‘We can walk along the street and feel a change’: The Community Builder

We’re interviewing local activists who are leading by example. We start with Hannah Sloggett, who has revitalised an area of Plymouth through Nudge Community Builders, starting with a street party and going on to turn an empty pub into housing for single parents. Supported by Power to Change.

How did you get involved in this work? I started volunteering with my local residents’ group over 10 years ago because I was feeling quite lonely and wanted to meet people. We started a street party and it grew from there. My day job for 13 years had been Planning Manager at Plymouth City Council – so the two mixed up got me to where I am now.

Why did you set up Nudge? Wendy Hart and I founded Nudge in September 2017 after volunteering together for more than a decade. Every year people said, ‘Why don’t ‘they’ do something about these empty buildings?’ and we thought ‘Why don’t we do something?’. We quit our day jobs and just started doing it – it’s a rollercoaster, really hard sometimes, but there is so much love and joy we haven’t looked back.

What do you most like about your job? I love the buzz of making something different and exciting happen in my community and seeing people enjoy and benefit from that. I thrive on finding alternative creative ways of doing tricky things and finding more meaningful ways to make long-term investment in my community, and I love how Wendy and I work together and look after each other.

What are Nudge’s main aims? 25% of the land on Plymouth’s Union Street was standing empty, attracting antisocial behaviour and neglect and leaving our community feeling unsafe and forgotten. We bring empty buildings and spaces back into use in fun and interesting ways that create lasting local benefit. We listen to our community and make change happen together. This involves creating fun pop-up events and community activity along the street; a lot of complex work around why buildings are empty – and then actually renovating and running the buildings.

What renovation are you proudest of? The Clipper was a 24-hour pub that had been standing empty. Within 12 months, we raised £206,500 in community shares from 165 people, renovated and opened the building. Now it houses single parents who don’t have their children living with them permanently. This was a need identified by our community: these parents are often put in shared houses without a way to accommodate their children over night. We have enabled seven children to stay at the parent’s home who were not able to before.

We also have a thriving café started by two local people who were having a really tricky time. With our support they have registered as a CIC, started a Masters in Creative Entrepreneurship, and are expanding their offer and taking on extra staff.

Union Corner itself was initially a temporary space that has grown into a much-loved community resource. Around 500 people use the space each week for anything from free soup, time banking, workshops and alternative music.

What kind of impact has this had on the local community? We can walk along the street and see and feel a change; local people love what is happening and we are on track to do more. We spend over 70% of our money within a mile and support people to progress from volunteering to take steps to paid work, or to grow in other ways. For example, a volunteer who was just out of prison gradually built up activity with us that resulted in him going to University full time.

Over 3000 people attended our 10th Street Party last year. People say our activities bring hope, possibility, joy and colour to the street and to people who are really struggling with complex issues in their lives.

We also take a positive creative approach to exploring incredibly complex issues that hold our community back. For example, our new building The Plot includes a Health Tech space to spend time exploring why we are 34th worst in the IMD for health and what we could do to address that, in partnership with Plymouth University.

What are you most looking forward to about the Stronger Things conference? I’m interested in how policies and strategies can better support communities to do what is needed in their area, so I’m looking forward to hearing what other people are doing and sharing our experience.

What does Community Power mean to you? The feeling you can make a difference and that together you can actually make it happen.

Hannah will be speaking at our Stronger Things event on Thursday 12 March. Tickets are sold out, but you can add your name to the wait list here.

Thanks to Power to Change for supporting both the conference at the amazing work of Nudge and others.

Follow Hannah @camperbird

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