Environmental activists talk about movement-building and community-building a lot. We actually do it… less frequently. Climate Emergency Manchester has been able to interview one of the doers (thanks to Rose Arnold for putting us in touch). She’s Shelly Quinton-Hulme, and she kindly answered our questions. [If you know other people we should interview, get in touch!]
1. Who are you, what’s your background that has helped you become good at helping communities form, helping people knit together?
My name is Shelly Quinton-Hulme and I am 46 years old and am married with one son who is 12 years old. I have lived in Stretford since I was 6 years old and love it here. I grew up playing on Victoria Park along with my 2 brothers and neighbours. I work full-time for Network Rail as a Programme Controls professional. We set up the Friends of Victoria Park in 2002 in response to the park becoming so run down and neglected. My best friends dad ‘Norman Law’ organised a community meeting to see who would be interested in joining in to form a group to bring about improvements to the park and the group was born. Norman was the chair for the first few years and then I took over when his health started to become an issue and I have been the chair ever since. I am also the chairperson and founder member of Stretford Children’s Theatre [SCT] which also includes Stretford Youth Choir [SYC], a group that we re-formed in 2015. I was on the board of The Friends of Stretford Public Hall at the time and was instrumental in the team that won the hall back to public use from Trafford Council and one of the things I wanted to achieve was to restart SCT at the hall. One of the things about starting this group was that I needed to leave the hall board as my time was too stretched but they were in good hands and I’m still abreast of their plans etc as they are our venue for classes and performances and we work closely together. I am also Vice-Chair and Development Governor at Victoria Park Infant School – a role I really love as my family have a long history with this school and it is a fantastic school for our community. Until last year I was also involved in the scout group based in Victoria Park for 5 years and I looked after their fundraising and the building as well as practical help in the sessions through Beavers and Cubs with my son.
I think some of my innate abilities have helped me fulfil my roles in all these groups – none of which I knew I possessed at the time – but all have been developed over the years and now I can self-reflect I can see how it all happened and the good, the bad and the ugly of my personality!
- I am tenacious – I will not let it lie. If I say I will do something I will and I expect the same from others – I will make sure that this expectation is met and I am an expert nagger!!
- I am supremely organised – I can switch hats quite quickly and compartmentalise things well. Filing and good systems are important to ensure this is managed well.
- I love processes / rules / procedures and even paperwork – I make sure this works to my advantage at all times. The way my brain works it needs to know what happens next and I like being in control and as such this all works in my favour. I do like a controlled process which I can navigate easily and I do not find filling in forms a problem and as such tasks that require this and can bog down other people tend to fall to me to do.
- I will stick up for what I believe in – and I really believe in community and Stretford as a great place to live
- I think I am easy to talk to and I will talk to anybody and everybody about things I am passionate about.
- I am strong willed and am sometimes seen as ‘scary’ – again I use this to my advantage as and when is necessary!
- I am opinionated – you will rarely see me sitting on the fence – but this has not always worked in my favour – as it has lost me friends over the years, but I think it has also gained me and my groups a reputation for being ‘straight up’.
- I love watching our community grow and linking up people with similar interests, signposting to groups, and watching our children grow up in a place better than it was with more opportunities.
- I enjoy the challenge of taking a group that is not running successfully and turning it around, and or setting up a new group to fulfil a need – and now that I have experience in it , it is much easier and quicker to complete this process.
2. Can you give us some examples of things that have gone well, and why you think they went well?
The Friends of Victoria Park is my first love as a community group and the park will always be my baby! This group taught me how groups work and function and how people relate to others and I have learned so much from it. I have been able to transfer knowledge from this group to other groups and I keep learning all the time.
Some things I have learned that work well are:
- Have realistic expectations about what volunteers will give time wise – people will not all be as committed to the group as perhaps you are, but will give varying degrees of time, energy and effort and each bit is as necessary to create the goal and should be rewarded.
- Have realistic expectations about what you can achieve in the timescales – be able to adapt your plans or expectations as necessary
- Find out what your volunteers are interested in and then ensure that they are involved in that aspect if possible – they are far more likely to engage and deliver if they are having fun
- Remember that volunteers are volunteers and as such must enjoy it or else they will stop volunteering – THIS IS NOT WORK – SO MAKE IT FUN!
- Always remember why you are doing something and that everyone knows why you are doing it so that there is a shared purpose – people are much more likely to engage
- Ask for help and advice when you need it – is there a group doing a similar thing that can help you so you don’t have to re-invent the wheel
- Ask people for specific help / targeting areas as people are more likely to help on the basis of doing a specific task rather than a nebulous call for help.
- Lots of things can be achieved with a small amount of cash if you have a good level of volunteer support
3. Relatedly, what advice would you offer to people keen to get communities ‘mobilised’ and active around issues (whether it was local traffic calming, litter, noise, anything)
If you want something to change then you have to be a part of that change. If you are passionate about the issue then turn that passion into people power and start to mobilise your friends who feel the same way – this is how movements start – it’s just a group of people who feel the same way! Don’t think that someone else will do it or is more capable or less busy than you are – you will probably surprise yourself and it is a great way to find out your talents and strengths. My advice – just do it and start knocking that red tape out of the way to make the change you want.
4. Without mentioning any names, what things do you see people who want to get communities mobilised doing that are counter-productive, that make you wince?
I think the behaviour that I see that is most counter-productive is one of suggesting ‘entitlement’ – we deserve this. I think this strategy puts people’s back up and stops them wanting to get involved and sometimes can even lead them into not helping, even if it is fundamentally a good idea! I think the best strategy is demonstrating the positives that will be achieved by the change and highlighting what is wrong now in clear simple ways and trusting people to make an informed decision about the project.
5. Anything else you want to say.
Having done a personality profile on our governing body we all had a lot of similarities and I think there are certain types of people who have a predilection to volunteering – and I am definitely one of them. Perhaps it fills a need in me that I don’t get from my work / family life – but I know that I love doing it and I can’t imagine what I’d do without it. Everyone asks me how I manage to fit it all in, and my answer is I make time. This involves juggling my time and making sure I prioritise effectively. Everyone who knows me knows I love my sleep and I really need a good 8 hours minimum each night to function well and this means that I have to use my day and evenings wisely to fit everything in. I am also very lucky that my husband and son allow me the time to do my ‘hobbies’.