Zena Sherman tells us why she wanted to become a community researcher. She has lived in the north of Southwark for 16 years and has worked in mental health, substance misuse and with disabled adults.
Why Were You Interested in Volunteering?
Zena first took the plunge after hearing rumours that the block of flats she lived in was going to be redeveloped. A small flyer on a notice board led her to attend a meeting with her neighbours and local councillor – some of whom she hadn’t even spoken to before.
She was then inspired to join the Bankside Residents Forum and the rest is history. Her views on the transformation of the north of the borough will resonate with many.
She said: “A lot of people feel bewildered at the pace of change – especially those who have lived in the borough for a long time. They simply don’t feel connected to the change that is taking place – mainly down to the fact that they feel like they haven’t had a say in any of it.”
So why did you become a community researcher?
“One of the main reasons was that I simply wanted to know more about my community. This was a great opportunity to speak to the diverse people who play different roles in the community. I also wanted to give back to the community and give it a voice.
“People’s opinions on where they live and what is happening to them are important and I hope that I’ve at least empowered some of them to try and affect positive change in the Cathedral ward.”
What did you gain from being a volunteer community researcher?
To date Zena has undertaken nearly 40 interviews with various people from her community. These range from local shopkeepers to residents and councillors.
Reflecting on these she said: “Before I started interviewing people I did not know how important it is to have a sense of belonging where you live. I now have a real insight into what the community thinks about the area and I’ve made new friends.”
In terms of personal development, the experience had a real impact. Zena said: “Volunteering as a community researcher has opened my eyes to a career as a community developer.
“Interviewing complete strangers has also really helped me with my interpersonal skills and given me the confidence to speak publicly. “
Ultimately Zena has gained a newfound respect for everyone who makes a community thrive – from the police, members of Tenants and Residents Associations, and the various voluntary organisations that make the north of the borough thrive.
“I didn’t have a reason to connect before I felt like the place I lived in was under threat.
“Now I can walk into a local shop, or around the estate, and people know my name and I know theirs.”
How many of us can say that?