Getting started on making a difference at the grassroots

There’s no one way of building and running a grassroots community project. Because of factors such as demographics and location, the issues projects have been set up to address will differ from each other so they have to be structured accordingly. What also influences the development and structure of a project is who steps up to the plate to start it off and keep it running.

What’s important with any grassroots project is making sure it genuinely involves as many people in the neighbourhood as possible. This will give it the legitimacy it needs to grow and will also ensure a steady number of committed volunteers as everyone feels they have an equal stake in it.

Before anything happens with getting a project off the ground, it’s vital you talk to people in the neighbourhood. Listen to them, find out what they want and how they think it could come about. Try to get as many people as possible involved. Not everyone is going to be able to commit a massive amount of time to a project but even if they can only offer an hour or so a week, value that contribution. Life is complicated and there are valid reasons why a lot of people can only manage to offer an hour or so a week.

Even though someone can only offer a limited amount of time, if the project is operating in their neighbourhood, they have to be seen as having a stake equal to someone who can contribute more hours. Creating a hierarchy of who can have more say in how a project develops based on the number of hours they can commit to it will alienate people and eventually start to deny it the legitimacy it needs to function. Inclusiveness, collective decision making and accountability are key factors in the success or failure of a successful grassroots project.

In the sidebar of this blog, there’s a list of all the grassroots community projects across the south of Essex that we’re currently aware of – it is a work in progress and we intend to add to it with your help:) Each one has a different story and background you can learn from. One of the aims of setting up Alternative Estuary is to encourage these groups to talk to each other to exchange experiences, ideas and skills. Southend In Transition run a number of events where people from various groups (and none) can meet face to face to form the bonds needed to foster the activity that will make this world a better place to live.

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