by Barry Knight
The final applicant for the Janette Kirton-Darling Memorial Prize, Dwellbeing Shieldfield, is a community cooperative in the East of Newcastle. Members of the cooperative share life together, support one another, and work to transform the Shieldfield area into a good place to live.
The cooperative uses a creative and participative approach to address the structural issues that have beset for neighbourhood in recent years. Members work with residents and organisation partners to build their knowledge, tools, and expertise to bring about the changes that local people want to see.
The work has led to positive and significant community-led social and environmental change, including a public space improvement strategy, urban agriculture programme, digital inclusion programmes, youth work and building knowledge about alternative forms of community governance and enterprise.
Unsympathetic urban environment
Over the last ten years, Shieldfield has been transformed. The area has the construction of large blocks of purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA). This has affected the character and social mix of the neighbourhood and has occurred alongside degradation of the housing stock and a lack of local facilities and services as a result of austerity.
The organisation started as an arts research project in 2017 and launched as a member-led Community Benefit Society (CBS – a charitable cooperative) in 2021.
In the first year, 50 members joined the cooperative and supported and worked with 180 residents and workers in Shieldfield, including children and young people, volunteers, staff members, families, older people and many asylum seekers and refugees.
The organisation is run by ‘stewards’ (trustees), worker members (staff team) and wider members, all of whom live and work in Shieldfield.
The programme harnesses the voices, gifts and skills of residents, and develops skills leadership and employment opportunities in a variety of areas. There are three main areas of work.
The first area of work, which lies at the heart of the cooperative, consists of member-led weekly gatherings (through walks, trips, talks, discussions and food sharing) which provide time and place for neighbours to support each other, build friendships and to provide space for skill-sharing and education in the rhythms of ordinary life. These spaces build trust and compassion in a community that has experienced fragmentation and isolation in recent years. This supports alternative ways of organising, learning and solidarity through a cooperative governance model.
The second area of work is the youth programme. This creates a space for young people to come together in the place where they live, build new friendships, and offers opportunities for them to develop their skills and talents and to explore new ways of thinking and doing things together. It encourages young people to become active members of the local community. There are twice-weekly detached youth work sessions and weekly structured sessions, as well as seasonal projects. The programme is led by a youth working group and a qualified youth worker.
The third area is a programme of community planning, which cultivates connection to the land in contested urban space. The programme involves urban growing, public realm improvements, as well as building community knowledge and engagement around issues of food security, sustainable and participatory forms of building, land, planning and urban development. It is run by a working group of residents alongside Shieldfield Art Works in partnership with Newcastle University. The team includes a community traineeship recruited in Shieldfield and mentored by local architecture practice Harper-Perry.
Members recently produced a Community Planning Companion – a guide for people who want to know more about local planning issues. It was developed through planning workshops with local residents who are working to make positive change in their area.
Benefits to residents
Quotes from Shieldfield residents, members and workers follow:
‘We have had a lot of new experiences that helped us learn about our community. It made us confident; we’ve learned new skills, made new friends and made our community stronger. I hope this continues.’ Kaltouma Hassaballah, Founding Steward and member
‘I’ve lived in Shieldfield almost all my life, l now feel l have a voice that is listened to. Dwellbeing Shieldfield has allowed me to get involved in some really interesting projects and has greatly helped Shieldfield become a better place to live, bringing back a community spirit that was lost a long time ago.’ Val Middleton, Founding Steward and member
‘Being part of Dwellbeing has empowered me as a person because I feel I have the knowledge of how and where to go with any ideas to help improve the community for all its residents. Dwellbeing has helped me make friends with lots of people from many different backgrounds. Dwellbeing has changed living in Shieldfield by making it feel more like a village. Many people want to help keep the spirit of a community alive.’ Sharon Bousfield, Steward and member
‘[Dwellbeing] provides a link for residents [to have] a voice to raise any issues they have regarding the area. Through the various activities it has organised it has brought people together from various backgrounds to get involved through organising and participating.’ Colin, Steward and member
‘Dwellbeing has put many positive impacts on my own life. I was always involved with different events, charities and volunteering out of Shieldfield. Now I’m helping people and their families here by organising different activities, events, and resolving problems. Shieldfield is my real home which I love and I know very well. I can spend my energy and more time here in my neighbourhood and I see many positive changes around.’ Edyta Czarnecka, Dwellbeing worker member
‘I like because we want to make a positive impact within the community. Dwellbeing brings people who are isolated together and helps them to take action in what they see as an issue. I have made many friends through Dwellbeing and can collaborate with others on ideas and learning something new.’ Mahamat Younis, member and Shieling Programme Trainee
‘The youth programme is good because we turn up and get to try lots of different things.’
Written by Barry Knight, based on material provided by Dwellbeing Shieldfield
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