An interview with a Neighbourhood Facilitator


Interview with Polly Mann about her role as a Neighbourhood Facilitator

Polly Mann (pictured second from the left) is the Neighbourhood Facilitator for Well Street Common and Hackney Marshes. Polly discusses her role in the Neighbourhoods programme in an interview conducted by Veryan Wilkie-Jones, Programmes Manager (VCS Neighbourhoods).


How did you first get involved in Neighbourhood forums?  

I was working as community development worker for Wick Award, and was very aware of community health issues. When I heard about the first plans for the forums in the form of a pilot for Well St Common, I wanted to get involved.   

Wick Award is a small but key community organisation in Hackney. Wick Award is led by Hackney Wick residents who really know their neighbourhood and are committed to working together to make good things happen. I’m the only paid worker, there are 12 local residents on our Partnership Board, and our chair is a former Ward Councillor, Nick Sharman. We work closely with other community organisations, for example, Hackney Quest is our main delivery partner providing brilliant youth services in the ward. Our approach is built on the findings of community research that we have undertaken ourselves. We support a range of community activities addressing isolation. We have a community funding pot to make money available to Hackney Wick residents set up their own initiatives to benefit residents.  

What was it like in the early days of the pilot? 

The programme coordinator from Hackney CVS took a lot of care to connect with everyone possible in Well Street Common Neighbourhood in order to involve diverse groups and organisations, and she really took the time to explain the full potential of the forums. There were some big initial meetings with representatives from local organisations including Hackney Playbus, Hackney Carers Centre, Citizen’s Advice, Shoreditch Trust, and Age UK’s Older People’s Reference Group. There were wide conversations and a lot of mapping work was done, it was a very collaborative process. A lot of effort was made to make it truly representative for local residents, and we talked in detail to establish decision-making processes. People were very positive and keen to have a meaningful voice, to have a say and make sure local health inequalities were flagged and responded to. When Covid happened meetings ceased initially as everyone’s resources were diverted, then online forums started up but these were quite challenging with so many people wanting to join and get involved, so it was much harder to make progress during this time. Eventually, we were able to restart in-person forums which was a relief. 

Why is the work you’re doing so important?  

The forums are a way for local residents to work with voluntary sector organisations and health providers to identify health inequalities and priorities, it gives everyone the opportunity to work collaboratively to tackle the issues that arise. It’s a meeting place for people to come together and talk about what matters most. The Forums offer a way of working together to make a difference. It’s great to be involved in a process that gives local people a say in how services are provided in the neighbourhood. I enjoy working with different groups and organisations to see things differently and to try to come up with local solutions to making services work better.   

What does the facilitator role involve for you? What does a typical day look like?  

The job is different every day, I am forever chatting with different individuals and groups on a huge range of issues. People will be ringing asking for example – what’s the best place to hold a meeting, can we use this venue, where can we get funding for our project? Which community organisation can tell us about digital inclusion? – it’s a bit of a switchboard role! I connect with people beyond the forum who have heard about what we do and want to know more. I also do a lot of outreach work to engage people and encourage them to get involved. Then there is the practical planning and sharing of information. I’m involved in supporting three community lunches each week and these are a great chance to find out what’s happening and talk about issues coming up at the Forum. My role on Neighbourhoods and at Wick Aware overlap and complement each other very well. I’m always building on my community connections. The role is a real mix of hands-on delivery and a lot of talking!   

How long have you worked at Wick Award and what do you enjoy about it?  

I’ve worked for Wick Award for 8 years now. I have lived in Hackney since 1988 and live with my partner and my daughter who’s 14. I’d previously worked in community development in a range of roles and was interested in the approach of Big Locals, so the role really appealed to me as well as suiting my personal situation having a young child at the time.  

Who else do you work with in your neighbourhoods?  

Everyone! Faith groups, youth groups, community organisations, tenants, GP practices and resident groups.   

Workwise, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?  

It’s a chance to listen to people get things done differently, working with people to make change and influence services making them more responsive to residents. I want to support people to share their experiences and ideas and have a real say in their neighbourhoods.  

How do you know your work has been successful – what are your favourite examples?  

It’s lovely to hear individual stories, where people have been able to get what they need, share their skills, and have real input that makes a difference to their lives as well as lives of other local people.  

I love it when people get back to me after a Forum meeting to say ….”I’ve been thinking and I reckon that this will work in Well Street Common- let’s see what other people think”. A resident who has attended Well Street Common Forum was introduced to community activities by a neighbour with contacts and now she wants to share her ideas for helping local carers get involved in a walking group.  

When we recruited a 16-year-old Hackney Wick girl to support our community research, we knew that she was super-bright and really passionate about making changes for young people in Hackney Wick. We were delighted when her Dad decided to get involved and joined the Wick Award Partnership Board. Now that girl has a great career in the civil service and is leading on projects that will have big impacts on a national level. We are very proud to have worked with her at the beginning of her career path.  

What do you love about Hackney?  

Hackney has been my home since 1988, I didn’t start out here but I want to stay. I love the buzz and amazing range of stuff going on. This week someone told me about the Hackney Colliery Band – now that’s amazing! So much great music. I love that my daughter has grown up here, having the chance to play with the Borough Youth Orchestra. There is a corner of Hackney for everyone. It has been brilliant to live and work in this great community. I am never surprised when you find out that a Hackney person is behind some great new idea.