Covert community development at the pub

Rachel Jennings lives in the Derbyshire village of Crich, home to Shift’s CEO Andrea. In a guest blog for us she tells the story of her first dabbling as a community builder to help organise a family fitness week – from the fear of rejection to the jubilation of her first successful engagement with a local resident.

Organising a Family Fitness Week

Making the first move is a lot of people’s personal dread. Whether it’s asking someone out, starting a conversation with strangers, or in my case, creating a conversation opportunity to galvanise support for a new community event.

A friend had approached me with an idea to organise a “Family Fitness” week in the village: a precious, fragile, germ of an idea that needed protection from time-served naysayers. What did I think?

I was excited and completely behind it. In setting up Qi To Health working very holistically as an osteopath and yoga teacher, I spend a lot of my time trying to help people get comfortable in their bodies and minds, out of pain and living active, fulfilled lives. And being brought up with a McDonalds “go large!” mentality and an attraction to the easy lures of alliteration, I suggested we make it the FFF: Family Fitness Fortnight.

What was already going on in Crich?

Another local resident – Trish – had seen a funding opportunity with a very tight deadline. So we had a cup of tea and brainstormed a huge list of all the places, people, groups and events already going on in Crich.

Having recently listened to a TED talk by Cormac Russell after hearing about his work from Andrea Kemp and been introduced to the concept of asset based community development (ABCD), I attempted to steer us away from ‘re-inventing the wheel’, but really looking at the great things we already had and building on these.

If you know Crich (originally famous for starring with Amanda Burton in ‘Peak Practice’) you will appreciate it is a little, rapidly-growing village with a lot going on. Much of this is divided by lines of church, pub and school and sport ‘allegiance’. Not that you can’t attempt to span the lot! And there are certain minor economic fault lines too that can seem quite glaring at times and of course most irrelevant when we’re doing things together.

When we made the list – an unfeasibly large list, it must be said – we divided it into people for us each to suss out about getting involved.

Initiating conversation and the fear of rejection

Top of my list was Clive, a regular at my pub of choice and ring-leader/whistle-blower of the “folk night” and regular of the cycle group.

I duly wandered over the fields to the pub with my dog for moral support, and sat in wait…

Clive arrived, all black lycra and reflective tape and took a stool at the bar. The pressure was on.

Despite my professional life involving deeply intimate conversations about bodies, bowel habits, pains, fears, hopes, dreams etc I still feel very unnerved at the prospect of initiating a ‘serious’ conversation like this. Making my move on a completely unsuspecting ‘victim’. On their night out.

And even though I know Clive pretty well, I feel well off what Stella Orange would call my “comfort sofa”.

How on earth do I introduce it? Sell it to him? Because failure wouldn’t be an option, right?

My mind is semi-paralysed with a mixture of the fear of rejection (the awfulness!), fear of cocking it up (ruining this chance) and saying the wrong thing (looking a prat).

Clive’s conversation with the barmaid reaches a natural end and I seize my opportunity.

“Clive!” I break.

The silence,” Could I have a word?”

And with a good-natured smile, Clive brings his drink over to my table and asks if it’s to do with music.

The bravest bit of me that really wants this to work, decides to go with our vision for a family fitness fortnight. I blurt at high-speed about wanting to encourage people to try activities like the cycling, and suddenly Clive is offering to run two events: a daytime and an evening one. He’s happy to take people on the trails (High Peak or Tissington) and has soon filled me in on the 30-year history of the cycle group.

Gaining the confidence to do it all again

As an upshot in the bigger field of social-ism, over a pint, we shared our cycling pasts and Clive told me about Wirksworth’s community orchestra.

Motivated by his glowing recommendation, I contact the orchestra the following day. I’m told I’m welcome to come along and discover there are several members who live within minutes of me and I could share a lift with. Neat!

So my experience of having this not overly courageous conversation has had a massive upside. I left the pub feeling elated: full of the wonders of human warmth, interconnection and potential to be more than the sum of the parts. And revelation that in the act of giving something for others, I had immediately received this wonderful, unexpected gift.

As I got into the car park, I did a little victory dance in my wellies under the twinkling Derbyshire stars and felt very Zena-Warrior Princess; capable of great things. Like I’d got my stripes and could confidently approach others about the venture.

And with that, I set off home across the fields.

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