What Is Community Work?
Through this essay I will try to create a greater understanding of the term ‘community work’. I will begin with a short summary from two studies which help define the term on a broad basis. I will follow this by an explanation of the various approaches which can be used in community work. I will highlight the importance the community and voluntary sector have in social partnership in Ireland today. I will also discuss how funding, or a lack of it, impacts on essential services. Whether or not volunteers are an essential part of community work. I will also discuss the possible consequence of losing some of these organisations as a result of cuts in funding. Finally by looking at the work of ‘Community Platform’ I will show how, through a shared vision they hope to create a better Ireland through their work in the community.
To understand what community work is it is first necessary to understand the various definitions of community. While this may seem apparent initially, upon closer inspection one will discover that there is no clear consensus. What we do know is that as Hillery, a sociologist working in the 1950s pointed out, all 94 definitions of community referred to people (Mayo 1994). Varley (1988) defines these more concisely into three categories.
Communities defined in purely special or geographical term.
Communities defined as relationships that occur within a specific locality.
Communities defined as relationships which may occur within or transcend conventional geographical boundaries.
Working within these categories community workers seek to empower individuals and groups of people by providing them with the skills they need to effect change in their own communities. We will look at detailed examples of this later.
I will first explain my understanding of the five main strands or approaches identified by David A Thomas (1993) in his study of community work in the early 1980s:
Community Action: this requires people from a community to come together, recognising the problems that their community faces and taking action to reduce these problems. This approach can have a range of benefits. It helps those individuals involved to develop skills and claim ownership of the outcome. An example of this is when residents come together to campaign for speed bumps or lower speed limits in the area.
Community Development: this requires people coming together to develop a range of practices to help improve local conditions, especially for people in disadvantaged situations. It helps people to participate in public decision making and thus achieve greater control of their circumstances. An example of this is when residents turn an area that was once used for anti-social behaviour into a playground for children. This creates a safer environment for local people. Social Planning: this is a process that is carried out through identifying strengths and weaknesses in a community. This is done by designing and implementing programmes, which help to improve the quality of life in that community. It usually involves the action of a political, legal, or recognized voluntary body. An example of this is when an area is identified as having a very large increase in children. This information is acted on and a new school is built in the area.
Community Organisation involves various community or welfare agencies working with or without the involvement of statutory authorities, supporting joint initiatives. An example of this is when organisations connect through managing, sponsoring and improving the work of various bodies. This may be carried out at a local, regional or national level.
Community Care primarily focuses on the area of healthcare for the disabled, the elderly and the very young. It is a model that encourages members of the community to be active participants in helping themselves. In some cases community care may use professionals in conjunction with volunteers. In...
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