Project Support Officer Emily Roach Osborne reflects on the approach and learnings of the BRIC project in engaging communities and effectively, collaboratively improving climate resilience in communities.
Communities Prepared attended the Social Innovation for Climate Resilience conference in Plymouth on Wednesday 15th of March. This conclusion of the two-year Building Resilience in Communities project across the UK and France showcased the eight different programmes developed in this time, all of which sought to engage with local communities in preparing for, managing, and recovering from flooding. We were grateful to be able to attend and exhibit at what was a very interesting, informative and diverse event, and for our Programme Manager Hannah Baker to both contribute a keynote speech on the Communities Prepared programme and sit as part of a panel discussing the challenges, surprises and insights encountered when engaging communities. In her keynote speech, Hannah took the opportunity to introduce attendees to Communities Prepared and our approach, sharing examples of where and how we’ve been working to date. Hannah set out some of our learnings from engaging communities and professionals across England, and how we’re applying these to our future plans.
One of the biggest insights from the conference was hearing of the methods, challenges and approaches to engaging communities across the programme given frustrations with communication, information and funding, as well as complex and varying vulnerabilities, and broader contexts of the COVID pandemic, the cost of living crisis and climate change. How do we understand and meet the needs of the communities in a way that empowers them given these factors? How can we be of meaningful use to them?
Many of the projects tackled this through creating space for listening. Be that through facilitated forums between the public and project stakeholders such as local councils, services and businesses or through storytelling, mapping and embodied walking exercises in which people shared their experiences, or creative, visualising activities. Opportunities for communities to meet and contribute to collective memory with photography projects through Thames 21’s Canvey Island pilot and to have their emotions heard (Authie Valley, France), as well as celebrate their communities in local festivals in (Plymouth, UK) and Aulne Valley, France) were powerful examples of what is meaningful to communities who have experienced flooding and are looking to heal and strengthen their resilience.
To this end, intersectionality was also discussed by Samuel Rufat of Institut Universitaire de France as a means of effectively capturing and meeting the complexity of needs within communities and demonstrates how new frameworks of understanding can inform community resilience. New technologies were also discussed by Ogoxe, a company based in France that seeks to provide reliable, accessible, free information on weather and related emergency risks, demonstrating the scope and potential of modern technology in democratising information in order to empower the public, and how funding can make this possible.
This conference was an opportunity to consider what it means to meaningfully engage a community in a way that builds trust and respects the cost of volunteering for people within such communities during times of crisis. Some useful publications from the conference are listed below with weblinks for further insight into emergency planning, community engagement and crisis recovery. It was raised that projects like BRIC ideally need longer to achieve their objectives, and for this reason it is commendable what BRIC has achieved and learned given the impact of broader social issues like the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis. Whilst the broader project is now coming to a close, both the website and some of the pilots will stay active. Visit the BRIC website and explore the pilot sites of the project to learn more about their collaborative approach to engagement.