Mobilising community assets and volunteers can have side effects

fsf-planning-meeting-2016-09-07One of the strengths of asset-based community-driven development (ABCD) is how it builds on the passions and skills of volunteer community members. It’s amazing what communities can achieve when they rely on their own resources.

But there can be a downside too. It can be exhausting for the passionate, committed people involved, and there can be many challenges faced in organising grassroots activities.

At the moment the Fair Share Festival is taking over my family’s lives. The Festival is being run by a small group of passionate people who are volunteering their time – and I think we’re creating a great event. The program includes:

  • Speakers & panel discussions
  • Upcycling workshops
  • Building a Tiny House
  • A giant clothing & book swap
  • Sewing lounge and upcycle café
  • An upcycled fashion parade
  • A screening of The True Cost
  • A community Music Jam evening and other entertainment
  • Kids’ circus & upcycling activities.

Most of us don’t have much experience with this type of thing so there are many things we have to learn and there are many things we don’t know. (E.g, we’ve been asked to provide our own toilet paper rather than just using the schools supply. How do we work out how much we need?)

Some of the things we want to do make extra work for us. In such a throw-away society, our decision to try to limit the Festival to two bins, is causing all sorts of challenges. But as the focus of the Festival this year is on consumption, waste and upcycling we are asking all the food providers and stalls to be waste free, and we need alternatives to plastic plates and cutlery. We could use compostable utensils, but there is still a lot of resources used in their production. The Samaritans (a local charity) is happy to provide us with a whole lot of crockery from their op shops but some people are nervous about us using washing stations as they think we need to wash them at 80°C to ensure they are sanitised properly. Somehow we have to come up with a solution.

Because we are including some small stall holders who don’t normally do this type of thing, the ugly head of insurance has popped up. Do we expect them all to have their own individual insurance or can we find creative ways to involve them without putting people at risk?

In keeping with the overall theme of the Festival (a fair share), entry to the festival is by donation. The upcycling workshops have a fee (so we can pay something to the workshop facilitators) but it is well under what workshops would normally cost. We’d love to be paying everybody involved, but we simply don’t have the funds.

We had a bit under $5000 from a previous festival, we are using some money from a small grant Transition Newcastle received from Newcastle Council towards the upcycling events, and we’ve done a bit of crowd funding. (The site says we’ve only raised $160 but we’ve actually raised over $1000 offline as well.) With money we receive at the festival, we expect to have a budget of under $15,000. Not a lot for what we are trying to do. If it wasn’t for all our volunteers, it simply wouldn’t be possible.

Most of the organisers are people involved in Transition Newcastle (including Upcycle Newcastle) although Hamilton Public School (where the Festival is being held) is getting right behind it by organising the community music jam, catering on the main day and helping with various other parts of the Festival.

We have managed to set aside some money to pay a small honorarium to a journalist who is helping us heaps with media (main stream and social media) and a range of other tasks. (We’ve never had as much success with media.)

Cathy (my partner) is working full-time (and more, all unpaid) on the festival, Jasmine (one of my daughters) is involved in the Tiny House Project, and Alexa (my other daughter) is helping in various ways (including doing more cooking than normal) and will be helping out at the festival. Both girls are very long-suffering! I took last week off from work as holidays so that I could focus on the festival, and in the coming three weeks, it will be taking most of my spare time (so don’t expect all that many posts for a while!)

We’ve received great support from a range of other people who are donating their time and expertise. Sometimes we struggle to find people with the skills we need, particularly when there are very specific skills, but people do what they can. Last weekend there was a well-attended banner making day (not one of my skills so I worked on other things and looked after lunch) which combined community building with getting things done for the Festival.

banner-making-1I normally struggle with sponsors, but this time I feel pretty comfortable promoting our sponsors because they are mostly small businesses who are providing practical assistance to the Festival. Even Fuji Xerox, who is listed as one of our sponsors, is included because the people at the Uni PrintCentre have been very helpful and given us a great price on our printing.

Community events like the Fair Share Festival, often rely on a small group of people who are willing to get involved, volunteer their time and make a difference. It is vital that we become skilled at looking after these valuable community assets so that they don’t become overwhelmed or burnout. We need to recognise that mobilising community assets and volunteers can have a range of implications for the people involved and ensure they receive the support and encouragement they need to thrive.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. 10 things I’ve learnt about strengths-based community engagement
  2. Bottom-up community development
  3. What is asset-based community-driven development (ABCD)?
  4. Social change and strengths-based approaches
  5. How (and why) I joined the Transition movement
  6. Consumption and the Transition movement

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Social change, Strengths-based approaches & ABCD, Working with communities and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Mobilising community assets and volunteers can have side effects

  1. Jessica Miller says:

    Excellent post Graeme. I wasn’t able to get very involved in the festival unfortunately, and was away for work during the time it was on, but by all accounts it was a terrific success. It’s incredible how committed you, your family and many others of the Newcastle sustainability community are to these initiatives.
    I very much agree about the need to look after volunteers and trying to avoid burn out. I’m looking into ways of doing this at the moment and your blog posts are very useful, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great article mate,

    Nails it all down to the nitty gritty.

    ‘Twas great working with all of you towards a common goal

    Liked by 1 person

  3. cbecker53 says:

    What a wonderful project! Looking forward to learning how it all works out!

    Liked by 1 person

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