Community Circles are another way of intentionally building of relationships and are by their very nature inclusive, person centred and respectful. In 2007 we at Inclusive Solutions (Newton and Wilson 2011) began to create community gatherings in Nottinghamshire that were based on full inclusion principles. All were welcome to explore how all could get sufficient meaning, friendship and money in their lives.
Now as we write this in 2016 we know of three Scottish Circles, one in Suffolk and one that continues in Nottingham.
The purpose of community circles is to bring people from a local community together to share their skills, talents, gifts and resources (Inclusive Solutions, 2016). 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.
Based on the highly successful work of Beyond Welfare in Iowa, in the U.S. Allies and participants were gathered and wants – needs – offers were shared.
This process welcomes participants into community, assists them in identifying their strengths as well as challenges, and introduces them to the values of
relationship, reciprocity and leadership development that infuse
everything that BW does. Allies are also recruited, trained and supported for intentional
friendships with BW participants that are based on common interests.
The safety and stability, self-sufficiency, and well-being of the BW
participant family remain at the center of these relationships.
(Hidden Treasures. Community Building Workbook: Asset Based Community Development Institute: 2005)
This kind of community enlisting is a good example of what has become known as Asset Based Community Development.
Community Circles offer a place and group of capacity that can be wrapped around an individual to support them in person centred planning as well as in developing a stronger more connected life. Groups can be recruited from the wider circle to plan together or to problem solve around a difficult issue. At other times groups can be recruited from the wider circle to carry our practical challenges – the trampoline that needed to be built, the shed that needed clearing, the garden dug over and so on…