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Learning Conversations: Visions for the Hilgrove Estate

by Anaghaa Wagh

It’s Hilgrove Day. All of us residents are gathered on a green space on a bright summer day. The space is adorned with balloons, streamers, and buntings. Everyone has brought food from their culture, representing the diversity of our estate. There are various activities organised for children and adults through which they are making acquaintance with their newfound neighbours, or even friends. You can hear the roaring laughter and feel the joy.

'Hilgrove Day’ was just one of the brilliant ideas that I came across while talking to Hilgrove residents. I’m Anaghaa, a fellow Hilgrover and your Community Organiser (CO). As my colleague Kaamila has mentioned in her blogs before, there was a lack of improvement initiatives on our estate and that’s what inspired me to become a CO. In this post I will take you through the research phase of the ‘Hilgrove Community Action’ initiative where Community Organisers are having learning conversations (intriguing eh?) with residents to understand their vision for the Hilgrove Estate.

What are ‘learning conversations’?

Hilgrove Community Action is a first of its kind improvement initiative on the Hilgrove Estate. It is roughly divided into four phases: introduction, research, manifesto and action.The introduction was done through our successful Humans of Hilgrove project (I thoroughly enjoyed this phase, more so because I got a chance to feature in the exhibit!).

After establishing a presence on the estate, comes the crucial phase of research to gain insights from Hilgrove residents. We are doing this through learning conversations: one to one interactions between Hilgrove residents and Community Organisers. On the surface these might seem like any other interview but the attitude of learning sans judgement with which we go about them, is what makes a difference. I found the learning conversations incredibly fascinating. The residents were such inspiring people- thriving despite having gone through the toughest times.

Given the lockdown restrictions, it was challenging to engage the residents as we couldn't interact with them in person. I’m, however, proud to say that through the network we gained through Humans of Hilgrove we have accomplished the goal of 50 such conversations!

Why do we want to have learning conversations with the residents?

The Hilgrove Community Action initiative is rooted in making the residents’ voices heard and working with them to make Hilgrove Estate a great place to live and grow up in. This meant a mere scripted ‘interview’ would be insufficient, the COs will have to interact with an attitude to learn from the residents- about their experience, skills (these are the assets of our community!) their needs and their vision for the estate.

I was surprised to know that the estate is full of artists: pianists, photographers, writers, theatre folks- you name it! Learning about the residents’ stories of struggle gave me courage and hope, which were particularly helpful in these uncertain times.

How did we do it?

Learning conversations are more than an open chat, we were looking to learn about the residents’ personal background, experiences as well as their vision for the estate. The data from these conversations needed to give us meaningful insights to decide on the next steps. So we created a framework of open-ended questions for these learning conversations and tweaked them based on the responses from the first couple of interactions to draw better outcomes.

I was quite frustrated when the lockdown was announced in November (for many reasons) which meant that we couldn't interact with the residents in person. We had to resort to Zoom and phone calls. I was so pleased to know that the residents were still willing to engage with us, despite the restrictions (and the ensuing frustrations). Our collective learning was that Zoom worked better than phone calls (of course! We could see each other, though it was through a screen).

Like Kaamila, I didn't think people facing tasks were quite my cup of tea; but these learning conversations have surprised me. I thought I might be awkward, maybe the residents won't feel at ease, maybe I wouldn't know how to keep the conversation flowing. But guess what? NONE of these things happened! I suppose I was subconsciously learning from my fellow COs who are great with people, so I thought to myself- they are just people- no, better- neighbours! You might have more things in common than you think, so just put your brave face on and go for it. The credit should also go to the residents who were great conversationalists.

What’s next?

The North Camden Zone Team, along with the COs, will analyse the data from all 50 learning conversations and establish trends, themes and lay out the insights (In fact, data analysis is next on my to-do list today). I’ve had a sneak peek into the data we’ve gathered and I’m so curious to delve deeper. Being a researcher, this part is particularly exciting for me.

Findings from this data analysis will feed into the Hilgrove Estate’s manifesto, which will be drafted this year. Stay tuned to learn more about this in our upcoming blogs.

For regular updates you can follow North Camden Zone on Twitter (@greatplaceNCZ) and Instagram (northcamdenzone), and 

The Hilgrove Estate TRA @hilgrove_tra on Instagram

Join the exclusive Facebook group Hilgrove Estate Community Group (NW London, UK) to connect and keep in touch with fellow Hilgrovers.

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