Bonus episode: How to engage with your local community

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Community businesses rely on local people getting involved whether as volunteers, staff, or service users. But how do you encourage people from the community to take part?

Bonus Episode: How to engage with your local community

Community businesses rely on local people getting involved whether as volunteers, staff, or service users. But how do you encourage people from the community to take part? It could be things like referrals, advertising or making sure your staff team represents your area. In this episode, Veronica Gordon is joined by Krysia Williams, Community Coordinator at the Bristol Bike Project, to explore how best to spread the word about your business.

The full transcript

Veronica Gordon 

Hi, I’m Veronica Gordon. Welcome to Then One Day.

From libraries to surf schools to transport, there are more than 9000 community organisations across the country who are making neighbourhoods better through business.

In these bonus episodes of the podcast, we share tips and advice from the leaders of these businesses to support and inspire you if you run a similar project or if you’re looking to start one. Community businesses rely on local people getting involved, whether as volunteers, staff or service users. But do you know how to best encourage people from the community to take part? It could be things like referrals, advertising, or making sure your staff team represents your community.

Krysia Williams, Bristol Bike Project 

My name is Krysia Williams and I’m the Community Coordinator at the Bristol Bike Project.

Veronica Gordon

And who better to help with this question than Krysia. We heard from her a couple of episodes ago, when we learned how the Bike Project in Bristol gets the city cycling. They have schemes where people can earn a bike by working with mechanics; they run women only bike maintenance workshops; and make money through their bike shop. Here’s a quick reminder.

So, how is cycling and having a bike changing people’s lives?

Krysia Williams, Bristol Bike Project 

In many and incredible ways, and I’m learning new ones all the time. The thing I hear the most and feel the most is the kind of independence of movement. Particularly at a place like the Bristol Bike Project where you can come and access a bike for free if you can’t afford to buy one. Having a vehicle which allows you to move around easily is an incredibly freeing experience. Whether it’s because you have to get to certain appointments, or it’s to see friends or family or it’s to get to green spaces.

Veronica Gordon 

We also heard from some of their service users who take part in their workshops for women, trans and non-binary people.

User 1, Bristol Bike Project 

I’d never been on a bike before but the first time I tried. I feel free. I feel like I’m in control of something.

User 2, Bristol Bike Project 

It’s just a really welcoming, warm, open environment where women can learn, skill share, get better at mechanics, and fix their bike.

Veronica Gordon 

It’s a fantastic organisation. It even inspired me to get cycling. And I was keen to learn from Krysia how the business spreads the word in the community about the work they do.

I know the Bike Project is heavily led by the community and heavily serves the community. How do you get the community involved?

Krysia Williams, Bristol Bike Project 

So, we have a wide network of referral organisations – around 50 to 60 organisations across Bristol – who know what we do, know about our services, and are constantly communicating with people that they interact with to let them know about the services that we provide. Also, it’s important to us that people can feel that they can walk in off the street and find out what we do and that they don’t necessarily have to come through an organisation.

Veronica Gordon

So, tell me about the local organisations you work with who refer people to you for your services.

Krysia Williams, Bristol Bike Project 

Our main referral organisation is Bristol Refugee Rights. The Bristol Bike Project was set up in partnership with them to begin with, and they remain our main referral organisations. We also work with lots of other organisations in the refugee and asylum sector. The range of different organisations that we work with is really huge. So, it spans from organisations working with people in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse; to organisations who work with people who are victims of domestic abuse; homelessness charities. The list goes on and on and on. I think there are so many reasons why having a bike might be beneficial to someone that we’ve just seen that list expand and expand.

Veronica Gordon

That’s lovely. And you work in it seems like a very diverse area with lots of diverse organisations as well who send you referrals. How has the organisation tried to ensure that your staff…or have you tried to ensure that the staff reflect the diversity of the people that you work with?

Krysia Williams, Bristol Bike Project 

It’s a hot topic of conversation at the Bike Project at the moment because our staff aren’t representative of the people that we work with. And what we see is…so we have the community, the wider Bristol Bike Project community; we then have Bristol Bike project members, volunteers, and staff; and what we see is at each level of involvement, we’ve become less and less representative of the community. So, that’s something that we’re working hard to address at the moment. We’re about to kick off a long process of an internal inclusion and diversity analysis to better understand what it is about our organisation that means that we’re failing on that. You know, we do see that with our memberships that there is representation there from the wider community of people involved in the different community programmes. But there’s a barrier to becoming staff.

Veronica Gordon

Give me three top tips for other community businesses who would like to get their community more involved in their business.

Krysia Williams, Bristol Bike Project 

I think co-op membership is a big one. Being a co-op or finding an organisational structure, which means that you have to do the work to bring people in, is really important. So even with what I say there about the staff representation not being there in terms of the wider community, staff members have the same voice as a volunteer member in the Bike Project when we come to make big decisions. And what that means is that people have a strong voice through being a volunteer. And there are routes to becoming more involved in the decision making of an organisation and in the running of an organisation that go beyond being a paid member of staff.

So, tip number two is providing exciting and supported volunteering opportunities. So, volunteering for a lot of organisations is the first route for people into being part of that organisation. All of the staff at the Bristol Bike Project started off as volunteers, became members, became staff. So, it’s really important to give those opportunities and to make sure that they are fun and tailored to what people are interested in. But also, that they’re supported with training and development as well. Because that’s a really important part of skilling people up in what might be needed for that particular organisation or community business.

So, tip number three would be having as open door a policy as possible, with the caveats in place that to do that, of course, you need strong agreements in place about how you create a safe space for people to come into. But having your door open and making sure that there’s a welcoming face, who can talk to people about what’s going on inside and greet people as they come is a really, really important way of making sure that people don’t experience that barrier at the first point of trying to interact with your organisation.

Veronica Gordon

So great hearing from Krysia. I hope you found this episode useful. I know that I did.

This podcast was brought to you by independent trust Power to Change and produced by Pixiu. We’ll be back in two weeks with an episode I am really looking forward to. I’ll be joined by several community business pioneers and mental health advocates to explore how businesses can better serve the well-being of our local communities. See you then.