8 March 2022

On International Women’s Day, our fabulous Community Network Developer, Molly, discusses some of the inspirational women she has met and their top tips for others looking to create happy and healthy communities.

 

We dug down into the earth. A line of us with shovels, backs bent, digging in unison, chatting and cackling about the hard ground.

We were planting sapling fruit trees and bushes to provide accessible, healthy edibles for years to come, in a newly created community garden. I recognised a deep sense within myself that, within all of our lines of ancestry, women of our same blood have been cultivating and caring for their communities throughout time.

It may have been undervalued, ignored or even actively discouraged, but women for millennia have been bringing together groups of all kinds, to find solidarity, wisdom and strength in community.

I discovered a lot about community and my own womanhood while cycling with my partner 20,000km, through 22 countries between the years of 2017-2020 from the UK to New Zealand, to raise money and awareness for a refugee charity.

I began the journey with a huge disbelief in my own strength and abilities to keep grinding on through something so physically and mentally challenging. I had to cultivate a deep level of grit and persuade discomfort and exhaustion to become my dearest friends.

I also felt like we were quite alone in this strange pursuit of travelling half way around the world on pushbikes. That feeling of isolation heightened the immense and daunting task ahead, so I sought out other female long-term cyclists for advice about everything unknown.

From their type of saddle, their experiences in different countries, to how they managed periods and UTI’s on the road and what clothes they wore in different countries. Once I had made these connections, the road ahead felt more manageable.

 Slowly over the 3 years, my partner and I formed wide-spread connections, through this crazy journey with other mad people who had chosen to adventure in this way. Over time, we became close friends and formed a community with these others, to share stories, advice, pains and joys with.

The irreplaceable importance of community and female solidarity became strikingly clear to me.

Since returning and starting this role as a Community Network Developer for Eden Project Communities, I’ve come across so many fantastic women doing amazing things through bringing their local communities together. Here are just a few of these fantastic women and their words of wisdom.

 

 

Ari Cantwell: Coexist Community Kitchen

Ari Cantwell founded and acts as the director of Coexist Community Kitchen in Bristol, which is a non-profit cookery school that aims to use food as a vehicle to work with people who experience social marginalisation in society. They have the beautiful tagline of ‘When you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher wall.’ She says:

'I'm incredibly passionate about using food as a way to bring people together, make ourselves feel good and challenge the issues that are going on around us in this really unequal society. Whether it's chatting over a tea or chopping onions, it feels like home for me, and I hope for many others too.'

 

Tara Miran: St Pauls Community Garden

Also based in Bristol, Tara Miran, the founder of St Pauls Community Garden says:

‘My tips for setting up a community project is to speak to a few like-minded people about it. From conversations and the sharing of ideas, roots of social action will grow. Don't feel shy to reach out to people and organisations in your local community for support, you never really know what's possible until you try it, so go steady but surely, and take that first step towards setting up your own community group!’

 

Claire Johnson: The Oaks Community Group

When moving to a new area of Birmingham, Claire Johnson created The Oaks community group, in Selly Oak. When I asked her what her tactics were for engaging with people in her local community, coordinating and founding The Oaks community group, she told me to:

‘Say hello to everyone with a smile!  After door knocking our whole estate there wasn't one person I met that didn't want us all to be more connected.  People just didn't know where to start.’

 

Rosie Edwards: SOBO Wastebusters

Rosie Edwards, co-founder and co-ordinator of SOBO Wastebusters in Southbourne Dorset, an environmental group; working with local people and businesses to lower the carbon footprint, reduce waste and make their area more environmentally sustainable. She​ says:

‘My top tip is to keep it small to start with {…} and try and be realistic about what you can achieve with the resources (i.e. the people) you have involved. Be kind to yourself and remember all the stuff you are doing, not what you haven't done! Getting people together is the best bit.’

 

Maria Billington: Gatis Community Space

Maria Billington is the Community Builder, founder, Director and Project Co-ordintor (she sums this up with the term Multipotentialiser) of Gatis Community Space in Wolverhampton. She says:

‘Dream big and work back from there, if you can imagine it then it can happen and if you can light that dream in others through passion and connections rooted in commonality and lived experience, then you will go far.

Red tape sucks, it will always suck but it must be done, tackle it in small steps as you need to - don’t panic.

It will either happen so fast you don’t quite know what is going on or it will take so very much longer than you anticipated that you can get a bit jaded, usually the latter, but it will usually happen at a rate and time that you are able to handle it.

Be brave, dear one and step out of that comfort zone, Epic stuff awaits you.’

So, here’s to all the ordinary women doing extraordinary things; working towards a more connected future for all of us – I salute you – you are my heroines!

Molly Newberry, Community Network Developer

You too can make a difference in bringing people together, check out our top tips and ideas for How To Connect with People.