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Community-made content which you can improve Case study from our community

How to Engage with your Community

The Fair Share Trust programme faces some of its most challenging work on a daily basis, work at the heart of the programme: engaging people from within the Fair Share Trust neighbourhoods.

What counts as engagement, and what works, are questions that Local Agents have grappled with over the past nine years, and with varying results. Some communities want and need to be led through the involvement of development workers, whereas others emerge from a swell of strong local feeling and opinion.


Less may be more

Engaging communities need not be a costly process: that is the message from some FST Local Agents. For a small grant of £10,000, Enfield Parents and Children developed a weekly karate club for those aged 8-16, some of whom have challenging behaviours and would not be easily engaged. The club beat its own membership target by increasing its numbers from the predicted 40 to 57, with marked differences in behaviour noticed both at school and at home. The club actively encourages parents to remain during the sessions to socialise, share experiences and to understand each other’s cultural backgrounds. Not willing to face the chop when the squeeze was on, Enfield Parents and Children successfully secured match funding for a second year of excellent community engagement.


Term-time reminder

Grant contracts are useful to help Local Agents push projects that little bit further. Greater Manchester Community Foundation supported a capital application made by a successful Tenants and Residents Association in Oldham for improvements to a community building. A grant term was applied, requiring them to set up a strategic panel, which ensured engagement with a wider cross section of the community about building use. Applying terms in this way is an option open to all Local Agents when that extra push on engagement is needed.


Seeing is believing

Evidence is sometimes all that is needed. When local communities disapproved of projects which appeared to “reward disaffected youths” in Dungannon in Northern Ireland, the Community Development Worker struggled to persuade them that the work undertaken was a good way to engage young people. It was only when community members saw a drop in anti-social behaviour that buy-in from the local community was achieved.



Many Local Agents describe community events as a key way of engaging with local communities. These range from small events attracting 13 people to events drawing in crowds of 500 or more. Events are a useful way to build bridges between communities and agencies; they involve residents and draw people together, as well as being a very effective way to meet with local people, to find out what they want in their area and how to get involved in local projects.


Finding the motivation

Discovering what motivates communities is key to engagement. Sometimes the best laid plans will be unsuccessful because those leading have misunderstood or not adequately asked communities for their views. South Yorkshire Community Foundation has found that one way to success is following the group’s lead. Giving a small grant and some Community Development Worker time to the Friends of Monk Bretton Park has paid dividends. This new group of local people has become constituted, secured several grants and has made a real difference to the park environment. So, what made this group work where others may fail? South Yorkshire Community Foundation explains that Monk Bretton Park is the community’s park and whilst it was run down, it was “filled with a great deal of local history and fond memories”. In this case, personal history and connections motivated this group to achieve so much.

Scottish Community Foundation found it was possible to involve a diverse group of people in its Linwood Green Gym and the Toryglen Community Gardening Project by “finding the hook that draws people in”. In both cases, the activities were diverse and catered for those who didn’t want to do “heavy work”. By offering choice, they supported potentially marginalised groups to engage in healthy exercise activities which benefited the environment


Being present in the community

When a young man who had trained as a mentor on a North West London Community Foundation project was tragically shot dead in 2008, it had a demoralising effect for leaders who were struggling to engage local black boys involved in drug and gang culture. Affected by the murder, several of the 16-25 year olds originally targeted by the project contacted the project asking to be volunteers. They spent the summer putting together a comprehensive package of summer holidays for local children and young people. No amount of outreach or planning is likely to have had the same impact as this tragedy had on these young men. The project worker summarises the lesson saying “I did not realise the effect that just being here could have”.


Local workers

Local workers can hold in-depth knowledge of the communities in which they work and can be key to engagement. When the Community Foundation in Wales lost its Play Worker in Anglesey, it noticed a corresponding drop in contact, engagement and local knowledge. This local worker played a key role in engaging many people in the area.


The subway is THE way to local engagement

Working locally in Derby’s Sinfin area has had a very real lasting impact. A project, run by the Derby Community Safety Partnership involved young people creating street art in four subway areas and multiple agencies working together, including the police and Anti Social Behaviour Team. The project didn’t end here though - it sought views and involved 250 local residents of all ages to create the work. Open sessions were offered to young people and a montage of local community faces were included. Derby Community Foundation reports that “due to the involvement of so many local people, there has been no vandalism”.


Nurture and patience

A Fair Share Trust project in Ballymena, Northern Ireland struggled to get going due to community fractures. Although late and needing lots of intervention from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland, project reports pinpoint an important lesson in engagement: simply getting the interested groups to sit round the table and discuss their problems was “the greatest achievement”.



• A small amount of money can make a large difference
• Consider including strategic terms in grant contracts
• Evidence of work in practice can be an effective way to gain support

• Community events are an effective way to engage communities
• Discovering what motivates those you struggle to reach may aid engagement
• You can’t always plan or predict what will motivate people to get involved
• Local involvement in project planning can mean it lasts longer
• Be patient – grassroots engagement takes time


Page last edited Jun 23, 2017 History

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