Go Deep is an award-winning approach to community building that’s played like a game. It brings together community members to learn skills, dream, develop talents, discover their leadership, network and make concrete changes.
Footdee (known locally as Fittie), a harbourside community in Aberdeen, was invited by North East Climate Action Network to host Go Deep, all funded through the North East Just Transition project.
A team of Go Deep practitioners led by Pat Black and Mark Traynor took up residence in the Fittie Community Hall for two and half days, during which time the invitation was open to all to join in for however long they could or wanted to – from an hour to a day or to dip in and out over the two and half days. Everyone was invited for whatever time they had because everyone is needed for their unique abilities, skills and talents to make Go Deep work.
In this blog Story Weaver Lesley Anne Rose reflects on what happened.
Setting the Scene
Fittie was invited to host Go Deep for a number of reasons. Firstly, the infrastructure of a Community Trust and hall was in place. In addition, Fittie had been involved in another project aimed at bringing the community owned hall back to life after it had to shut for a period of time due to covid restrictions. This project was also tasked with re-building community connections post covid. Although for a ‘tight’ community like Fittie these connections hadn’t been damaged too much by lockdown.
The intention was also laid at the start that Go Deep wasn’t taking place only for residents of Fittie. Torry is Aberdeen’s other harbourside community. Sitting on the south banks of the river Dee, Torry is an area high on the Scottish Index of Social Depravation. Despite a shared history and heritage, Fittie and Torry can sometimes rub uncomfortable shoulders as Torry watched its former fishing community be demolished in the 1970s to make way for infrastructure for the oil and gas industry, while Fittie survived. It felt important to reach out across the harbour through Go Deep.
A staff member from Grampian Regional Equality Council (GREC) was also invited in recognition of Aberdeen’s long history of people arriving and departing to and from the city, a history joined at the hip with Aberdeen Harbour. Staff members from NESCAN also dropped in over the course of the two and half days.
The final reason Fittie was a good fit for Go Deep is that the community hall (owned by residents via a Community Asset Transfer) was at a moment of transition, with a large scale renovation completed and questions around how it could best serve the community being raised.
Go Deep starts for a community long before the game itself takes place. It begins, weeks if not months, in advance with practitioners spending time getting to know residents and residents getting to know them, building the foundations of connection and familiarity long before activities begin. In Fittie this involved Pat and Mark joining sessions of the community choir, attending film nights in the community hall and being part of meetings, events and blethers all of which was essential getting to know each other time and paved the way for them bringing Go Deep to the community.
Go Deep is a game of many parts or lines as they are called, which include: Creativity, Diversity, Vision, Power, Feelings, Together and Resilience. Each line consists of different activities which explore the theme it represents and there is no order to how they are played. What happens, and in what order, is led by those who take part. Over the early stages of Go Deep in Fittie participants played games that involved working together and building trust. We made a list of our talents: organising, baking, gardening, knitting, painting. And a list of words to describe the community hall: welcoming, social, heart and soul, support, peace, cup of tea, faith. A third list of things that are special about the community: the attraction of a ‘defined’ community, the importance of feeling settled and ‘part of’, the architecture and how it creates a space without cars and a sense of belonging, the sea, surfing and dolphins.
We then moved onto what we were learning: that some people are more connected than others, people are really creative, the community (both Fittie and Torry) have a long history connected with the harbour which is a ‘living story’ and concerns that bits of this story are getting lost, the need to tell that story and to create a community archive.
We began to articulate what that ‘living story’ so far with a recognition that all voices are valid – from those whose families have lived in Fittie for generations to those who have recently moved into the community.
The story so far….
There’s a shared sense of ownership from the whole community and a warm sense of welcome to those from outside.
It’s strong in its sense of history and identity and wants to be generous with how unique and healing this space is.
For residents walking into Fittie is like a virtual hug. People stop and feel it and know they are ok.
A special place in the middle of the oil industry.
The story we’d like to create
The most exciting part of Go Deep is when we started to write the story of the future the community would like to see, for itself, the community hall and its wider connection with Torry. Firstly, for a year and then visioning for three years, with actions on the steps that need to be made to turn vision into reality. As well as how to turn challenges into opportunities.
We looked forward a year to the hall being a thriving community hub, the events that were put on, the team involved and how to connect with people further afield. We all agreed it should be care for the environment should be central to running building.
Conversation opened up to the wider community, the desire for closer access to healthcare, but stronger still the recognition that there could be an energy between Fittie and Torry working together. That the connections between the two communities were strong, but had been impacted by the significant changes the oil and gas industry had bought to Aberdeen Harbour and the disconnection between the two communities and their shared heritage this had bought.
The story that emerged for both the short and the longer term focused on care, wellbeing and teamwork at the heart of community life and connections. Of the need to know the story of the past, whether you’ve lived in a place for generations or recently moved to it. And from this place make connections in the present and hold space for visioning and actions for the future.
Over the course of the two and half days some people dropped in to see what was happening while others committed to longer. At the end the Go Deep team leave the community with everything created by participants over the course of the game including all of the lists made, pictures drawn and stories written. If Go Deep has been successful it also leaves behind a strong sense of community spirit and incentive to work together. It’s then up to those who took part and the wider community to take forward and build on the energy and resources created.
Go Deep can only take place with energy and organisation from within the community. More importantly this energy and organization, as well as some kind of infrastructure in the form of a group and shared space, is needed to carry on the momentum of the game and put actions and plans in place to turn visions into reality. Through this community spirt can be channeled to make real change happen. If communities are empowered to make change, and if Go Deep in Fittie is anything to go by, they put wellbeing at heart of decisions that impact their lives and the places they call home. They want ownership of, and voice within, the ‘living story’ of their community, how it connects with others and the story of the future they would like to create.