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A Community Book Story: Part 1 – a blog by Emma Shears

Circling the Square – Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community

“People make their own history. Your friends do. Your neighbours do. You do.”

“When a community comes together, it can lift up each individual and make them feel a part of something greater. In 2020 the people of Cwmbwrla came together and demonstrated that inclusiveness was a stronger force than divisiveness, and compassion was a stronger force than apathy or hostility”. (David Jones, 2020).

This is a story about Local Area Coordination alongside citizen-led action that helped combat loneliness and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

 Coronavirus, Local Area Coordination and Community

In March 2020, Swansea Local Area Coordinators were involved in coordinating a community response to requests from those who were shielding, isolating or otherwise impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Support ranged from practical help with food and medication, through to social support for the isolation people were facing.

Emma, Local Area Coordinator, felt it a privilege to be included in Cwmbwrla’s COVID-19 community response, which saw local people offering their help and assistance and linking in with Local Area Coordinators. By working together, Cwmbwrla soon had an operation of people helping people in a natural and authentic way. This continued week on week, month on month, during 2020.

To support those helping others and acknowledge their efforts during this risky time, Emma held discussions with key community members and organised an online platform for people to meet. The hope was for the community members to support one another through this crisis, as well as having their Local Area Coordinator and the COVID-19 community team in Cwmbwrla involved.

Cwmbwrla, Curiosity and Creativity

With a shared common goal and a desire to find solutions to unique problems that arose, the group became tight-knit and strong-willed with much achieved as a result.  However, with the many social restrictions in place, there were limitations and obstacles and the group sometimes felt frustrated. The Local Area Coordinator was able to share with the group some of the challenges she was also facing, such as people feeling disconnected for the first time in many years due to social groups ceasing, and informal meetings with friends stopping.

From these discussions, the group formed a safe and confidential space to share the general feelings of disconnection and loneliness within the community. In response, the group became very creative with their ideas and decided to focus on the positives they had seen from people in the community, and learn from those. For example, people in Cwmbwrla were taking the time to listen and look out for one another through frequent conversations outside with their neighbours. From this interaction, interesting stories were told and people were more curious about each other and their local community. From this, the idea of a local book emerged.

“When you spend time talking to people – and more importantly listening to them – their stories emerge” (David Jones, 2020).

Local author David Jones recorded those neighbourly stories as a positive, enriching experience for individuals and the community as a whole. He produced the book alongside the Local Area Coordinator and a group of diverse community members with extensive local knowledge, which included a local novelist, art historian and library assistant.

“The idea behind the book is simple; history isn’t made exclusively by the famous and the powerful. In their own ways, the people, whose daily acts of kindness and quiet courage improve the lives of those around them, are making history too”. (David Jones, 2020).

 Circling the Square – Cwmbwrla, Coronavirus and Community

The book developed over six months, and included chapters celebrating personal histories, family histories, local art and poetry, places of welcome, and the local COVID-19 heroes.

The book acknowledged 60 contributors in total. What first started as a conversation in a small group progressed to include more people in the most positive way. The book injected a new sense of purpose for the community and introduced neighbours to one another so new connections formed and old connections were cemented from the discussions about people, places and the community response to coronavirus.

“The individuals who’ve stepped up in 2020 aren’t wealthy people. They are working women and men with their own problems to solve and their own families to support, but they’ve made a choice to give their time and resources to their community” (David Jones, 2020).

The knowledge shared during the production of the book about the local area and the people living there was vast, public figures such as Mal Pope, Mel Nurse, David Brayley, local councillors and political figures were among those invited to contribute to the book and recall childhood memories and what the area meant to them. After collecting his copy of the book, Mal Pope wrote, “This was the community in which I grew up, and its values and community spirit are still engrained in me”. The passion for Cwmbwrla was evident by the amount of people wanting and willing to be involved.

Circling the Square was a magnificent achievement for the community during coronavirus. At the end of 2020, the book was published, raised money for the local events group Cwmbwrla Community Events and caught the attention of the local newspaper, with the feature headline: Community’s Spirit Shines Through the Darkest Times, which was certainly the case: New book looks at how a Swansea community faced Covid-19 during lockdown | InYourArea News

By Emma Shears – Local Area Coordinator in Swansea

Read Part 2 of the blog

Further information and articles about the community book: