Last year Maslaha worked with Sandringham Primary School in Forest Gate, Newham to explore community mapping as a tool to strengthen the relationship between schools and local communities. This is as part of a wider Maslaha project to explore how a more community centred and culturally and locally relevant approach to learning could help overcome educational inequalities in the UK. You can read more about this project here.
Community mapping can take different forms, but usually involves local communities building up a multi-layered picture of what it is like to live in their area - this can help residents learn about places and services in their local area and can be a useful way of helping schools understand more about the everyday lives, interests and routines of the families of pupils.
As we developed the project, we wanted to mobilise parents to share their expertise and to be introduced to new people and new things in their local area. We aimed to approach community mapping in a way that:
- Captured richness in the process as well as in the end result
- Offered a positive experience for parents to get more engaged with school through the process
- Was unique/authentic/aesthetically pleasing and compelling to an internal school audience, as well as to the Forest Gate and wider public.
The conversations we had with parents and teachers kept leading back to the idea that instead of focusing on particular places in Forest Gate - that it would be interesting to capture stories of how families had come to Forest Gate. As a result, we produced a beautiful zine "Our Forest Gate Stories" with Rabbits Road Press. The stories - tales and trials of wisdom, humour, despair and resilience - are a snap shot of the diverse journeys and realities of the communities living in Forest Gate today; communities that are often stereotyped in one-dimensional ways, and spoken about, as opposed to being spoken to.
The zine provided a platform for parents from marginalised communities to tell their life stories and journeys in their own terms. For the majority of the parents it was their first time being able to speak about their stories to someone and doing so gave them a sense of pride. Sayema, one of the mothers involved, said “I am really happy to be able to share my story and inspire other people. There are parts of my story that I have never told anyone else before.”
Another mother, Tania, said “This is the perfect time for me to share my story, I’ve been wanting to do it for a while. I cannot thank you enough for letting me be a part of this, it means a lot to me!”
The school learned about the diverse journeys of the local families and were inspired and moved by their stories. This improved the school’s relationship with parents who previously were not actively engaged. Sayema said “I am proud to be able to share my story with other parents, and I hope this inspires them to do the same. I would definitely be interested in getting involved in the school more often.” Tania was invited by school to read her story on International Women’s Day during assembly. She said “There were so many people there listening to me, it was like my dream come true! I am so proud of how far I’ve come.”
Parents also had the opportunity to learn about the skills and knowledge that exists in their own community and connect with each other. Faiza said “I decided to contribute by sharing my story because I was hoping that this way other people can see how important science is for children, and because it also makes me feel like I am contributing to the community.”