Unsung Heroes is a Birmingham-based initiative that celebrates ordinary people who make a big difference in their communities, and an excellent example of asset-based community development in practice.
See Bethany Eckley’s full article on asset-based community development here.
In 2011, a team at Hodge Hill parish church wanted to find ways to support and encourage their local community. Based on an outer estate in Birmingham, their parish is often described as ‘deprived’, but they wanted to discover and celebrate the community work that was going on there.
They came up with the concept of a ‘Hodge Hill Unsung Heroes’ event. This would be a prize-giving ceremony recognising and celebrating local people nominated by others for their valuable contribution to community life. It would help the church get to know people in their parish, learn about their work in the community and publicly acknowledge the value of such work.
To gather nominations, the team visited schools, pubs, shops, offices and community centres. This proved a positive experience in itself. It encouraged residents to think about the people they valued in their personal lives and their community and the team received a total of 97 nominations. They then visited each ‘unsung hero’, asking them more about themselves, their passions and their motivation.
The event itself, held in the local college in March 2012, was attended by all the nominees and their guests. Following dinner, each unsung hero was presented with a cut-glass award.
The evening provided the perfect opportunity for local people to celebrate their community and to think of ideas for new ventures. To help this along, the team placed a form on each table asking three questions: What are the best things about your neighbourhood? What are your dreams for your neighbourhood?, and What would you start in your neighbourhood if you could find two other people to join you?
These questions sparked many interesting conversations and led to several initiatives being launched, including a small theatre group and a women’s community group. Ola Adegbite, one unsung hero (pictured above), has subsequently worked with a Near Neighbours development worker to host a Nigerian Independence Day celebration, set up a Nigerian Community Association, and start a small catering business. Almost a year after the event, these activities are all still running.
The Unsung Heroes event took all those involved on a journey. It helped church members get to know those who were supporting others in the estate, tirelessly and often without recognition. It encouraged community members, by celebrating them and their work and by building new networks to support them. And these relationships continue to grow as people feel encouraged to dream about ways in which they can improve their community.
For more details see ‘A Theological Reflection on Asset-based Community Development’ by Al Barrett, vicar of Hodge Hill parish church