Creating connected communities – more than logistics

Neil Prior

Neil Prior

Neil Prior
Guest Author
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Cllr Neil Prior, Llanrhian Connected Community

A simple internet search tells us that logistics is ‘the detailed organisation and implementation of a complex operation’. Our Connected Community project, whilst complex, is about more than just logistics. 

The Connected Community is an initiative working to create a stronger and more resilient local community across an electoral division in Pembrokeshire, with a small team of residents who are aiming to help ‘connect’ people to their community to forge a greater sense of belonging. This includes everything from small acts of everyday kindness through to understanding the current and future needs of the community to create a long-term vision to improve our area. The ‘future generation’ focus is likely to include tackling big topics such as housing, climate and tourism, and while we are very much working in the now, we’ve also got to keep an eye on our future connected community, where people feel safe and healthy, and that they belong. We want to be long-term community builders.

The project started in Jan 2021, during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we were able to appoint a funded community link officer, build a website and establish an emerging community presence. Then working with Nesta, through the WCVA Practical Action programme, helped us get our early thinking off the ground. Since then we’ve built a team, built trust within that team, and even managed to hold our first ‘This is your Community’ day with around 15 community exhibitors, and over 50 residents attending. But the really interesting bit we’re learning is that this project is about more than just logistics.

Such a broad project, which ranges so widely from small acts of everyday kindness to creating a long-term vision, is hard to see and touch. When the extreme weather of the ‘Beast from the East’ struck in early 2018, leaving hundreds of properties across our rural area without water for nearly a week, I was able to co-ordinate the delivery and distribution of 20,000 litres of bottled water, as a community leader and through community power. But that was logistical, and something that people could coalesce around. As it stands, our project doesn’t have that narrow ‘crisis’ focus.

I’ve learned that to measure this stuff is hard when there isn’t a narrow focus, and even more so when it’s about empowering community action. Yes, people turned up to the ‘This is your Community’ event, but it’s about balancing the hard metrics against the community ethos that we’re nurturing. We can get an immediate measurement on how many people turn up to an event, but our success is likely to be long-term. Institutions (such as local and national government) might look for this project to prove the benefit of devolving power to communities, whereas our focus is in improving community cohesion, connectedness and belonging, which is hard to firmly evidence. Traditionally institutions might look to intervene to fix things, whereas we’re looking to prevent things needing fixing in the first place. 

In these early days of our project, it’s very clear that we need to have an approach that is adaptable and responds to the community’s needs and feedback, as opposed to having a linear plan that sets out our actions and path for the next 10 years; and that can be difficult for individuals and institutions to get their heads around.

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act talks about ‘Connected Communities’ but seems to focus more on connection through travel networks: logistics again. Our ‘Connected Community’ is more on the human level; the sometimes intangible; the sense of belonging. I’m questioning whether our institutions know what’s best, or whether they might need to let go a little bit and trust, and show greater support, to real grass-roots community action.

I’m also learning that I’m comfortable with where we are right now, which is in the building awareness and engagement phase of the project. We’re doing this by creating a presence, both virtually and physically, and at the time of writing, we are about to invite the community to complete a ‘what matters’ survey. The results of that survey will be communicated in a few different ways to reach different parts of our community, but will give us the insights to build the long-term vision, and help us build a relationship with our community. That relationship will help us build trust, and that’s going to help us harness community power to really create the ‘Connected Community’.  Whilst I’m comfortable with that, I’ve learned that not everyone is, but as a community leader, I need to say “It’s ok, this is where we are going”.

The ‘where we are going’ is that long-term vision I’ve mentioned. The small acts of kindness happen every day, regardless of our project, and we can help facilitate and strengthen it, but the gap I see, and the place that I see the Connected Community occupying, is shaping, and ultimately enabling, through community power, a place where future generations will belong. And that’s not a logistical problem.


Creu cymunedau cysylltiedig – mwy na logisteg

Y Cyng Neil Prior, Cymuned Gysylltiedig Llanrhian

Mae chwiliad syml ar y rhyngrwyd yn dweud wrthon ni mai logisteg yw ‘y broses fanwl o drefnu gweithrediad cymhleth a’i roi ar waith’. Er bod ein prosiect Cymuned Gysylltiedig yn gymhleth, mae’n fwy na logisteg. 

Menter sy’n gweithio i greu cymuned leol fwy cryf a gwydn ar draws ardal etholiadol yn Sir Benfro yw’r Gymuned Gysylltiedig, gyda thîm bach o drigolion sy’n ceisio helpu i ‘gysylltu’ pobl â’u cymuned a ffurfio ymdeimlad cryfach o berthyn. Mae hyn yn cynnwys popeth o weithredoedd bach o garedigrwydd bob dydd, i ddeall anghenion y gymuned yn y presennol a’r dyfodol, i greu gweledigaeth hirdymor i wella ein hardal. Mae ffocws ‘cenhedlaeth y dyfodol’ yn debygol o gynnwys ymdrin â phynciau mawr fel tai, yr hinsawdd a thwristiaeth, ac er ein bod ni’n gweithio yn y presennol, mae ganddon ni hefyd lygad ar gymuned gysylltiedig y dyfodol, lle mae pobl yn teimlo’n ddiogel ac yn iach, a’u bod nhw’n perthyn. Rydyn ni am fod yn ‘adeiladwyr cymunedau’ hirdymor.

Dechreuodd y prosiect ym mis Ionawr 2021, yn ystod pandemig Covid-19, pan oedd modd i ni benodi swyddog Dolen y Gymuned, adeiladu gwefan, a sefydlu presenoldeb cymunedol newydd. Yna, gan weithio gyda Nesta drwy raglen Gweithredu Ymarferol Cyngor Gweithredu Gwirfoddol Cymru, roedd modd i ni weithredu ar ein gwaith meddwl cychwynnol. Ers hynny, rydyn ni wedi adeiladu tîm, wedi meithrin ffydd o fewn y tîm hwnnw, a hyd yn oed wedi llwyddo i gynnal ein diwrnod ‘Dyma eich Cymuned Chi’ cyntaf gydag oddeutu 15 o arddangoswyr cymunedol, a dros 50 o drigolion yn bresennol. Ond y peth diddorol yw ein bod ni’n dysgu bod y prosiect yma’n fwy na logisteg.

Mae prosiect mor eang â hwn, sy’n amrywio mor helaeth o weithredoedd bach o garedigrwydd bob dydd i greu gweledigaeth hirdymor, yn anodd ei weld a’i gyffwrdd. Pan darodd tywydd eithafol y ‘Bwystfil o’r Dwyrain’ ar ddechrau 2018, gan adael cannoedd o dai ledled ein hardal wledig heb ddŵr am bron i wythnos, roedd modd i fi gydlynu’r gwaith o gludo a dosbarthu 20,000 litr o ddŵr potel, fel arweinydd cymunedol a thrwy rym cymunedol. Ond logisteg oedd hynny, rhywbeth roedd modd i bobl ddod at ei gilydd ar ei gyfer. Fel mae’n sefyll, does gan ein prosiect ni ddim y ffocws ‘argyfwng’ cul yna.

Rydw i wedi dysgu bod mesur y pethau yma’n anodd pan nad oes ffocws cul, ac yn anoddach fyth pan mae’n ymwneud â grymuso gweithredu cymunedol. Do, fe ddaeth pobl i’r digwyddiad ‘Dyma eich Cymuned Chi’, ond mae’n ymwneud â chydbwyso’r metrigau caled yn erbyn yr ethos cymunedol rydyn ni’n ei feithrin. Gallwn ni gael mesuriad o faint o bobl sy’n dod i ddigwyddiad yn syth, ond mae’n debygol mai rhywbeth hirdymor fydd ein llwyddiant. Efallai y bydd sefydliadau (fel llywodraeth leol a chenedlaethol) yn dymuno i’r prosiect yma brofi beth yw budd datganoli grym i gymunedau, ond ein pwyslais ni yw gwella cydlyniant cymunedol, cysylltedd a pherthyn, ac mae’n anodd dangos tystiolaeth gadarn o hyn. Yn draddodiadol, efallai y bydd sefydliadau yn ceisio trwsio pethau, ond rydyn ni’n ceisio atal pethau rhag bod angen eu trwsio yn y lle cyntaf. 

Yn nyddiau cynnar ein prosiect fel hyn, mae’n amlwg iawn bod angen i ni fod ag ymagwedd y mae modd ei haddasu ac sy’n ymateb i anghenion ac adborth y gymuned, yn hytrach na bod â chynllun llinol sy’n amlinellu ein camau gweithredu a’n llwybr ar gyfer y 10 mlynedd nesaf; ac mae hynny’n gallu bod yn anodd i unigolion a sefydliadau ei ddeall.

Mae Deddf Llesiant Cenedlaethau’r Dyfodol yn sôn am ‘Gymunedau Cysylltiedig’, ond mae fel petai’n canolbwyntio’n fwy ar gysylltiad trwy rwydweithiau teithio: logisteg unwaith eto. Mae ein ‘Cymuned Gysylltiedig’ ni ar lefel fwy dynol; yr anghyffyrddadwy ar adegau; yr ymdeimlad o berthyn. Rydw i’n cwestiynu a yw ein sefydliadau’n gwybod beth sydd orau, neu tybed a oes angen iddyn nhw adael fynd rhywfaint ac ymddiried mewn gweithredu cymunedol go iawn ar lawr gwlad, a dangos mwy o gefnogaeth i hynny.

Rydw i hefyd yn dysgu fy mod i’n gyfforddus gyda ble rydyn ni ar hyn o bryd, sef cyfnod codi ymwybyddiaeth ac ymgysylltiad y prosiect. Rydyn ni’n gwneud hyn drwy greu presenoldeb, yn rhithwir ac yn gorfforol, ac ar adeg ysgrifennu hwn, rydyn ni ar fin gwahodd y gymuned i gwblhau arolwg ‘beth sy’n bwysig’. Bydd canlyniadau’r arolwg hwnnw’n cael eu rhannu mewn gwahanol ffyrdd i gyrraedd gwahanol rannau o’n cymuned, ond bydd yn rhoi mewnwelediadau i ni allu adeiladu’r weledigaeth hirdymor, a’n helpu ni i feithrin perthynas gyda’n cymuned. Bydd y berthynas honno’n ein helpu ni i feithrin ffydd, a bydd hynny’n ein helpu ni i fanteisio ar rym cymunedol i fynd ati go iawn i greu’r ‘Gymuned Gysylltiedig’. Er fy mod i’n gyfforddus gyda hynny, rydw i wedi dysgu nad yw pawb yn teimlo’r un ffordd, ond fel arweinydd cymunedol mae angen i fi ddweud “Mae’n iawn, dyma ble rydyn ni’n mynd”.

Y ‘ble rydyn ni’n mynd’ yw’r weledigaeth hirdymor yna soniais amdani. Mae’r gweithredoedd bach o garedigrwydd yn digwydd bob dydd, heb ein prosiect, a gallwn ni helpu i hwyluso hynny a’i gryfhau. Ond mae’r bwlch rydw i’n ei weld, a’r man rydw i’n rhagweld y Gymuned Gysylltiedig yn ei lenwi, yn siapio, ac yn y pen draw yn galluogi, drwy rym cymunedol, man lle bydd cenedlaethau’r dyfodol yn perthyn. Ac nid problem logistaidd yw honno.

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