We are really happy to introduce Dr Vicky Simpson as Network Development Coordinator at CLASS!

Vicky began work with us part-time in April this year and is supporting Community Savers groups with financial governance, digital skills and coordinating network-wide meetings and events.

We asked Vicky what interested her in working with CLASS and Community Savers and what she has most enjoyed about her role so far:

“When I am not working for CLASS I am a Research Manager at the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield. Community Savers grew out of an action research partnership which ran from 2017-2019 called Community-led Organising: Seeing from the South so I knew a bit already about the great work they were doing. This included learning exchanges with the South African and Kenyan affiiates of Shack/Slum Dwellers International and experimentation with their social movement methodology. I was interested in the role at CLASS as the ideas of that original project have now become even more developed and I was really happy to take on a role that would support that process.

I think the work that Community Savers are doing is really important. A couple of years ago I was involved in a local campaign in my community to save land from large scale housing development. From a small group of local residents, the Dane Bank Green Space group was formed, and after years of negotiation with the local council, the group won its fight and was handed a long-term lease to retain the space. Last month Dane Bank Group Space officially opened to the community with its fishing ponds, wild garden meadow and forest school. Having direct experience of how powerful community action can be attracted me to this role with CLASS.

I have been in post for about 5 months now, and looking back I am amazed with all the activities I have been involved with already. For example, I have worked with the groups to identify and addresss ICT equipment and skills development needs; I have visited all the savings groups at their community meetings and we have begun to strengthen our relationships; helped coordinate a learning exchange of the UK Savers to our colleagues at Muungano Wa Wanvijiji in Nairobi and attended a 3-day retreat with all the teams in Snowdonia. In addition, working at CLASS has enabled me to develop my own skills and knowledge: in five months I have already joined in with Community Savers training on accounting, small grants funding and First Aid!

The community sector is fast-paced and sometimes a little overwhelming, but massively inspiring. I am in awe of the Savers leaders that I have had the privilege to meet and work with. They are unpaid volunteers, and I am amazed at how many different community projects and initiatives that they are involved with that benefit their communities. I love the ethos of the Savers Groups as they are women-led and bolster those from working class communities that have been disadvantaged over time. As my own personality lends towards being supportive and wanting to be helpful, I think I fit into the groups well and like the idea of helping community members develop their own ideas. I have enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with all the Savers and meeting lots of strong, dynamic, funny, knowledgeable and caring women. Seeing the groups being supportive to each other inspires me to want to be a better person.

Having just returned to work after a quieter period over the summer, I am excited about the future. The next couple of months will soon pick up pace. For example, we are supporting the savings committees to move from paper records to digital accounts; we are recruiting a new cohort of digital inclusion volunteers to support the groups with ICT skills; and I am looking forward to meeting Kenyan colleagues from Muungano Wa Wanavijiji when they visit Manchester in October.