A Community Natter in Townstal bought people together to share goodness and identify issues facing the town. C2’s Lee Morgan joined in the productive, fun, engagement that inspired action

Plates span in circus skills, burgers sizzled in the kitchen and in the hall, around tables and in corridors there was hushed conversation as people wrote on sticky notes. It’s fair to say the place was packed.

“You hear that,” said Charlotte from Live South West, “that’s trust.”

Natter buzzed

The natter buzzed in and out as people went to the front of the room to post their sticky notes under two categories.

Clive from Devon Public Health, had stood in front of them on his day off and asked if the citizens of Townstal would write down three things about the town they liked. After a while he’d followed it up with the request for people to write down what things could improve the town.

It’s a simple enough request, and usually something that people would talk eloquently about given half the chance. But it’s something that services and other organisations find a) hard to uncover and b) difficult to act on.

The event – ‘a community natter’ – took place in Dartmouth Baptist Church. It was a Saturday. To tempt the community in, and to offer engagement for youngsters and space for the oldersters, there was a circus skills area. That was next to tables covered with drawing and colouring materials.

Years in the making

Of course, that’s not the only way to tempt people to take part in the improvement of their town. This had been years in the making and is part of a process Dawn Shepherd and Dartmouth Community Chest had been engaged in. They run a community cafe in Dartmouth, have been supporting the community of Dartmouth and Townstal with food, warmth and, possibly the most valuable, information, kindness and connection. The work that took place during the Lockdowns galavanized the community even more to provide relief, support and friendship in those difficult times.

To introduce the sticky note part of the day, Clive said: “Our mission in Public Health is to go into communities, hear about those communities and bring change. And it takes you working together.”

Working together

He added that there is always funding available. “The money will come,” he said. “The power is within the people.” Services are overwhelmed and it’s within communities to lead.

“Your voice needs to be heard by those who make the decisions,” he said.

As the ideas of what’s good and what’s needed was collated, people mingled. Dawn, who’s also a Town Councillor, shared the burgers and hot dogs from The Naked Burger, a catering company whose owner lives within sniffing distance. Families ate and talked with Charlotte from Live West housing, or Graham from TQ6, or Clive from Public Health, or Susanne from C2. Or Rachelle Underwood from South Hams District Council.

Or Mike from Dart Valley Bush Craft School. He’s from back-along in Townstal. His enthusiasm for sharing the knowledge and enjoyment the outdoors had given him was tinglingly. The Community Interest Company that he’s part of aims to share those opportunities. He relishes breaking down the skills of survival, or tracking, or foraging. Imagination in the outdoors is the limit, he said, and it’s open to all.

Buzzy, skilled, knowlegeable

That buzzy, skilled, knowlegeable engagement fed through the rooms.

“What did you say was good about the area,” I asked the person sitting next to me.

“The community,” she said. “And Dawn.”

Burgers, hot dogs, cakes and soft fruit eaten, tea drunk, games played and conversations ongoing, the Community Natter faded to the streets.

As people left to carry on with the rest of their weekend, they were asked to rate the themes they had identified as need for improvement. The results will be shared soon. But what we can reveal, in these times or rising prices and the expense of energy, cost of living was not mentioned once. It seems surprising given the obvious challenge of inflation. To find out why you’d have to have a deep and honest conversation. For that you’d need to be present, have built the trust, and earned the privilege to listen.