Creating community connections

As we head towards the summer I’m reflecting on my time in York, since those days in early January when I first started. I’m very lucky to be living and working in such a beautiful city and to be meeting such enthusiastic people with interesting archives and projects to share.

I thought I’d use this blog post to share with you my top 3 tips for community engagement based on my experiences over the past 3 months, as we learn new ways of working going forward as Explore Libraries & Archives.

1. Be prepared to travel!

Since March I’ve met with representatives of over 20 different community groups across York from Parish Councils through to support services. The Google map I’ve created visualises the places I’ve been to with the stars representing our current and proposed projects.

The travels of a Community Collections Archivist!
The travels of a Community Collections Archivist!

As soon as I started this project I made the decision that I’d try and visit groups rather than expect them to visit me at West Offices.  I’ve had meetings in local pubs, village halls, and homes – always over a good cup of tea! Visiting the different locations in York has given me a real insight into the variety of community activity taking place, and has made it easier to understand how to develop partnership working. In turn I’ll be delivering activities at York Explore library in 2015; giving groups the chance to use our spaces.

Rufforth Church, one of many picturesque villages around York
Rufforth Church, one of many picturesque locations around York I’ve visited

2. Be flexible

Learning to be flexible is actually one of the hardest things to do, especially as part of an externally funded project. I’m a planner so I like to know exactly what I need to do and what I will be delivering. Our plan is to scope community archives, develop community relationships and deliver a programme of activities. What those archives are, how the relationships look and what those activities will be is where I’ve had to learn to be flexible. The result has been really interesting. By listening and being flexible we’re launching more projects and starting to assume a support role in linking community groups together. We hadn’t planned for this to happen, but its successful because its community driven.

3. Respond quickly or get left behind!

Community groups are often led by volunteers who also have full time jobs, which means that evening and weekends are normal community working hours. I’m sent most emails at the weekends, so I’ve learned that getting in touch towards the end of the week means that by Monday I usually have a response. I’ve also learned that I need to be prepared to reply quickly to those interested if we want to work with them. Projects loose momentum over time, especially for community groups who are very active, and the same group might find another partner if we don’t act quickly. In my experience, you can arrange a meeting, plan and set timescales to deliver a project within a few days, through being flexible and responsive.

Overall, it’s been a steep learning curve as the archive service is new to this kind of activity. We’ve already made some fantastic contacts around the city, and we’re thrilled that so many groups have ideas and plans for projects that they want us to be involved with. I’m sure there’s still so much we’ll learn over the coming years, which will continue changing how we work and hopefully inspire other organisations to work with their local communities.

Watch out for further blog posts from me as we’re launching another pilot project over the next couple of months. If you’re part of a community group and have comments and projects you’d like to share with us, feel free to get in touch –

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