Our Community Builder in Moston and Harpurhey, Graeme discusses the use of Facebook in community building and how it can be an effective tool in helping to connect residents, share stories from the past and present and also create new ideas for the future.

I wouldn’t say I’m a massive Facebook fan. I have little interest in photographs of people’s dinner or videos of dogs on skateboards or even getting in touch with people I was at primary school with 40 years ago. But I do use Facebook for the groups and I like the localised pages that are full of warnings of garden shed burglars, community shindigs, reports of missing cats and frequent dodgy posts that lead to full scale slanging matches.

So I turned to this virtual institution when I started as a Forever Manchester Community Builder. I thought it would be an effective way of communicating news amongst people living in Moston and Harpurhey. I wanted a way of letting people know about the projects that were being developed, the support I could offer and to provide an opportunity for groups to promote what they are doing. That was the extent of my expectation. In two minutes a group was created and I posted its presence across all the other groups that exist for the area, sat back and waited for people to join.

That was three months ago and 250+ members later. Not a significant number in Facebook terms but its impact on my work and community building in the area has been, in my view, definitely significant. The development of the group has had a range of unexpected outcomes and has become a useful tool in my approach. Its benefits far outweigh the occasional rant and dog on skateboard video!

The making of connections was almost instant, a woman who runs a community allotment, experiencing dwindling involvement was keen to ensure the allotment was accessible to wheelchair users. Her post asked the question if we could support the idea. The post was seen by a local Care Worker supporting disabled adults, a connection was made and a meeting held. It’s now happening, no funding required. A local woman wanting to join a Gym with people of her own age group has just received an award to hold sessions for people over 50, a group that she’s got together via her postings. Recently, a long thread started after a local person posted about her frustration over the lack of youth provision in the area.  An idea for a bicycle repair/mechanics project was raised which created a lot of discussion leading to a planned community meeting to take the idea forward.  All I did was make encouraging noises and posted a bit of positive support.

Sometimes over lunch, I might look for reasons to plant seeds of a discussion and post them on the page. A bit of a dig on Google soon brings up interesting facts about an area, the birthplace of someone famous, a previous archaeological dig, local delicacies. A light-hearted post about traditional dishes from the North West and suggesting a new signature dish for the area led to 40 comments and the community discussing the value of such a project and how it could reach far and beyond than just a new calorific cake! The use of these local facts lets people share stories and memories from the past and find common experiences.

I’ve also used the page to sound out ideas. We’re hosting a new style of event, using the format of a Speed Dating night to develop ideas for projects for the future; Speed Creating. Just a quick message to a few regular posting members gave me the feedback I needed to ensure I was on the right page for a successful event. We are targeting members of the Facebook group to take part. In order to attend, they have to bring someone who isn’t on Facebook, so now we’re using Facebook to reach non Facebook users.

It surprises me every day, and people are using it more and more to suggest ideas, promote their own projects and have great conversations. It’s being used as a hub for all things positive in the area and what’s important to me is that I could probably now rarely post or even disappear from the group and it would take a good while before anyone noticed!

For me Community Building is about getting out there, talking to people, visiting groups and having a presence. However, there is no doubt that checking my phone several times a day, clocking the conversations, connecting people and promoting events on Facebook is a productive and valuable part of the process.

If you’re living in Moston or Harpurhey and want to join the Facebook buzz, like Graeme’s page here.

Alternatively, if you’d like to know a bit more about our Community Building (Asset Based Community Development) approach click here.