Cities and towns across the UK are experiencing diverse and dynamic shocks, from the cost of living to the mental health of young people in school. Communities are seeking opportunities to make autonomous decisions to respond to their current needs while becoming more resilient in the face of future challenges.
Levelling Up and the Introduction of Family Hubs across the UK can provide a solid foundation for communities to engage with their issues differently. From our experience, communities and teams that have invested in collective and adaptive approaches have been able to address their acute needs and increase their resilience to future systemic shocks.
Let’s explore a live example from a current Wasafiri-supported initiative (based on an interview with Mei Lim, Director of the Reach Children’s Hub).
In early 2022, a hotel in Feltham (a town in West London) was repurposed to house over 460 asylum seekers, mostly families. These are people fleeing religious, political, criminal, and other forms of persecution in their home countries, including El Salvador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Pakistan and many more.
These families were forced from their homes, with most of them having very little to no knowledge of the UK or English, and with complex physical and emotional needs. The scale, abruptness and dynamic nature of the situation put huge pressure on the local health, education, and governance systems.
From a community standpoint, there was no strategy, no plan, no clarity, and it became apparent that there were multiple needs that simply weren’t being met. The local authority education team had a responsibility to place children in school, the Reach Children’s Hub and Tudor Park Education Trust responded.
The role of collective and adaptive approaches
The Children’s Hub had never worked with asylum seekers. However, the nature of the systems work that they had been doing to improve children’s outcomes provided them and the supporting community with the relationships, access to resources and tools to be able to lead and coordinate a response. Key components were:
Understanding of the wider system that supports children. The large amounts of cross-sector analysis that had been done meant the Children’s Hub had a holistic view of the system supporting children and families in the area. They were able to mobilise the right people, go to the right sources to get the information. Importantly, it also provided them with the mindset that there are always wider systemic issues at play, and that small changes can create significant shifts.
Functioning multi-disciplinary formal and informal structures, such as networks, working groups, and a steering committee. The existing relationships, information flows, and cross-sector understanding allowed the community to absorb the impact of the situation. Mei stated that, ‘having everything already in place, it felt like we were able to switch it on when we needed to.’
Existing sense of solidarity and practised adaptation. The diverse group of stakeholders already had a shared sense of direction and togetherness from their work trying to influence opportunities for children. They were also already accustomed to the messy and ambiguous nature of multi-disciplinary work. It’s hard, and clunky at times. However, their shared purpose and history of working together gave them a belief (even if just a flicker) that this seemingly insurmountable task could be done, together.
Genuine, trusted personal relationships across all the sectors and with the community members. The spirit of their collective action is that every connection is just about building a relationship, showing that they are passionate about the community and that relationships are not just transactional. These personal, cross-institutional and community relationships have allowed each institution to flex in ways they normally wouldn’t, and thus the whole system can make room for the surge of atypical needs.
The impact and outcome
"This situation has been a real indicator of the relationships we have built over time. It [the collective approach] made the multi-stakeholder process needed to respond, much easier. It seems like this difficult situation has made everything stronger. Overall, the systems work has helped create a more resilient community."
Below are some of the immediate impacts.
Sharing of information has been possible. There is improved momentum and legitimacy for sharing information. There is an overall sentiment, that if you don’t share it, everyone is worse off. This has been further supported by joined-up working across services, for example, the Children’s Hub coordinated a daily Stay & Play session at the hotel with the Children’s Centres Early Years Practitioners. It was the first time the two teams had come together to deliver an intervention. They planned sessions together, coordinated resources and held reflective discussions every fortnight.
Clear direction and priorities that help the asylum families and supporting institutions. The Children’s Hub was able to establish two clear priorities. One, get the children into schools as quickly as possible and two, put immediate support in place in the hotel. Even though asylum seekers have a right to access statutory services such as schools and GPs, there are no separate pathways to enable this access. They must follow complicated processes that are made even more challenging when you don’t speak the language and have no knowledge of the system. Due to existing relationships, Hub members were able to act as the go-between for families, the hotel management team, Hounslow’s Admissions team and local schools, to support the placement of children. There was also an acute situation to meet the complex needs of all the people living in the hotel, including providing them with clothes, suitable food, toiletries, and access to perinatal care.
Within 48 hours all the children were able to attend nursery. Asylum-seekers are entitled to access 2 and 3-year-old funding for Nursery places, but this wasn’t something that had been communicated to the families in the hotel and the Local Authority claimed they did not have the capacity to support any applications. The Hub’s Early Education Lead has developed a network of Early Years practitioners across 13 local settings and, by calling on these relationships, was able to place all eligible children in an appropriate setting within 48 hours.
Mental health support was identified as an immediate need. Despite many families expressing relief at being provided with accommodation, arriving at the hotel was extremely stressful and traumatising. Families were sharing rooms, sometimes with 5 or 6 children; they had no control over basic aspects of their lives (laundry, food); access to communal spaces was limited with nowhere for children to play or interact; the quality of food was poor, and ultimately, the hotel staff were overwhelmed as more people arrived each day. The whole process of seeking asylum is dehumanising and undignifying. In response, the Children’s Hub decided to organise opportunities for people to ‘escape’ the monotony and uncertainty of their situation and experience moments of joy; concerts with a range of West End musicians; half-day workshops with Rocksteady Music School; clowning and theatre workshops with the Flying Seagull Project and Good Chance theatre, and ongoing weekly social groups at a local community centre. Hot lunches (healthy & cooked fresh) were delivered daily for 100+ children for 1 term (period when the children were being placed in schools).
Sense of solidarity has grown immensely since responding to the situation. All the relationships have been strengthened through the experience and this sets them up even better for future challenges. This was a cross-sector, collective response to the challenge and the increased sense of solidarity can be seen through the:
Ongoing collaboration between schools and early years settings now that all children have been placed.
Increased contact between Reach Children’s Hub and the Local Authority in terms of providing ongoing support for the refugee families, in addition to the wider support for families living in Feltham.
Attendance of refugee families at community events, most notably at the Hounslow Citizens Assembly in April 2020 in partnership with Citizens UK. One refugee parent commented that they felt like a part of the community and noted the difference in community agency between this community and the one they had fled.
The Feltham community’s experience highlights the larger systemic problems with the UK’s asylum-seeking processes and policies. However, it also provides hope that we can do right by people forced to flee their homes from horrific circumstances and demonstrates the power of communities working and adapting together to increase the effectiveness of localised systems.
Contact Scott Hinkle at email@example.com for more information about collective and adaptive approaches to building more resilient communities.
How can we go the extra mile as a business to do our part in the climate emergency?
In 2019, Wasafiri acknowledged the climate emergency and committed to reducing our carbon footprint. Every year we will calculate and offset our CO2; we do this with our carbon-balancing partner C-Level.
As an active participant working to create systemic change for Climate & Nature, we had to go further than offsetting. Luckily, C-Level being a pioneer in ‘net-zero by nature’, had the answer we were searching for; a chance to double and triple down on our contributions, or what I call, “The Hat Trick”.
Goal #1 – Carbon balancing rather than the limited ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘offsetting’
Carbon Balanced is a term C-Level coined and a certification they provide that offsets through natural climate solutions and is based on 3 core values:
Action on carbon
Action on forests
Working with communities
“As a term and a process, Carbon Balanced is larger than offsetting. Offsetting is a limited term that only addresses carbon emissions. While we work with verified carbon offsets, we always work with nature and people as well. So, Carbon Balanced is also about connecting people in business to the power of nature and local communities”, says C-Level.
Since a lot of our work is in East Africa, we chose the Hadza Hunter Gatherers, Tanzania for our 2020 carbon balancing project. Supporting livelihoods and strengthening land rights is one of the most effective and underused solutions to reducing deforestation. Working with the Hadza (one of Africa’s last tribes of hunter-gatherers), our partners Carbon Tanzania are reducing deforestation over some 32,000 hectares of forest in the Yaeda Valley.
This project is designed with the full involvement of the Hadza community, and they receive payments and livelihood benefits as money flows to them from the sale of holistic carbon credits. Capturing carbon through ecosystems which works for carbon balanced certification and for Net Zero emerging best practice.
C-Level Carbon Balanced projects are all verified under the global Plan Vivo Standard.
Goal #2 – Double down by compensating for 200% of your carbon footprint
Simply put, we need to contribute twice as much as we produce. We are happy to say that this will result in 216 trees planted through the Hadza community.
“To change culture, not climate, we need to re-wild our people and our business systems.” Their Wild Aligned program gives the chance for communities and businesses to get involved in early-stage ecological and cultural regen and rewilding projects that have a metric of trees grown rather than verified carbon.
Deeper engagement and experience are key to this program that aims to have clients and communities participate in the projects and take part in experiential events. Wasafiri mirrored our 2020 carbon balancing budget for this initiative in three European locations resulting in 66 trees to be planted.
Thanks to C Level for their innovation and dedication to the climate and nature movement for over 20 years. They truly live Wasafiri’s motto, “Together, we can tackle humanity’s toughest problems”.
Have you ever had one of those ‘lightbulb moments’, where you get an idea so inspirational that it creates perfect clarity for just an instant, and then afterwards you slap yourself in bewilderment at why it took you so long to realise it? Happily, (and embarrassingly), we had one of those epiphanies, if you will, in September.
Since our founding, Wasafiri has been grappling with the question of ‘how does change happen?” when tackling complex problems. Our practical guide to action (Systemcraft) was a product of this life-long journey of exploration.
Our most recent ‘aha’ moment was to ask, ‘why don’t we bring together some of our most diverse, dedicated and dynamic clients to learn from each other?’ Seems obvious, right? Well, that’s exactly what we did – and the joy, connection, and energy from our gathering have given birth to a new precedent for how we learn moving forward.
The virtual learning session brought together Wasafiri staff from four continents, and wonderful clients from four of our most recent projects.
We dove into the lessons from messy, real-world work together. We shared stories from the failings, successes and imperfections of our shared endeavours and together, identified some common themes and insights.
Africa Food Fellowship (across Africa) is a world-class leadership programme for food systems leaders, catalysing a professional movement for systemic change across Africa. Wasafiri co-designed the Fellowship in partnership with Wageningen University for Research & Innovation.
Feltham Convening Partnership (Greater London, UK) is a 7-year project that aims to use systems-based approaches to deliver substantial, sustainable improvements to the lives of local children, young people, and families in the Feltham community.
United Nations Food Systems Summit (Global) To ensure the voices of SMEs were heard at the Global Food Systems Summit, Wasafiri was commissioned to help activate the global community of agri-food SMEs, profile those SMEs improving nutrition and sustainable consumption, and identify pathways for greater support.
It is difficult to harness, facilitate and measure the Emergence of a systemic effort.
Collective efforts and participation tend to unleash a domino effect of more participation and collective initiatives. This is often where the power and scale of system change occur.
For those leading systems change efforts, the challenge seems to be in how to facilitate the emergence toward a meaningful, constructive and measurable way.
There was also a question of how and when to merge collective efforts (new power) with more traditional and hierarchal leadership systems (old power), and what space is needed to be able to do that.
Genius insight from the session:“How do we host emergence?”
A mindset shift in the way people think about the issue is critical but requires a process of Unlearning.
One of the key aspects of effective systemic approaches is facilitating a process that effectively helps people shift away from what they are used to, and from their default reactions to problems and issues. Our practice should be to help clients and partners ‘unlearn’ practices that potentially perpetuate the problem. We need to hold this process of learning and embody the spirit of collective action.
Quotes from the session:“There is a big leap to bring other people along, whose institutions and mindsets are not set up in that way.”
Tensions exist between the time it takes to learn and implement collective approaches vs the desire to ‘see things getting done’.
Simply put, it takes more time to apply systems approaches; dealing with contextual and relationship sensitivities, power imbalances, and a much broader group of stakeholders.
The above systems learning/unlearning process combined with the time and resources necessary for collective action can be frustrating, but it is important that our teams, partners, and clients learn it, and then apply it themselves in their own organisations.
It can help to openly discuss the balance between collective engagement and required project deadlines and outcomes.
Good news, there is no right or wrong way to use Systemcraft.
It is important, but challenging, to know what parts of systems-based approaches to share, and how. Balancing the explicit and implicit use of them with the clients and partners can be challenging.
Some projects were using it and teaching it to partners explicitly, while others don’t mention it at all, but use pieces of it to guide their work.
This demonstrates that the Systemcraft framework is flexible and can be used in tailored ways to benefit diverse projects.