Building Community Circles
The purpose of community circles is to bring people from a local community together to share their skills, talents, gifts and resources. This idea is based upon the premise that ALL of us need three things in our lives to make us happy and fulfilled: these are money, friendship and meaning. We believe that everyone needs community, everyone needs to be heard and everyone needs to have fun.
Community Circles are based upon reciprocity and the assumption that EVERYONE has both gifts and needs – whether these are labelled or not. The circles adopt the fundamental value of inclusion that ‘all means all’, no one is excluded from community circles, instead the circle members work out how to include everyone equally and safely.
A community circle is made up of participants and allies from the local community. The meeting starts with everyone sharing food and conversations. Next the group comes together in a circle so that everyone can see each other and shares what is good and new in their lives, everyone gets a turn to be listened to. ‘New and Good’ breaks the habit of thinking about and acting from what’s wrong, it is an exercise of giving and receiving attention with one another and it also provides a strong foundation of strengths from which we can think about and tackle difficulties. The group is then asked the question what do they want, need or have to offer.
The three central aims of a Community Circle are:
- To bring people together
- To Encourage connection
- To allow a spirit of exchange
- That it is still easier to say what this sort of group ISN’T rather than define precisely what it is.
We do spend time each gathering simply exploring and building a picture of what participants value about meeting in a community circle.
- People show up (or don’t) by choice – not because they have been referred to the Community Circle or had their attendance mandated by someone else.
- People will only show up if invited personally by someone and some need a person with them to be present at all
- Linked to the above point – People need to come as themselves and not in their work role or as a representative of a local service or organisation or on behalf of someone else
- Ensuring people are properly welcomed on arrival by assigning this role to at least three people including younger members sets a tone
- It is about creating a context, which allows or restores what is already and always there between people – the impulse to be generous and offer support – but, again, no one is obligated to do anything in response to a particular need, want or offer.
- Safety of all needs thought – but focus on ‘natural’ rather than ‘special’ safety measures – e.g. doing things in 3s rather than 2s. It is not being vulnerable that puts you in jeopardy – it is being vulnerable and isolated. We asked the leadership of ‘Beyond Welfare for their thoughts on staying safe whilst building community relatedness, this was their reply:
“…we have had many community conversations about this. We used our Thursday night gatherings to engage the community in setting the ‘policy’. We have a policy that, with the little kids, at least 2 adults/care providers are present so that there is an accountability/protective structure. Wit the youth, yes pairs or threes to assure the same. The reality is that people get hurt in spite of protective measures, in all kinds of situations. We opt not to do ‘background checks’ because they are not a community structure of protection, they are an institutional ‘solution’. And – if they truly worked we would not be seeing so much abuse in foster and institutionalised care where background checks are required. So we opt for a community/relational approach. It is also our experience that even people with a history of challenging behaviours behave better in a circle of community. God news also is the knowledge that we have not had an abuse incident in our 12 years of building community”
- People who know a lot of people are important – find your community connectors.
Young people of all ages are a unifying presence within Community Circles. As Peter Block says; “It’s hard to argue against the next generation” Nurture their leadership and their impulse to be generous. The Community Circle is a gathering where they can participate on equal terms around real and lively issues, it’s not school – no one is forcing them to be there – and in our experience they keep coming back. The young people seem to appreciate the respectful space where they can offer help as well as name their own needs. They are great at welcoming and hospitality and love eating and drinking!
Angus (Aged 15 ) “Meant a lot to see people all helping each other”
- Gatherings need to be intentionally facilitated and hold a structure. Community Circles are not an open ended get together – someone (or more than one person) leads and moves the gathering on to the next step (and finishes on time). Leadership convenes and holds the space and introduces the conversations that will happen at the gathering.
- It’s about the little words that we all understand – needs, wants, offers, hope, trust, feeling safe. Keep the gathering jargon and acronym-free. Words like assessment, safeguarding, collaboration have no place in this space.
- People will come and go, show up once and not again or not regularly.
- Hospitality/Food – offered at the start of the gathering and available the whole time suggests welcome and connection.
- What happens at the end in the flurry of conversations and connections before people leave may be as if not more important than the main meeting itself