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Jul 2

Doing things differently in Dudley

Community Organisers, Local by default, Localism, West Midlands

It started with the price of nappies. When community organiser Terri Overland knocked on doors on a Dudley estate residents told her was how hard it was to make ends meet, when you’re a struggling family with not enough to go round.

If only we could buy in bulk, they said, perhaps we could bring the prices down a bit. ‘Well, that’s a good idea,’ said Terri. ‘But who is going to make it happen?’ they asked. ‘You can make it happen,’ said Terri.

Now, at the same time something else was distressing many people on the estate. A 90 year old man, Bill, was sleeping rough in a nearby park. He did have a house, but his life had gone to pieces, he was no longer looking after himself, and his home had become unfit to live in.

Two problems – and, as it turned out, one solution.


Bill is now back in his house, and Bill is organising the bulk-buying for the estate. Not just nappies, but also potatoes, apples, crisps, wine, tins of beans, and so on. Residents pay up front so they don’t get into debt, and Bill phones round until he gets the best deal. The supplies are delivered to Bill’s house and residents come to collect their goods.

When they come, they help Bill out. They bring him meals. They have done up his house and garden. Bill now has a team of local volunteers, including five lads, known as ‘Bill’s runners’, who take messages and help with deliveries if people can’t get to his house.

This is only one story from our community organising programme. There are many others. But I do think this story embodies the spirit of community organising. Never doing anything for people they can do for themselves, but igniting the impulse to act, helping people realise that if they come together they can make better things happen, on their own terms.

And it embodies the spirit of localism. It reminds us that so much that will improve people’s lives will depend on personal relationships, building trust, making unexpected connections, not writing people off.

Remote target-setting monolithic agencies, however well intentioned, will always struggle to respond to the complex reality of the individual human being and to the fine grain of the individual neighbourhood. Without the initiative awakened by community organising what would have happened to Bill? I suppose social services, or police, or ambulance would have intervened, and perhaps he would have ended up in care or hospital. At great cost.

Community organising, community organisations, neighbourhood action, can’t by themselves solve all the problems we face. But as Locality has been saying in our recent report on ‘local by default’, this surely must be the best possible starting point.


Image thanks to Stephanie Chapman under Creative Commons licence


  1. Augustine Nyemah

    Posted 02/07/14 at 12:38 pm  |  Permalink

    Thanks Steve for keeping the candle of locality alive by posting real live situations and experiences – adding to the fresh memories of the recent successful symposium at RBS.

    • Nicky

      Posted 02/07/14 at 10:10 pm  |  Permalink

      yeah, this story is truly inspiring, you can change the goal posts with a little bit of trust and faith in communities having, in themselves, the ability to help themselves! When can I visit and can I order a pack of size 6 nappies for my boy please?

  2. Chrissi Clifton

    Posted 02/07/14 at 8:40 pm  |  Permalink

    Wow. This is just perfect organising. Everyone wins.

  3. Alex Grealis

    Posted 03/07/14 at 10:30 am  |  Permalink


    Thanks for the blog this is an inspiring story. I just attended a meeting where they were talking about the shift from NHS Care, Health and Social Care working together but with the lower level activity being based in the community. They are talking about Local Area Co-ordinators providing local support info, assess to services and matching VCS provision to need. I understand the Pilot of this scheme is running in Derby(Shire. Does anyone have further information on this and how it works?

  4. Peter Farrell

    Posted 05/07/14 at 10:27 pm  |  Permalink

    Hi Steve, thank you for a great story, it took me back to the 1940’s when the Community Spirit was all through the Village. One did not have locked doors on a night time and people would help one another.

    If an Elderly person asked a youngster to go to the shops for something, they did it without question and did not want anything for doing it. We were basically all equal and everyone mucked in with any problems.

    Our Local Council has decided to close all seven of it’s Old Folk’s Care Homes.

    Please could we get the Community Spirit back into society.

    Thanks for all your good work

    • Jenny Pepper

      Posted 04/01/15 at 12:17 pm  |  Permalink

      Peter, your idyllic childhood sounds very much like the one I had. When neighbours actually spoke to one another and helped each other out. Without expecting anything in return. I think people that live in a village, are always much more friendly, than people that are from a town. Even to a stranger that you might meet, whilst walking in the countryside, breathing in the nice fresh air.

  5. Gaynor Donnelly

    Posted 07/07/14 at 10:10 am  |  Permalink

    Thank you Steve for sharing these stories. I had heard about Bill on the fantastic Action Camp. How truly inspiring is that!!
    Please may I take this opportunity to sincerely thank Locality and every one else involved, for my wonderful experience of an Action Camp!!
    Everything and everyone was truly magical – i felt like a kid at disney :)
    Best Wishes

  6. Jenny Pepper

    Posted 04/01/15 at 12:06 pm  |  Permalink

    This story of Bill being rescued from the streets, is very inspiring, but they didn’t actually say how they managed it. Some old men are very ‘ grumpy ‘ and loathe to accept help from anyone. It’s nice to see that there are still people that are willing to help the older generation. Interaction between the generations can be a benefit to everyone. As it will help the older ones to stay in touch with society, and the younger ones will show respect to their elders, as well as learning from them. Just because you are ‘ old and wrinkly ‘ doesn’t mean you are of no use to society. As Bill’s story has proved.

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