Growing a fledgling organisation is all part of the excitement of learning new stuff. The Village Hub set off from the outset to be non hierarchical, built on relationships and doing things not for our community, so you would have thought it would have been easy to expand outwards as the original members never wanted control in the first place. We did think that, but turns out we were a bit naïve in the process!

Here’s our journey so far….

After the initial euphoria of getting funding to support people to transition from putting in the hours in a voluntary capacity, we hit the difficult questions around recruitment.

Should we advertise? Does it look like we just want to give jobs to our friends? Is it wrong to have someone in mind for a post, even if you have been thinking about them whilst writing the initial bid?

After lots of soul searching and consideration, we decided to advertise – one a simple job for one person due to the relatively small amount of hours and specifics of the post, and the other as an opportunity to tender by submitting a proposal to tackle the thorny issue of food in community. Our reasons were based around fairness and transparency. It was a tough decision to come to – some of our volunteers had already been pretty active in the roles we were thinking about – what if they applied and were unsuccessful? What if two or more volunteers pitted themselves against each other competitively – what would that do to our carefully built relationships?

There was a lot of apprehension, but in the end we could only think of negative, “what if” questions to not go public versus a very positive argument for transparency and openness if we advertised.

Actually, by writing a job description or detailed brief around the roles, we gained more than we had originally expected. The writing and editing allowed us to clarify in our own minds what we were looking for.

Three of our key principles of work has come out of this process;

Firstly, that our payment structure should reflect the fact that we are not a hierarchy, that all jobs are considered vital for the well being of The Village Hub.

Secondly, that “thinking and learning” time is equally important as “doing” time and should be factored into all of our lives. We have really enjoyed giving the opportunity to skill up someone to be able to give quality advice around energy needs and fuel poverty and the time to devote to learning. (We remember trying to squeeze countless zooms into the early days of figuring out how all this community practice could be developed, often in and amongst interruptions, noise, other conversations and poor signal). We are learning to value this learning time and give it the right conditions and time to be absorbed, reflected upon and finally shared back out to the community at large.

Finally (for now! – we are just beginning this journey), that being interrupted is also a necessary part of our work. We operate a drop in for the community as many people struggle to keep appointments. Originally we wanted a high street premises precisely so we could interact with as many people as possible, and have been known to accost them outside the front door, so desperate we are for conversation! We figured from the outset that community engagement was a synonym for just talking to people – how hard could that be! We have since learnt that actually many of us suffer from inherent shyness. We don’t feel very comfortable striking up conversations or asking people how they are doing. We quite like the transactional nature of many of our interactions, in our case it’s “fill in this form”, “take the food from the larder” or “the toilet is over there”. We can so easily busy ourselves with tidying, looking up stuff on google or doing admin – all pretty vital to the continuation of The Village Hub, but all ways to not have a decent conversation. We have realised we have to learn the skills of being brave, opening up a conversation or just turning around from the keyboard and asking someone how they are. This “doing” work is just as vital as the “thinking and learning” work.

We recognise that broadly people have a greater inclination for talking or not, so our understanding of community work is challenging from the get go. There is no such thing as an easy job and we are all going to experience uncomfortableness at some point. And we are well aware that conversations need to have a lot of listening and communication upskilling for all of us!

Back to our topic of recruitment!

The interview processes have helped us connect with more people, and having filled one post, we are delighted to report that none of our fears were realised – perhaps the gods of recruitment were with us, or perhaps we were looking for some pretty niche roles. Ilse is having a blast.

Our bid to tender likewise returned a very detailed brief from two community members who were already volunteering and only some token interest from elsewhere. We envisage that this may not always happen so simply in the future, but we welcomed the fact that we were fulfilling our objective to upskill and release community members into new avenues. The tender proved an opportunity for the community members to really think about what they wanted to do and why, rather than just fulfill a role we thought was needed. This expanded our collective thinking considerably, and the way we see food. The Good Food team of Haidee and Carmen are now organising a food coop, introducing foraging and preserving as skills into the wider community and holding food workshops, diaries, feasts and hopefully a recipe book for the community. We, as founder members, would never have come up with the job description for all that!

And with an eye to the future and being able to access further project funding we have begun to pay the lovely Helen (pictured in the woolly hat) who has been faithfully volunteering for us every week running a gardening club.

So we now have 7 freelancers working part time for the Village Hub, doing amazing things that could not happen if we had tried to manage our organisation with a small core team.

We feel we have a good balance of admin minded, creative types, strategists and networker with which to grow. And think that we have got to this stage much faster by being less in control of the outcomes. We have been looking at social permaculture and how the natural world develops its ecological communities. Not all woodlands have bluebells. There is not one boss tree that everything centres around. Instead of growing like this,

We are actually growing like

Not the centre of a hub, but facilitating a much wider community expansion. (We are hoping to map our own relationships in a similar way to show how the Hub holds its structure).

We use WhatsApp to communicate, a tablet to record data and email to make sure we are all joined up. It’s not perfect, we’ve already thought of new software that could help us communicate to everyone and then allow people to leave the thread if they aren’t interested, or stay on it if they would like to be kept informed, but we are not sure if this has been invented yet………

Lots more learning to come!