Friday, August 19, 2011

Rebuilding Britain after the riots

Images of violence in Britain's cities have shocked a global public. But rebuilding neighbourhoods will require more than a tough police response.

I appreciated what guest Cheryl Kernot (speaking on Radio National's Saturday Extra) had to say about disconnections in contemporary Britain that have contributed to the recent violence. Gangs offer members identity and belonging when they feel marginalised.

The news from Britain has been a wake up call for all of us, and each of us have a role to play where ever we live.

They are not profound things, rather simple measures that affirm our common humanity. Adults showing an interest in the welfare of children and young adults in their streets and neighbourhoods, for one.

As a parent working in community development, I have seen that change begins with a shift in mindset. The shift begins with language.

Rather than seeing neighbourhoods from a needs perspective - the dominant model where labels focus on peoples needs -- unemployed, gangs, broken families, crime, truancy etc, the alternative is the development of policies based on the capacities, skills and assets of people and their neighbourhoods.

So, instead of seeing deficiencies we see the gift of individuals, youth, elderly, local parks, business, capital, local and known police as people, teachers and schools, citizens associations - that often seek to take on more responsibility - libraries, artists, churches, cultural groups that can form partnerships etc. Communities are often surprised when they list their inventory of assets and rediscover what they have.

Any future programs must engage youth as essential contributors to the well-being and vitality of the community.  Youth generally have time as an asset (wouldn't we all love more of that). They also have ideas, dreams and energy. They are natural mobilisers. Communities are best served by their own vision and plan, not one derived at Downing or Macquarie Street.

The development of internal community and individual assets is even more important when the reality is that budget constrained Britain will mean outside or government money is limited. Communities are never really built from the top down.