Having better conversations

Jill Salter (Head of Community Impact, Business in the Community Cymru) reflects on a recent Community Conversation event held in Newport in May and the importance of having good conversations.

Companies that take the time to understand the challenges, issues and opportunities that exist in their local communities – and have identified the role they can play in supporting them or addressing them – are those responsible companies which will be around for the longer term.

But where does that understanding and awareness come from? How can community groups, local charities and businesses work better together? And crucially for our delegates in Newport last month, how much networking can be achieved if you have 3 minute conversations?!

Let’s get chatting

Bringing two sides of the conversation together was the focus of our recent Community Conversation event in Newport (Wednesday 24 May, Newport YMCA), where Business in the Community Cymru brought together over 35 local community and charity groups and employers to help them start having better conversations. 

“We need to start by being honest with each other and having honest conversations about the challenges that we face. Things can change but we need to work together.”Keir Duffin, Newport City Council 

Our Community Conversation event, a series of which has been supported across the UK by Waitrose this year, created an opportunity to facilitate and broker these conversations between businesses and local groups. By focussing on a community, looking at some of the specific challenges in that area (lower health, lower levels of educational achievements and lower skilled jobs) and hearing from people working on the ground and in schools, we could help both sides to start better understanding each other.

“We need a strategic focus on one thing – in my view this should be education of all kinds – and then together we can make a difference.”Bob Barry, Duffryn Community Link

WIIFM (what’s in it for me)? 

Community groups can offer profile, skill development opportunities, partnership working and a better understanding of the issues and challenges being faced by employees, their families and friends. Businesses can bring professional support like financial planning, HR and recruitment support, ideas around facilities management as well as volunteers and resources. But there is often an “understanding gap” between the two. If each side of the conversation doesn’t have a clear ask – or a clear understanding – it can sometimes falter or fail to be successful. 

Key to a good relationship is having a good conversation.”Jane Shatford, GAVO 

Connections made

The buzz at the Newport YMCA was at fever pitch from the start of the event and at lots of points throughout the day it was hard to interrupt everyone to move on with the agenda – people like to talk. The Community Conversation successfully created the space for potential partners to come together and establish how they could work together in the future. Many of the conversations we know continued beyond the event (which is great news), but we do know that some connections were made on the day, including:  

  • Network Rail have partnered with a local community group to deliver rail safety talks
  • The Share Centre are planning to work with Watts Truck & Van and Egnida to support for a job fair and potential work placements
  • Boots started a relationship with Newport Sea Cadets and Newport Credit Union to establish a way of providing space to the groups in stores to raise the profile of their organisations
  • The Reality Theatre is going to be working with Newport Communities First Central Cluster on new opportunities for young people in the arts
  • DWP had the chance to meet employers who can support their clients with various challenges

And this was just the start of the Conversation, in Newport and in Wales.

BITC Cymru have plans to take our Community Conversations to other parts of the country and help local groups and employers have better (and more) conversations about working together to achieve a positive impact where they are. 

At Business in the Community Cymru, we know that a by having better conversations, both community groups and businesses can make a bigger, more sustainable impacts on the challenges our nation – and our cities and towns – face in today’s Wales.

If you would like to find out more about how you can work with BITC Cymru to work more closely with community groups in your area, please contact Jill Salter at jill.salter@bitc.org.uk

Top tips

At our event delegates came up with some fantastic top tips about working together. We are pleased to share them here:

  • Be clear on your ask or offer to the other organisation and make requests specific 
  • Research the organisation / partner you want to approach so you understand their priorities, values and areas of work
  • As far as possible, reply promptly to any requests / enquiries
  • Share positive success stories of impact – and what has worked well in the past
  • Start a relationship in a small way – then build on your success
  • Look to build relationships and make lasting connections