to a child’s bedroom” Brangan (2009).

In keeping with the Collective Activism Model this community came together with a common goal to create change. “Activism: a doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests etc.” (Collins English Dictionary 2013).
Through collective action an independent Health and Safety survey was carried out on behalf of the residents, to highlight and elevate housing issues, actively initiating social change for the community. “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Mead (2009). The results of this survey showed that there was asbestos in the walls, each flat had high levels of dampness and a dangerous mould was growing on the walls, also the windows were in danger of falling out. “The fact that the window frames have deteriorated so badly and in some cases show significant gapping creates a serious risk of windows blowing out on to common areas below with the obvious risk of serious injury” Brangan (2009).

Community spirit was ignited in the late 90’s where a group of residents came together with a common interest to alleviate some of these concerns through collective action. “Community development creates a vehicle for people to act on existing concerns”, Cayave (2006).
Voluntary community participation remained as other concerns emerged. Keeping within the ethos of community development and with the assistance of Southside Partnership, who provided training, this group built on their knowledge and skill, which empowered the group to address the needs of the local community, which displays a grassroots activism approach.

What is suggested is the main motivation for collective action was fuelled as a direct result of the substandard housing. This in turn identified the need for further resources, which drove the group on to develop services such as; an After Schools Club, computer training, and Personal Development for the residents of the Rosemount area. Thus increasing their confidence and empowered the community further.

In 2010 after persistent lobbying, which displayed the use of a collective activism model, the tenants in three blocks of flats were rehoused and the flats were demolished. It can be seen that “Community development is a group of people in a community reaching a decision to initiate a social action process to change their economic, social, cultural and environmental situation- Christensonet.al. (1989) which has been demonstrated by the active participation of individuals in Rosemount community.

Rosemount Family Resource Centre moved to new premises as a direct outcome of the residents being rehoused. The initial Board of Management, the driving force behind this initiative, were rehoused and were no longer living in the direct vicinity. The impact of this is two fold, the new premises is more central and has seen a much greater footfall from the local community. Evidence from the SPEAK report submitted in 2011 and currently being collated for 2012, shows that the footfall has increased from just over 2000 people accessing this resource services in 2011, has risen to over 4000 people in 2012. On the other hand it is more difficult for the board members to identify issues and keep the motivation dynamic. With this change in focus, the question could be asked, is the Resource Centre still addressing the changing needs of the community.

Gaps that have surfaced while doing this research is that it is heavily focused on education which can be seen as a positive, but there are absolutely no supports in place for the 18 to 50 age group. It could be suggested that the Board of Management are lacking in experience, and appear to be unaware of this gap, or the need to widen the remit, which in turn has caused frustration and conflict within the organisation. Even though evaluations are actively carried out it does not highlight the gaps in services or programmes.

In light of this, a needs analyses could be beneficial, to ensure that the ethos of community development is maintained. This would establish a clear direction the Resource Centre could take. A survey of the area was carried out in 2005, prior to the demolition of the flats, but taking into consideration the changes within the area and the economic downturn it would be prudent to explore current needs. Consulting with the community would ensure that the Resource Centre works from the bottom up and not from the top down, supporting the Community Activism Model of Community Development. As it currently stands, with the lack of the information from a needs analysis, the project is working on assumptions, being led from the top down. As stated by Richards (2008), “Grassroots organizing is the process of creating a community among such individuals in order to coordinate their activities in ways that create significantly greater influence than they could possibly have separately (and often greater than the sum of the parts). As with any community a grassroots community must be based on some shared identity, need, or belief.”

Another benefit from needs analyses is through consultation which community assets could be identified and explored. This in turn would revitalise community ownership and validate the services provided. Peck (1987) suggests, that a real community is built on respect for individuals, listening to the needs of the individuals within that community is vital. Evidence suggest that perhaps rather than looking at what’s wrong within a community it is preferable to explore the assets and build on these assets. (Kretzmann et1993)

While some of the members on the Board Management have changed, many of the original goals and aspirations of the founding group are still being addressed. With the move to the new premises, Rosemount Family Resource Centre due to the increase in space has expanded its homework support, which was initially set up for primary school children. This support has extended to support secondary school children, in first year. The notion behind this is to make the transition from primary to secondary school more manageable for the children. This year grinds are being offered to marginalized students in 6th year. As Durkheim (1893) suggests that where there is rapid social change sometimes groups become estranged from the group’s goals, but in this instance it would not appear to be the case, which again supports the Community Activism Model of Community Development.
On the other spectrum of the age profile of Rosemount, the Resource Centre have established a Social Club for the over 55’s. While this group took over a year and a half to establish it has gone from strength to strength. Demonstrating a real need for this project within this community at present. Initially there were three members, in the space of a year it has escalated to seventy-five members. This group is peer led, through consultation with the group member’s, activities, courses and trips are decided with the support of the staff, which is an integral principle of grassroots. Additionally this displays a grassroots activist approach from an older generation within this community. Establishing that with the right supports and procedures, community participation is evoked on initiatives that were sorely needed, thus creating positive change.

Through collective action this project tackles issues of inclusion offering new opportunities such as skills and education demonstrating a real community approach. On the other hand gaps have been identified where the need for improvements in services for the 18 to 55 year olds, who are the current assets of the community. It can be suggested that this project should have services that are inclusive and address the needs of all. Bearing in mind that some people do not wish to engage or step outside their comfort zone.

References:

Brangan Patrick G.(2009) Rosemount Court Safety Survey Patrick G Associates, Ardcath, Garristown, Co. Dublin.

Cavaye Jim. (2006) Understanding Community Development. Principles
Christenson, J.A. and Robinson, J.W. (1989) Community Development in
Perspective. Iowa State University Press, Ames Iowa.
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Harper Collins Publishers. 21 Jan. 2013. .

Durkheim E. (1893) The Division of Labor in Society.

Framework Information Hand-out. (1999) Community Development Approach within the family and community services Resource Centre Programme.
Kretzmann John P. McKnight. John L. (1993) Building Communities from the Inside Out A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets. Mead. Margaret http://simplyputtogetherinspirationalquotes.blogspot.ie/2009/07/margaret-mead-quotes.html 19/01/13

Peck M Scott (1987) The Different Drum.
Richards F. (2008) Entrepreneurship, Technology and Public Policy.…...

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