Community boards: joint solutions for neighbourhood needs

13/04/2021 - 09:08

Participatory bodies. Identifying shared needs in the area and responding to them from the community angle. This is the basic goal of the community boards in neighbourhoods, participatory spaces that are created at the request of the residential fabric.

Poble-sec and Besòs and Maresme’s experience exemplifies the diversity and wealth of these participatory spaces created from the very demand of the residential fabric.

Citizen associations, social services, healthcare professionals, municipal facilities, community-officer staff and local residents acting on an individual basis normally meet up once a month, depending on the neighbourhood, in these area meeting and participation spaces which are open to everyone and under constant transformation, as they can be stably maintained over time or arise from a one-off need at a specific time and afterwards disappear.

We gather together the experiences of two areas that exemplify diversity and wealth of consolidated participatory spaces in the city’s other districts and neighbourhoods.

El Poble-sec: more than ten years of community participation

The Poble-sec neighbourhood’s Community Plan, which was launched back in 2008, has enabled the creation of several citizen-participation spaces, such as the boards (in this case, also known as “commissions”). “If there is an interest in or need for creating such joint spaces and several of the area’s players make a commitment to regularly take part in them, then they will go ahead”, explains Esther Repullo, one of El Poble-sec’s two community officers who is revitalising the participatory process. There are currently five thematic boards or commission in the neighbourhood: Community Health, Education and Children, Socio-occupational, Youth and Community Culture.

One of the most consolidated commissions is the one for Community Health, where professionals from the health sector and social services take part, as well as non-profit organisations such as Psychology beyond Borders. “Work is going on in this space on fostering the physical and emotional well-being of local residents by improving their health and habits and reducing their use of medicines for everyday malaise”, Repullo explains.

She also points out that the Commission and Education Board have been working together with the neighbourhood’s schools on a project entitled “A l’escola ens cuidem” [We care for ourselves in school] to put care work at the centre and raise its profile : “We’ve prepared a guided for schools where we talk about how to put care work at the centre and we provide tools for reflecting with students on the importance such work has for life and people’s development. We have a broad understanding of care work and throughout life’s stages. Not just physical and emotional care, but also environmental, self-help and so on.”

These neighbourhood meeting spaces are also used for sharing resources and agendas. “There are a thousand things being done in El Poble-sec at the same time, and it may be that similar projects are being carried out from the activist area and at the same time from the welfare services or some organisation. Boards or commissions are spaces for joining forces rather than doubling work and for optimising resources to reach more people”, explains Repullo.

The community energies that are created on the boards are constant and more diverse. A guide has been created in the Socio-Occupational Commission with a collection of the neighbourhood’s basic services for migrant families who very often do not understand Catalan, a request from the El Poble-sec Neighbourhood Union in the face of this growing profile.

Surveys have been conducted at the Youth Board on mental-health perceptions among professionals working with young people and how work can be done on the issue of stigmas from a community perspective. Whereas the Community Culture Commission has become a meeting space for networking and launching joint community-culture projects with a focus on the development of ties to the area.

“These spaces share very different experiences and ways of doing things, even far-removed ideologies and visions, but the most positive thing of all is that we are working together on the boards and commissions to cover El Poble-sec’s needs and improve the welfare of local residents”, Repullo points out, acknowledging that there is still work to be done so that people without any organised place in the neighbourhood’s social fabric can take part. “Sometimes there are more users than active participants, and as we’ve been keeping our board meetings online because of the pandemic, it’s even harder to reach”, she admits.

El Besòs i el Maresme help the elderly to combat loneliness

The network of local residents, associations, facilities and services of El Besòs i el Maresme have also been working from various participatory boards under the Community Plan’s framework to transform the neighbourhood and improve the quality of life of the people who live there. There are now a Senior Citizens’s Board, a Community Health Board and a Women’s Board.

The Senior Citizens’ Board, taking part in which are some fifteen associations and services working with people of advanced age, has been focused over the last few years on providing solutions from the community arena to combat the loneliness and isolation that the elderly may experience. “For example, a community group has been set up, called Fem Amistats, a group made up mostly of women, that meets up to do a cultural activity together or exchange knowledge”, explains Fabiana del Genio, the El Besòs i el Maresme’s community officer.

Here talks have been given for the elderly on COVID-19 and vaccines, with nursing staff and outpatient centres taking part. “We detected there had been considerable ignorance and distrust among elderly people regarding vaccines, and we gave several online talks, but by providing rooms within public facilities where the event was held, to give people access where they had no contact with technology”, del Genio remarks.

The El Besòs i el Maresme’s tables are spaces for creating projects and actions, as well as meeting points. “The complexity of these spaces lies in achieving a balance between their operating capacity and the most relational part, because some of the people taking part in them do so above all to meet other residents and do things as a group, and that also has to be looked after”, adds the community officer.

One of the keys to improving participation in El Besòs i el Maresme’s boards is the dedication of time and resources to assessing their usefulness and finding mechanisms to enhance them. “It might be a good thing to carry out a dynamic activity per group or external person, to have a different vision and so that we, the two officers, could give it further thought”, del Genio acknowledges.

Even so, she does recognise that the word-of-mouth channel among residents does work and that the neighbourhood’s individuals and organised associations have been forming alliances and sharing resources. “Taking part in a community board implies from the very start that people are motivated to get involved and do things for the neighbourhood, which is very positive”, she concludes.

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