Community Centred – our journey to a community led service

Community Centred – our journey to a community led service

Our Head of Services, Elizabeth Archer, introduces our new blog series about what we’ve learnt about working with the people who use our spaces and support to design and deliver services.

“I’m really proud that I get the honour of deciding who manages the centre, and I get a say in what happens here. I feel proud of the decisions I’ve made and that I’m making a positive difference to other people’s lives” – Bee

In October 2017, 20 older people gathered in a meeting room to talk to staff at Toynbee Hall about what they wanted from our community team and the spaces we had available.

That meeting triggered a change in how our community services operate. We asked people to tell us what skills and resources they had that could benefit the community and the room lit up. Since then we’ve moved into our new centre – changed its name, started new projects, agreed on a charter of how we should treat each other and recruited a new manager for the centre; all with the people we exist to support at the centre of decision making. Every choice that’s been made in that time has been made jointly with the community who use the space. And what’s really exciting is that more and different groups of people are beginning to think of this space as theirs too – and change how we use it to meet their needs. We are delighted that young people have decided to host discussion groups here, and that families are telling us what they and their children need from us and our spaces.

It’s challenging work, every new idea requires resources and it can be frustratingly slow to move from ideas to delivery – but with local people as a part of the team, they understand what the barriers are to getting things done, and are incredibly skilled at unlocking quick wins. I genuinely believe that community centred services where staff work as facilitators rather than architects are the future. We have so much more to do until the community’s vision is realized – but it’s a journey I’m glad we’re on.

We’ve learnt a lot trying to get this done, and we’re still learning. This blog (which we’ll update every couple of weeks) is the place where we’ll share that learning, the successes of local community members and any challenges we face. It’ll track our journey from the first Wellbeing Centre Meeting, through project planning, training in recruitment, fundraising and research, to agreeing the design and layout of the centre, instigating the use of prepaid cards for youth designed and delivered projects, designing new job roles through to the community panels unanimous decision to recruit our new community centre manager, and the work they’ve done in partnership with her since she started in post in December.

In this blog series you’ll hear from paid members of the staff team, from volunteers and crucially from local doers. People who have taken the offer of working in partnership seriously and have got on with using our space and resources for community benefit.

We’re looking to grow our community panel, get more people involved in shaping our offer and telling us how they want to use their skills to make our neighborhood a happier and fairer place to live. If you – like us believe in the potential of local people and would like to be a part of shaping what we do then you can get in touch by emailing our Tower Hamlet’s Community Manager on or coming along to our next community event on the 12th March 12:30 – 3:30 for the unveiling of the shared values put together by people who use our space, or just drop into the community centre for a cup of tea.

And the final words go to a couple of local people who have been heavily involved in this:

“I feel listened to. I had an idea about older people helping each other out, visiting each other when they are lonely, writing letters and stuff. Sam and Alice raised the money for it and now it’s happening – which is amazing” – Michael

Look out for our next blog “ Community Centred: Deciding who works here – community led recruitment” at the beginning of March

Find out what activities are running in our Wellbeing Centre this month.

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