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Community Heroes – What if?

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Community Heroes – What if?

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Communities and also in Housing

paragon community heroes paragon community heroes

By Hannah Elford, design & communications manager, Paragon Community Housing Group

The Paragon Community Hero Awards really started with the open ended question ‘What if…?’

All resident involvement teams are the eyes and ears of our local communities. Relatively speaking, they only work closely with a proportion of residents who want to get involved, but along the way they can forge lasting relationships with some truly remarkable people.

As an organisation we’re already proud that some of our residents have become remarkable people, because of how Paragon has been able to invest and engage with them, so they could achieve their own personal goals as well as enriching the lives of others.

These people are our perfect champions; we believed they could help everyone understand what it is to get involved and why it’s important, in an honest and believable way. Not just involved with the organisation, but with life, with community, and neighbourhood spirit. All those terms we band around.

Sounded great! Somehow, we were still missing a trick. And then the ‘what if…’ dawned during a conversation between Resident Involvement and our Resident Scrutiny team. What if our involved residents weren’t the only ones with special stories? What if there were other people we didn’t know about living right under our roofs who were also true heroes? What if we could find them? We could tell other people their stories, celebrate their success, and show them that we recognise their efforts and that we’re grateful to them for improving our local communities and the lives of others.

Our brightly coloured flyers were a calling, clearly marked ‘I need a hero’. A quest began. Everybody loves a quest, and our residents were no exception.

We launched our first Community Heroes quest late in 2012, asking residents to nominate people they knew in 3 different categories: good neighbour, community champion and inspirational young person. The nominations came streaming in.

We decided that filming people’s stories was the only way we’d be able to truly understand and communicate the effect that our heroes had on those around them. It also fitted into the ‘Award Ceremony’ format perfectly. Board members and resident group chairs were asked to help judge. We had our runners up, we had our winners.

Now, to set the stage for 19 March 2013. Our in-house design & communications team worked closely with the resident involvement team to deliver a very simple show stopper event. Great venue, tables, lights, camera, action. Conversation, canapés, table treats. Inspiring board member compere-check!  Big screen, incredible films, flowers, certificates.  Heroes, friends of heroes and those who nominated heroes. Stakeholders, executive team, board members. Staging and loud music.

We did forget the tissues. Throughout the film you could see that everyone was moved at the simple acts of everyday human kindness. A natural instinct to do better, to be better, and how that had made such an impact on other peoples’ lives.

We shared the success of the awards back at the office, there was a great buzz of positivity, however there was also something amiss. Staff were able to watch the film, but the atmosphere from the awards ceremony and the true celebration that had made it so magic had passed. It was a report about something that had happened. 

So what did we do differently this spring? We went back to the open ended question ‘what if’. What if frontline staff could choose to go to the event? What if we challenged each staff member to really get chatting with residents they were sat with to double ‘the buzz’ of the event, help create the razzmatazz? What if we invited partners and stakeholders who like to invest in people, like we do?

The awards this year followed a similar format. No great changes, but the little tweaks saw marked improvements.  We made a series of short films rather than one extended film which concentrated on the winners’ journey and helped add interest to the ceremony. It sounds ridiculous, but a lot of work went into the table plan ‘who’s who’.

We also created a new award, for a community champion, someone recognised for their achievements, whether they’re a Paragon resident or not. Paragon had also worked in great partnership with the winners, who are just about to open a community café supported and funded by Paragon. Another fantastic outcome!

The community benefits were obvious, and the benefits for our organisation as a result of launching the Community Hero Awards were also tangible. Local councillors have been proud that these unknown heroes exist, and have seen the outcomes of our ‘sometimes invisible’ efforts at a personal level, beyond the roof over people’s heads. Staff have felt included, got a better understanding of the Resident Involvement team’s work, and realised they need to be true ambassadors of the Paragon brand at events. We all have a part to play.

We are so often transactional with the people we work with. Be it colleague, resident, partner or stakeholder. It was cathartic for all parties to see each other in a new light.

The last question is a new one. The event has seen 2 successful years of heroes. What if we can’t find new heroes for our next awards ceremony? Maybe there is a challenge for Paragon to find a new innovative way to seek, celebrate and capture community spirit.

The sense you get from watching the short films is that we often never have the opportunity to hear the affect that both people and organisations can have on each others’ lives. The films show what happens when their worlds collide.

2014 Inspirational Young Person –Dan Knight

“I used to be shy, but now I can speak freely in large groups, and I think I can transfer that to meeting new people at work.”

2013 Inspirational Young Person – Conor Wisson
“I’ve seen what happened to my brother and the path he’s taken, and I just want to turn my life around.”

2014 Community Hero – Joan Swift
“To be nominated for this award is amazing, because a year ago, I didn’t think that I could do anything.”

2014 Community Champion – Sheila Patrick
“I was surprised to be nominated, and really humbled to think that people thought the work we do is of such value.”

See more videos here: https://www.paragonchg.co.uk/publications/get-involved-at-paragon

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