Please find another guest post, written by Qaisar Ali, who is a Postgraduate Researcher, within the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development.
I am a postgraduate doctoral researcher living in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham (LBBD) and volunteer in my spare time. I wanted to share my recent experience to encourage others to engage in potential social community services. This offers personal development, boosts self-confidence, and fosters connections with diverse communities in the local borough.
LBBD has 218,900 residents, with a 69.1% non-white British population, making it the 10th most diverse borough in the country. The residents represent a greater proportion of BAME communities with diverse native origins, highlighting the coexistence and multicultural backgrounds within the borough.
The borough’s vision is to make Barking and Dagenham a place where people are proud to live, work, study, and stay. The council follows well-defined principles that consider values and cultures, driving service delivery, performance, and innovation. They encourage local residents to participate in decision-making through engagement, partnership, and collaboration. This helps identify priority areas, formulate initiatives, and achieve results together in a mutual working relationship among stakeholders.
An example of community engagement is the Neighbouring Community Infrastructure Levy (NCIL) program run by LBBD. I volunteered to be part of the NCIL panel, consisting of white and non-white (including BAME community) local residents chosen by the council. The panel evaluates funding applications from residents based on set criteria addressing localized needs. Shortlisted applicants present their proposals and engage in Q&A sessions, with the panel suggesting successful applications to receive financial grants.
In this cohort, I evaluated 19 applications, attended presentations by shortlisted applicants, and participated in Q&A sessions. Through this experience, I challenged my preconceptions about certain community groups with diverse backgrounds. I found them actively participating in the panel on one side. And on the other hand, I found them submitting inspiring applications focused on community engagement, such as education, sports, skill development, and environmental activities.
I now understand the importance of diverse community engagement programs. They deliver mutual existence and promote acceptance and respect for differences among races, religions, origins, cultures, ages, sex, and languages. This has made me feel like a globally engaged person. I also experienced the significance of dialogue, teamwork, conflict resolution, and finding common ground beyond ethnic origins. We demonstrated this through our recommendations for the most suitable applications for this round.
By supporting local councils in decision-making and allocation of funds, residents as stakeholders can contribute to achieving defined goals. Such initiatives deliver quality public services while encouraging residents to participate and feel a sense of belonging. I trust that the approved funding grants will improve community life in the borough.
Qaisar Ali – Postgraduate Researcher, SAPD, University of Reading
For more ideas and volunteering opportunities, check out our curated selection at the linked Careers page.