A Year Of Growth
This is my journey: twelve months ago, I attended a Participatory Budgeting (PB) training session with a family friend. I had never heard of MutualGain, PB, or thought that I would ever be attending community meetings with my local police force and local authority. But I am so glad that I did! In the meeting, I articulated my frustrations and views to the older people in the room, and for once I felt as though I was being listened to and they valued the voice of a young person. It was after this meeting that Susan (Director of MutualGain) and I had a conversation about what MutualGain do, and she gave me the opportunity to start a level 3 business administration apprenticeship with the organisation and begin to build social capital with them.
My first month was full of excitement, and it really boosted my confidence and self-esteem. I was travelling backwards and forwards to London meeting the team. I assisted in community events, and shadowed a range of programmes, as well as travelling to Liverpool to witness a PB event and do the post event admin work. I learned a lot about the planning and logistics of arranging meetings and events, saw at first hand new ways of working with public services, as well as developing my IT skills.
Alongside my level 3 apprenticeship, I was given the opportunity to achieve a Level 4 Qualification in ‘Building Social Capital though Community Engagement’ and managed to pass with flying colours. The qualification, using MutualGain’s online platform, MutualiLearn, gave me knowledge of strengths-based approaches to community engagement and rethinking how public services can improve their relationship with communities around the country. This was really useful to work through alongside practical experience gained through shadowing on a range of programmes.
In my first month with MutualGain, I was given the opportunity to develop my administration skills through a Community Consultation process in Redbridge as well as see how the PB event was delivered in Liverpool. The Redbridge programme was a bit of a roller coaster ride for me, as I learned what to do and what not to do when communicating with large numbers of community members!
Since then I have worked with Lewisham Council and community members to plan and deliver a successful World Café event, and been a part of the planning and delivery of online PB programmes. All these experiences helped me learn how to use Microsoft Office (as a young woman with no previous experience) and shaped my portfolio for my Business Administration apprenticeship with Bedford College. Throughout this time I was able to recognise my strengths and weaknesses: I realised that I was actually a lot more confident than I thought, and had a way with working with the community and a passion for building social capital. It also highlighted how my apprenticeship was the beginning of a long road ahead. Learning how to correctly complete administrative work and utilise programmes such as Word and Excel to produce high quality documents was something I had never had to do before and struggled with initially.
Since March, the country has been in uncertain times due to Covid-19, and MutualGain like many other businesses and organisations were in unknown territory. We were unable to conduct face to face meetings, and work with the community as we had previously done. However, this meant that we had an opportunity to develop our online options to connect with communities and develop new networks.
As lockdown was enforced, we directed our energy into supporting our team and the wider online community through a series of Virtual Cuppas. They ended up being a great way we could connect with people online informally, and have open discussions on a range of topics, from health and wellbeing and hobbies such as philosophy and more serious issues such as stalking and harassment.
I developed a system to organise and advertise the series along with the help of our marketing partners, Babbl (http://www.babbl.co.uk/ ). I held a Virtual Cuppa on ‘Anxiety and Overcoming Anxiety During the Pandemic’ and found it empowering to have an open discussion with members of the community and associates on a topic so relevant to many of us at this time. Most of the Virtual Cuppas were recorded and mine ended up being the most viewed on our YouTube channel. This inspired me to plan a mental health series with a colleague, where we could address issues around mental health and invite other speakers to share their experiences and knowledge of the subject. The online sessions seemed to be a hit with the public and it has been rewarding to help some people across the country with something as simple as a safe place to discuss different and sometimes sensitive topics.
Some communities have been keen to continue their engagement journey, especially in relation to Participatory Budgeting (https://www.mutualgain.org/training/participatory-budgeting/ ). In order to achieve this, we set our minds on developing an online PB system that would work for the applicants, the voters and the communities. Our first Online PB event was held for Dyfed Powys and was a huge success as over 200 people registered. This was an exciting achievement as it meant we could continue with the good work we were doing in other areas, starting with the PB event due in my hometown, Bedfordshire. The Bedford PB voting process also went well, with 140 people registered to attend and we were able to allow the community to allocate £15,000 of public budgets to projects working to reduce serious violence in the area! The project was really important to me, and I continue to support the successful projects and improve my community while hoping to build trust between the community and public services.
My year with MutualGain has been eventful, and it has taught me so much more about both administration and community engagement. It has uncovered my deep passion for working with the community and to build networks. I love where MutualGain has helped me get to within my life and the year has been full of growth and change both professionally and personally. My gratitude for the opportunity is still overwhelming, and I look forward to another 12 months of growth within my role. I will have completed my apprenticeship by April 2021, and hope to complete other qualifications that will allow me to be a successful consultant in the future.
Written by Antigua Riley-Corion