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04
Sep 2017

Working in Southmead

WORKING WITH VOLUNTEERS By Serge Chapman

My first experience of Southmead was showing up to a house share on Dunmail Road.

I moved to Bristol to begin a job at a charity but, before I could move into a long-term flat, I needed a place to stay. I drove up to my temporary home to see the smouldering remains of a caravan on the driveway. The chap I was renting off had picked it up from Cornwall the day before and then it had somehow caught fire’ when he got back. I spent a month in the house share but never met the two others and never got to know the owner being put off by first impressions. As far as I was concerned, there was no ‘community’ where I lived.

Two years later I was working in Southmead for a different charity trying to help people feel the sense of community which I hadn’t felt. My job was to work with people who volunteer their time and support them make their community better.

What I have seen whilst working in Southmead is that here, people do get to know each other and when they do awesome things start getting done. Take the volunteers at the SCA who give up their Tuesdays each week to make and prepare lunch for 40 people. Or the Southmead Festival put together by community members and staff at Greenway. Or the lady who goes out and trims the hedges around the bus stop so children or people with prams don’t have to walk in the road.

All of them didn’t suddenly start helping – they started getting to know people around them. And when they did that they began to care for each other and when they cared, they started to help each other out.

This happens all the time with ‘Meaders’, they are genuinely interested in finding out about each other and then genuinely interested in helping if they can. That is what being a member of a community is about.

This isn’t always obvious to an outsider. If a stranger showed up on the doorstep of my family home saying “let me in, I wanna help!”, I wouldn’t let that stranger in. But I was that stranger, being employed to suddenly turn up and help.

The thing that Southmead taught me is that you can’t do that, you have to get to know someone first, find out what is important and then you care. Only then do things get better. There is so much getting better in Southmead because the people of Southmead stop being strangers and start being community members so easily.

Last month, I stopped by the collection of vehicles burnt out on Glencoyne and felt hopeful. The incident had caused a lot of trouble and distress but instead of ignoring it, people were stopping. The strangers were stopping and then sharing different ideas about how to prevent things like that happening. They were beginning to care about each other and about to stop being strangers. They were a community figuring out what they could do to help.  I was dead wrong about Southmead. Community is here and it is great.

Serge is now at the end of his work as Coordinator on the Volunteer Project, funded by Fourteen and managed by the Southmead Development Trust. He leaves Southmead as a Southmead convert - an honorary ‘Meader’, and he has been greatly appreciated by everyone he has met here. On behalf of us all in Southmead Serge we wish you enormous luck in your next step and thank you for your valuable work. You have been a Southmead Star!

Please share your story of living or working in Southmead, contact us by leaving a message on tel: 0117 950 3335, or email [email protected]

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