Transcript - Creating Collaborative Communities with Jacqui, Comm Dev & Engagement Manager for ngage
Libby: In today’s episode we talk to Jacqui, Community Development and Engagement Manager for ngage, one of the brilliant projects at Thurrock CVS. We chat about supporting community engagement, the importance of collaborative communities and involving residents with decisions, and Jacqui’s personal journey into the nonprofit sector. Let’s get started!
Libby: Today we are joined by Jacqui - thank you so much for coming along to speak to us today.
Jacqui: Thank you, and hello.
Libby: For anybody listening that doesn't already know, what is ngage?
Jacqui: ngage is a project of Thurrock CVS, and the project is about supporting people to get more involved in their local community, whether it be by volunteering, getting involved in active citizenship opportunities… Really, anything that involves community, kind of comes my way.
It's very much around working with local people, encouraging them to get involved in consultations, influencing local decisions. Most of the projects that we work on, such as, Volunteer Centre, Timebanking, Community Builders, Thurrock Food Network, Stronger Together… Most of these things sit within my thematic area, and I managed the staff in those areas.
Sharen: How do you get local residents to get involved? What are your techniques?
Jacqui: It's really funny because I always tell the story of going more than 20 years ago, I was a mum, two children, very much my life, you know, taking them to school, picking them up from school. I didn't really have anything to do with the local community, didn't even read the local paper. And I went to the local park one day. There was a lot of glass there was horrified to think my kids was playing amongst the glass, spoke to a local councillor. They then suggested that I volunteered for an organisation called TRAG, which at the time was Thurrock Residents Action Group, which did later become ngage. And I did. I started volunteering. There was an opportunity for a 10 hour a week job. I took the job. It then grew to 15 hours, 20 hours. What it did show me was actually there was a world outside my house. I couldn't believe what actually went on. I came to find out that there was lots of opportunities for me to get involved for me to influence. I didn't even really know what the council did at that time. I just felt so empowered that I could do so much and influence so much.
And I think having worked with a lot of other people over the years, people that have joined residents, tenants, associations, community forums, people that have gone on to become world counsellors, I think that all agree - you can do so much and become aware of so much because there is a lot that goes on and people just don't understand it or know about it.
Libby: I feel like a lot of us are in the same boat with that story because before working in the charity sector, I had no idea about all of the different things, so, previous to the pandemic I was living in Southend and working at SAVS, and then during pandemic moved to Thurrock, which is where I brought up. And through doing this podcast, I'm finding all of these amazing organisations and fabulous humans and until you get involved with it, you just don't know what's out there.
Jacqui: Yeah, yeah. And the thing is, I think once you're involved, you're hooked.
Libby: Oh yes!
Sharen: It’s true
Jacqui: It's it’s those people. As I said, I mean a lot of the people that I came across very much in my early career when we was helping to set community forums up or groups - they're still involved to this day. I think they will completely understand where I'm coming from because I met them as local people, interested in doing something about their local area. They just happened to be at that meeting where I was asking for people to come forward to join a committee. They put their hand up, and I'd say a lot of them are still around today, still involved in those groups, still trying to make a difference in their community.
You know, there's some fantastic examples of change, but that's what it's all about, very much so. In fact, some of those people went on to become local ward councillors or even work in the voluntary sector. And I love it myself - we’ve employed a lot of people that came to TRAG or ngage as volunteers that then went on to a job within the organisation that have then gone on to a career in the sector.
Sharen: Yeah you’re right. It spirals, doesn't it? And it can just
Jacqui: Absolutely, and the volunteering. I mean it's not just about, finding out what goes on in your community. When you're volunteering, you can get so much back from it. But it makes such a difference to the organisations that you're volunteering for.
Libby: I think that one of the things about volunteering that people just sort of overlook time and time again is the mental health.
Jacqui: Absolutely, and loneliness. I mean, a lot of people that have come through the centre or even just people that I've worked with from within the community - they don't necessarily realise that they're lonely until you sometimes then start doing things and you realise there's a life outside the house and it can make such a difference. And you're absolutely right. I mean, mental health for your just your health and well being, genuinely to feel that you're making a difference. To know that you know, you're getting something from that you're making friends, your developing your skills. We have had some volunteers that have volunteered for us in the office too, that have come because of either mental health or they have not worked for a number of years, and they lack the confidence.
Jacqui: And when you then see them, as much as I hate to lose them, they turn around and say, I'm sorry, I can't volunteer anymore because I've got a job… You know that that's well just completely changed their lives.
Jacqui: That's what it's all about. I don't like losing anyone, but I love the fact that they've grown.
Libby: The progression.
Jacqui: Yeah, that progression is just amazing.
Sharen: You mentioned the volunteer Centre, could you tell us a bit about that?
Jacqui: Yep. So the volunteer centre coordinator is Lourdette, really, that just provides a service where if someone is looking to volunteer, she will try to match them up to an opportunity within an organisation. So, for example, if you was to walk in today, she would find about what you're interested in.
But sometimes it's not about what you're interested in. Some people just want to, I don’t know, volunteer because, as you said, that there could be a bit of mental health, or it could be because they're lonely. They're quite happy to do anything, and sometimes it might be that they've got some skills that they could just share where it might not be an area they've been thinking about volunteering in. But when you start talking to them and find out what they're capable of, you just know that Oh my God, there's an organisation that's looking for someone like you. So she just connects the person that's looking to volunteer to the organisation, and vice versa. So if an organisation is seeking volunteers, they will then give us their opportunity and obviously she'll try to link them into a volunteer.
Libby: If someone listening would like, what's the best way for them to get in touch with Lourdette?
Jacqui: They could call Lourdette on 01375 389853. Or they can email her and she's firstname.lastname@example.org, or they go to Thurrock CVS website at www.thurrockcvs.org.
Libby: How do you encourage partnership with the local community?
Jacqui: Partnership. I mean, it's so important. We shouldn't really be making decisions about communities without getting people's voices heard, because what tends to happen, you could have community screaming about getting new street lighting, and decisions are being made to change the pavement. And the communities are thinking well, there's nothing wrong with the pavements, it's the lights that are the problem.
And I think for that reason, you know, we need to listen. It's not just about encouraging residents to sort of stand up and talk about the things that are important to them. We have to listen to what's being said. There's a lot of apathies in some areas, and we need to try to change the way we do things - not just us, you know, all partners, really. I say, not just us. I mean, obviously we're the ones trying to encourage that!
Jacqui: But, it's definitely about better partnership. Working, they call it collaborative communities, but it is about bringing those people into the decisions, into the discussions.
I think things are changing they’re improving in a way, that past lessons. I think is been more acknowledged now and everyone seems to be very much around “Yeah, if it involves communities that we're going to have a better result”. Yeah, absolutely.
Sharen: Yeah, So what current opportunities are there at the moment for people to get involved in?
Jacqui: Stronger Together is a really good website it tells people a lot about some of the initiatives that are already taking place in Thurrock and obviously there's going to be the usual things, like, community groups, tenancy groups, residents groups, community forums, go along to your local hub. There's a community directory on the Stronger Together website. So that's got some bits and pieces that are happening. Sign up to Thurrock CVS - we do an alert bulletin, promotes a lot of the opportunities that come up, we think residents need to know about.
And obviously, you know, just volunteering, there's always going to be opportunities for people to volunteer. And there's always notice boards in the community as well, so that people do put them up. Community forum meetings are always really good - most areas have got a community forum. People can go along and find out what's going on locally.
There's loads of groups in Thurrock I mean hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of groups in Thurrock, and I know that not all of them are on that directory. If I was going to say anything, I’d just urge any groups or um organisations or people that have projects or activities to try to raise the profile of them on that, Stronger Together community directory, because for me, that's then the place that we can sign post people to. If someone moves into Thurrock, say, “well go on Stronger Together, there's a directory on there - put the area you're living and everything will pop up.”
Libby: If anybody’s listening and they haven't volunteered before but they think, “mmmmm, I think I could maybe get involved”. Are there any tips or anything that you could say that might tip them?
Jacqui: If you talk to anyone that volunteers, they get so much out of it. You know, as I said, I'm in my job I am today, just through volunteering for the organisation that I started out at, and obviously I’m a manager now of it.
Yeah, it can just make a difference to so many people's lives for different reasons, and you can just give what you can give. I mean, TCCA volunteering was just people joining to do a bit of ad hoc shopping or prescription collections, which is still available. They talk about micro volunteering, what that means is these short bite-size type volunteering. So that could be at a community event, as a volunteer marshall, or it could just be doing a one off project where they go and do some litter picking in the local community. I mean, there's so much that people can do or the opposite is more formal volunteering where you get matched to an organisation. And it could be that, you know, every Wednesday you go and give four hours of your time. Most people you speak to once once you start volunteering it’s either a way into employment or it is a way into meeting new friends, just changing your lives.
I mean, I can remember, my son was an Essex ambassador. He at the time I think was about 17, what came from it was he did some volunteering, and when he went for his first job interview, that was the only thing they was interested in speaking to him about. When he brought together the CV. He could then promote all these things that he'd done as a volunteer, which I think looks fantastic on anyone's CV.
Libby: For sure
Jacqui: Certainly if you haven't got any employment experience just being able to say, Well, I've volunteered and these are some of the skills that I've gained from that volunteering. If I was looking for employment purposes 100% I promote for that.
But the person that was asking just could see a young man that has given up his time done this. He could just speak so passionately about it. And, uh yeah, he got offered the job. Especially as well. If you're looking to try something new, so you'll have some people that want to get in volunteering because they've got a passion for something. But it may not be that they've ever done in their career. For them, they just want to give it a go. Well, maybe I'll ask that you feel like it. And then if I do, I'll do it as a volunteer, and then maybe I'll go for a job for it. Or it could just be that they do it to try to learn the English language, just get some skills, really and confidence. I think confidence plays such a huge part in it. Some of the volunteers we've had in our office at the past have said “haven't worked since my child was born, and maybe it could be 10, 12 years now and I've not worked. So I thought I'd try a bit of volunteering, maybe in an office, see how I get on”. We end up losing them because they get a job, which is brilliant. You know that it's that volunteering that's made that difference to that person.
Libby: Do you have any tips for people looking for volunteers?
Jacqui: If you're an organisation, you're looking for volunteers and you've never used volunteers in the past, we would 100% say contact the volunteer centre because it's not just about recruiting volunteers. You need to have a volunteer policy, for example. You need to have an understanding of how to work with volunteers you know to make sure that they get, um, enough breaks and maybe you're covering expenses and just some of those good practise things that I think all organisations should do. The volunteer opportunity goes on volunteer Essex, which is a shared platform where all the volunteer centres across Essex will use to promote opportunities. But like anything, you can't always guarantee the volunteers because you can have loads of opportunities, but unless people are willing to do that particular role, so again, we can support people in trying to write a volunteer role that is attractive to people looking to volunteer also.
I love working with the community. It's the people, it wouldn't be the same job if I didn't get the support from colleagues too. So it's my team, you know, the people I work with in the CVS, but also, people from thorough council, some of the officers you work with, it's really important to find those people that are just about just as passionate about residents and the difference we're trying to make. I mean, some of the things like Stronger Together or Community Building, Time Banking, Local Area Coordinators, Social Prescribers. I mean, these are all projects that have been set up to make a difference and to improve people's lives. It's because people are passionate about others that we have what we have. I mean, Thurrock is a lovely place to live, and we've got a lot going for us, and part of our Stronger Together role is really to promote some of those good news stories, you know, we want to hear them. But I do a lot of you know, if you go to conferences in other areas and you hear people talk about their areas and they're never as positive. And I always think “Oh my God”, you know, I love we've got such a strong voluntary sector, we've, you know, we’ve got. As I said, our local borough is really, really, and the Council are really, really keen to support people. It's just I think it's a great place to work and when you do what we do, it's lovely to work with those people that like you said, the volunteers, the people that have been involved in the forums in the community groups, people, the volunteers in the hubs. They're all there because they want to make a difference and to help people. And that's what it's all about.
If anyone wanted to email me directly, I don't mind that, my email address is Jacqui, which is J A C Q U I @ngagethurrock.org.uk, or my telephone number is 01375 389893.
I'm happy to have a conversation, and either signpost or just something I can help someone with.
Libby: Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Jacqui: Thank you
Libby: It was great to hear about all of the different things going on in Thurrock.
Sharen: Thank you.
Thanks so much for listening! We hope you enjoyed finding out more about ngage - please do share this episode with anybody you think would enjoy listening and finding out more about the volunteering opportunities in Thurrock. For the full show notes and transcript for this episode, including Jacqui’s contact details, head over to our website - constellations-podcast.org.
Thanks again - bye!