Despite our love of formal training, much of the evidence suggests that learning happens between people and is best facilitated by peers. Creating a learning environment is key to all our work and, although never directly funded, our focus during our work in Newsham Park was to create an enabling network. This meant that we worked hard to foster relationships between different groups within the local community.
These differences in ethnicity, age, and socio-economic status were only reinforced by the ways in which funding was targeted at particular groups or particular problems. To overcome that, we deliberately sought to keep all activities open to everyone, not only on paper but in spirit. We also sought to create a safe psychological environment that enabled people to connect across perceived differences and find common ground between them.
The evidence of the success of this informal network can be found in the number of ongoing friendships between former participants and the extent to which the network-enabled people to share resources, help, experience and advice in ways that did not encourage dependency or foster shame.