I am thrilled to be joining the Together for Change team as Anchor Officer, with responsibility for administration and communications. I am based in St Davids and last year held the role of Community Action Researcher for the Llanrhian Ward within the 4Wards Community Project. This role was my introduction to the world of community development and gave me a taste of the values, ambitions and vision of Together for Change. I am keen to help build on the achievements to date and contribute to the onwards strategy of the programme. I share the belief that holding community wellbeing at the heart of everything is key to building community power and seeing our communities thrive. To be working towards this vision in an area where my son is growing up and my parents are going to grow old, makes me even more committed to achieving these aims and seeing Pembrokeshire really thrive.
Prior to the 4Wards Community Project I had no direct community development experience, however between 2015 and 2020 I dedicated a lot of time, emotion and energy to volunteering through L’Auberge de Migrants and Refugee Community Kitchen with refugees over in Calais and more recently volunteering intensively with Extinction Rebellion. These volunteering experiences have built in me a deeply embedded sense of the importance of grassroots movements, community power and the strength and capabilities of community members if they are enabled to step into their power. I believe it is this that has led me into community development and the work of Together for Change.
I have always been passionate about tackling social injustice, which is why I found myself boarding a coach to Calais on Christmas Eve 2015 desperate to respond to the unjust treatment of refugees that was being splashed across our newspapers on a daily basis. What I didn’t expect to find in the “jungle” in Calais (I do recognise the problematic nature of this word considering the animalistic, demeaning language that was used about the refugees during that time, however it is what the refugees themselves called it, so I will also) was an intricately organised, smoothly functioning community. I found it extraordinary and beautiful that this huge amorphous group of people who’d been traumatised to varying degrees, stripped of almost everything and were now being faced with horrendous conditions and disgusting treatment at the hands of the authorities – had organised themselves into a carefully cooperative community. It was a community that was functioning in a vastly more supportive and generous way than any I’d ever been around. Refugees of different countries lived in different areas of the camp but collaborated together effectively and efficiently on decision making, resource division and addressing issues that arose. I am not saying it was a perfect community or that there weren’t problems but what I found remarkable was the cooperative functioning of the community in the face of such adversity.
The volunteering groups I worked with recognised that we weren’t there to fix the refugees’ problems, they were capable of managing their situation themselves. We were there to join the dots – get resources to the communities for them to utilise as best they could; connect people with those holding power and build healthy dialogues; hear and amplify the voices of the community; and facilitate community members to step up into their power and meet their own community’s needs. I see this as the same work that Together for Change is doing in our own community – supporting the growth and effectiveness of community action, amplifying community voices and connecting communities with resources and power holders in order to devolve greater power to communities. This is with the recognition that, as I saw in Calais, communities themselves have the knowledge, lived experience and capabilities to best respond to the needs of their own community. I fundamentally believe in the power of communities to tackle whatever challenges face us – working in innovative ways, coming up with practical solutions unencumbered by bureaucracy allowing for radical transformation and a speed of change and evolution rarely seen through the bureaucratic avenues.
I was in awe of the community I saw emerging through Extinction Rebellion back in 2019, thousands of people coming together over a shared commitment to address the climate and ecological emergency. Ordinary people stepping up to hold the responsibility of the emergency in the light of those in power failing to do so. Committing extraordinary amounts of time and energy to address a problem and supporting each other to do so. Behind the headlines of controversial actions was a network of shared learning, training, art, workshops, democratic processes, problem solving and a wellbeing culture that was held at the heart of everything, embedding support and care of the individual and the community into all elements of the organisation. I have never felt so held and supported as I did during my time volunteering for Extinction Rebellion. It is that, I believe, which empowered me to step up again and again and fundamentally it is that which made me feel secure enough to physically put my body on the line for what I believe and spend time in jail because I felt utterly held by the community around me.
I am grateful to have been able to contribute to the movements that raised the alarm and brought the climate and ecological crisis firmly into global focus after decades of efforts by many that went before. I believe the claxon has sounded, the alarm has been heard by people, businesses and some of those in power. The work is certainly not over and I believe it is now the time for communities to come together and identify what the climate and ecological crisis means to them – what impacts their communities and how do they want to tackle it. The uncertainty of our future on this extraordinary planet fuels my passion to support communities to strengthen, to innovate and meet the challenges that face us.
Together for Change is doing just this, mobilising positive change in our community in the face of the plethora of challenges that face us, so we can support each other and move towards a strong and sustainable future that we have all envisioned together.