Hannah Kitchen Kirby, our Link Up Development Worker for Inspiring Leith writes reflecting on her experience and the transformational potential of relationships.

Since 2012, our Inspiring Leith team have been working with local people in Leith to harness the strengths, skills and resources present in the community. Using an asset based approach to community development, people have opportunities to meet, form positive relationships, and organise themselves to deliver activities for their own benefit and that of the wider community.

These activities have a huge impact on strengthening community and bringing about positive change in people’s lives.

The Potential of Our Relationships

“To solve today’s problems we need collaboration, we need to be part of the change and we need systems that include all of us… And to do this we need to start in people’s lives. We need to stand in communities and understand both the problems and the possibilities from this everyday perspective.”

Hilary Cottam, Radical Help (2018)

I recently read ‘Radical Help’ by Hilary Cottam, which presents the stories of people moving through the current care, health and benefits system, rarely achieving the changes they need, and worse, feeling weighed down by the interventions that the welfare state has made in their lives. Rooted in real-life long-term experiments, the book makes the case for a welfare system firmly based on three key components: relationships, capabilities, openness. These struck a chord with me as a Link Up worker in Leith.

The Inspiring Leith Community Craft Group. Photo by Simon Juho

Relationships: taking the time to build trust and allowing people to lead can go a long way to solve deep-seated problems. “When people feel supported by strong human relationships, change happens.” H Cottam.

At Inspiring Leith, we start by getting to know our area and its people, strengths and problems, and what makes it unique. We support people to start groups and activities they wish to create, and through this, we enable them to form new friendships. We also offer flexible and more intensive support one-to-one. Critically, we are trusted to take time to get to know people and we know that if things are tough, we will receive support rather than blame.

Sharing skills and experiences at the Inspiring Leith Craft Group. Photo by Simon Juho

Capabilities: we also have a focus on developing strengths and ‘capabilities’. When we are getting to know people, we try to see what they are already good at and interested in. As people start groups with others based around these skills and interests, they often get a lot out of learning and practising a craft or skill together. The focus isn’t on problems – although we always have a deep awareness of what participants might be facing – it’s on fun, and building on the strengths that are already there.

The Inspiring Leith Community Zumba Group. Photo by Simon Juho

Cottam focuses on people’s hopes, skills and aspirations. She seeks to develop four capabilities – all equally core to our work: “the capability to work/learn; to be healthy; to be part of the community; and to nurture relationships within the family and beyond.”

Openness: all of Cottam’s experimental projects benefited from many different people using them, rather than being rationed or narrowly targeted at specific issues. In Link Up, we find this openness not only builds opportunities for exchanging ideas and skills, but also really suits those who can’t engage with the traditional models of help on offer, especially for their mental health. It feels natural and normal, rather than stigmatising and targeted at people’s deficiencies.

Neighbours coming together at the Inspiring Leith Zumba Group. Photo by Simon Juho

And so sometimes our role is as simple as introducing neighbours who wouldn’t have otherwise met – creating more trust and connection in a community; for others it is regular one-to-one support, sometimes boosted by input from a psychotherapist we partner with. It’s wonderful when groups go well and people find their potential, take leading roles, build on their interests and make friends. The confidence and self-esteem that come from using skills and making friends enables people to take huge steps forward. And we have the privilege of witnessing the great strength and courage of people overcoming the massive obstacles in their lives and communities together.

As Cottam sums up:

“A relational way of working, thinking and designing is one that creates possibility for change, one that creates abundance.”

Hilary Cottam, Radical Help (2018)
  • Hannah Kitchen Kirby, Link Up Development Worker (Inspiring Leith) 

Inspiring Leith is one of the ‘Link Up’ projects supported by Inspiring Scotland and is hosted by Bethany Christian Trust in Leith.  

Originally published on the Inspiring Scotland Blog.