The 5 Estates Project: Bringing Diverse Communities Together
Dudley Federation of Tenants and Residents’ Associations (DFTRA)
Residents on local housing estates come together as one community
How can residents in housing estates filled with different communities overcome their mutual suspicions and learn to trust each other? It was an important question facing the borough of Dudley, a former industrial centre in the West Midlands after legislation in 1999 made it one of many “designated dispersal areas” for refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
In 2007, research conducted by the University of Birmingham and the UK Refugee Council (Refugees’ Experience of Integration) found that the representation of asylum seekers and refugees in local decision-making in Dudley remained low and these groups were rarely consulted on issues that clearly impacted their lives. Migrant communities felt a growing sense of disengagement and powerless to change their neighbourhoods or the services provided for them. The report also recommended that developing and strengthening “bridging networks” with the broader community would be a key factor in improving social cohesion.
Problems already existed on the Dudley housing estates which were built by the local council for people with low incomes. Although asylum seekers and refugees account for 0.16% of the area’s population, the borough had a history of British National Party activity, resulting in an upsurge of racism that many migrants had to deal with on a daily basis. Windows were broken and racist graffiti had appeared after the 2005 London bombings.
Tenants and Residents’ Associations
In 2009, the 5 Estates Project was founded as a two-year pilot project set up by the Centre for Equality and Diversity (CfED) in partnership with the Dudley Federation of Tenants and Residents’ Associations (DFTRA).
The impetus for the project came after a member of the DFTRA executive approached the CfED, formerly the Dudley Racial Equity Council in 2006, to discuss how to counter some of the problems on the housing estates and reduce tensions between communities and the social isolation of migrants. A key objective was also to encourage migrant communities to participate in local decision-making processes as few attended the TRA meetings.
Says Kenneth Rodney, Chief Executive Officer at CfED, “We were convinced that we needed to work with TRAs to access isolated migrants and challenge myths about migration.”
The strategy was to use the existing Tenants and Residents’ Associations (TRAs) as a vehicle through which to build positive relationships and break down barriers between migrants and the wider community. Together, they chose 5 housing estates across Dudley to initiate the project.
Reaching out to the community
Through funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust, the project was able to hire a part-time community development worker to engage with the local community through outreach sessions, workshops and training as well as develop close relationships with migrants, asylum seekers and refugees on the estates.
Door knocking sessions and leaflet distribution proved successful in identifying where migrant communities were living within the estates and led to the identification of social issues. Furthermore, they generated interest in the project, with many becoming active members of the 5 Estates Project Steering Group or their respective TRAs. As a result, many migrants on the estate now are engaging in discussions with the wider community and contribute to local decision-making.
Key initiatives have included a theatre show, several celebratory events, regular coffee mornings and football competitions and a pre-Christmas seasonal get together event, which have resulted in building bridges and promoting intercultural dialogue. Workshops brought residents together from across the TRAs, as well as church representatives, mental health officials and other local community advocates. The project also organized trips to meet the mayor and the local elected representative at the Houses of Parliament.
One of the most successful activities has been a series of ‘Big Clean’ up sessions which bring together newcomers and the wider community to clean up the local area, thereby creating a sense of responsibility and common purpose. An evaluation report by funder Barrow Cadbury stated that afterwards, “people are beginning to recognise each other on the streets and say ‘hello’.”
According to the 5 Estates development worker Thierry Barholere, the scheme is also helping to ‘challenge stereotypes and dispel myths about refugees and asylum seekers’. A number of community awareness sessions have been organized during which asylum seekers and refugees have had the opportunity to tell their life stories. Myth-busting tools such as these, aim to develop empathy and connection between individuals on the estates. Said one participant: “Once you get to know each other, you realise we are the same.”
“The TRAs used to complain: we invite them [migrants] to meetings, but they don’t come,” says Rodney. “Now they understand they’ve got to be positive about involving migrant communities – they have a responsibility to build bridges.”
By creating opportunities for residents to come together for a shared goal and cultivating an openness in discussions that enables people to speak inhibited about their prejudices without feeling judged, the 5 Estates Project is not only having an extremely positive impact on building shared pride and tolerance but also significantly improving local quality of life. Over 550 people participated in the 47 community meetings and events: 50% of whom are visible minorities.
The project also had impact outside of the housing estates. The mayor of Dudley and other politicians supported the 2010 Dudley Refugee week while the council is now publishing borough information in different languages. Importantly, other local TRAs have now shown interest in the project.
“Five Estates works because it’s based on partnerships,” says Rodney.
Making it Work for You:
- Time: This type of work takes time and the building up of trust and respect is essential.
- Commonality: Intercultural understanding starts with finding common ground.
- Benefiting everyone involved: Events like the ‘Big Clean’ up are effective because not only do they bring people together but they also have a positive impact on the community as a whole and the environment - that way everyone is a winner!
- Engaging with stakeholders: Effective community awareness sessions involve various stakeholders in your community and are the result of wide community discussions.