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Jul 14

More in common: learning & connecting with international community organisations

Learning, Policy

Mark Law MBE, the CEO of Barca-Leeds, tells us about the invaluable opportunities the IFS has given him through strong relationships with member organisations across the world, learning from IFS events and conferences, as well as some of the amazing programmes which have been formed through the IFS network.

Historically, Barca-Leeds was a member of Bassac and The Development Trusts Association (which merged to form Locality) and through our links with Bassac at the time we were encouraged by our chair Ian Owers to join the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers (IFS). Barca-Leeds had previously supported a number of international youth work exchanges and had involvement with other European networks including Correlation, a partnership of European organisations that focussed on vulnerable groups. When we joined, our original intentions were to ensure that we involved young people in all of our work relating to the IFS.

The first conference that we attended was in Helsinki. Our budget at the time was tight and fortunately, I had use of a distant relatives’ flat which saved on our accommodation costs. I was accompanied by our Senior Youth Worker and two young people and it immediately struck me how quickly the young people that were attending were able to network. They were far quicker and more effective than us adults at making links and I firmly believe that the importance of spending time together cannot be replicated through any other medium, including social media. At the conference, we also attended a number of inspiring international workshops – from focusing on street violence in Toronto, to learning about the history of Toynbee Hall and Bassac, through to user participation in Vienna, and many more. It became apparent quite quickly that many of the challenges that groups around the world face, were also very familiar to us, however, the solutions were much broader and the opportunity to learn from one another was immense. It also became clear on a social side that the IFS is fun and people enjoy each other’s company and have similar values and although we have different working practices, we have far more in common than we could ever imagine. 

Our second conference was at St Petersburg and once again this was a well-attended event with participants from North America and Europe. It was a great insight to Russian life and once again was an opportunity to learn from one another. From this conference, we developed an IFS junior leadership programme which turned out to be a huge success. Young participants from the UK, Europe and North America were able to gather and develop themes that were important to themselves and I know the bonds of friendships continue to live on. Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending Flavia Furtos’s wedding in Oradea.  Flavia was a young person that was pivotal to Romania’s involvement in the IFS and continues to participate on a regular basis with participants from the leadership programme. The young people who participated from Barca-Leeds on this programme still reflect on their experiences as adults bringing up children and pursuing successful careers. The learning has enabled us to take different perspectives and provide us with new opportunities to develop work with our partner organisations across the world.

In many respects, the IFS feels like an international extension of the work that Locality currently does. I am very excited about the prospect of Locality hosting a European office and in particular, all the locality members being able to access the benefits and the network of the IFS. My observation of the IFS committees is that reaching any decision is complex and requires a high level of skill and diplomacy to reach formal decisions. I think Locality has the breadth and skill to undertake this challenge and will add considerable value to the European network.  This is particularly important in the current context of Brexit and the potential erosion of our links with Europe and more importantly young people’s access to international projects.

In October, I had the pleasure of visiting Renate Wilkening at ufafabrik, Berlin. Renate and her organisation have headed up the European office for the past few years and she was particularly excited about Locality taking over the European office, especially in the light of Brexit. She felt that this sent a strong message to Europe and the UK about how the IFS values the UK’s input into Europe irrespective of the political context.

IFS has a good history of attending the Locality’s Annual Convention and I am looking forward to welcoming the IFS again this year in November and joining the Local Action, Global Movement workshop, which will have IFS speakers from across Europe. This will give members an opportunity to meet and hear about the communities across the world.

Read more about Locality becoming the new hosts of the International Federation of Settlements European Office here.

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