Michael McEwan speaks to Jill Keegan, Community Development Adviser with Outside the Box, an equalities charity that focuses on community development support across Scotland and the UK.
MM - Michael McEwan
JK - Jill Keegan
MM On this episode I went to hear about an organisation called Outside the Box, where I was talking to Jill Keegan, who is the Community Development Adviser. The first question I asked her was, tell us a bit about Outside the Box.
JK Outside the Box is a community development support organisation. So, we are an equalities charity and we are based in Glasgow, but we work right across Scotland and now have also some links with England and Wales, with one of the really big projects we run called Rural Wisdom. We are an equalities charity, as I say, and we get funding from lots of different pots. From really small bits of funding to very big bits of funding through lottery and government, or smaller, more local bits of funding, to run lots of different projects that are based in the community, for people across Scotland. So, all our workers will look at where there is gaps in the community, in terms of what sorts of provisions are available for people, or people might come to us and say they have a particular area of interest that they would like to develop their own project, so we will also help support that. Outside the Box works in a lot of different ways with lots of different people, people's creativity as well, amongst that.
MM Now, I know that different disability organisations, mental health charities, have values, so Outside the Box has values as well, so tell us a bit about that.
JK Our values are based in what we do as a community development support organisation. So, our values lie primarily with equality for people and what we promote, through our work, or work to promote, is people being respected, people feeling that they are able, as I say, to have some influence over their own lives and that people can participate in their local community, and I think that really everything that we do is about supporting things so that things are people led. So, as an organisation we really try not to come in with our own agenda when we are working with people. So, there is part of it where, I suppose, you have projects where there is a certain outcome, but when it's about supporting people from local communities to be able to set themselves up in ways that are important to them, it's really important that, for our work and for our values, that people remain, their agenda is what drives it as opposed to us trying to influence any of that. So, I suppose, when it all comes down to it, our values are about what matters to people, and all of our projects and our work and our organisation response to that.
MM So, you spoke about your projects, let's speak about them now. So, you've got millions of projects, I'm not going to ask you to go into every single one, but just give us an overview of the projects that you run.
JK Well, as I said before, we work right across Scotland, and now England and Wales. We have quite a big team now who work across Scotland, of community development advisers and project workers, so we are geographically based so that we've got a really good cover of projects, so that we cover rural areas, urban areas, and again, that's about our values as an organisation, to make sure that, you know, that as physically possible, that there aren't areas that are left out or not thought about. So, within that as well we've got a really big skill base of staff too, who have strengths in different areas, and we share our learning of the staff team, as well, to influence how we develop our projects. So, to give you an overview of some of the projects, the biggest one we have at the moment is Rural Wisdom and that's Scotland wide. One of those projects is based in East Renfrewshire, in Eaglesham particularly at the moment. So the Rural Wisdom project is really big and the name is in the title, they work rurally with older communities trying to link up what's important to community members, and how we can bring people together to continue things that they like doing, but also thinking about where the gaps are in their local communities and what's working for them and maybe what's not and sharing some of those challenges, but sharing it across Scotland too, so that there is really meaningful learning that can happen from different areas and different pockets of rural communities across Scotland and also that then links with some work that's happening with other teams who are doing Rural Wisdom in England and Wales too. So, there's a really rich information that comes from rural communities that feeds into that Rural Wisdom banner. So, that's one of our biggest projects. One of the projects that is now coming to an end in East Renfrewshire was the Local People Linking project, which I was heading up, which is now going to be moving into a new area soon. That project has quite a lot of similarities with Rural Wisdom in that it works with older people. The slight difference with this project is that's it's about ensuring that as older people's health needs increase, if that does happen, that their rights aren't affected. So, we based a lot of that work with older people around older people with that have mental health issues or dementia, disabilities, things that generally really begin to affect your access to things in your local community. So, that project is about ensuring that older people's human rights are respected and met when decisions are being made, but also that older people are able to make meaningful links in their local community so that they can keep enjoying the things they like doing. I will tell you 2 more, but honestly there are so many of them. So, those are similar projects, so I'll tell you a bit about different projects we are doing in different areas. Another project is our Moments of Freedom project that works with Syrian and Kurdish refugee families who have come over to Scotland and have been placed in Clydebank under humanitarian protection. Those families have been here between a year and 2 years now, and that project works primarily with the women of those families to basically, again it's about being driven by what the women are interested in. so, we've done a lot of work with the women around what's most important to them in their local community, and what came from all of that work was their real drive to be meaningfully integrated to the community, but not that fitting in, again, with what's existing, but also creating spaces where they can say, well these are our skills and this is what we want to bring to the community to help shape and influence what's happening, and also there's real benefits, obviously, to the population who are already there having new perspective and new thoughts and new learning and new skills. So, that project works to create those opportunities, so at the moment, where we are with that is that the women are putting together an event, which I know we are going to speak about a wee bit more, to have people come along and to invite people from their local community, from local every day people, people from primary schools, parents, to maybe practitioners who are maybe working alongside some of their children or through the local authority, as part of the re-settlement scheme, but it's open to everybody, just so that there can be that really meaningful coming together, people getting to know each other. So, it isn't just that woman that you see walking down the street, it's, oh that's Noora, whose wee boy is such and such, and people get to know each other that way, and what will be done with that is that then, what we are doing as well is holding inspirational visits, so the women get to meet other projects who are maybe doing similar things across Glasgow, sharing that learning about what it was like when they first came here and how did you integrate and who do you have links with? All that kind of learning so that we then have a kind of peer network that's Glasgow wide that people can just speak to each other and have some peer support. So, that's Moment's of Freedom. Other project is Mum's Returning to Work, which is part of a bigger banner of work that's happening called, Our Peer Support For Families, lots of stuff happens under that, but one of the ones that's most active at the moment is the Mum's Returning to Work and that was a bit of work that came out of speaking to, it was myself actually returning to work after having a wee girl, and speaking to loads of mums that were returning to work. so, it was quite fortunate actually, because it just happened at that period of time where Outside the Box were doing work with mums and had done some really fantastic work with mums in the past, like setting up buggy walks and things like that, but what was coming out of some of that learning and conversations we were having with mums was that there is still a lot of discrimination for women in the workplace through maternity, and then on their return to work, and what we wanted to find out was a bit about women's experiences and, generally, what the divide was is that if you were supported during maternity you were generally supported back into your work. if things were challenging through your maternity, with your employer, it was likely it was going to be challenging when you came back. There's lots of information out there around maternity rights, but there is actually quite a lot of gaps in information for what happens when you come back to work, what you rights are, not just for mums, for families as well. What we did was, based on what women were telling us and what employers were telling us and some of the good practice that happens out there as well, concentrating and highlighting that, we produced a guide for mums coming back to work. so, it was a bit about the emotional, practical reassurance, but also a bit about rights, and also highlighting the good things employers are doing to support people. So, there was that and a discussion paper that has been sent out and, again, what I suppose I missed out earlier, from telling you a bit about our values, is about that peer support and peer learning. So, how we take something that's been really difficult for families and employers, because I think it's not always that employers are meaning to be unsupportive, it's just that they have maybe never had to deal with this before, and there is lots of information online, how do you bring that back into a working environment that you are thinking, well how do I make my work breastfeeding friendly, how do I actually do that? What do I need to know? Do I need a separate room? You know, things like that, so what we are trying to do is bring that information together so there is a bit of peer support from employer to employer. Some employers have done that, they have gone through the challenges and it would be a really beneficial conversation to have with somebody who is just having to set that up. So, that's what we are doing and by doing that we are hoping to break down some of the challenges that families and women, particularly, face when they come back to work.
MM The way that you describe it to me, about you having a daughter and coming to Outside the Box and say, do you want to do this project? So, if someone comes to Outside the Box with an idea, would you maybe take it on as a project or...?
JK Yes. We're so lucky that we work in a very creative environment and that's very much our director is really good about running with ideas and seeing how they turn out. So, we might not have funding for it, but what we can do is certainly pilot an idea and run with it and see how it goes, and we have done that lots. In fact, that's how Moments of Freedom ended up getting funding, it came from a conversation I had with a woman at a training event, and we just ran with it, and now it's a project, a big project in it's own right, so we are very lucky that we work in an environment like that and that is the ethos of the organisation, is being able to take people's ideas and creativity and what they are hearing from people and try and make it into something that is going to be meaningful and of use to people and always having that community participation behind it to keep informing it and keep learning and going, that's what makes these things really successful.
MM So, tell us about some of the events that you run. You mentioned an event, a wee while ago, that's going to happen soon?
KJ Yes, we are having, for the Moments of Freedom project we are holding an event on 11th September at Centre 81 in Clydebank, and that is the women's first event where they are going to invite people from across the community, just anybody that they would really like to come to that event to learn about the project, but not just learn about the project, come together and learn about each other. So, that's one of the events we are having soon. We have events for different projects, so things happen at different times, obviously, because we've got lots of different projects running. So, we hold events in different ways and in different capacities. So, we will have mini pop up community events that are smaller events that are just about the work we are doing, in that immediate area, for community members, or community members might set it up themselves and we are just there to support it. To bigger events like your event for coming along and helping out and being part of a bigger event that we can maybe help support a small aspect of that, or bigger events that are, again, probably the Rural Wisdom project is a good example of that, because it's a national project plus the addition of other organisations running it in England and Wales, having bigger events that's about sharing the learning across that area. So, we have events in loads of different capacities and loads of different ways, learning events as well. I should have maybe told you as well about, like, some of the work as well down in the borders that we have, Happiness Habits cafes, again it's more older people focused, but that was set up around socialise relation and mental health, but having something that has that banner to it isn't attractive to people, when you say, oh this is a mental health group, or, it's going to help socialise relation. So, having something that's saying, Happiness Habits, such a nicer thing, and really what it is, is being able to come along and have a chat, and the work that's come from that has been amazing. You know, now they've got this set up curling group and they are practically running on their own and a lot of the work as well, I should have said that too, we are not always there to support these projects. They are time limited because funding is time limited. So, we know we've done a good job when people run with it and they don't need us. They don't need our support, they are self-sustaining in their own right and all we have really done is helped with the setup bit, and that can be a matter of months to a couple of years, but the fact is that group is still being able to run. Often that might not be in the same way, but that's ok because the people who have taken it on and developed it and their own ideas and things like that too.
MM I suppose what you were saying there ties into my last question about, so do you find people coming to you with an idea haven't got a lot of confidence, but when they start working with you then maybe six weeks or six months you help them to build their confidence, or they are confident enough to stay, you know, Outside the Box were helpful, you can be in the background but we can run it ourselves now?
JK Yeh, and that has happened with lots of projects that we have worked on. To give you an example, we have another bit of work that happened in Dennyloanhead, which is quite a rural part of Forth Valley. This area was an area where there wasn't, there is a community centre, which is good, but again there is a lot of social isolation because it's a rural area, public transport is really bad. We opened up activities to people to say, if you want to come along. So, a few weeks of running activities it ended up that we had this core group, and again, it turned out to be women because that was the area of need, there were a lot of women who had actually lost their partners and they were on their own, they came together and now they are like, after, we used to do quite a lot of activities, but a lot of it was around, sorry I should say it was Falkirk Food Buddies project, but a lot of it was around how coming together to share recipes, what is a cheap way to make yourself food for the week, where you buy your groceries from, where has good deals on, to talking about, what's your favourite boxset? And then it came to the point where women were setting up meetings of their own and they became, they are not a constituted group, there is still funding for them to do stuff together, but we don't need to be there at all now, they run that whole thing themselves, they are going away to Spain next year, apparently, you know, from coming from people who had never met before who now have got the confidence to make sure every week there is the tea and biscuits and they bake and they do lots of outdoors activities together because they are mindful of keeping each other fit and healthy, to planning holidays abroad together. So, I mean, I think that's a good example of how Outside the Box comes in with a bit of support to start off with and is there for as long as people need, but at the same time, all our workers are skilled up to understand that you're not there to make people depend on you. you know, the whole point is that people come together and can do that without you, eventually. I think that's a really good example of how that's happened and people feeling confident because a lot of the women who came to that group didn't really go out at all and it was a real big thing for them to be coming along to something, and now you can't hold them back, they are away out every weekend. So, yeh, I do think that Outside the Box makes a difference in people's confidence because I've seen it first hand, that people do benefit a lot from that kind of approach.