Twin Towns

March 22, 2019

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by Charlie Fisher, Programme Manager for Development Trusts NI

Broughshane and Wooler are two unique and distinct villages in Northern Ireland (NI) and Northumberland, England respectively. Though geographically apart, they are more alike than dissimilar and their recent participation in the Carnegie Twin Towns initiative will hopefully strengthen links for years to come. For Development Trusts NI, the rationale for proposing Broughshane & District Community Association (BDCA) to take part in the Twin Towns project was a simple one; the organisation could sustain and grow its development practice by widening its understanding of the work of other community development trusts (CDTs). In other words, working with Glendale Gateway Trust (GGT) would help BDCA to think outside the box.

Networking:

Throughout the UK, development trusts desire, more than anything else, to network with their peers across the regions. DTNI connects its members to one another, encouraging them to seek out the knowledge and experience of community anchor organisations across NI.  The executive summary of twinning would read: “networking.” Twinning takes the learning and sharing of development practice a stage further, diving deeper into practice in order to embed the models applied by others within your own organisation.

Challenge:

The main challenge with the twinning model is one of time; time for trustees and employees to engage in deep mapping of the other twin’s organisational practice and the investment that supports the process to happen. Few organisations have independent resources to support the practice and without Carnegie’s sponsorship of Twin Towns it is unlikely that it would have happened at all.  Could there be a role for government in investing in twinning practice? Across the UK substantial resources are invested in advancing innovation in business development and networking. A similar level of investment in social businesses is surely not too much to ask for.

Commitment:

Twinning requires time and a commitment to share. It requires a willingness to honestly appraise one’s own approach to community development practice; a hunger to learn how programmes and services delivered elsewhere are meeting local need, and how that practice might be adopted within your own working environment.

Learning:

Learning through twinning is an anthropological exercise; observing and questioning the work of your twin community development trust and its operating environment.

It is about:

  • assessing and understanding how they are accountable to people and place
  • understanding its response in meeting social need
  • understanding the wider influences shaping community development practice including local economy, social need and environmental regeneration
  • assessing the bigger picture, including the role of local and central government and those interested in investing in the work of CDTs.

Relevance:

Within the United Kingdom, NI and Northumberland are two quite different places. Although Broughshane and Wooler are both officially designated as rural villages, only Wooler can truly lay claim to that designation given its isolation from other major settlements.

Both villages are however of a similar size, both have asset-owning community development trusts, both are enterprise-minded, and both are concerned with sustainable development, growth and meeting the needs of their respective communities.

Importantly, both understand the challenge of social & economic development and renewal and in giving voice to local place and its people.

The pressures on CDT’s invested in rural places are increasing. How do you respond to meeting equality of opportunity, outcome and access to services, nurturing community wealth and physical regeneration at a time when the trend is for urban regeneration? The debate on a North/South divide in England is recognition that resources are unequally distributed, that divide extends to competition between urban and rural places and within rural deepened further as a plethora of community voices compete for limited development resources. The urban/rural paradigm is very visible in NI with rural communities struggling for relevance and voice.  For rural organisations working within these constraints, twinning provides breathing space; a time to pause and think and contemplate new interventions to support sustainable development practice.

Learning:

So, what did the twinning exercise deliver for GGT and BDCA?  It provided time and space for conversation and reflection and through dialogue an acceptance of the ‘twin’ as a critical friend with the wisdom of an outsiders perspective. Both organisations acknowledged significant differences in their approach to their work. For BDCA there is a keen focus on meeting community need and in the provision of services. For GGT there is greater emphasis on social enterprise and striking a balance between income and service, realising that self-generated income is key to meeting local need.

There are many similarities though. Both contend that there is a need for more collaboration with local councils and for public agencies to engage with CDTs in the work of regeneration and social and economic development. Both have a shared understanding of the value of tourism to the local economy and in developing the community’s role in the tourism economy. GGT already have a significant stake in tourism and have shared this with BDCA who, capitalising on their own existing good practice and learning entered and won Channel 4 Village of the Year 2018[1].

Moving on from the Twin Towns project, the commitment is to embed learning, engage one another as friends and explore other opportunities to deepen the relationships that have been established.

 

[1] https://www.channel4.com/programmes/village-of-the-year-with-penelope-keith/on-demand/66532-024

Picture) Left to Right: Bob Snooks & Tom Johnston (Glendale Gateway Development Trust), Alistair Adam-Hernandez (Researcher) and Lexie Scott (Broughshane & District Community Association. (Broughshane & District Community Development Association)