My father kept an old family Bible in his wardrobe. This wasn’t kept for religious observance but because it contained information about our forbears and a family tree. He would, on occasions, open the Bible, show me the family tree and tell stories about our ancestors.

I heard how they were “free” settlers, definitely not convicts. They came to Australia from Northern England as indentured servants and worked for a period of time as shepherds in Braidwood before settling in Goulburn. They were some of the first residents of the town. There was employment at the Old Brewery before deciding to branch out. According to dad’s telling of the story. They, in their colonial arrogance, ignored the advice of the local Aboriginal people not to build on the Mulwaree Ponds as the area flooded. They built their own brewery and were flooded out, going bankrupt at the same time. They used their initiative and established wells on the site, selling water to the local community. A hardy bunch, survivors.

There was the story of my great, great grandfather who was murdered by bushrangers at Collector, stories of my grandmother moving house to “skip” paying the rent when she couldn’t afford it during the Great Depression; dad “wagging” school; playing snooker and boxing as a young man. The only stories he told about his time in the army were humorous tales – nothing about the horror he saw.

Then it was my turn to store tales. The times mum and dad let a neighbour stay in our house when her partner returned from the hotel drunk and abusive, times when my parents had friends come around for card nights and one of then doing tricks with cigarette smoke. Learning my paternal grandmother ran a gambling den (cards) every Thursday night and was occasionally raided by the police. How my father put his war experience aside and was welcoming to Mrs Huggett (who was Japanese) and grew a good friendship with our neighbours who were the first Vietnamese family to move to town. How my father fought with COuncil to have the road near the water wells renamed Blackshaw Road. Going swimming in the local river at the Rock and the Weir. Then I could drive a car. I became mobile. Driving out of town to go swimming with friends, parties at the Old Mill out of town, playing in a band. Moving out of home, living with my grandmother before shared houses around town.

It’s been two decades since I left Goulburn but these stories of my ancestors and my youth live on within me. They connect me to Goulburn. In some ways it is still home, where I come from. My past is there. Who I have become is mixed up with these stories. They continue to connect me with my family and friends. I still keep in touch with friends from my youth, maybe not as much as I’d like but still in contact.

Our stories connect us to place and to others. They are part of who we are and tell us all about the places where the stories come from. They are one of the important assets we include when talking about Assets Based Community Development. Without including them we are missing a rich descriptor of a place and how it came to be. We are missing the growing and changing culture of a place. We are missing something important that connects us to each other and to place.

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Working with your Council...Some tips from a Former Insider


Local Councils can be confusing. They can cover a broad range of work in the community from roads, waste, water, parks, halls, facilities, amenities, parking, development assessments, strategic planning, community services and/or development, disaster response. The list is endless and varies from council to council. They are really cover as many, if not more, functions of state or federal government but are smaller and more compact. Each section/group of a council, although working under the one roof, will appear quite separate or “siloed” from one another. There will be a mile of red tape to work through. Added to this are the complexities of local politicians (councillors) working in close proximity, but separate, from the staff of Council. No other level of government has a situation like this which creates an additional problem of ensuring the political wing of the organisation does not unnecessarily interfere with the administrative functions of the organisation or place undue pressure on staff. This creates even more red tape. No wonder things seem to take so long to get done.

At times I’ve described the complexity and “siloed” approach of local government like the “Flying High” (Airplane) experience. This refers to a comedy film where a plane needs to be guided back to the airport by a passenger. The air traffic controller is heavily stressed and medicated “I took a bad day to give up pills”. When he is approached by someone suggesting to put the lights on the runway his response was “That would only make it too easy for them”. It can seem a little like this.

It is complex enough for those working in a council let alone those who approach council for assistance. I’ve often told new workers that it will take at least a year for them to be able to easily navigate the organisation.

I have 16 years’ experience in local government in NSW and Queensland. Following are some tips to help you find your experience of approaching your local council a little easier. I trust this is helpful.

Do your research

By this I mean be prepared before approaching your council. Be prepared to discuss your issues, suggestions or requests. Be informed but above all try and make sure you are approaching your council with something that is in their jurisdiction. Federal, State and Local government have different responsibilities. For example, In Australia schools, are not the responsibility of local government. They are a state government responsibility. Direct your enquiry to the more appropriate level of government.

Find the right person to talk to

Most council staff will try and be helpful and will, if needs be, redirect you to the correct section or person to talk to. Remember, the organisation may be complex with a high number of functions. Different sections and staff will be responsible for different work. Make it easier and save yourself time by narrowing down who your request is for. Someone from community services won’t be able to help with your question about rent or with development concerns but will be able to direct you to the best person to talk to.

It’s about relationships and connections

Working with your council is no different from working with your own community, others in your workplace or street. It is about making connections and building relationships. It is about building social capital with council. Once you’ve found a person in the right area to help you build the connection – just as you would build any social connection. This takes time but is worth the work. Building connections with people who are willing to work with you, to assist you can make it easier for you and for them. Building these relationships may also mean that some unnecessary barriers are removed or that the staff member will “walk you through” some of the more difficult areas of red tape or policy restrictions.

If the matter you are discussing requires more expertise or a decision from a higher-ranking officer the staff member you’ve built a connection with will probably refer you to another officer who has greater discretionary powers and be in a position to make a decision on complex matters. This gives you an opportunity to connect and build a relationship with another person. Take that opportunity.

Don’t forget the elected representatives – Councillors. They are there to work with you. Get to know them. Keep them in the loop of what you are trying to achieve. They are great contacts and often open to new and different ideas.

Pick Your Battles

Be strategic in what you are wanting to achieve. I’ve seen so many reasonable requests go “belly up” due to discussions getting out of hand and held up on small matters. Use your negotiation skills to keep discussions on track. Try not to get unnecessarily aggressive in your conversations. This is the best way for barriers to be placed in your path and is even more important when dealing with issues that are subject to a number of different policy areas or the result of legislative conditions.


After you have had a discussion with a staff member follow it up with an email summarising the discussion and what was decided. This is important in two ways: it is a polite way of doing business and it creates a documentary trail. Council staff need to often formally record actions and an email is an easy way for both you and the staff member to retain a record of what was discussed.

Use other democratic processes

By this I mean letters to council, letters to the Mayor or councillors, attend council meetings where issues relating to your matter will be discussed, create petitions, write to the local media. These are all good tools and when used strategically can help get the result you are aiming for.

This blog originally appeared at

Local Government and Community Building

By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-10-01


 Local Government is the level of government closest to the community. From this it would be expected that one of the important functions of Local Government would be in creating and building community. But is this the case?

Some Quick History

In Australia there are three tiers of government: Federal, State and Local. Of the three local is the only one not included in the Australian Constitution. There have been two attempts to rectify this via referendum. Both of these attempts have been unsuccessful. The current situation is that local governments exist at the whim and discretion of state governments. This is controlled through various legislative tools, the most important being the local government acts controlled by state government.

Local government grew out of the need to control and plan infrastructure such as roads, water, footpaths, developments, waste management, planning. Its basis is in the physical infrastructure. Other roles were added as the need arose or as state and federal governments passed responsibility to local government. This resulted in local councils being involved in child care, aged care, housing projects and community development. As the non government service sector has developed and legislative requirements or other guidelines have become more complex many councils have withdrawn from some of these areas of service such as child care.

Legislatively requirements to provide for social responsibilities has changed in some jurisdictions. Ten years ago it was a requirement for Councils in Queensland to produce a Community Development Strategy. This is no longer a requirement. Although the Queensland Local Government Act is under review there is no intention to reinstate a planning requirement for such a strategy or an intention to refer to social justice principles. Similarly, NSW had a requirement for Councils to produce Social/Community Plans. This requirement was removed some years ago and replaced with an Integrated Planning and Reporting requirement. This includes a Community Strategic Plan. The NSW Local Government Act makes reference to social justice principles.

Most councils however, retain Community Development/Service units. These staff work with service providers and community members. The degree of involvement or grassroots work is determined by how traditional or progressive each council is.

The Argument for Increased Community Building Actions from Councils

Just as councils plan and build the physical infrastructure that results in our towns, villages, suburbs and cities it is equally important for communities to be also planned and built. It is fine having parks, gardens and concrete infrastructure but it is also important to have strong, vibrant, safe and diverse communities to use these places. This community building should always be asset/strengths based from the grassroots up. It needs to be a participative process with members of the community having a strong voice.

Every Council already have a presence with libraries, arts facilities, and entertainment venues. They already have a stake in important community infrastructure likewise they need to have a stake in ensuring that community is created to use these facilities.

Community building would save money. As communities develop, become connected and gain a voice they will also demand a role in caring for their neighbourhood or suburb. This has the potential to save councils financially in the maintenance of parks and gardens; a community with a voice will also report damage or vandalism quickly to authorities so that it can be repaired quickly. This means the asset will not deteriorate further.

A strong community will no longer be a passive population expecting others to do what they can do for themselves. Since midway through the 20th century communities have been trained that they have no power and that everything must be done for them. But a connected community working from their own asset base can do so much from creating a safe place to maintenance and repair or even creation of valuable assets.

All these actions have the potential to save councils and rate payers.

How can we make this happen?

Councils are bureaucracies. They operate from a top down process. Decisions are made from above and followed through by staff below. Actions and projects are usually planned in linear fashion with important benchmark points observed. However, community building operates quite differently from a bureaucracy. They operate from a bottom up, grassroots approach. This is rarely linear in nature but is more like a helix ie discuss, plan, act, and review. Almost circular but not as the review phase will mean changes. For councils this will mean that requests and actions will appear to come from left field.

To counter this communities need to be vocal and use processes already available for this voice to be heard and acted upon. This may mean letters to the council, representations to councillors, petitions, letters to media, attend any consultation the council makes available, make comments on social media, and attend council meetings when necessary. Often if one person speaks up it will be seen to be the voice of the minority but when more speak up and communities make joint representations their voice will begin to be heard.

Citizens not customers or clients

Councils are elected through a democratic process. But our democratic rights and responsibilities do not end every four years at the ballot box. They are ongoing. Like many areas of government councils have adopted the language of the corporate sector and we cease from being citizens but customers, clients or consumers. Neither of these terms are accurate or adequate. Councils are not like retail outlets. We don’t have a choice over using their services and don’t have a bargaining power with them. The language is important and needs to change. Being a citizen implies participation in the democratic process, not just a passive relationship of business and consumer. If communities used their combined voice and called for participative decision making processes, real engagement and demanded local government become involved in the lives of communities then perhaps some positive community building could occur.

This blog originally appeared at

Social Connection. It's That Simple

By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-09-01

Over lunch today I had one of the local commercial radio stations on in the background. At one point they were promoting a Volunteer Expo happening at the weekend. The radio announcer summed it up as “It’s really all about social connection”. And she was right.

My approach to Community Development or Community Building is based on some very simple principles. One of the primary principles is that building a coomunity or creating a great place to be is all about the social connections we make. It is really that simple.

The problem is that most of us seem to have forgotten how to make these connections. We leave early and communte to work. at work we socialise with those around us. After work we drive home. Once home on goes the television and we remain indoors only connecting with the immediate household. We might go to a social event during the week or weekend but many of us don’t even know our neighbours.

We’ve lost those places where we used to bump into others such as corner stores. Most of these are gone. The majority of us probably do our weekly shopping at a supermarket some kilometres away from home.

In many places, membership of community organisations is in decline with the exception of retirees who continue to volunteer. Most of us have fewer people over for dinner, BBQs and drinks than in previous generations.

If you go for a walk or arun most people don’t greet you. It can really surprise some when you do greet them.

I wonder if we’ve lost the art and ability to connect, except through social media.

But if we want to build a good place to live, a good community we need to connect with others and build relationships. The hard part is that in making ourselves open to others we make ourselves vulnerable to others. But without this vulnerability we don’t grow and the community doesn’t grow.

Good community is simple, it’s not sophisticated or rocket science but it is about making connection with others. I believe that deep down this is what we crave. let’s connect with others and build strong community.

As the local DJ said “It’s really all bout social connection”.

This blog originally appeared at

Want to Live in a Safe Street...then be a Good Neighbour

When most people think of safety or a safe street they tend to think of a place with low crime rates and when they consider how to make a street a safe place most think about the physical aspects of how a safe place is created i.e. tidy yards, shrubs pruned back, security screens, cars locked, doors to the house locked, security systems, CCTV, regular police patrols etc. Most of  these are important ingredients in “target hardening” a location i.e. making it harder for a crime to be committed they can also add to feelings of insecurity and suspicion.

I would suggest that while the physical aspects of security are important the most essential ingredient in making any place safe is to create social connection between those who use or live in that place. In the place where you live this is by being a good neighbour. These are the neighbours who try and connect other residents with each other and aim to be connected to others in the street. I doubt they would use these terms but it is what they do. Good neighbours are those who introduce themselves when someone new moves in, offer to ensure a neighbours letter boxes are cleared when they are away, greet other neighbours, keep an eye on what is happening in the street and say something if they notice something a liitle different. They are the ones who are involved in organising get togethers with others in the street, are often in their front yards and talking with whoever passes by, intervene when they observe children misbeahving. Good neighbours may also be involved in local organisations, participate ina local community garden or park maintenance group. basically, they are the people who create social capital amongst their neighbours and build trust between others.

The great thing about being a good neighbour is that it doesn’t take a lot of effort or commitment. It is as easy as starting a conversation with someone or inviting others around for a drink or organising a picnic in the local park. It is that simple. The result is an increase in collective efficacy and a safer place.

Our neighbour Ray is a perfect example of a good neighbour. Always up for a talk, ready to provide help, always tinkering in his garage and front yard. he knows most of the people in our street and helps to make the street safer just by being in his front yard. This presence, not only, works to create social connection with others but allows Ray to monitor the comings and goings in the street – a built in security monitor. We know Ray is home when his garage door is up. This reinforces the image that the street is safe from petty theft and that Ray is open to welcoming others into his yard.

Another example of a good neighbour is an old friend Steph. Steph and his partner live in an inner western suburb of Sydney. He is active in his garden and greets others as they pass by. Over a period of time he formed a friendship with an elderly gentleman who lived in the street. he would offer to shop for the gentleman and help where he could. He provided social connection for the man and ensured he was looked after. Recently, he struck up a conversation with a stranger in the street only to find that the person used to live in the street a number of years ago and was revisiting his childhood home. This chance conversation gave Steph an idea of the history of his house and the street, including details of those who had lived in the street in times gone by. This knowledge has created a deeper connection to the street.

There are a multitude of ways to be a good neighbour and help create a safe place. The City of Kwinana in Western Australia has created a great list of 52 things you can do to connect with your neighbours. This can be found at:

The photo at the top of the page is from a photograph my father had of his old neighbourhood of Ellsmere Street, Goulburn, NSW. I’ve used this as it shows a place where people gathered together, knew each other and no doubt created a safe place for all.

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Further Thoughts on Crime Prevention

By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-07-01

A few further thoughts on the importance of community building and crime prevention or community safety.

Perceptions of crime and fear of crime are powerful driving forces with people often perceiving crime to be worse than it is in an area. As people become more fearful they tend to put the barriers up and either band together to try and make sense of the situation or reduce social contact.

Some years ago a group of community members approached both Police and their local council to seek help in addressing crime in their area. They wanted the place to be more like it was twenty years ago. The area had a bad reputation, had generational unemployment, people were fearful of young people. They requested a public meeting be held to voice their concerns. Over 100 people attended the meeting. Both Council and the Police addressed the meeting. The Police noted that crime statistics didn’t reflect the level of crime people were fearful of and encouraged people to report crime regardless of how fearful they felt. Council opted for an Assets Based Community Development approach to the concerns raised. The meeting then broke out into a World Café discussion. Each table discussed something different including the positive qualities of the area, the assets and what could be done to make the location a better place. At the conclusion of the meeting a committee of local residents was formed with the aim of building community pride and actively working to make their area a better place. 

It would be good to say that the problems changed overnight. But they didn’t. The committee struggled for some time to find a purpose, something to aim for. They became lost in concerns over insurance and projects being too difficult. Skilled community workers spent months working with the group. Eventually they focussed on a Spring Fair that was an expo to highlight everything the place had to offer. This gave the group some focus. Something to aim for, to achieve. The Fair was a major success. From this the group went from strength to strength. In the following years they found support with the local branch of the Bendigo Bank. This provided some finance for additional projects. Council worked closely with them. The partnership between the community, the bank  and council resulted in the development of a Learn to Ride facility, creation of Men’s Shed, a partnership with the local golf club to provide a youth drop in space. Council worked to improve infrastructure. A mural was painted on the local amenities block. The result was a community working together. Although crime is still a concern the community no longer expects the Police or others alone to solve the problem. They are focussing on making the place a better place. They took ownership and built a sense of belonging. The increase in social capital had the result of reducing fearful perceptions of crime and of others. Connection was created. An angry group became an agency of social change.

Another group of community members from another location also approached the Police about the level of break ins in their suburb. Again, Police statistics showed that their level of concern was overstated. Of course crime statistics are only a reflection of incidents reported to Police and not necessarily the real life situation and at other times rumours of crime events become exaggerated through the “rumour mill”. The group decided to work together to build pride in their area. One member of the group loved gardening. She planted vegetables on the strip of grass in front of her fence, leaving a sign they were for anyone to pick who wanted them. Eventually, a partnership was formed with the local school with the school’s garden opened up for community use as a Community Garden. Residents worked together to paint the “traffic island” in the middle of the road. This helped brighten the area, they cleaned up vegetation near the school, lobbied council to repair drainage and put in bollards near the pick-up zone for the school to keep children safe. They worked together, made sure that they had each other’s contact numbers. Over a period of time their concern for break-ins diminished as they worked to create a stronger sense of community and local ownership. This resulted in both a lower fear of crime as well as building capital between community members and empowering them to take ownership of their community space. Part of this process of community was identifying the interests, skills and passions of each person. These became the motivation for many of the projects they worked on and assisted in developing stronger relationships and connections which in turn created a safer place.

Community is always the solution.

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Community Building and Crime Prevention

By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-06-01

Recently, I was asked if Community Building, in particular, Asset Based Community Development, could reduce or prevent crime. My candid response was yes. The look on the questioner’s face reflected they were surprised by my response. His facial expression has set me to thinking about the question in some detail.

In many people’s minds crime prevention or reduction is a matter for the government. It is often seen to be the realm of the police. And if not the police then security agencies or perhaps even CCTV. But what role does community, strong connected community play in preventing crime? What is the role of police or security services or CCTV actually do? Do they prevent crime, deter crime, move it elsewhere or are they only part of the picture? If they are then what are the other components that help to prevent or reduce crime?

Crime prevention is more complex than a policing or security role. It involves all of us and is made up of many components.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is one component. This relies on environmental design interventions to reduce the likelihood of crime and can include fencing, lighting, CCTV, footpaths, shrubbery etc. These are the physical elements that make it less likely that a crime will occur or make it more difficult for those contemplating a criminal action.

Community Crime Prevention is another component. By that I mean those formalised groups and mechanisms to recruit community members to report crime or reduce crime by their actions. This includes groups such as Neighbourhood Watch or programs that encourage community members to report crime. Although not strictly a community building tool these groups do build connection between residents and may form a component in reducing crime.

One theory of crime prevention is that of Collective Efficacy. This theory concerns the behaviours and other informal mechanisms of community members to create a safe place. These are informal mechanisms such as monitoring children in playgrounds, reporting crime, intervening in disputes etc. These behaviours and mechanisms create a safe place by controlling behaviours of others so that crime and anti-social behaviour is minimised. They are places where neighbours informally agree on what is acceptable behaviour and they actively work to see these behaviours maintained. Those areas with high levels of collective efficacy involve a high degree of trust between community members.

But what about other informal connections that create a sense of cohesion, belonging and ownership in a location? Are they also important? Those areas where social cohesion is high are those areas where people look after each other, babysit neighbour’s children, get together for BBQs and celebrations i.e. they know each other and are concerned for each other. These places have strong social capital. They are places where people feel safe and secure. Social cohesion and collective efficacy work together to create safe neighbourhoods.

Community Building actions such as Asset Based Community Development focus on building relationships between people and focus on the strengths of community members, their passions, experience and ability as well as the physical and other assets of the location. It is a work strongly based on growing and fostering social capital. As such it works to develop social cohesion, build collective efficacy and create a safe place.

This blog originally appeared at

Social Justice and Community Development

By Alan Blackshaw, 2020-05-01

Spend any time around community organisations, community services, educational facilities, health facilities and government agencies you will stumble across the term Social Justice Principles. But what exactly are they and how do they work with Community Development?

A google search for Social Justice Principles shows 350,000,000 entries around the term social justice principles. Additionally, there is a wealth of academic discussion around the terms but let’s try and put it into simple chunks of information to make the term user friendly.

At its most rudimentary level Social Justice is bound up in justice and rights, particularly human rights. It is about seeing where inequality lies, where discrimination is present, where there is disadvantage and seeking to change the situation so that these things are removed and people treated in a fair and just manner. This type of intervention is about social change. Making change to create a fairer society where inequality and injustice is eliminated. To put it on the most basic level Social Justice Principles are about fairness.

Central to community development practice are social justice principles. They represent core values in the work of creating social change through Community building and development. The focus of community development practice is to achieve social justice by working alongside communities or supporting the local community as the community takes the lead in making change.

So, exactly what are these principles?

Social Justice is concerned with ensuring all people are entitled to, and receive, fair and impartial treatment. These principles could include a number of items but most can be summarised as follows:

  • Equity: There should be fairness in the distribution of resources, particularly for those in need.
  • Equality:  All people should be treated equally with dignity, respect and free from any form of discrimination;
  • Access: The right of people to have reasonable and safe access to facilities, open space, programs, services, resources and information. This includes the right of independent and dignified access;
  • Participation:  All people should have the maximum opportunity to genuinely participate actively in civic and community life;
  • Inclusion: working in partnership with the community, all levels of government, key agencies and the private sector to build an inclusive, cohesive and strong community
  • Diversity: recognise and value the contribution of the community’s diverse population and respect the right of people to an inclusive community. Opportunities should be provided for positive participation to accommodate linguistic, cultural and religious diversity.

Without having social justice as a base there can be no real and lasting community building or community development.

This blog originally appeared at

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Alan Blackshaw
About Alan Blackshaw
I am a community builder working from an Assets Based Community Development (ABCD) perspective. I have spent my career working to serve and build community. I have experience as an educator, public servant, disability support worker, in local government and in community development both as a frontline worker and as a manager of a team of community development workers. With over 30 years experience in working with the community, the last 16 in local government, I have experience in building community from the grassroots up. I ams now continuing to serve the community by working to create strong communities and organisations. At the core of my practice are social justice principles.

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