TLP Participant Story: Martina Strawbridge Klapkova, South Belfast TLP Spring 2022
She completed the course alongside participants from: LORAG, NISCC, Extern, Vault Art Studios, Rosario Youth Club, GEMS Northern Ireland and Advice NI.
Introduction and Motivation
1. Before signing up to the programme, were you aware of any other similar programmes in your area?
I wasn't aware of any similar programmes.
2. What motivated you to sign up to this particular programme over any others?
I received information about the programme through NICVA newsletter. I went to the link and read about it in more details and I looked at some of the case studies. I liked the positive feedback about the course so it motivated it me to sign up.
Experience and Learning
- What topics stood out for you?
The topics that stood up for me were those about different types of leadership, leading and motivating community, collaboration, and social change. I found these the most relevant to what I do in the community. I liked the emphasis on keeping the community motivated and on board. I enjoyed the practical exercises; they were fun, and we learnt so much through the practical approach.
- What are you likely to ‘take back’ to your life/work in the community?
I will definitely bring my newly gained knowledge of how to lead and motivate community, and about effective collaboration. The community pop-up cafés are community events; we set the date, provide coffee, the community come and bring cakes. Keeping them motivated is so important; we collaborated with anther group the second time and used a different venue and connected the two groups, and people in the community met new people.
- How would you summarise your experience of the programme in 1 sentence or in 3 words?
Everyone can lead.
- Is there anything you could or would do now that you wouldn’t have felt able to do before?
I had no previous experience of working in the community before starting up our community café, so I learned everything while doing it, 'on the job'. It was so beneficial to learn some of the theory on the TLP, which I will now be able to apply when organising our events. I feel that the course filled the gaps in knowledge I had and put things in the right order. In particular when we were looking at how to motivate the community and our volunteers. We work with volunteers a lot, we ask people in the community to bake for us so it's great to know how to keep them motivated. I would also look at our vision and use it when planning events. Our first event took place in our next door neighbour's quirky back yard with hanging ladders and ancient tables. That was over five years ago. It started with an idea. We made coffees and baked some cakes, brought the babies and toddlers, invited other people and waited.
We were surprised when so many people turned up and the alleyway was full of life! It was a great success. We raised money for a local boy who needed a specialist treatment for neuroblastoma. We quickly realised people wanted to have somewhere to meet and chat. So we did another pop-up café, and before Covid we ran them once every three months, with a different charity supported each time. We then started asking people to bring cakes because we couldn't keep up, at the last pop up café, over sixty people brought cakes – brownies, ginger loafs, scones, a coconut sponge, German biscuits, Czech fruit cake, a vanilla sponge, shortbread, gluten free, sugar free, you name it, it was there!
- Are there people/agencies you feel able to talk to and work with now that you weren’t before?
I will definitely be more confident talking to a wider range of stakeholders. I have a better understanding of stakeholder analysis, what kind they are, what is our current engagement, and how useful different stakeholders can be. For example, reaching out to other local community groups and organisations, and also Belfast City council. There are organisations out there such as Work West which help social enterprises, so I would approach them if I needed it. I will also connect with other participants I met on the course as I think we really bonded. I believe there will be opportunities to collaborate with some of the TLP participants; for example we are considering bringing the Friendship Club and the pop-up café together, with maybe some dancing.
- What difference will this make to how you engage in your interface area?
It will make our events better if we will be able to reach out further to get more stakeholders on board. I really enjoy making connections and networking and I have more confidence to do it now.
- What difference will the course make to the interface area overall? Especially in terms of relationships, collaboration and increased understanding in the area?
It was great to with similar minded people at the course, and from the same area. When we were discussing what kind of events our area needs, most of us agreed on the same events: outdoor, family, all-inclusive events, showing local talents, and sharing skills. In the future, I would definitely use my new network of TLP friends for a possible collaboration.
- Which issues in particular do you think you might get involved in?
In South Belfast, where we live, it is so diverse. I know so many people of different nationalities and different cultures who came to Northern Ireland because of their jobs or other circumstances. I'm one of those people! There are also lots of families with young children, elderly neighbours, and teenagers, all of whom might feel isolated, especially after the pandemic when many people lost social contact they had through play groups, birthday parties or meet ups in the park. So I think focusing on family events at Christmas time, at Halloween and Easter, and in the summer, where people can come together to have fun, to share stories, showing talents, learning new skills, play music, and get involved in kids craft activities is what we need in this area. I also think that this area needs more indoor places in case of bad weather, where people of all ages can meet up on regular basis and have a chat, coffee, a homemade cake, where they can play table tennis, badminton, chess, knit, or dance. We need opportunities to reconnect when parents can chat together and children can play together.
- How will you apply new ways of working, ideas or approaches?
I really enjoyed the group activity where we had to design a community garden. Through this experience I learned that projects or events become so much easier when planning them with a team. At first it seemed impossible. I've never set up a garden before, especially not in fifteen minutes! But the ideas started coming, one person was drawing the plan, and we all contributed. After the allocated time in the Break Out Room we had a rough plan and were quite pleased with it. It was a fun way to learn about planning a community project. So the new approach I will be using is that nothing is impossible. If you break the task down into smaller chunks, involve a few people with different skills, knowledge, ideas, and enthusiasm, then the end result will be a success.
- To what extent do you think these changes would have occurred in the absence of this course? i.e. would you have developed these skills and be motivated to do something new anyway?
This course has also given me confidence that what we have been doing – the Harper's Yard community pop up café - is beneficial to the community; it is the type of event that is really needed right now. When we organised it for the first time, it was amazing, people really welcomed it, and since than it has grown organically. Unfortunately, we had to take a break for two years, but are back now. We have more enthusiasm than ever to get back to bring the community together. The pop up café supports and promotes emotional wellbeing; for people who have been shielding it has been so hard, especially for those who do not have children.
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