Have you ever wondered what it takes to truly empower and engage communities for positive change? Two weeks ago, NOW’s Mirella Ferraz went to Birmingham to learn more about the Active Communities Learning Festival, and the innovative ways the Active Welllbeing Society is engaging people in physical activity. Here she reports on what she found.

The Active Communities Learning Festival, led by the Active Wellbeing Society (TAWS) attempts to explore what it takes to truly empower and engage communities for positive change. This exploration is based on learnings from the Sports Council-funded, Birmingham and Solihull Active Communities partnership, which worked across six of the most deprived areas in Birmingham and Solihull to tackle the barriers people face when getting physically active.

I recently attended a session of the Festival entitled ‘Working with Communities & Shifting the System – Practices & Principles’. At this interactive workshop, participants delved into the values, practices, and behaviours essential for effective community engagement and behaviour change. The workshop explored how these principles can lead to transformative outcomes at individual, community, and systemic levels.

TAWS’s CEO, Karen Creavin, and the facilitator Mark Sears

Key themes addressed included:

  • Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD): we learnt about the importance of identifying and leveraging community assets through techniques like Asset Mapping. By focusing on strengths rather than deficits, communities can harness their existing resources to drive positive change.
  • Networked Approach to Assets: the workshop highlighted the power of collaboration and networking in maximising the impact of community assets. Like the Network of Wellbeing, TAWS believes that building connections and partnerships can amplify efforts and create synergies for greater collective impact.
  • Capacity Building: emphasis was placed on building capacity within communities, especially in areas of greatest need. By empowering individuals and groups with the skills and resources they require, communities can become more resilient and self-sustaining.
  • Distributing Leadership: we explored the concept of distributed leadership, recognising that effective leadership can emerge from within the community itself. By decentralising power and fostering inclusive decision-making processes, communities can tap into a diverse range of perspectives and talents.
  • Creating Inclusive Spaces: we learnt strategies for creating welcoming and inclusive spaces where all voices are heard and valued. By fostering a sense of safety and trust, communities can cultivate an environment conducive to meaningful engagement and collaboration.
  • Active Listening: active listening is a fundamental skill for effective community engagement. By employing various listening techniques, practitioners can better understand community needs and aspirations, paving the way for co-creation and collaboration.
  • Cultivating Imagination and Possibility: we were encouraged to explore creative approaches to problem-solving and innovation. By fostering an environment where imagination and possibility can flourish, communities can envision and realise new futures.

Overall, ‘Working with Communities & Shifting the System’  gave me valuable tools, strategies, and inspiration to drive positive change in our communities. As a dedicated advocate for happy, healthy communities, TAWS is committed to empowering individuals and fostering meaningful connections that transform lives.

To learn more about TAWS and their initiatives, visit their website and get involved today.

Some of the participants in the workshop