Discovering community issues, and their views on services and future plans, is notoriously difficult.
How many focus groups only attract  the usual suspects? How often do public meetings have everything but the public?  Or only get a turnout when people have grievances?
While at Our Life, Nick pioneered community-led research so that we can all move away from dispiriting meetings and learn from the horse's mouth.  He will recruit and train residents to become Community Explorers, finding out what everyone thinks by  recording conversations with people from all walks of life in their own community. The results are often staggering: Limehurst Oldham residents conducted 615 interviews in 8 weeks, paving the way for residents and agencies to co-design neighbourhood action plans and  form a united Community Action Forum on their estate. This approach inspired other communities to become Explorers on Tuberculosis Awareness in Blackburn, on Worklessness in Kirkholt Rochdale  and on wellbeing needs in Fleetwood. Read more here...
In June 2014, thirty community development learners from seven European countries visited Limehurst to share our learning about community-led research. Five of the Limehurst Community Explorers went on to gain nationally-accredited CD Recognition awards through Nick's partnership work with Sostenga Training.  
Building a partnership of equals between agencies and residents often founders on the huge gap between professional agendas and residents' concernsIt's like different languages shouting over each rather than a
real dialogue. 
Citizen's Inquiries transcend this barrier by recruiting, incentivising and supporting a group of 30 diverse residents to  think deeply about the issues which affect their own communities. The know-how of professionals becomes a welcome resource once the communities have starting to grapple with the issues for themselves: professionals are invited to act as commentators, offering perspectives and insights and then leaving the residents to work out their own consensus on the best ways to improve the situation. These Inquiries fire-up people, encouraging them to widen their thinking by listening to each other and professionals, delving more deeply into the causes and possible solutions.The resulting recommendations from communities have influenced agency policy-making and action plans, ensuring that residents' priorities are guiding future practice and resource use, and have inspired the participants to become activists ..  
Some of the residents and staff involved in Bromley Farm Congleton's  
Citizens Inquiry  in July 2013 
Download Congleton Wellbeing Inquiry 
For communities and agencies to work well together, everyone has to develop belief  in each other and feel that the encounter will meet their needs. By starting from this foundation, Shared Places helps everyone build their engagement skills and their knowledge about each other and the issues, and identify how to reach the wider community so that more voices are heard.
Nick creates a variety of enjoyable and challenging training experiences for staff and residents, helping them to relax together and air the real difficulties in building a partnership  of equals, and then work together effectively to co-design better communication at all levels and across all partners. 
Our Case Studies focus on how it works in practice, drawn from Nick's work for Our Life:
Knowsley Council and Clinical Commissioning Group wished to develop staff's abilities to engage and residents' abilities to take part effectively and build a network amongst their peers. The Community Engagement Training programme below was created in liaison with the commissioners.
Contour Housing in Salford and Bury Council received bespoke training in how to create the conditions for Co-production, using Nick's unique self-audit exercise to identify actions which would bring residents and staff closer together...

“the training with Nick was excellent, really simplified what can often be a overcomplicated concept. Community Development as it should be, honest, inspiring and led by the people for whom it has the potential to make the greatest difference. I can’t recommend Nick enough. For  any organisation looking to get back to basics and reconnect with communities to find out what really matters , you won't go far wrong using the Shared Places / community explorer model” 

Ross Watts – Head of Communities, Tai Calon Community Housing, May 2018
Download Community Engagement training  report
Self-Audit Exercise