Hi! My name is Unis Nisa, and I go by Nisa. I am the Community Partnerships Manager for the CCQoL pilot project in Reading. As the first point of contact for the community to engage with this project, I need to make sure that I have the right skills to carry out my role. My passion is people, and improving people’s lives is a goal I strive to do everyday. Every project I have been involved in has always had people at the core of it.
My relationships with the diverse community in Reading began during the height of pandemic, in 2020. It was through a role specific to the pandemic emergency response by the local authority. As we were in lockdown most of the year, communication channels were extremely limited. As much as it would have been easier to meet people face to face, I needed to be creative in how I engaged. Luckily, technology proved to be a crucial tool to engage with people. I ensured that I took the time to get to know the community and for them to get to know me. I was consistently available via as many communication channels as possible; being available via traditional phone calls and text messages, alongside being present on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, helped to widen the engagement effort. To reach those who were not available online, I relied on others in the community who were to be the middle person between myself and them. With time, people started to feel at ease, allowing themselves to trust that I was genuine in my care for the community.
Working with a community is all about being able to meet people at their level; creating a safe space for them so they feel seen, heard, valued. A safe space where they can and want to share their story. This requires the ability and willingness to be available, continuously present for active listening and empathy, to be open and vulnerable with them and be willing to share my story with them.
I like to think of myself as a storyteller. We can learn a lot from people’s stories and each story is unique to the person or the community I meet. We can learn about what makes them passionate, what makes them angry, what matters to them, what concerns them, etc. From that, we create the foundation of a relationship – understanding and trust. With a strong foundation, we can embark on a journey for any cause; and in this case, is to include them in participating in a project whose impacts will have a huge influence in their future.
There is no magic formula to build relationships; like with anything worth having in life, it takes time, dedication, continuity, consistency, and authenticity in who we are.
In the run up to the Urban Room launch in March 2022, my core task is to network and build relationships within the University of Reading and outside of the university, i.e., grassroot community groups from different ethnic backgrounds and voluntary and statutory organisations. The conversations I have been having include several aspects: introduction of the project and our intentions on widening participation with the project, who they are and the demographic category they are in, what kind of communication platforms they use, and so on.
As quality of life is the theme for the project in Reading, it is important to find out what that means to the community and how they would like to be engaged in the conversation. Within the first three weeks of my role, I have learned that it is extremely important to stay informed and connected with all the relevant groups and events locally to be able to work and share learning together. My plan is to continue with building engagement and strengthening existing relationships, as well as holding a series of focus groups throughout November until before the holiday break, towards the end of December. I am hoping to be able to update you on my progress in the next couple of months as I aim to start co designing the programmes for the Urban Room between January and February 2022.