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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

What is a community bubble?

This opinion piece is over 5 years old

George Thomson looks at how creating a space for community events can boost volunteer participation

I intended to write this blog before the start of our GoLive! at the Green (2-12 August) community bubble experience. I’m glad that, in fact, I’ve had four days to find out what it is to the people who have been sharing their own take on what a community bubble is!

If I start from the beginning. I went on study leave for 10 weeks last summer to do some detective work around the lack of growth and inclusion in volunteer participation in Scotland.

I followed this up with a colleague by undertaking a door to door survey of different neighbourhoods in Tillicoultry and Bo’Ness.

The essence of what I found is that the goodwill and looking out for others in people is very strong and inspiring. However, our actual experience of coming together to do things is very weak. Only around one in 10 of us can share a story about being part of a group or association. I was also struck by the isolation that came across and the bubble many folk seemed to be in.

George Thomson
George Thomson

So the idea of a community bubble was born. A way of inviting people to talk with each other about the community spirit of a place or setting and to discover what’s best to build upon and what’s not so good that some practical action might be taken. If you’re interested in being part of the reference group that’s following the journey- let me know and I can share a lot more of the detail.

We’ve created a magical community bubble space that was opened and used for the first time by the launch of the Hearing Access Protocol (Ideas for Ears) on 2 August with 30 participants. They were the first group of many who over the 11 days are advancing voluntary activity in the most challenging contexts around homelessness, addictions, refugees, prejudice and disability. Hence the importance of unity as well as community! We’ve kitted the bubble with a hearing loop system, sound system, easy access and the most welcoming atmosphere we can make.e”.

Participation is the key theme and Scotland’s Urban Past have already had a full day at the bubble and have been showing each evening their terrific work around the story of Glasgow Green.

They are a wonderful inspiration to me about volunteer participation. Their national archive (anyone can contribute), their fantastic resourcefulness in offering umpteen workshops to learn how to contribute, and the very impressive range of projects they are supporting. Critical to me is how they have broken through the class barrier and for instance had a group of young people from Glasgow undertaking oral recordings of visitors to the Green as they walk under the arches and find out about peoples connections with the park.

So the community bubble is a meeting place for groups already started. What about those looking to start?

We’re applying a festival approach with giant bubbles, card games to start a conversation, and the my community prescription initiative. Hundreds of people a day have taken part and it’s been a blast. We’ve got citizen scientists undertaking survey work with visitors and this will take off this week with over 40 volunteers from Police Scotland Youth Volunteers helping us.

People are getting the idea of it no bother. We want to contribute to community spirit and see the benefits - and community leaders are emerging before us. Quite a few of visitors already are people who have a desire to make things happen in their community but are not so interested in formal structures. They want to create an agenda, like Wilma from Maryhill who wants to get locals talking about their environment and ask if they want to do anything.

Tommy spoke to us about four decades of community work and made some really interesting connections for us.

Paul who was entirely frustrated from applying to charities to volunteer and not hearing back. He was a very experienced individual who is coming back this week to challenge us more about whether the bubble can do anything for him.

Our first community bubble street meetings were held some months ago in Tillicoultry.

The bid for European Volunteering Capital 2020 by Stirling Council will have the community bubble playing a central role in engaging with communities that are easy to ignore and to break through the flatline in volunteer participation.

A sharing approach between sectors will be a key aspect of the work in Stirling and to generate that we’re working with SCVO and others on a shared agenda.

So the last word from me at the moment is to highlight the challenge. There is currently an unintended gentrification in volunteer participation that belies the common and mutual willingness for the vast majority of people to build community spirit and address the things that diminish it. The current system needs shaken up.

George Thomson is chief executive of Volunteer Scotland.