July 11th 2012
Community action plan man returns
He was on Magnetic Island in 2001 when, amid a period of high tension over the Nelly Bay Harbour development, Peter Kenyon arrived to help build a community and business development action plan. Armed with pithy insights and endless examples of small but enduring local success stories, he surveyed and listened to everybody and every organisation he could meet with; to learn about our strengths, weaknesses, hopes, passions and much more. From this he worked with us to distill a direction we might all embrace. For a community it was like having a personal trainer to analyse our fitness and flexibility levels and recommend new and hopefully successful ways we could engage with the future and with eachother. So, after more than a decade, Peter is back to work with us again.
Having already attended a MI Community Development Association barbeque the night before, we found Peter at the Horseshoe Bay foreshore market, standing beside a notice board headed: “What do I care most about re Maggie? With MI Community Development Association President, Lorna Hempstead, Peter was asking as many locals as were passing to allocate six stickers against the noted issues of importance hand written on the list. It was a good conversation starter with a man whose work is built around good conversations.
The "What do I care most about re Maggie?" list with stickers
Our conversation began with the obvious comparison: 2001 and now? One of the more heavily stickered issues on the board was “Being an inclusive/connected community”. And, while it’s something we might still yearn for, Peter thinks the biggest changes he’s seen are in attitude and mindset. “Back then there was conflict across friends and families, for and against the harbour, (which was still under construction)”. He thinks much of that has passed with those opposed seeing it as something little more can be done about and many former supporters now also disappointed with the outcome. Despite that time he thinks that now there is more of a sense of a united community.
One local had approached Peter exclaiming, “I’m no greenie, but...” and, as Peter puts it, went on to highlight a range of issues one might easily place in a “green” basket. One included “retaining Magnetic’s village character” another, strongly sticker-supported, attribute from the list. It seems that for many issues there may be more agreement than we might expect. Some issues divide communities, it seems, by the way in which they are communicated and how people see themselves socially and culturally.
“Business life is struggling across the country but the economy across the Island is a concern.” Peter calls it the “Bali appeal” that drawing thousands of Aussie dollar carrying, potential Magnetic holiday makers to more exotic shores. It’s not news to local business people but his focus returns to, “what else can we do to build upon the Island’s competitive tourist assets?”
Things we find that work are more likely to be community-created attractions.” Peter, who may need some updating, rates the village-feel of the RSL’s Friday night markets and what used to be the walk-in movies at the Sport and Rec Club as, “not just good for locals but good for visitors too”. Sadly one of these is no more and the other is in decline for reasons which don’t diminish his notion. Better examples may well be Vern Jack’s Toad Races, Magnetic Island Musos Club and the most recent, major community-building success story, the Magnetic Island Men’s Shed.
So if building our community’s prized, self-generated, activities and attractions also benefits the economy - but, if those attractions are understaffed and reliant on a passing generation of near burnt-out, volunteers, then reversing the decline of community participation looks like a linchpin for much more. On this Peter Kenyon has some interesting examples to share.
He tells of a Canadian survey which discovered that if someone asked you to do something you were interested in then there would be a 90% uptake. “How well do we know what people (in the community) know(?)” he asks.
He cites another example of a school P&C struggling with just 5% of the parents actively involved. “Parents these days are half as likely to be involved in their P&C as 5 years ago,” he claims, but then adds that at this school they raised the parent participation rate from 5% to 85% in just 12 months! How? They put a list together of all the things that needed doing into a fact sheet. They then personally rang each P&C member asking that they contribute, “just 1 thing!” After two weeks 55% chose and half of them chose 2 tasks. The 45% remaining were contacted again and this time the doer’s list jumped to 75%. Then, the remaining 25% were recontacted and 10% of these did something! Peter sees great benefit in personal contact and keeping the task singular.
Commuting is however, according to Peter, damaging for community involvement. “10% of commuting time equals 10% less community time. “Two hours commuting each day leads to pretty low involvement”. One wonders however if this rule would apply to Magnetic Island where commuters can well benefit from the daily time spent together on a ferry. Think of all the social events conceived on the 5.20pm ride home.
He went on to flag another sort of problem exemplified in harsh reality in Murray Town, South Australia, where “all the shops and even the pub had now closed”. Peter attended a supper there and, “everything was negative”. One man sadly exclaimed, “Three years ago we had a table tennis club.” Ten minutes later Peter meets another resident who was a table tennis champ and willing to get involved. He told Peter simply, “No one has ever asked me to do something!” Mapping community skills and assets is a vital ingredient and Peter expands on “How well do we know what we know” to say, rather challengingly, “All we need is local”.
The conversation shifts to a weakness often voiced about Magnetic Island: the lack of interesting places and activities for youth. With the obvious exception of the Solar Cities Skate Park, our recent story on the need to save the Sea Cadets underlines the need. Peter suggests a youth club and describes a parent who say’s her daughter doesn’t feel part of the Island. She has no friends here and if she doesn’t feel part of the Island it’s going to affect the parents and whether they will stay.
Just how others perceive the attraction of voluntary community tasks is another factor. “There is the martyr syndrome when the same old faces complain that nobody is doing anything else.” But in a Seattle neighbourhood Peter came across, they say, “Never organise a meeting when you can organise a party!”.
“Just do things around food,” he says, adding a little mantra, “Discover, connect, act and celebrate!”
Peter is on Magnetic this week with his daughter Ali and, this afternoon, from 4.15pm (off the school ferry) there will be a free pizza party at Pizza Tonight (next to the Nelly Bay Foodworks) for local high school students and their parents if they also want to attend, to meet and talk with Peter about their ideas for Magnetic Island.
Lorna Hempstead expects Peter’s report to be finalised by late September or early October.
Peter has an excellent website full of resources and inspirational ideas for communities to draw from and we highly recommend a look. (Click here)
Story and photos: George Hirst
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